Lecture on the Lotus Sutra Now Available

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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

Treasures We Do Not Seek – April 20, 2014 Dharma Talk

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Good morning thank you for attending the temple this Easter morning. Even though Easter is not a Buddhist holiday there is much in the spirit of the holiday we can appreciate. Today I would like to share with you a connection I make with one part of the Easter story and the Lotus Sutra.

As you know I work as a chaplain and in my work here in Charlotte I am frequently, almost entirely, called to spend time with Christians. Not being raised in a particularly Christian family there is really much of the religion I was not aware of prior to my training to be a chaplain. One of those things was the idea of Saturday in the story of the crucifixion and resurrection Christian celebrate at Easter. Today I would like to talk about Saturday.

In a way the idea of the uncertainty of Saturday after crucifixion is an appropriate metaphor for many things in our lives. In case you don’t know what I am talking about, Saturday was a time of great uncertainty for those early followers of Christ. They had just witnessed their spiritual teachers death the day before. For my Christian friends who may read this, please forgive me if I make some doctrinal errors.

On Saturday those early disciples of Christ who were not yet called Christians were probably very upset, grieving the loss of their teacher just the day before. For us as moderns who know the outcome of the story it is easy to forget how uncertain these people may have felt. They did not know what the future would hold for them. There may have even been the thoughts of giving up, of being spiritually adrift.

In Chapter VI of the Lotus Sutra the arhats say to the Buddha

“We have obtained innumerable treasures although we did not seek them.”

When we read this it is easy to understand both the delight and the acknowledgement of the benefit of the treasure of an improved life condition resulting from our Buddhist practice.

Yet in the time before we see the benefit of our Buddhist faith and practice it isn’t easy to be able to claim any delight in benefits not sought after. There are times in our practice when we may face some serious troubles, when moving forward seems terribly hard if not down right impossible.

I imagine Saturday might have been such a time for the followers of Christ. How do you proceed when the worst has happened? How do you go forward after you have lost a loved one? How do you get up the next day after you have been diagnosed with a terminal disease? How do you have a morning cup of coffee when you need to rush to the hospital to be with a sick or dying loved one? How do you find joy when the worst possible thing has happened to you? How do you praise the benefit of the Lotus Sutra when you see no benefit in the moment?

Sometimes it seems our religious beliefs call on us to do the impossible. Yet isn’t it really the other way around? When we are faced with the seemingly impossible isn’t it our religious or spiritual beliefs the very thing we can rely upon to get us through?

Sometimes we view events as tests of our religion or our faith when really we might better think of it as we have difficulties as a natural part of being alive and religion is what can give us direction in those moments. When you look around at every thing in life think about just how difficult it is to even be alive. Living is a treasure no matter how brief or turbulent it is. Right now there are literally hundreds of dead canker worms on my front porch, there are hundreds more plastered all over the sides of the house. These were living beings that struggled and did not make it. Life is a struggle, but we as humans have an expectation that it will be roses and easy.

We look at resurrection or enlightenment as if this is how every day should be, as if somehow we should expect lives of ease and comfort. We forget too easily the Saturdays of our lives. We forget the years of struggle the Buddha engaged in so he could be awakened. We forget just how tenuous life really is.

Life is the treasure and our awareness of this is the treasure we sometimes are most unaware of and take for granted. This is the first treasure we should celebrate. When we can fully celebrate the treasure of life and realize that Saturday is a key part of that treasure we can be opened to the other treasures in our lives. When we live with a sense of entitlement to lives of ease we delude ourselves and thereby miss the moments of just being alive.

I wish you a joyous day and life as Buddhist, as Christians, as Jews, as Muslims, and as the many other ways of expressing and living as spiritual beings.

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

Becoming a Chaplain – Personal Journey #2

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Before anyone thinks too highly of me I need to tell you not just what I did in caring for those young men; boys if you will. It is important to tell you who I was at that time. This was a very low point in my spiritual practice, having drifted away from a regular consistent daily devotion. I was also was filled to overflowing with anger.

At the time I was not mature enough or wise enough to understand what the effect of that anger had on my life, or even the deep causes. Anger was my constant companion during this time.

