As explained in On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime
Happiness in buddhism differs from the common understanding. One of the most powerful teachings of Nichiren Daishonin lies in the short Gosho (teaching) On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime. In this lecture I would like to discuss how this Gosho can be applied to the question of happiness. Or, more accurately, how happiness is inextricably contingent upon compassion, and how compassion is contingent upon our grasping the Mystic Law. I’m not going to study the Gosho in a linear manner, so we’ll be jumping around quite a bit.
Mankind has discussed, written about, and created whole religions while trying to reveal what it is that makes us happy. Ironically, in the name of those religions we have fought many ugly wars. There can be no greater proof that a teaching is incorrect when it can be twisted to such ends.
The Mystic Law doesn’t require obedience, or worship in order for it to work – Like any law, it just works! But, it’s also mystic, or in other words, unfathomable. For this reason Buddhism does not prescribe expedient rules (or commandments) for us to live by – rather its aim is to connect us directly with the laws that govern the universe, and by doing so, guide us in leading lives of value, and happiness.
At first this might sound like a bit vague. To connect us with the laws that govern the universe might sound a little like bad science. Indeed some writers use terms like vibrations and energy which I think is unhelpful.
Despite us seeing the effects of universal laws every day, it’s fair to say we don’t yet understand how everything works. For example, gravity has been around since the universe existed, but we still haven’t fully understood why it exists, how it exerts its force on nature, or been able to re-create it artificially. However, we don’t need to be a physicist to know all too well the effects that can be caused by a badly maintained ladder. Buddhism is partly about appreciating these patterns of cause and effect, not just in the purely physical realm, but also in the realm of human emotion and behaviour.
In order that we can investigate the Buddhist path to happiness, it is understandably important that we briefly review the meaning of the word happiness as it relates to Buddhism. One definition of true happiness is an “indestructible state of enlightened empowerment”.
It is indestructible, in the sense that it does not depend on factors outside ourselves in order to exist. Therefore, it is only our own negative tendencies (greed, anger, fear, doubt, foolishness) that can threaten its survival. The Daishonin writes:
If you seek enlightenment outside yourself, then your performing even ten thousand practices and ten thousand good deeds will be in vain. It is like the case of a poor man who spends night and day counting his neighbour’s wealth but gains not even half a coin.
In the context of Buddhism, enlightenment is synonymous with happiness. As Buddhism accurately points out, all things (outside of our Buddhahood) are temporary manifestations of the Mystic Law. Therefore, for our happiness to depend upon anything other than the Mystic Law would be folly. To build the treasure tower of our happiness on anything other than our own sense of enlightenment, would be to build upon unsound foundations.
The term enlightened empowerment essentially describes a kind of courageousness – a steadfastness, if you will – to continually struggle for causes that bring benefit, no matter what challenges befall us. This kind of empowerment can be thought of as enlightened because it is driven from determinations we make while chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo – while we are connecting with the Mystic Law through our own Buddhahood.
So, now that we have determined a general basis for understanding the meaning of happiness, let’s step back and look at how our connection with the Mystic Law, through our innate Buddhahood, can help us realise happiness in this life.
The opening statement of the Gosho starts:
If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured since time without beginning and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime, you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings.
The prerogative “you must perceive…” is not given alone, as might be the case in so many other faiths. As is typically Buddhist, the statement is prefaced by the conditional statement “If you wish…”. It is profoundly important to understand that Buddhism is not at obligation – it is a philosophy that teaches the perception of the true nature of the universe. Whether you choose to observe the philosophy is up to you, but the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death will continue unabated. What will change is your experience of life’s sufferings – or more accurately, whether you will free yourself from them. Nichiren Daishonin is explaining here that you have that choice.
The term “to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death” is also worth a further look. This doesn’t mean that you will no longer suffer any setbacks, illnesses, or ultimately death. The word “free” here, does not mean escape from, but instead means to be liberated from, to ride over, to rise above and conquer. This fete is made possible when we view, through the life state of Buddhahood, our sufferings as sources of enlightenment.
I’m sure we know stories of people who have suffered a setback in life, and as a result have spiralled down into a pit of despair – perhaps blaming those around them, and trying to drag everyone down with them. Likewise, there are those for whom the same setback has been the catalyst for great accomplishments that have added value to the life of the individual, but perhaps also the wider community.
The term “mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings” refers to nothing other than Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. The essence of this statement is that all living beings embody the highest state of life (Buddhastate), from the lowliest criminal to the most noble and charitable ruler.
So, to sum up, the Daishonin is affirming that Buddhahood is available right now, right here, in this life – and it’s available to everyone without exception.
