Lecture on the Lotus Sutra Now Available

Print Friendly
Now available "Lecture on the Lotus Sutra"

Now available “Lecture on the Lotus Sutra”

Now available on Amazon “Lecture on the Lotus Sutra” (click the link to open Amazon). You can now purchase a copy of my completed lecture on the Lotus Sutra. This book contains all of the serialized postings that appeared here in the Fall of last year. Those posts were edited and new material was added to the book which was not posted on the blog. I hope you will consider purchasing a copy for your own study and understanding of the Lotus Sutra. Frequently Amazon has the book discounted. The book will not be available in digital format.

Thank you for your support.

With Gassho,
Ryusho Jeffus

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, Dharma Talks, Good Things, Lotus Sutra, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu | Leave a comment

To the Magic City Too – #19 Study Guide

Print Friendly

The following I offer at the conclusion of this series as tools for your study of the Dharma.

 Lectio Divina

 Besides modeling this exploration of the Parable of the Magic City on the Jewish scholarly tradition of midrash I also employed a form of lectio divina from Christian traditions.  I was first introduced to lectio divina while I was studying to become a chaplain.  Every morning when I stayed at the Trappist monastery, Mepkin Abbey, near Charleston, SC lectio divina was a part of their early morning services.

 The first morning service is Vigils at 3:20AM.  Following Vigils was one half hour of meditation and then at 4:30AM was Lectio Divina for thirty minutes.  The lectio divina as practiced by the monks was done in private so I am unsure as to how they engaged in the practice.  I did learn from one of the novice monks that it was done individually and not as a group activity.  I am unable to share with you the actual structure of their lectio divina practice.

 If you are inclined to investigate lectio divina for yourself you will discover there are many formats for this practice and it can be done individually as well as in group.  I will share with you a form of lectio divina that I used to a modified degree for this writing but one I frequently use on a more personal practice level.

 Before you begin the process determine which selection of the Lotus Sutra, or even Nichiren’s writing you will be focussing on.  I would suggest that you make this a multi-day practice, perhaps even a week long for one single selection.  You might begin on a Sunday and continue to work with the same passages until Saturday, for example.

 Once you determine the selection you will be working with I recommend chanting Odaimoku for a while.  Then after you conclude chanting, while still seated in front of the mandala or in your sacred space read through the selection you have chosen.  Read it slowly and carefully, paying attention to all of the words, punctuation, every detail of the physical presentation of the selection.  

 After you have finished reading through your selection, and you might even consider reading it out loud.  Actually hearing yourself read it can have a different impact on your life from reading it silently inside your head.  After you have finished reading pick one character from the selection.  It might be the person speaking whether it is the narrator or one of the subjects of the selection, possibly even an unknown recipient of the writing.  

 Now go deeply into that character asking yourself what they are seeing in this scene, what might they be experiencing.  Go as deeply exploring as much detail as you possibly can.  Using the eyes and ears of the character and not your own describe or contemplate what they see, what they hear, what they smell, what they might be thinking.  Try to experience this from their perspective and not your own.  

 Perhaps it is a letter Nichiren wrote to one of his followers.  Imagine receiving this letter.  Remember it will be in the format of a scroll, more than likely if it is long.  What would it be like unrolling a portion at a time to read this letter to yourself?  Try to soak up as many details as possible.  If you are reading the Lotus Sutra, you might look around you at the others in the congregation, is the Buddha speaking to you or is he speaking to your neighbor or someone way on the other side?  What are your reactions to what the Buddha is saying.

 Depending upon the character you choose you may be the main person or you might be a bystander.  You might even be the Buddha speaking to someone in the assembly.  You might even be some supernatural deity who is raining madarava flowers on the Buddha.  This is why I recommend spending several days on one selection.  Every day assume some new person in the story or spend several days as the same person, either way try to experience the selection from as many different perspectives as possible.  It could possibly take you a month to work through one small portion of the Lotus Sutra or Nichiren writing.

 Every time you engage in this practice be aware of what you are experiencing and feeling more than you are aware of meanings or interpretations of concepts.  This is intended to be primarily an experiential activity and not an intellectual process.  The intellectual understanding will follow in a much more personal way through this experiencing of the sutra or gosho.  

 Also as part of the practice be curious about why today you chose to be a particular character or subject.  Let nothing you experience go unexamined, there are lessons and messages to be found in even the smallest detail.  Be less concerned with reaching a conclusion and greatly open to being as curious as you possibly can.  

 After you spend your time exploring as above then spend some time chanting Odaimoku letting your experience seep deeply into your body.  You may feel a need to process what you experienced and that is alright but it isn’t necessary.  I would recommend though avoiding rushing the conclusion as it can have a dampening affect on the process of deep assimilation of the experience.  That is why allowing yourself some time to chant Odaimoku is important.  This should begin and end with chanting to your hearts content.  As I frequently say don’t chant until a certain time has elapsed but chant until your life is full.

 I hope you try engaging in the type of lectio divina practice.  As you do it more you may wish to modify it to your own personality.  It is perfectly acceptable to change things to enable you to gain the most benefit.  Being childlike with great curiosity is an excellent way to approach the Dharma.

Labyrinths

In my work as a hospital chaplain I have had many opportunities to use labyrinths in the work of providing spiritual care to patients.  There seems to be something about working a labyrinth that is calming and soothing.  Perhaps because it is an easily grasped metaphor for our experiences in life.  The history of labyrinths goes back to prehistory times and they can be found in virtually all cultures in one form or another.  In a way circumambulations are a form of labyrinth.

 When we circumambulate the Buddha we have an entry point, the point at which we approach the statue in the center. 

 First we bow to the Buddha by placing our forehead on the ground at his feet.  We place our hands on the floor beside our head with the palms facing upward.  We then raise our hands beside our ears as if we were picking the Buddha up by his feet and elevating him above ourselves.  We do this supplication not as beggars entreating some deity to bestow gifts or rewards.  Instead we do this to show our great appreciation to the teacher who leads us to enlightenment.  We are humble and appreciative in front of our great teacher.  

 Then we begin walking around the Buddha in a clockwise direction always keeping our right shoulder towards the Buddha.  We walk completely around the Buddha, even behind the statue.  We can see all aspects of the Buddha from every angle.  We are so very close to the Buddha, but we are not quite there yet.  Our aspiration to attain enlightenment just as the Buddha is strengthened by our close proximity to the Buddha.  There is nothing that is not revealed to us as we continue our walk.  

 We always keep our right shoulder facing the Buddha because that is the shoulder we uncover, it is the traditional weapon shoulder.  We come to the Buddha bear, and vulnerable.  But we are safe in the presence of the Buddha because the Buddha only wishes us to be like himself.  

 Our walking around the Buddha benefits us greatly as we empty our mind and leave behind all of the cares and concerns of the mundane world.  We are in a sacred space it is just us and the Buddha.  It is up to us to continue our mindful walk in the presence of this great example of how to live.