Part of my anger was how I processed my disillusionment over the failure of society twice in my life. I harbored a very deep-seated anger over Vietnam and the terrible loss of life, many of which were my friends. I was angry over the way society treated the veterans of that time.

It was bad enough processing the hurt of Vietnam now here was a terrible disease that was taking the lives of many young people, some famous and many who were just ordinary people trying to live a life. There was no place for these people anymore and virtually every organization, department of government, or religious organization turned their backs on these modern day lepers.

I didn’t want to be caring for dying boys, many who were younger than I was. I was angry that it should be up to me, I wanted to be left alone but mostly I wanted people to just do the right thing and care for one another. I wasn’t angry at the sick I was angry that there was no help.

I did not understand at the time that grief too expresses itself in anger; being one of the stages of grief. Not knowing this, not understanding the nature of anger and not seeing it in my own life led to some poor processing skills. How is it possible for someone to process what they are unaware of, know nothing about, and really isn’t even trying; reacting instead of responding.

Chuck, a young boy age 23 when he first became sick continued to work at his job making decent money. He was renting a very large house and had several roommates and a lot of friends. When I was first introduced to him he had just been fired because his employer found out or suspected that he had AIDS. As his money began to run out and he became sicker one by one his circle of friends began to shrink. Yes, we gay people treated ourselves pretty poorly.

Eventually he needed to move from his large home to a very small one bedroom shack. I say shack because it was barely more than that. He had sold off many of his possessions so he would have enough money to pay the rent for several months. After a few weeks Chuck was no longer able to get out of bed very much. I would go over to visit almost daily and he would ask me to move things around outside so that his landlord wouldn’t know he was bed bound and possibly evict him for having AIDS.

Chuck’s mother had disowned him and refused to see him when she found out he was sick, but his grandmother was still in his life. One day when he was quite so sick I managed to get him into the car for a day trip to visit his grandmother. I dropped him off so they could spend some time together and then returned later in the day.

I won’t go into the gory details of providing medical care for Chuck, except to say this was the worst case and the hardest. Chuck ended up being the last person I for whom I provided care for several years until I healed some. Chuck’s illness got much worse shortly after that.

It was at this time the hospital in San Diego just opened up a 5 bed AIDS unit to provide care for those who could get in. This was such a huge deal and the beginning of a societal change in the treatment of AIDS and the care for those affected. Chuck was fortunate to be admitted to the unit.

On the second night of his stay I stopped by to visit. It had been a very long day for me on my job; I had worked 36 hours running a printing press working on a very important job. While I was visiting Chuck that night I fell asleep in the chair. I am not sure how long I was asleep but when I woke up Chuck lay their very peaceful, he looked at me and said “why don’t you go on home now. I’ll be alright.”

Even now, as I write this, tears come to my eyes. This was the last thing he said. According to the nurse who called me shortly after at home (before cell phones and instant communication) to tell me that he died just a few minutes after I left. That was hard so very hard. The next day I called his grandmother who was too ill to leave her home to tell her that I would be arranging for his cremation and burial. I knew she wouldn’t be able to come, heck nobody would probably come.

On the day of his burial his mother showed up wanting to know where his things were so she could get her inheritance. I told her there wasn’t anything and got very upset with her for her treatment of her son. Actually upset is putting it mildly.

After Chuck I couldn’t do it any more for several years. I withdrew from being involved in the caring for the sick. It was also at this time that my partner and I moved to Charlotte and began our lives here.

Let me share with you briefly what my life looked like at the time. As an expression of my anger and hurt and all the mixed up emotions I had I engaged in very dangerous and reckless motorcycle ridding. I also had a very short temper, which would come out in interactions with other people. I would drive my motorcycle at very high speeds, in excess of 90MPH. I think I was trying to outrun the pain and the hurt. I know as I was doing it my emotions vacillated between fear of my own death, a desire to make it all go away, and a complete sense of helplessness.

I worked as a printing press operator something I was very good doing. I was very skilled and highly sought after for a few years. My anger would seep into my way of being at work as well. I would be short tempered with my bosses and at the slightest provocation I would fly off the handle and say some pretty unskillful things. In some instances my work was valued enough that it was overlooked but eventually it couldn’t be tolerated.

Sleeping became problematic for me. I would stay awake all night, not being able to fall asleep. Consequently I would be sleepy at work and even sometimes sleeping through work being unable to wake up on time. I got fired from one very lucrative job because of that. Things never really improved.