So far we have a handle on the Mystic law, or at least we can appreciate that it pervades everything in the universe. We have also covered how we can connect directly with the Mystic Law through the life state of Buddhahood, and that the life state of Buddhahood can be accessed through our daily practice of Gongyo (reciting passages from the Lotus Sutra, and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo).
The journey from the Mystic Law to Compassion
Lets now start to look at how an understanding of the Mystic Law, naturally leads one to express compassion.
Contrary to many religious traditions, the Buddhism of the Lotus Sutra believes that this life is something to be enjoyed, not treated as something we must endure until death sends us to the pearly gates. The Daishonin quotes from the Vimalakirti Sutra thus:
…if the minds of living beings are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds.
This passage is perhaps quoted due to the Daishonin’s refutation of the Nembutsu school of Buddhism, popular at the time in Japan. The Nembutsu school advocated the notion of a Pure Land afterlife in return for the recitation of the name of Amida Buddha. The Nembutsu (or Pure Land) school of Buddhism inferred that this world is inherently impure. It was an incorrect teaching and a serious slander upon the Lotus Sutra.
The notion of praying in the hope of going to heaven in the afterlife obviously has universal appeal, one might argue, because it is an easy way out. It abdicates personal responsibility, and looks to a higher (and most erroneously, external) factor in order to “make things right”. It also makes possible warped beliefs that by doing something to please this external factor (lets call it a diety) in this life, that a reward will be given in the next. I think you know where I’m going with this, and why the Nembutsu was vigorously refuted by Nichiren Daishonin.
In the Gosho, the Daishonin quotes from the Vimalakirti Sutra to demonstrate that the universal truth does not change, regardless of our perceptions.
When our minds are impure, then our land is impure. Essentially, if we allow our lives to be dominated by the lower lifestates, and our behaviour to be dictated by the evil paths of greed, anger and foolishness, then the causes we make will transform our surroundings into hell on earth.
Conversely, when our minds are pure, we manifest our highest life state of Buddhahood. The four virtues of true self, eternity, happiness and purity will then manifest in our lives. We will be able to make the causes to create the heavenly realm of tranquil light right here, in this world and in this life, not in some ethereal afterlife. The world we create for ourselves depends solely on the good or evil of our minds.
Happiness, therefore is dependant upon our minds being pure, rather than impure. This is not the kind of purity usually associated with religious texts – it does not require one to become celibate or tea total, for example. It is pure in the sense of clarity of thought – one that is clear of distress, or vexation, and that perceives the world as it really is (objective reality) as opposed to a view as seen through the beer goggles of our Karma (subjective wisdom).
There are people who dedicate their whole lives to the abolishment of the motor car. To such people, the car is anathema. However, to a person suffering a heart attack, the fast car that brings the paramedics would be looked upon as a blessing.
Whether the car is a cause for misery and hatred or joy is based purely on our karma – our subjective wisdom – our impure minds. The objective reality, of course, is that the car is still the same thing, with four wheels, an engine etc. our pure mind, or enlightenment, is the understanding that the car itself is nothing more than a tool to fulfil a particular task. It is possible to apply this thinking to any inanimate object.
If we extend this Karmic view of inanimate objects to human beings, we can start to see the root of many of humanity’s problems.
It is a function of our genetic past, that human beings naturally form packs, or tribes. After eating, and sex, it is perhaps the strongest primal trait of our species. In a world which has become crowded and diverse, it has also become one of the greatest threats to world peace and human happiness.
All human beings are entities of the Mystic Law. It does not matter what colour your skin is. It does not matter what language you speak, or what you believe, whether it involves a god, gods, or no god.
When we regard people as being outside our collective, then we are deluded or impure minded. It could be argued that the very notion of the collective to which we belong being anything less than the entire population of the planet is also misguided. The term “global citizen” might attract sneers and derision from so called realists, but this is understandable, because the concept of global citizenship is indeed an ideal – but I believe, for the sake of all our futures, one worth pursuing.
In many ways, I think the pragmatism of realists is really “lazy mindedness” – the tendency, like water, to find the path of least resistance. It is a mindset based purely on karma, and like water, it will will tend to gather in the lowest place. Realist thinking tends to pander to the lowest common denominator, which can cause stagnation and a living death. “What’s the point”, “It’s no use” are all cries of the realist thinker.
Back to the global citizen, and why it is important to identify with the rest of humanity. History is replete with scenarios where a group of people have viewed themselves as “more than” another. From humanity’s own mistakes we know the consequences of such thinking is ghastly. The causes made during the slave trade, apartheid and the holocaust, to name but a few recent atrocities, have created repercussions that have echoed through the generations to the present day. They will probably haunt humanity forever until a true revolution in thinking takes place.