 If we think of the great Bodhisattvas that rose up from the ground who approached the Buddha and rather than asking for reward or benefit they asked if the Buddha was in good health.  Our benefits come to us in the same manner.  They come not because we ask for them or because we have done anything special.  They come because we think of nothing else except how we can enable others to attain what the Buddha has taught us.  The great Bodhisattvas from underground asked first of the Buddha and then they began to circumambulate.

 Our actions of circumambulation come directly out of the Lotus Sutra.  We continue to practice as Bodhisattvas from beneath the ground.  The work of the labyrinth is in many ways similar to this very ancient practice in the Lotus Sutra.  Even as we perform the circumambulations around the Buddha at some point we need to carry out our vow to the Buddha to go into the Saha world and teach others of the great joy of practicing the Lotus Sutra.  Just as in the labyrinth there is the going in and then coming out.

 The objective in labyrinth work is not the getting to the center but the taking out of the center what we learned and experienced and bringing it with us as we exit and return to the mundane world.

 I am including images of a few labyrinths which you may find helpful.  There are countless versions of labyrinths from very simple to extremely complex.  In all cases the principle and symbolism is the same.  You may even decide to go on the web and print out some copies for you to keep handy.  Or you might, as I have done, get a finger labyrinth to carry with you so you can always do labyrinth work wherever you are.  I have several styles and sizes. I find them very contemplative.


 Questions from the Magic City Too

 In this section of the study guide I have compiled all of the various questions I have posed throughout this book.  Here you can find them all in one hand location.  Perhaps you may find them useful as you construct your own interpretation of the Parable of the Magic City.

 Before the Journey

Do you consider how you begin something? – Setting one’s intention either as we start an activity or as we engage in the activity can help remind us what it is we really hope to accomplish.

How do we know about the place of unlimited treasure? – Perhaps ask yourself how did you hear about Nichiren Shu?

How did the travelers meed up with each other?  – How do you find the people you need in your life?

What motivated the travelers? – What motivates you?

We can of course say that they represent the Bhiksus and their quest for enlightenment, but how can we read this in our own lives?

How is it that you developed a seeking or questing to learn and practice Buddhism? – For now spend some time in introspection on the reasons you began the search for and the practice of Buddhism.

What was or is going on in your life that draws you to your practice and motivates you to continue day after day?

Over time those treasures we seek change and mutate, some may even disappear because we are no longer interested in such things.  How have things changed for you over the course of your practice?

When you finally decided to explore or even practice Buddhism can you recall what it was that really convinced you to take up the faith in earnest? 

One thing we are not told is how these people came together.  How was it they found each other, or decided collectively to undertake this journey? Can you imagine?

Considering this for a moment you might ask yourself the age old question of whether you are a spiritual being living an ordinary life or an ordinary person living a spiritual life? 

 The Guide

So you make your decision using your set of criteria for your own individual reasons but how do you decide upon who will guide you?

How did you decide that practicing the Lotus Sutra was or is the correct path for you to follow?

If you were merely seeking out Buddhism in general, there are countless ways in which to engage in Buddhist practice and develop your Buddhist aboutness.  What was it about the Lotus Sutra that caught your attention?

How do people make such life and death decisions?

Thinking about your own life, have there been times when you have had to make a very important decision?

What criteria did you use to base your decision?

How do you decide among frequently many options which course of action to take?  Do you have any basic criteria, or do you just wing it?

What is your method of problem solving, have you even ever considered it?

Are there places in your life where you experience a discord between what you know you should do, or you want to do and what you actually end up doing?

If you are like most people, there are probably areas where you don’t live up to your greatest expectations.  What do we do in situations like this? 

Who are some of the wise people you have had in your life?

I know why I continue to follow the teachings of the Buddha but I wonder what motivates you to keep going? 

What has gotten you through the tough times in the past?

There are lessons we can learn from the heroic journeys of myth and legend, and this parable is one example. – What lessons can you learn from this or other heroic journeys?

I encourage each of you to re-examine your lives and your thinking.  Ask yourself if you are valuing your life from the perspective of victory or winning.  Do you truly value all of your experiences and efforts from the perspective that no effort in Buddhism is wasted?

Does the hero find the guide or the guide find the hero?

Which is really the hero, the guide or the one making the journey? 

 The Journey

Have you ever considered the role your obstacles play in your growth and movement to enlightenment?

We like things to be familiar, predictable, comfortable, which of course means that we are more inclined to stagnate and also suffer.  Not everyone is this way of course but generally this is true.  Is this true for you? Honestly?

What are you clinging to that may be causing suffering?

I wonder if you remember what your goals for this year were on January first.   Do you, as part of your life process, make personal goals, listing things you wish to achieve over periods of time?

I wonder what changes you could accomplish in your life if you made a commitment from today for 500 days to practice on a regular consistent basis towards the achievement of some change in your life?

Would you be able to travel the entire 500 days without giving up or abandoning or forgetting your goal and effort?

What can you accomplish in twenty minutes?

Twenty minutes a day, consistently day in and day out devoted to one thing is a very powerful and important way to get things done in our lives that we may not otherwise be able to accomplish.  Are there things in your life you could apply the 20 minutes a day program to?

What are the things that you find most frequently interfere with your practice and consequently your growth in life? 

Have you ever looked to see if there was a trend you could identify? 

What are the things you abandon even while you can admit they are beneficial? 

 Discouragement 

How many times have you been in the role similar to that of the leader of our group of travelers?

Have you ever tried helping someone achieve their goal or dream only to have them abandon the effort or turn away before reaching their goal?

What were your feelings at that time?

How much control of your life are you willing to give up in order to meet the goals of someone else?

What are the things that encourage you the most when you become discouraged? 

What is your personal style for becoming encouraged? 

 

The Magic City

If there were a magic city for you to do anything you wanted in, what is it that you would do?

Think about your own real life situation for a moment.  If you had to evacuate with your entire city or town, how many of your real life neighbors would do you know and could count upon for help?

Are your friends or people you know very well living close by or do they live scattered all over the city?

Do you imagine you would be able to travel with your friends if there were a mass evacuation?

How alone are you in your life?

As I ask you to think about it, do you find it uncomfortable to think about?  Do you find that your defense mechanism kicks in with various excuses for the reality you have created? 

Magic Cities can be very useful or they can be harmful.  Depending upon the magic city you create in your own life you may find refreshing or you may find actually becomes a trap from which you can not easily escape. Think about your Magic City.

 Decision

As I read this section I can’t help but wonder if the decision to go to the Magic City was unanimous and automatic.  I wonder what the conversation within the group was like.  What isn’t told to us in this part of the Sutra?

Have you ever been faced with a situation and simply resigned  yourself to continue as before simply because doing it the same way is easier?