Fortunately drugs and alcohol were never a problem for me. Even as miserable as I felt I always preferred feeling that way to the effects of drugs and alcohol. I had an early experience with both so I knew what they were like. When I was in college I tried to keep up with my fraternity brothers in their drinking. Fortunately for me I have what I call a mild allergic reaction to alcohol and am unable to get past the second drink without becoming very nauseated, loosing my sense of balance, and aching joints are some of my reactions to alcohol. As for drugs I did use some in college as well as when I was in the Marine Corps, but they were never a big part of my life and joy.

As you can plainly see there was nothing remarkable about my life during all of this. I simply did what needed to be done and barely survived doing it. Things did change fortunately. I was able to find my way back to peace and sanity. I also learned more skillful ways of doing something that in my heart I really did fell connected to; caring for the sick and dying.

Perhaps you have not experienced anything like I have. If you have I would appreciate your comments.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, chaplain, compassion, death, dying, education, focus, Good Things, healthcare, Hope, language, lgbt, mindfulness, Pastoral Care, peace | 2 Comments

Becoming a Chaplain – Personal Journey #1

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Today I am beginning a series of articles recounting my personal journey as a Chaplain. I am making a personal determination to post an article at least one time a week until I feel I have completed my objective. I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to comment.
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In 1979 I lost my first friend to AIDS, several years before the disease had an actual name and before people really began to understand this terrible illness. At the time I was living in Hawaii and the partner of a very close friend who was living in Los Angles at the time was the first time I had even been associated with anyone who died of a serious illness. I received a phone call telling me that Dan was very sick and probably dying.

I naturally wanted to do anything I could to comfort both of my friends; the one dying and the one living with the death. Steve told me that he didn’t recommend that I make the trip since they didn’t know exactly what the illness was and whether it was contagious. Steve told me that a few of his friends in Los Angles were also sick or had recently died. After several days of considering the potential danger, even if truly unknown, and the benefit to Steve I decided to make the trip to be with him.

It was about six months later that I received the news that Dan had died. Steve was naturally devastated. About a year after that event I myself moved from Hawaii to San Diego. By this time it was 1981 and the gay disease was everywhere; people were dying. The deaths kept increasing in number and it was impossible to comprehend the number of people dying of this new disease.

The tragedy of the illness and death was compounded by the way society at large reacted to the disease. It was very common for people to be shunned, abandoned by friends and family. Part of this was out of ignorance over how the disease was transmitted, and part of it was because of the stigma of the disease. I also think that another part of the problem was the magnitude of the deaths and the speed at which it spread throughout the gay community.

Initially I began to take care of one or two people by visiting them and being their friend. Then I became active in a community service that would pick up soiled laundry from the sick, wash, fold, and return the clean laundry the following weak. Each week the organization would make the rounds providing clean laundry to those who otherwise would not have been able too.

Because of my involvement with this group more people would be ‘referred’ to me. These would be people who through word of mouth I would visit, many of whom had been abandoned by family and friends. Often all I would do was to call or drop by once or twice a week after I got off from work. Sometimes my partner would come with me. Most of the time I would only be with a patient for a few weeks before they died. For some I became one of only a few people who cared about their existence.

Occasionally I would also provide what I called primitive medical assistance. This would be mainly trying to get medicine through a friend of mine who was a dentist and had prescribing privileges. Most of the time we agreed that the medicine would be virtually useless, and perhaps I was only prescribing to relieve my own anxiety. Sometimes the medicine did help relieve some suffering but nothing would provide a cure. My primitive care also included changing dressings on wounds that would sometimes cover large areas of the body. This was not glamorous work and sometimes I wonder how I was able to tolerate what I witnessed. I also wonder how it was that I never became infected since I used no infection control such as gloves or masks; who had money for those items anyway. My care also provided changing linens, helping with body waste emptying bedpans or changing soiled clothing. And there were times when I would bring my own razor over to give the person a shave; nothing makes you feel quite as good as a clean face and clean teeth.

There were a number of funerals I would attend or even arrange. Sometimes at death a family member would show up to claim the inheritance even though they had not been present during the illness. There were a couple of times when no one would show up and my partner and I made arrangements for burial.