Human beings have been responsible equally for great beauty and great ugliness. They are all, nonetheless, human beings. The only difference is in their enlightenment or delusion. The Daishonin says:
When deluded, one is called an ordinary being, but when enlightened, one is called a Buddha. This is similar to a tarnished mirror that will shine like a jewel when polished. A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished. It is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality. Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Here, we are being taught that every human being has the potential to “shine” like a mirror. No matter how tarnished our lives may be, with regular polishing to clear our delusions we can reveal our Buddhahood, and this is achieved through our chanting.
Coupled with the previously discussed passage regarding pure and impure mindedness, we can deduce that only through polishing the mirror of our lives can we develop a pure mind that perceives the true nature of all phenomenon – that all people are equally endowed with the potential for Buddhahood.
Only by grasping the Mystic Law, or by revealing our Buddhahood, can we truly resonate with all humanity, and thereby begin to develop true compassion.
To have the firm conviction that all human beings are equally worthy of respect is crucial. Without it we cannot display or experience true compassion. It is also important that we understand how we ourselves are equally worthy of respect – we should not sacrifice our own happiness in order to satisfy others. To believe that the rest of humanity is equal, but we are somehow different is a great error.
How we view ourselves unavoidably affects how we deal with the world. If we see do not identity ourselves with the rest of humanity (either better or worse than others) then we can become motivated by our ego and behave selfishly.
In this state of mind we might try to help others but in fact be acting out of a selfish desire to feel needed by others, or to receive praise and recognition. In some faiths the performance of acts of compassion or charity holds the promise of entry into heaven. This is not altruism – this is bartering for your own benefit in the afterlife.
I might be called a cynic, but I’m pretty sure that when some celebrities donate money to charities, the prime motive isn’t to help the charity, but to help their own public image. The worst examples of this behaviour can be seen in corporations that spend a fraction of their profits to setup farming projects in areas they have just devastated, and then go on to use the imagery to paint a rosy and thoroughly incorrect image of their business.
On the other hand, the Buddhist view of compassion is truly altruistic, borne of gratitude and a sense of interconnectedness. This is opposed to the “what’s in it for me” point of view exhibited by people who do not have a firm identity.
When we are deluded by our karma, we make it possible to be dominated by others. Our karma, governed by our lower life states, prevents us from showing true compassion tose who dominate us. In this state we might show “respect” or make offering to those who dominate us, but this is clearly not done out of compassion or love. We are more likely to inwardly experience fear, anger, and enmity towards the dominator – because we see them as apart from ourselves.
I firmly believe this state of mind exists in the minds of many who follow certain religions. The adherents of these faiths are effectively dominated by their God, making offerings, and paying respect, not so much out of genuine love, but more out of fear of reprisal, in this life, or upon death.
Just as we can be dominated by others when deluded by our karma, we might also attempt (knowingly or unknowingly) to bend others to our will. Because we are ultimately driven by the selfish desire for personal benefit, this is not true compassion. This could be as innocuous as donating money to a charity in the hope of recognition and praise.
The more we try to dominate others, the more unhappy we will become. The dominator will not experience true happiness because his or her actions are based upon a delusion, the control of others. History has shown, in the end, that attempting to control people is futile, because nothing is more indomitable than the human spirit.
From the life state of Buddhahood, it is impossible to dominate or indeed be dominated. Buddahood connects us to the Buddhahood of others, and by doing so allows us to see the impure behaviour of others as nothing more than the workings of a deluded mind.
So, how does refusing to be dominated by others exhibit compassion? It would have been easy for Mahatma Gandhi to have given up his non violent struggle against the injustices of the British in India. Inaction would have allowed the British to continue dominating a nation. Violence, on the other hand, would have probably left us with the sort of mess we have seen in Ireland. In every way, Gandhi actions demonstrated the utmost compassion. His actions not only made his land more peaceful, but also made the causes for our armies to withdraw without unnecessary bloodshed.
It is written, “the purpose of the Buddha’s appearance in this world lay in his behaviour as a human being.” One of the primary reasons for the appearance of the Buddha is to exhibit compassion. There is no individual gain, because there is no “I”, or ego, in the life state of Buddhahood. By showing compassion to another human being, you are in effect showing compassion to yourself, to humanity.
In this life state, we are able to overcome all challenges and remain undefeated; we can begin to experience our own desires, and sufferings, as sources of enlightenment and happiness.
There can be no true happiness without compassion because compassion results from purity of thought. Only purity of thought can transform the hell of our daily lives into a pure land – and purity of thought results from perceiving the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings.
Happiness therefore depends ultimately on our perceiving the Mystic Law, which is pretty much what we have said all along – that happiness, and enlightenment (or Buddhahood) are synonymous. Hopefully I have helped some of you to understand why this is the case.