So what was it the prompted you to begin practicing and studying the Lotus Sutra?

Even if it was simply curiosity, I wonder if you have completely satisfied that curiosity, and yet you continue.  So what is it that keeps you coming back?

Identifying the motivation for your practice can help you decided if indeed you have reached your destination? 

If you have not reached your destination then I wonder at the wisdom of abandoning the effort you have made to this day.

What are the arguments that spin around in your head when you are faced with doubts and discouragement?

Is it the life condition of hell that draws you away, does your suffering part require you to continue suffering so it feels alive?

Is there an itch in your life that continually need scratching and keeps you from being liberated?

 Resting

How many times in your life have you reached a long sought after goal, sat back and sighed with relief, felt contented and thought all is right with the world? 

Maybe you have and maybe you were tempted to do those things but not too far off on the horizon you could clearly see that tomorrow would come and you would need to do something?

 Pulling Back the Curtain

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our Magic Cities were permanent.  Are you finding at this point any resistance to the notion of the disappearance of the Magic City?

Do you tend to focus on the goal so much that what comes after the attainment of the goal slips from your thought process?

I wonder what life was like for this group of travelers when they got to their destination.  If they are like immigrants throughout history they will need to find places to live, perhaps occupations to support themselves, even schools for the children, and places to shop and worship.  It is pretty neat as I think about it how ordinary the extraordinary can be at times.  Do you ever experience that?

 

This concludes the series on the Parable of the Magic City – thank you for reading this.  I will be working on some edits and additions to this series and will have this available as a book sometime in the near future.

With Gassho,

Ryusho

 

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, concentration, Dharma Talks, education, Good Things, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, Nichiren's Major Writings | 4 Comments

To the Magic City Too – #18 Conclusion

Print Friendly

“Now the place of treasures is near. I made this city by magic in order to give you a rest.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter VII, page 227)

 

I hope that this little exercise has provided you with several things.  One I hope it has perhaps shown you a different way of approaching and understanding the Lotus Sutra.  Two perhaps it has revealed to you a mirror of your own life as found in the Lotus Sutra.  Finally I hope it has given you some hope and courage through the model of our travelers for your own spiritual journey.

 

I began this book talking about the tradition among Jewish scholars of midrash, the exploration of what is not written in the Torah.  When I began I wasn’t sure how well the example of midrash would fit with the study of the Lotus Sutra.  In many ways the exploration of the parable of the Magic City was a journey into a journey.  As I said in my final section I was amazed at how reluctant I was to leave the Magic City when it came time to wrap up my writing.  I had grown quite attached to the journey getting there and finally reaching it I was let down when I had to leave and move on.  

 

Even knowing that moving on meant the attainment of my goal did not help with my grief at the journey ending.  By remaining in the Magic City it meant that I would not have to conclude this writing.  So the Magic City became a safe place from which to avoid further activity.  I share this observation with you the reader to show how it is possible for us to find Magic Cities in many places, even unexpected places, in our lives.  

 

There is another meditative practice or spiritual practice I would like to introduce to you from a different religious tradition and that is lectio divina.  There are many ways to practice lectio divina however the one I would like to tell you about is a slight variation to what was traditionally practiced in Christian monasteries.  

 

One way of studying the sutra in general and this parable in specific is to begin your meditation perhaps by chanting the Odaimoku for a short period of time.  At the conclusion of your chanting continue sitting and slowly read through the parable.  After you have read through the parable then pick any character within that story and imagine yourself as that character or person.  Now go back over the selection and think about how your character would respond or what they would be doing or saying.  Look around you in your mind and see the other characters from your character’s point of view and imagine interacting with them as your identified character.  See if you now are relating to the selection in a new and different way now that you are examining it from a different perspective.  

 

Perhaps you might also incorporate the idea of filling in what isn’t in the story but you find missing and wish to explore.  The possibilities are endless and each exploration into the selection can teach you something new.  Perhaps over the period of several days look at the same selection from different perspectives.  As part of your meditation practice become curious about yourself and ask why you chose that character today, is there some lesson you needed to learn from that character?  Perhaps even there is some aversion to a different character and so you chose not to become them; be curious.

 

As I mentioned early on the Lotus Sutra is not a story about anyone so much as it is the actual story of your life.  The more we can merge our lives and the truth in the Lotus Sutra as one the more aboutness we will have and the truths will no longer be separated.

 

At the end of this writing project I will provide some suggestions on how to study the Lotus Sutra, you may find it helpful or not.  Feel free to customize it to your own liking, it is merely a template, it isn’t the rule.  Also for those who may be interested in a structured outline I have given a series of exercises to be carried out over a period of time.  Different people like different things so if you don’t find this helpful then please ignore it.  Some people like things more directed and so perhaps they will find these tools helpful.  Again, take what you need and what you find useful and leave the rest.

 

“Make efforts!

Let us go to the place of treasures!”

(Lotus Sutra, Chapter VII, page 236)

 

Thank you for reading this.  Let us together make great efforts to attain enlightenment and share our joy with others.

 

With Gassho,

Ryusho

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, compassion, concentratioin, Dharma Talks, education, focus, Good Things, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu, peace, Prayer | 2 Comments

To the Magic City Too – #17

Print Friendly

 

“Seeing that they had already had a rest and relieved their fatigue, the leader caused the city to disappear, and said to them, ‘Now the place of treasures is near. I made this city by magic in order to give you a rest.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter VII, page 227)

 

“Seeing that they had already had a rest,

The leader collected them, and said:

‘Go on ahead now!

This is a magic city.

You were tired out halfway.

You wished to go back.

Therefore, I made this city by magic

As an expedient.

Make efforts!

Let us go to the place of treasures!’”

 

Pulling Back the Curtain


I’m not sure about how you would feel if all the sudden this restful and peaceful place you had stayed in disappeared from you.  I suppose though that in one way or another we all have experienced something similar in our lives.  I am guessing that there have been times when you thought something was secure, or that it was permanent only to have it change and vanish.  Hopefully it wasn’t harmful to you.

 

Generally when I teach this section of the parable I compare the Magic City to the many benefits we experience along our journey towards an enlightened life.  But in this writing as I examine it more deeply it does seem that the city disappearing is rather harsh, perhaps it would be better if it gradually faded away.  No I guess that wouldn’t be good either.  

 

Perhaps my reluctance to the city vanishing is an indication of the power and lure of the Magic City.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our Magic Cities were permanent.  Are you finding at this point any resistance to the notion of the disappearance of the Magic City?  Maybe you are not and maybe it is just me because I have been thinking of this so much.  Oh well, it really is time to let it go.

 

Now we all know the Magic City is only a temporary condition, as is actually all of our life experiences.  In many ways our lives are a series of Magic Cities connected by roads to travel to arrive in those Magic Cities.  Whether what we experience is a joyful occurrence or a troublesome occurrence because of the impermanence of all things they will not last forever.  