The really sad thing, which still stays with me, is the young age of many and the isolation in death they experienced. But it was not all without hope. It was during this time of caring that I learned a very valuable lesson that has stuck with me. For many of these young boys, and not just the ones I witnessed but all throughout the gay community there were similar stories. Many people who were dying used the final days and weeks of their lives to do something they had not done before.

Some of these young men decided to live their final days however many or few they were sober and clean from drugs. One young boy I knew decided he wanted to play the trumpet and for two weeks until he died he practiced every day. There are stories of people trying to learn a new language or drawing or painting. These were people who, maybe for the first time in their lives, knew what it mean to be alive and how valuable life is no matter how long it lasts.

Hope in the face of hopelessness. Most of us travel from day to day without any real sense of awareness of the journey. We go on living as if living will go on. Death is a non-existent event for many of us in our daily lives. Yet these young men who on the surface had nothing to live for found a reason to live and something of value in the living.

How many of us can appreciate the magnitude of the life choice to live in pain and loneliness waiting for an inevitable death within a short period of time and decide to do so without taking drugs that had been a way of life previously. It is easy to say well they were only clean or sober for two weeks. Or it is easy to condemn the drug use in the first place, but here is someone who has made a choice to die awake and alive and with joy and dignity. How many of us can be certain we could and would be so alive as we die?

Posted in Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, chaplain, compassion, death, dying, Good Things, healthcare, Hope, lgbt, mindfulness, Pastoral Care | 1 Comment

Ohigan – Renewal – March 23, 2014 Dharma Talk

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Good morning. Today is our first Lotus Sutra service since the Fall Equinox, our first service of Spring 2014. For those of us who live in the Carolinas the weather has been very delightful lately with mild temperatures and a lot of sunshine. Today the weather will be dramatically cooler and rain is supposed to start.

While out walking my dog over the past few days I have had plenty of chances to stop and talk with neighbors. I notice that it is the spring season when most of our neighborhood conversations take place. During the hot summer and the cold winter people are not out in their yards nearly as much, it seems. Spring and to a lesser degree Fall is when there are the most people out working in their yards.

Today in symbolic gesture of the sun crossing the equator as it does during the equinox we here do so representing the Ohigan Season, or the Crossing Over to the Other Shore. This is actually mentioned in Chapter I in the Lotus Sutra. It is traditional at this time of the year that we renew our practice of the Six Paramitas. In case you have forgotten the six I have listed them at the end of this Dharma talk. I hope you will actually this season as perhaps a reminder to renew your practice.

Spring is a season of growth, as season of emerging, blossoming, all around us living things are on the move. Birds are singing and returning from their winter migratory areas, mating it taking place. There is all sorts of new-ness around us. People are planting new things in their yards, tilling the soil for crops, pruning back to encourage new hardy growth.

Just as we clean our homes at spring, or tend to our yard and gardens, so too we should tend to our practice. It is natural to slip into patterns of familiarity or even shortcuts when we do something repeatedly. Doing things such as cleaning our altar, or reciting the sutra, or chanting Odaimoku, or visiting the temple or even joining in on the video stream are some of the many things that can become habitual.

Ohigan is a chance to look at all the ways in which we manifest our Buddhist practice; all the ways in which we say we are a Buddhist but may have slipped a bit and no longer are we as diligent in actually being Buddhist. Ohigan is the perfect opportunity to prune back some of the deadwood of habit to encourage new growth and new behaviors. The use of the metaphors could go on for quite some time.

I would like to simply remind each of you to sincerely examine your life and make a renewed effort to practice the Six Paramitas. I encourage you to sincerely chant the Odaimoku and Chapters II and XVI from the Lotus Sutra as the foundation to establishing enlightenment in your life.

Let us all practice together.

Here are the Six Paramitas:
1. Dana – Giving

2. Observing Precepts – not to kill, not to steal, not to indulge in harmful sexual behavior, not to lie, not to take intoxicants to the point of loosing control of one’s mind

3. Patience

4. Striving

5. Meditation

6. Wisdom

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, compassion, concentration, conservative, Dharma Talks, focus, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, peace | Leave a comment

Four Sufferings – Disease – March 18, 2014 Meditation

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“The triple world is not peaceful.
It is like the burning house.
It is full of sufferings.
It is dreadful.
There are always the sufferings
Of birth, old age, disease and death.
They are like flames
Raging endlessly.”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter III

In this installment I will cover the suffering of disease. Generally when we use the term disease we think first of sickness of the body. However, now you might perhaps be thinking of the way many things become diseased, especially since in this series I have been showing how these four sufferings apply to many things other than just our bodies which can also cause us suffering.

Dis-ease is the way one of my Chaplain instructors would say the word in order to emphasize the fact that there is no long ease present in the person. Disease is not one condition but many types of conditions which all result in some malfunction or breakdown of the body which can cause either physical or emotional crisis. Disease is generally not planned, coming to each of us unexpectedly, and it is usually not welcomed.

Over these past few articles and in recent other blog postings I have talked about interconnection and disease is usually something that does not just affect one person but groups of people. These groups of people may simply be family members or they may be entire societies, and they also impact those trained professionals who help people overcome disease.

Disease affects not only people though, it affects animals, it affects social structures, it affects governments, it affects economies, it affects ideas. Everything that can ever be born is subject to disease, including religions and their beliefs or practices.

The Buddha teaches in the Lotus Sutra that over time it would become increasingly more difficult to practice Buddhism because it would be corrupted with false ideas and misleading teachers thereby making it difficult just to sort out what teaching would be the most efficacious for the people of certain eras to practice. In other words Buddhism too would suffer disease and if not rescued it would potentially die. The Lotus Sutra is the teaching he intended to rescue Buddhism in ages when Buddhism is declining.

I work with the sick and dying as I carry out my Chaplain responsibilities, and in that process I work with doctors and nurses who provide medicines and prescribe treatments for those who are diseased. These treatments are intended to enable the individual to recover to the point where that person is capable of taking care of their own health.

The good medicine of the Lotus Sutra acts in much the same way. The Buddha has given the prescription to treat the disease of the degeneration of Buddhism in the form of the Lotus Sutra. It is the good medicine he left us but it is only going to be effective if we consume that good medicine by actually carrying out the practices of faith, study, reading, reciting, and teaching others.

In the parable of the Good Physician we have the children who are suffering from some poison they have consumed, they are said to be diseased of the mind. They are incapable of making good choices and so some refuse the perfect medicine, it is a medicine which is perfect in color, fragrance, taste and it ability to cure. The Lotus Sutra is just like that medicine, being perfect in all ways to measure a medicine, and it is capable of curing the most fundamental disease of delusion.

I have been working as a Chaplain for over three years now and I witness an interesting phenomena, something all healthcare professionals see as well; frequent readmissions for the same or similarly related diseases. In other words the same people come in for the same things repeatedly. Most often these are fully treatable conditions and have been treated in the past except the individual after being treated and healed fails to participate in their own continued good health. Eventually and frequently these same people either die or will die from this repeated condition; something that is completely treatable but requires patient participation.

Our Buddhist practice is like this as well. In order for this good medicine to cure us of our disease of delusions and enable us to break the cycle of suffering we need to not only take the good medicine it is also necessary to begin to participate in our own good spiritual health.

When people first come to practice Buddhism frequently they will notice a rapid change in their lives; perhaps even overcoming some obstacle or problem that has plagued them. This provides some immediate relief and there is a feeling of joy and happiness. Then however the critical time arises when they either reach a plateau of relative peace and security or they reach a really difficult patch in their lives. It is at this point when many people choose to abandon their practice.

This is very similar to those people who are frequently readmitted into the hospital for the same illness which are preventable. The way to end suffering is available to us through our daily practice of the Lotus Sutra though chanting the Odaimoku and reciting passages of the Sutra. This is much the same as following dietary guidelines or exercise programs in order to maintain good health. The daily practice of the Lotus Sutra is the prescription to maintain good spiritual health.

I hope you will continue in your daily practice so that you will be able to create a strong spiritual foundation for the blossoming of your enlightened life.

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

Knowing The Past And Changing The Future – March 16, 2014 Dharma Talk

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Good morning, thank you all for joining with me this morning to celebrate the Lotus Sutra and practice according to the instructions given to us by Nichiren Shonin. Continuing with my weekly reflections on the Lotus Sutra I offer you this from Chapter II.