 

Of course depending upon our lives we can create conditions for the continual occurrence of similar experiences.  If we are suffering and we fail to properly understand the true nature of our suffering or the causes we are making that cause the suffering then we may indeed be creating the kind of life dominated by suffering.  

 

It is the message of the Lotus Sutra that we do not need to be a victim of suffering, that indeed there is a way to extricate ourselves from lives that wander from one suffering to another.  With the Lotus Sutra as our guide we can leave the places of trouble in our lives and gradually change our lives to become ones in which joy and happiness are the predominant experiences.  Notice I said predominant because every life will experience trials and tribulations.  But with lives firmly rooted in the Lotus Sutra we can safely navigate those upsetting phenomena just as our band of merry travelers were eventually able to reach their destination.

 

Notice that in the Lotus Sutra even after the Magic City has been removed the group of people still needed to continue on the journey.  It is the same in our lives, it is the same with enlightenment, just as it is with the labyrinth.  We reach the center, but we need to leave.  We need to re-enter the world and the challenge is what will we take out with us.  

 

In this parable we are not told anything at all about the final destination other than it is a place of unlimited treasure.  Just as I began this writing I explored what is not written.  Here what we are not told is what life was like for this group of travelers once they reached their destination.  

 

It is my experience as well as what I have witnessed working with people that frequently little thought is given to what comes after a goal is reached.  Sometimes we may indeed think beyond the goal, but most of the time the focus is on the goal and then what follows is left to unfold as it may.  

 

As I prepare for and enter a life in retirement I have been very much consumed with thinking about what that will be like.  Since the demarcation for my retirement will occur no matter what, I can not stop the aging process and I had determined that by a certain age I would enter retirement.  Now what I have been preparing for is what retirement would mean to me, what I would do, how I would live, how I would support myself, and how I would prepare to die.

 

As my life journey nears its ending it seems most appropriate to think about how I want that to happen, or at least what I wish it to be like since none of us can be absolutely certain or control our death.  As I engage in this process I can honestly say that at no other time in my life do I recall giving as much thought to the future beyond the destination.  

 

I wonder how is it for you?  Do you tend to focus on the goal so much that what comes after the attainment of the goal slips from your thought process?

 

I wonder what life was like for this group of travelers when they got to their destination.  If they are like immigrants throughout history they will need to find places to live, perhaps occupations to support themselves, even schools for the children, and places to shop and worship.  It is pretty neat as I think about it how ordinary the extraordinary can be at times.  Do you ever experience that?

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, chaplain, concentration, death, Dharma Talks, dying, focus, Good Things, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu, Pastoral Care, peace | 2 Comments

To the Magic City Too – #16

Print Friendly

“Then they made their way forward and entered the magic city. They felt peaceful, thinking that they had already passed [through the bad road].” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter VII, page 227)

“They entered that city,
And had great joy.
They felt peaceful,
And thought that they had already passed [through the road].”
(Lotus Sutra, Chapter VII, page 235)

The decision has been made and it appears from the sutra that they all went to the Magic City. But it seems that the folks have a false sense of what it is they have done. There is the feeling among the people that their journey may be finished even though we as the reader know otherwise.

As I read this my present journey to become a Board Certified Chaplain comes to mind. This has been a four year long effort on my part that has included many hours of education and a great many hours of clinical work. The most frustrating thing for me about the process has been the fact that on several occasions when I thought I had completed some requirement I later would find that yes I had done it but there was some other requirement that needed fulfilling. This would mean yet another set-back in the process and another task that would need to be accomplished even though no one said it needed to be done previously. It has at times been very discouraging. Even now as I think I am finally at the last hurdle and ready to do the last part of the process I have strong doubts. So many things have popped up at the last minute that I fully expect something to rear its head and surprise me.

Life can be like that, in fact I suspect that for many people that is how their entire life seems. Thinking again about the image of the labyrinth you may notice that there are many times as you walk the labyrinth where you come very close to the center and then suddenly find yourself way far away on the outside.

There is another part of the labyrinth that I equate with the Magic City and that is the center. It is the center that represents in a way the completion of the journey and yet it isn’t the end of the path because we need to exit the labyrinth. The center of the labyrinth is the point from which we reenter the world and take with us that which we have gained from our efforts. In this regard the Magic City and enlightenment have much in common.

We traditionally interpret the Magic City as the expedient rewards or benefits we experience along our path to enlightenment. Yet from the perspective that life continues beyond both the Magic City and enlightenment they both are similar because regardless whether it is the Magic City or enlightenment we must continue on with our lives. If we view enlightenment as some terminus point where our growth and development stops then we have a mistaken view of what enlightenment really is.

Enlightenment is not the end of life, nor it is a destination to reach where no further development is possible or desired. I believe that enlightenment is an every moving ever deepening experience. If we think about the Buddha attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi tree we may feel that our own experience will be the same, that someday we will have a grand awakening and from that point forward all will be bliss. Yet this I believe ignores the development of the Buddha over the course of his enlightened life.

I believe that the Buddha’s very own enlightenment continued to grow and develop over the course of many years, of all of his years until it finally reaches the point at which he could himself teach the Lotus Sutra. We frequently say that the Buddha withheld teaching the Lotus Sutra because the audience was not capable of understanding such a profound teaching. Yet there is a suspicion in my mind that it was also the case the Buddha himself was not capable of teaching it sooner. Of course I could be wrong but there really isn’t any logical reason to suspect that enlightenment is some terminus point after which there is no more understanding possible.

To think that there is an ending destination actually deprives us of the possibility of infinity. With out infinity there would be no Eternal Buddha. Perhaps this is a stretch but no where else in human thinking or ability has there been an example of someone reaching the end of all understanding. I think it would be sad if that were the case because it would deprive each of us of uncovering a unique enlightenment in our own lives. There are infinite potentials for enlightenment and they all reside with the infinite number of ways life can manifest itself of which humans only account for a relatively small amount.

How many times in your life have you reached a long sought after goal, sat back and sighed with relief, felt contented and thought all is right with the world? Maybe you have and maybe you were tempted to do those things but not too far off on the horizon you could clearly see that tomorrow would come and you would need to do something.

When I got discharged finally from the Marine Corps I was so relieved and happy. That feeling lasted quite a long time actually but soon after my discharge the feeling also occupied the same space that the awareness of the need to find some job occupied. Even now as I have completed all the necessary educational training to be a chaplain I am very much relieved, in fact down right happy that the education part is all finished, yet I am aware that I still need to complete an additional 2000 hours of clinical work before my goal is reached.

Heck when I graduated from high school I felt so excited at being finished with school. Yet there was college after that, and at various points in my life other educational obligations and requirements popped up. So high school graduation was only one milestone but not the end of the process of learning.