“All things are devoid of substantiality.
The seed of Buddhahood comes from dependent origination.”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter II

Originally I had planned to go in a different direction reflecting on this passage, however just this morning I received an interesting question by email and decided to respond.

The question posed is roughly this: why do we have to suffer from unskillful causes in our past if we made those causes in ignorance, not knowing the skillful way to act?

The idea of karma being a result of some previous action is an incorrect concept of Western understanding of Buddhist teachings about karma. This is probably due in part because of the way it was translated but also because we as humans have a tendency to want to blame something or someone for what is happening to us. There is a desire to wish that we were not some how responsible for our actions, and that we are in some way a victim.

At any rate let me state simply karma is not what is happening to us. Karma is not the effect. Karma is what we are doing now. Karma is the causes we are making in this very moment. Karma is the cause we make and not the effect we receive.

Your karma is not what is happening to you; instead it is what you are doing in this very moment. Karma is how you respond to situations and events in your life. Karma does tend to be repetitive because we generally tend to respond in certain ways, which we have learned or developed. Those repetitive ways of responding generate similar effects. For example if we are prone towards anger and respond angrily to every event in our lives then we will continually receive the same results. The results are not our karma but our responses are. The two are not easily separated but by changing our responses to events in our lives is changing our karma and that intern changes our results.

The idea of dependent origination is simply that nothing comes into existence or exists independent of something else. So too our lives did not come into existence without the necessary sperm from a man and an egg from a woman, even if we were artificially produced in the so called test-tube. The egg and sperm gave us our genetic background from which we have grown. Our very life and existence is dependent upon many individuals both known and unknown to us.

There is no way possible to completely separate ones self from others. Also there is no way to separate this moment from the last or the next. There is no moment that arises independently of a series of previous moments.

So this very moment contains all of the previous moments and in this moment we are able to practice Buddhism and affect all of our future moments. It is because of this connection to the past causes that we are able to practice Buddhism now. In a way our enlightenment exists only in this moment you could say, because it is in this moment that we awaken to the true nature of reality, which is this dependent origination.

To wish we were somehow devoid or not accountable for our previous causes, however they were made, is to in effect wish we would never become Buddhas. I believe that enlightenment is partially if not completely about continually awakening to awareness and understanding about our current behavior in response to those countless unrealized and unaware causes we made in the past.

The theory in education is that each successive level of achievement is based upon the foundation of previous learned lessons. It is the rare individual that is able to attempt calculus without some previous understanding of basic math principles. So too our enlightenment is based upon not being perfect and not having lived a flawless life. If we had lived a perfect or flawless life then we would no longer be seekers and as the theory goes we would have left the stream of rebirth.

Let me say that it does seem rather naïve to think that in life we should be absolved of any action because we plead ignorance. We don’t always treat ourselves that way nor do we treat each other that way. We may concoct a story in our minds that says we treat ourselves and others fairly and in all instances forgive ignorance but I believe that is a myth we delude ourselves with. Society says ‘ignorance of the law is not excuse’ and guess what, that is pretty much how we all operate. There are even people of other religions who teach that just because you were ignorant of some savior or teaching does not get you out of hell.

Buddhism doesn’t teach that you are a victim of your ignorance, instead it says that regardless of how you arrived at where you currently are in life your happiness exists in this very moment and the way to that happiness is by changing your karma, your actions. It also teaches that the truth is, because of your ignorance you are actually able to become a Buddha, because all of those past causes you made got you to this very point enabling you to practice Buddhism now.

The final question in the email asks how can we learn from our past mistakes if we do not remember them. Because of the dependent origination and the continuity of past, present, and future we need only look at our lives in this very moment to begin to see what our previous causes were. Is that easy to do, is it pleasant to do, it is neither easy nor always pleasant. However, in reality the most important practice, and even the Buddha said this, is not about looking over your shoulder to the past but simply examining your present and acting according to Buddhist teachings. After all, the past we have no way of undoing except by changing our present thereby ensuring a future of happiness.

I hope you will consider carefully what your karma is; what actions you are engaged in. Karma is what you are doing now, not what you did in the past. Chanting Odaimoku, the Sacred Title Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is the most effective way to begin to change our lives and attain enlightenment in this very moment.