Getting a nice job has frequently been celebrated only to realize that many new things had to be learned and many responsibilities fulfilled. The birth of a child is quite an exciting occasion, but the excitement is only the beginning of the real responsibility of providing for and raising the new born. The satisfaction of a day of good hard productive work soon melts away with the dawning of the next sunrise and the reality that life goes ever onward.

I’ve already talked about magic cities we may construct that are harmful to us yet in a way any magic city is harmful if we consider it as the final resting place from all of our efforts. And also if we consider enlightenment as a place of final rest then it too becomes merely a magic city, a trap in fact.

In some literature there are accounts of islands or places where people are led to where time stops and the person becomes trapped and years go by before the eventually return to the world they left behind. To the individual it may seem like only a few hours or a few days when in fact it might have been hundreds of years. Our own individually constructed magic cities can also trap us in both good and harmful ways. Part of our process of becoming enlightened is to be able to discern reality from fiction.

The teachings in the Lotus Sutra can guide us because they really do speak to the reality of our lives. We study the Lotus Sutra not just to discover what it can be like but to also discern what we are like in this moment and what needs to be done to change. I have said before the first step in changing our lives is to understand what needs to be changed. If you are more than comfortable in hell then it is most unlikely you will seek to discover other options. Being aware of suffering and being aware of other possibilities awakens within us the idea that other ways of living and experiencing life are possible.

The Lotus Sutra provides us with a window to see other possibilities for our lives and it also provides us with a map that we can use to get to those other ways of being. This is one reason I choose the Parable of the Magic city to write at length about.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, compassion, Dharma Talks, Good Things, Hope, language, Lotus Sutra, mind, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu, Pastoral Care, peace | 2 Comments

To the Magic City Too – #15

Print Friendly

“Thereupon the worn-out people had great joy. They said, ‘We have never had such joy as this before. Now we shall be able to get off this bad road and become peaceful.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter VII, page 227)

There is no comparable part in the gathas for the selection in this chapter.

Simply the parable tells us that a Magic City appears and automatically the people declare their intent to go there. But that doesn’t always happen that way in real life, and certainly not in the movies. There is almost always a group of people who oppose the most obvious solution, even if there is no compelling reason for the objection. Perhaps it is human nature that there will always be some who will function as the nay-sayers. Though, not all the time are nay-sayers obstructionists, they may indeed be serving as the conscience of the group. And, it is sometimes the case that they are the wise ones even though they may be in the minority.

I would imagine if the magic city suddenly appears there would be a group of people who would declare it to be untrustworthy and caution against going there. I think about the caution that authorities often give when warning against scammers, that if it seems to good to be true then it probably is.

I personally am sceptical of promises of great reward or instant benefit. That is why, as I said early on when I came to the Lotus Sutra I was less apprehensive because I wasn’t made unrealistic promises. In later years though that seemed to be the main selling message given to new people, that they could have all of their prayers answered if they only chanted some magic phrase. While I do believe that chanting Odaimoku can make it possible for wonderful things to happen in your life I believe that is only possible because of the changes that occur within the individual. Perhaps I am too much of a rationalist.

I frequently provide support for people in the hospital and do witness many unexplainable instances of recovery. Yet unexplainable is not the same as no explanation. Simply because we can not discern the cause of something does not mean it has no cause. All the things we witness or experience in our lives have causes, there is no effect that simply happens independent of a preceding cause. The changes that occur in our lives from chanting Odaimoku are the result of making a cause to the Lotus Sutra and the deeper that cause penetrates our being the greater and more profound the effect in our lives.

We may indeed be creating causes that impact the forces of nature, but I do believe it is ludicrous to believe that we can chant to make those causes and then continue to act against those causes and expect to be continually rewarded with benefit. If that were possible then addicts would potentially be the most happy people in the world, and yet in my work with people who have addictions to drugs and alcohol they are almost universally the least happy as they watch their magic city crumble around them.

As I read this section I can’t help but wonder if the decision to go to the Magic City was unanimous and automatic. I wonder what the conversation within the group was like. What isn’t told to us in this part of the Sutra?I would imagine that if it was something that suddenly appeared there would be a group of dissenters who would claim that this sudden appearance out of nothing could not be trusted. It reminds me of the caution authorities often dispense that if it is too good to be true it probably isn’t.

Another possible argument would be that even by going to the magic city the rest of the journey still needs to be completed and no one knows what yet remains on that path. It might still be better to turn around and go back home.

Old ways are difficult to give up. Have you ever been faced with a situation and simply resigned yourself to continue as before simply because doing it the same way is easier? In a way this might be similar to the catch phrase that says the devil you know versus the devil you don’t know.

Of course this ignores remembering the motivation for leaving in the fist place. In our own lives we began practicing Buddhism for a particular reason, maybe it was to escape some unpleasant situation, or perhaps it was because of sadness or grief, there was some reason to begin this very strange religion. Well perhaps it isn’t so strange now a days but way back in the 1960’s it certainly was strange and part of the ‘counter-culture.’ So what was it the prompted you to begin practicing and studying the Lotus Sutra? Even if it was simply curiosity, I wonder if you have completely satisfied that curiosity, and yet you continue. So what is it that keeps you coming back?

For me the answer is because of the great joy I experience in my life through my practice. My practice has helped me to create the causes in my life that allow me to be peaceful and calm. I think about the passage from the Lotus Sutra that says those who practice will have lives which are peaceful and at ease. But it isn’t without making changes in my life, it didn’t happen overnight, it isn’t easy, and frequently I made false turns.

Identifying the motivation for your practice can help you decided if indeed you have reached your destination. If you have not reached your destination then I wonder at the wisdom of abandoning the effort you have made to this day.

What are the arguments that spin around in your head when you are faced with doubts and discouragement? I am guessing that if you are anything like me there are parts of you that sometimes battle with each other about whether or not to continue or if this practice even works. I find it helpful to know what those inner parts sound like, what kinds of words they use, what strategy they employ. When I am intimate with those parts and voices then when they do pop up I know what they are and am better able to put those parts in their place.

Before you think I am crazy listening to voices in my head I will say that in Internal Family Systems (IFS) theory of therapy and psychological understanding the language is about parts. In this system it is said that we all have various parts which manifest in various ways. Now mind you, I am giving the very abbreviated version. But it is believed in this theory that while we each have many different parts to our selves at each of us lies a core self that tends toward compassion, connection, creativity, calmness, clarity and curiosity. If we think about the Ten Worlds then in a way we are not too far off from IFS. It is also interesting that many people frequently will say that a part of them feels some way, or a part of them thinks something, or even a part of them wants to do something but another part does not.

So as we travel our road to our final destination of enlightenment we may frequently need a magic city to encourage us and to help us continue. We may experience various parts of ourselves that will doubt or become discouraged even as other parts still wish to continue. Again, knowing which parts are active and which parts are speaking can help us decide which to listen to. Is it the life condition of hell that draws you away, does your suffering part require you to continue suffering so it feels alive? Is it greed that keeps you from experiencing higher conditions of life, is there an itch in your life that continually need scratching and keeps you from being liberated?

These are all questions that will have different answers for each of us even though the questions will probably sound similar.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, compassion, concentration, Dharma Talks, education, Good Things, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mind, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, Pastoral Care | 2 Comments

To the Magic City – #14

Print Friendly

When I imagine a magic city these folks are able to spend time in my original thoughts were of a castle type structure and on that would accommodate a group of a couple hundred or so travelers. In fact until I began working through the parable in more depth I really didn’t focus on the size of the group. When I did it always seemed a rather intimate group of a not too large a number. In the prose section the number is simply stated as “many people”, a rather vague number open to personal imagination. In the gatha section however it is given as “tens of millions of people.”

There is quite a lot of room for different images to occur depending upon which version of the story you focus on.

If the group of travelers is tens of millions it would mean something like the entire population of Los Angeles or New York or Tokyo or some of the other major cities in the world all got up together and decided to move. This would hardly be an intimate group now would it? Yet even within a large city there are certainly people who know each other and might conceivably stay together. Think about your own real life situation for a moment. If you had to evacuate with your entire city or town, how many of your real life neighbors would do you know and could count upon for help? Are your friends or people you know very well living close by or do they live scattered all over the city? Do you imagine you would be able to travel with your friends if there were a mass evacuation?

My point in asking this is frequently it is the case that we do not know our neighbors and would indeed be traveling alone among relative strangers because we could not reach our friends easily. For me it is easy to talk to strangers and so over the years I know virtually all of my neighbors. When I am out walking my dog it frequently takes me much longer to complete the walk than it normally would because I stop and chat with people or as they drive by they slow their cars down and we talk for a few minutes. My father would frequently say that you should always be nice to people because you never knew when you might be running for sheriff or when you might be running from the sheriff. Perhaps it is not the best of reasons for knowing people, but certainly good general advice.

How alone are you in your life? As I ask you to think about it, do you find it uncomfortable to think about? Do you find that your defense mechanism kicks in with various excuses for the reality you have created?

The life you live is almost certainly justifiable in your own mind; that is the nature of our minds. We are infinitely clever at constructing a plausible explanation or excuse for the way things are. It is much more difficult to look deeply and admit that the discomfort you experience on various levels is in fact something you created and actually is not what you may truly wish for. It may also be very difficult for you to do what is necessary to change things in your life so you can experience the kind of life you deeply wish it to be. Justifications and excuses are often our Magic City.

It is easy to take refuge in justifications and excuses. These are easy destinations to reach. The more difficult destination is one that has peeled away the illusions of justification and excuses. Has this ever been your experience, as painful or uncomfortable to admit as it may be?

Magic Cities can be very useful or they can be harmful. Depending upon the magic city you create in your own life you may find refreshing or you may find actually becomes a trap from which you can not easily escape. I have employed the image of a labyrinth several times as I have written this. But suppose you are actually walking a maze. Mazes are tricky because they present the person with a lot of false choices leading to dead ends.

Frequently in literature the maze has other obstacles built in. Recently I was reading a fantasy book and the maze would cause the person to eventually forget who they were and why they were in the maze. Eventually the person would even forget they wished to exit. Finally they would starve to death because they would not have any food and would forget they were even hungry. But the maze is a construction created by the person because it was actually quiet easy to exit, if they could only remember.

When you fail to look critically at your life, your goals, your actions it is easy to get lost in a maze of forgetfulness and of illusions. This is one of the pitfalls of living a life of justification and excuses. Also when you think that something outside of yourself will solve the problem or change things in a fundamental way you have created an illusion that keeps you trapped in a dependent situation; always waiting on someone or something else to do something for you.

Buddhism is about wiping away the fog and illusion of these kinds of magic cities that trap you and prevent you from reaching enlightenment. The magic city in our story you will see is not a trap but a truly useful and beneficial occurrence.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, Dharma Talks, Good Things, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu | 5 Comments

To the Magic City Too – #13

Print Friendly

What are the things that encourage you the most when you become discouraged? What is your personal style for becoming encouraged? Not everyone is equally encouraged by the same things. Some people like a pep talk; others like to be shown exactly what to do. Still others like a more hands off, leave me alone approach from those who wish to help. But when you are discouraged are you also thinking that you can indeed do it and you alone are the most capable person to accomplish your goal.

Thinking you are the most capable person to solve your own problem is not an easy thing to remember or even believe. I suppose there might be an argument made that it isn’t always the case, but I do believe that most of the time we are more capable than we give ourselves credit for. If you think about the truth of cause and effect though, no one else other than yourself made all the causes, which have resulted in the effects you experience, and it will fundamentally be up to you to unwind all of those effects. Perhaps this is a scary thought for you.

This is not to say that you are alone though in solving your problems. The trick is to seek out the best kind of support. I have mixed feelings about AA groups. There are some that are less harmful than others. Yet when it comes to recovery from addictions it is one of the best support systems available in our society. There are other support groups as well such as Smart Recovery that a friend of mine participates in which for him is better than AA.

The point though is that going it alone is the least likely way to succeed, whether it is in recovery or in other areas of our lives. It is true that you must walk the path yourself but there is no rule that you need to do it alone.

In my work with people in recovery, the people I see who repeatedly return to the detox unit are the ones who think they can do it alone and refuse to take advantage of resources available to them.

We have a great resource in our practice of the Lotus Sutra. It doesn’t promise you a smooth and easy life, but it does promise you the ability to work through your life problems and change yourself from within. If you think back on your life how frequently have you taken full advantage of resources when they were available? Is it easier for you to try to do it on your own, and how does that work for you.

My truth may not be your truth. I do know that for me my practice of the Lotus Sutra has been a life changing experience. It hasn’t happened overnight and it wasn’t easy nor was it smooth. In the end though I am much happier than I ever thought possible, and have accomplished more than I could have imagined. I wish the same and more for you.

I hope that you will continue to practice the Lotus Sutra, chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo until the end of your life. When you become discouraged I hope that you can think about the travelers on their journey and the fact that the place of unlimited treasures is only reached by completing the journey.

The Magic City

“Having thought this, he expediently made a city by magic at a distance of three hundred yojanas from the starting-point of this dangerous road. He said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Do not go back! You can stay in that great city, and do anything you like. If you enter that city, you will be peaceful. If you go on afterwards and reach the place of treasures, then you can go home.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter VII, page 227)

“He made a great city by magic,
And adorned it with houses.
The city was surrounded by gardens, forests,
And by ponds and pools for bathing.
Many-storied gates and tall buildings [in that city]
Were filled with men and women.

Having made all this by magic,
He consoled the people, saying:
“Do not be afraid! Enter that city!
And do anything you like!”
(Lotus Sutra, Chapter VII, page 235)

If there were a magic city for you to do anything you wanted in, what is it that you would do?