Thank you all again for today, and I wish you a happy and joyful week ahead.

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

Buddhism and Money #6 – March 13, 2014

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Essentially money is simply a means of exchange. You could think of it in terms of the middle-man between your means of earning and the things you buy. Money is the middle point between your working on a spreadsheet for your boss and the next vacation you take to some exotic location.

Money in your pocket or bank account was once your work, your effort, your employment at whatever company or industry you work for. Eventually that money will become something else such as a car payment, or groceries, or even a night at the movies. In a way you can think of money as that space between what was and what will be.

Money has the potential to change one activity into something completely different. It is a store of value and as such can become many other things and at almost any other time.

Some of the ways we can take money apart and look at it are to examine what are the things we turn money into, and what is our experience of the enterprise we engage in which is turned into money.

When I began this series I offered some exercises for you to consider which can help you answer these basic fundamental questions. What do you do and what is your relationship with the activities you engage in which are converted into money; how do you feel about your job? What is your understanding and feelings about money? Finally, what do you seek from your conversion of money into possessions and experiences, when you spend, or save it? These are the three things that are at the foundation of money in our society, or money in your life.

Some basic fears, which can obscure our relationship with money in our lives, are centered on the value of our jobs, and the value of our purchases. In other words what you feel about the work you do and the purchase you make.

How you feel about your job and the work you do is significant because most of us spend a large chunk of our time doing that very activity. At some other point I’ll spend some time in detail talking about this but basically I think we get confused sometimes about where to place the value of work. It is easy to loose sight of the value of our personal effort and think only of the value of the institution the where the work is done. It is possible and sometimes necessary to separate the two, because in our interconnected world it isn’t always possible to work at the perfect job, which only contributes to the good of society.

In our modern society there are few, if any, jobs which in some way or another would not perfectly fit the standard for Right Livelihood. But the nature of the company does not prevent us from doing good work or contributing value in that work. Nor does it prevent us from doing the best we are able and being a model of our Buddhist beliefs. If we only think of the object (the company) and never examine the subject (our actions on behalf of the company) then there will be a disconnect, and that will lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, and further to unhappiness. Now of course if the work is truly illegal or even harmful to other beings then we should try to change our careers but that isn’t always possible and so we may need to change things from within.

The way you feel about the value you contribute to the enterprise or work you are engaged in will directly impact your belief and relationship with money if you have not done the work of separating the two. I plan on talking more about this in a later blog.

The second fear I mentioned above, the fear of translating money into good enough possessions and experiences is a real concern and one that many people don’t sufficiently explore. The exercise I suggested where you took an inventory of your possessions was an attempt to cause you to consider the nature of your purchases and your expectations when you spend money.

Money does not come with any instructions on either how to get it nor how to spend it. Money is a neutral element, and as such is neither good nor bad. We may have received instruction in economics or even finance but few of us have delved into what our expectations are of money and what it really takes to achieve happiness. It is no wonder we are like blind men seeking to navigate a maze when it comes to translating money into something of a different value. We have transferred our expectation of happiness onto something that really has no ability to meet that expectation.

We will need to gain better skill at learning what is happiness and what produces happiness so we will be better prepared to turn money into those things.

Of course there is a reverse pitfall as well and that is to look only at the price of the painting and to never see the beauty in the art. When we focus solely on the value of something and ignore the experience can also lead to unhappiness and a sense of dissatisfaction. When the house you own becomes more of an investment and less of a home you are in a sense engaging in a transference of values and removing the happiness potential. In a way by focusing on the value of something you are converting that thing into a medium of exchange similar to money.

Work, money, happiness are tricky and complicated subjects. I hope you have taken the time to do some of the suggested exercises and will continue to do them. They can help untangle or reveal your beliefs about money, the values you place on it either realistically or not, and what expectations you have for money. These basic exercises and questions might be very comfortable for you as an extension of your Buddhist practice, yet for many they are uncomfortable to engage in. As a rule of thumb I suggest in all activities calling for reflection be alert to warning signs. Some classic warning signs are thoughts of not needing to do the activity either because you don’t have a problem or you don’t need to or some such excuse. Another warning sign is that it is too painful or too difficult, this just means you may need to go gently but not simply avoid.