By the time our group of travelers reach the magic city they have traveled 300 days out of a 500-day trip. They are more than half way along their path. As I think about this I am reminded of a labyrinth. At the center of many labyrinths there is a point of rest, there is a middle place that one travels along a path to reach.

When I spent a week at Mepkin Abbey near Charleston, SC they had a huge labyrinth out in one of their fields. I don’t know exactly how large it was but I know that according to my pedometer I was wearing it was over one mile long. I was walking it at the end of the fall season so I could only imagine what it would look like in the summer or spring.

The paths were separated from each other by plantings of many different kinds of wildflowers. The flowers had all turned brown and were dying back for the winter hibernation but it did leave me to wonder at the beauty of it during the peak blooming season.

When you finally did reach the center there were benches to sit upon and reflect or meditate. I should point out that the plantings were high enough that as you traveled the path you felt walled in and in the center there was a real sense of being alone, and in the middle of nowhere.

The center was a place of rest of quiet. And yet the center is not the real destination because there is the journey outward again. In many ways the Magic City is like the center of a labyrinth. It is a place to renew and refresh but there still remains the outward journey.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, Dharma Talks, Good Things, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu | 4 Comments

To the Magic City Too – #12

Print Friendly

Our group of travelers wish to return home even though they have succeeded so far. They have doubts and eventually the doubts cloud their ability to make a sound rational judgment. Over the years I have witnessed many people who have abandoned their Buddhist practice, sometimes to return to it again after a number of years away. Sometimes people turn their backs completely and never return.

Discouragement

“The leader, who knew many expedients, thought, ‘What a pity! They wish to go back without getting great treasures.’ ”
(Lotus Sutra, Chapter VII, page 216)

“He thought:
‘How pitiful they are!
Why do they wish to return
Without getting great treasures?’
Thinking of an expedient, he said to himself:
‘I will use my supernatural powers.”
(Lotus Sutra, Chapter VII, page 224)

How many times have you been in the role similar to that of the leader of our group of travelers? Have you ever tried helping someone achieve their goal or dream only to have them abandon the effort or turn away before reaching their goal? What were your feelings at that time?

It has happened to me that I have tried to help someone along their path, either Buddhist or general life, and they have turned away at some point and abandoned their journey. It is a difficult thing to experience both on a personal level and thinking of the other person.

I have mentored teenagers and they were doing so well until something happened in their lives such as drugs or some big emotional let down. A life that was going one direction suddenly begins going off in a completely different direction and not one that leads to necessarily a good outcome. It is sad to see and experience.

But I wonder how much of the disappointment is feelings of personal failure. I know in all honesty for me there is that part. I have felt that somehow I have failed, that I wasn’t skillful enough and that if I had only had one more skill or had done one more things it might have turned out differently. I wonder if you have felt a similar thing in your life?

It is times such as those I wish I could have been as skillful as this leader or as the Buddha. But even the Buddha could not change the direction of the life of his cousin, Devadatta who tried to destroy the Buddhist Sangha as well as kill the Buddha. There are times when I do believe that we can only do so much and then it is up to the individual to find his or her own path.

How much control of your life are you willing to give up in order to meet the goals of someone else? For most people there is a limit to how much of their personal identity and decision making they will give up before they rebel. I know I myself have limits, how about you? And so when you try to force someone to be as you think they should be they may become resentful and end up being driven further away rather than drawn closer.

I think here is a key point as you develop your own practice. It has to be your practice at a fundamental level. You can’t practice for someone else trying to meet their standard. However your practice progresses it has to be your own style. Yes in Nichiren Buddhism we have a framework of reciting the sutra and chanting Odaimoku but we do those things not so that we can all be identical. Likewise someone else needs to develop in their own way and they need to be allowed to do so with respect.

Some of my fondest memories of people who have guided me are around the mistakes I made in spite of their best effort. The fact that I was allowed to make a mistake, suffer the consequence, and not be abandoned or judged were great life experiences for me. If we go back to the idea of aboutness, these instances were ones where I was able to learn more about my personal aboutness because someone else was secure in their own aboutness. It is often a persons own insecurity that causes them to be unable to let someone live their own life.

Your practice of Buddhism is not so that you will live a life exactly like the Buddha’s. Your practice is to enable you to live your life as the Buddha did so that whatever you natural tendencies and specialties are they are so imbued with the spirit of enlightenment that you become the Buddha of your place, time, job, house and so forth. Your practice is about figuring out how Buddhism can enrich and inform your every day actions regardless of what your job or hobby or education or income level is.

One day a while back I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize and from a place where I knew I had no friends. The voice on the other end of the phone identified himself as one of the young men I had mentored. He proceeded to tell me about how much he appreciated my efforts and how he had turned his life around and was now doing quite well. We never really know sometimes the profound impact we can have on people simply by not giving up and also by not forcing them to become exactly as we ‘think’ they should be. Of course not all stories end happily ever after.

It is a challenge to know when something shifts from being about the needs of the other person to our own personal need, and this is an important point. In the end we cannot live the life of another person no mater how hard we may try or how strong our desire is.

The guide of our group of travelers, as we are told, employed skillful means in order to encourage the group to continue. It doesn’t say he cajoled them or that he forced them or that he used any of the more common methods we might easily resort to. This is the trait of a good leader. I don’t know about you, but there is still much for me to learn when it comes to being able to effectively employ skillful means.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, Dharma Talks, Good Things, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu | 2 Comments

To the Magic City Too – #11

Print Friendly

I wonder what changes you could accomplish in your life if you made a commitment from today for 500 days to practice on a regular consistent basis towards the achievement of some change in your life? Would you be able to travel the entire 500 days without giving up or abandoning or forgetting your goal and effort? Most people over the course of one year are unable to follow through on their yearly determination and even many people do not even bother setting out a list of goals for the year. It is no wonder then that we may feel as if we are not changing or as if we are unable to accomplish our dream. The path to enlightenment is a life-long journey, one year or 500 days is simply a small portion of that journey. I hope that you can make a renewed determination after reading this to establish some goals for yourself and make effort towards accomplishing them.

Elsewhere I have written about one of my goals to study Buddhism when I first converted. When I was very new in the practice I made this goal and it continues to this day. When I first started out I didn’t know much about Buddhism but I wanted to learn. There was so much for me to accomplish it seemed impossible. At that time I was encouraged to read and study twenty minutes a day.

Twenty minutes is not very much. You may think that there isn’t much value in such a short period of study. At the time I was in the US Marine Corps and for me twenty minutes was a big chunk of time. Time was in short supply for me during much of my service. Sometimes there would be nights when I would be called back in to work so I was never sure if I would get any time to study. Of course there were sangha meetings that I also wanted to attend, and I wanted to eat as well. Eating is very important when you are expending so much energy. Also, I have to admit I wanted to have time to play tennis; it was something that I really enjoyed doing.

What can you accomplish in twenty minutes? Not much really unless you think about how over the course of a year that works out to more than 100 hours. I am sure that if you had 100 hours to spend on something you might be able to accomplish a significant amount. Yet how many of us waste our time thinking we don’t have 100 hours when in fact we do. Over the years I was in the military alone I spent at least 400 hours reading and studying. Some nights I had more time, and some nights less but I actually kept a record and over the time I managed to be fairly consistent in my reading and study. This is a practice that has continued throughout my life.

The same can be said of our daily practice. One day a week I am in the detox unit of the hospital where I do most of my work. I spend an hour there teaching meditation to people of all ages who are cleaning their bodies out so they can hopefully go out and work on becoming clean and sober from addiction to drugs or alcohol. One of the reasons I do this is because scientists have studied the effects of meditation on the brain and on people with addictions. In one study they found that with a consistent meditation practice of 15-20 minutes a day for six weeks a measurable change takes place in the physical structure of the casing of the frontal lobe; the place of good decision making.

Twenty minutes a day, consistently day in and day out devoted to one thing is a very powerful and important way to get things done in our lives that we may not otherwise be able to accomplish. Are there things in your life you could apply the 20 minutes a day program to? Imagine developing a consistent daily practice of the Lotus Sutra every day for 20 minutes for a year or two years. For some of us it may mean returning to the beginning days of our practice for others it may mean beginning. In many ways regardless whether we are new to the practice or long time practitioners we all can benefit from returning to the beginning. Perhaps we have become tired out along our journey and not even aware of being so.

What are the things that you find most frequently interfere with your practice and consequently your growth in life? Have you ever looked to see if there was a trend you could identify? For some people it is their personal arrogance that gets in the way of improvement; they already know everything. For others it is fear of failure. For some it might be simply insecurity. But each of us has, if we look deeply and honestly, we each have something that frequently lies at the heart of our limitations for growth. It might not be easy and certainly might not be pleasant to examine and admit to our tendencies. Yet being able to identify them gives us the ability to fully address them.

In addition to becoming tired out and wishing to return the travelers were also still afraid. Their guide had successfully lead them through roughly 250 days of travel finding them food and water because we are told in the gatha section that there was no water or grass along the way. So provisions either needed to be carried or provided. Yet they had survived thanks in part I am guessing to the skill of the guide. Yet even still they wanted to return home.

It is interesting how people will frequently in their lives abandon the very things that are indeed working for them. People in recovery will stop doing the things that are strengthening their sobriety. People will stop exercising or eating properly even though they have made and continue to make significant improvements in their health. People will stop studying and so their minds become inactive. People will abandon their Buddhist practice even though it has proven to be of great benefit in their lives. What are the things you abandon even while you can admit they are beneficial.

I struggle the most with eating healthily. Because of my basic metabolism I have never had an issue with gaining weight. In fact my problem is somewhat the reverse and I am unable to gain weight when I would like to. Because of this I am lulled into a false sense of being able to eat anything I wish. Over the years this has taken a toll on me and now I struggle with maintaining good levels of cholesterol and blood sugar. Even though I know eating better helps I get lazy and fall back into old habits of eating poorly.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, Dharma Talks, Good Things, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu | 2 Comments

To the Magic City Too – #10

Print Friendly

Of the two reasons given to us as to why the travelers wished to return home I would like to touch upon their becoming tired out at the half way point. Also I am curious about the changes they may have experienced in their group during the time they have traveled so far.

The journey length we know from the description of it being 500 yojanas long. Yojana is both a measurement of distance as well as time. Simply stated a yojana is the distance an ox-cart can travel in one day. Of course as carts improved in construction and roads improved as well over time the distance grew but it was still a measurement of days. So we know the total length of the journey to the fabled city was to take 500 days. That is almost a year and a half, a lot can happen in that length of time.

I wonder how many babies were born during that time as surely there must have been unless everyone abstained from sex for the nine months before the journey as well as the entire length of the journey. This is highly unlikely. So amidst our group of travelers there almost certainly must have been a child birth or two or three. Perhaps even some may have died along the trip as well.

I think about some of the mass movements of people across the plains of the US. Back in the time of the gold rush, a trip to a place of unimaginable fabled wealth, the trip from the East Coast to California would take almost a year. Part of the trip was traveling to the staging point of St. Louis where groups would form and then head out across the plains and mountains in covered wagons. There were many births and deaths along that journey.

It is I suspect impossible for a span of even a year to pass much less a year and a half without some possibly significant changes in a person’s life to occur.

Every year at the beginning of the New Year as part of the services at my temple I pass around sheets of blank paper, envelopes, and pens. I then make time for people to write their goals for the upcoming year on the blank paper. Then that is sealed in the envelope and folks write their addresses on the envelope. I collect the envelopes and place them on the altar and on July 1st I mail them out to those who took part. The reason I do this is to provide a reminder to people of what their goals were at the beginning of the year and perhaps allow them to reassess where they are and where they wish to go in regard to their personal growth.

I wonder if you remember what your goals for this year were on January first. Do you as part of your life process make personal goals, listing things you wish to achieve over periods of time? If it is not something you do how accurately are you able to really assess your growth and change. Merely going through life, with no clear direction and no clear idea from where you began makes it extremely difficult to clearly determine the path of change and growth or lack thereof.

Of course if you have a major life event, such as the birth of child or the death of a family member, that is an easy demarcation in your life. A new job or the loss of a job also provides an easy comparison. Yet many of the changes that are fundamental to our long term happiness, the changes our lives make as we progress towards enlightenment are subtle and imperceptible to us on a day to day basis. Frequently it is only when we look back with a clear picture of where we were and where we are presently that we can see how much our lives have changed.

The travelers on their 500-day journey may have thought the journey would never end. Without the ability to look back over what they had covered and how much remained I can imagine it would be discouraging. I have had people come to me for encouragement because they feel they have not made any progress.

If I know the person well sometimes I am able to tell them about what their life was like a year ago or remind them of the great changes that indeed have occurred in their lives. It isn’t always the case that I am able to do this. Regardless I always encourage people to step back away from examining their lives one day at a time and look at a summary of days. On a day-to-day basis it almost always is the case that our lives have ups and downs. But over time, as we work to changing our lives at the core, as we work to make significant change in our life to attain enlightenment we can see a steady incline towards the positive. It might not be a smooth upward increase it almost certainly will be jagged, but the general trend will be to the positive especially if we develop a consistent practice.

If, though, you have no clear awareness of where you were when you began, and have no goal to completion then determining where you came from, where you are going, and were you are presently in relation is very difficult if not perhaps impossible. Constant reflection, reexamination, reassessment is part of the process of growth; otherwise we tent to wander aimlessly.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, Dharma Talks, Good Things, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu | Leave a comment