Consider again looking at the older posts and engaging in the meditations I proposed.

Posted in Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, concentration, conservative, Dharma Talks, economy, education, Finances, Good Things, Hope, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu, peace | Leave a comment

Four Sufferings – Old Age – March 11, 2014 Meditation

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“The triple world is not peaceful.
It is like the burning house.
It is full of sufferings.
It is dreadful.
There are always the sufferings
Of birth, old age, disease and death.
They are like flames
Raging endlessly.”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter III

Having covered birth we now move to old age. Sometimes when explanations of these sufferings is given there is another step included which covers growth before old age. I think that as I write about old age I will include growth as well, because there is certainly potential for suffering as well.

Traditionally it is taught that the first sermon of the Buddha was the Four Noble Truths the first of which is the truth that there is suffering. The following three noble truths depending upon how they are translated can lead a person to think that the Buddha was teaching us a way to completely avoid any suffering in life at all. I think this would be a misunderstanding and a misleading way to ever interpret the Buddha’s most important message.

I think what the Buddha sets out to do is first to recognize that suffering is simply a fact of our very existence. The Buddha lost his mother during child his own birth. In spite of the purported lavish and luxurious lifestyle the Buddha’s father heaped upon his son, nothing could remove the fact that by his very birth the Buddha lost his mother, and the complicated grief dynamics that potentially sets in motion. The Buddha lived his whole life possibly wondering about the mother he never had.

No matter what we do as living human beings we will always be susceptible to suffering, it is as the Buddha teaches simply a fact of life. What the Buddha set out to accomplish I think was how do we manage, how do we respond to, and how do we live with that very reality. Suffering causes emotions and how do we ensure that our emotional response, either negatively or positively, does not either complicate the suffering or even lead to more suffering.

After birth, whether it is a baby, or a new idea, or a job, or a brand new car there ideally is a period of perhaps some growing pains or even some relative calm and stability. I have never raised a baby so all of my information is via third parties, but I have heard that babies are constantly changing, they are growing, they are learning, and they are pooping. And they just keep growing until they eventually grow up to be fully independent beings capable of living on their own after roughly 18-20 years of eating parents out of house and home and causing untold griefe either as rebellious teenagers or perhaps some other act of separation from the family nest.

Of course I remember some of this as a first hand experience of the rebellious part, of the leaving home part and establishing my own life; thankfully I did not have to experience it from my parents perspective, and for that I must express gratitude to my parents for putting up with what they did.

Ideas frequently have a similar trajectory, a new club or organization, or a new business; new restaurants frequently have rocky births. Then after things get going they may settle down some and achieve a certain amount of stability, though not always. Sometimes right after conception and birth things deteriorate rapidly and become ‘old’ perhaps nearing death.

I have known restaurants that have had a grand launch and then three weeks later you can already feel the life has gone out and the place is on its last legs, even when the food was perfectly good. The demise or the old age of the business may have been caused by poor planning, or poor management, or just simply because it happens.

Old age is not simply a collection of wrinkled skin or a bag of frail bones. While it is that it is also about ideas and attitudes, it is about the afternoon and early evening of the day, it is about the third quarter in a game sometimes, it is about the failure of a business to adapt it’s product to changing technologies and slowly becoming obsolete.

Old age is many outward experiences but it is also an inner journey and experience as well. It is about a person realizing that things done as a teenager or early adolescent are either not possible or not completely appropriate; the time has passed. Old age is about realizing there are other more appropriate activities to engage in such as processing knowledge into wisdom to be passed down to future generations. Old age is an inner journey into both preparing to let go of life, but also to experience the joys of life from a completely new perspective unencumbered by the pressure of the achievement driven youth.

Old age can be both scary and exciting, whether viewed as some event outside our life or as something to do with our life. It is not an easy journey regardless and there is the struggle with suffering constantly present just as suffering is present in growth. As we grow up towards old age the suffering is perhaps the fear of failure. In old age it is the fear of letting go, and the fear of death.

In all of these, suffering is a fact of our very existence, not to be avoided. We only cause ourselves more suffering is we think there is some way to magically escape entirely from suffering. What I believe Buddhism teaches us though, and I base this not just on theory but also on some personal life experience as I move into old age, what Buddhism teaches is a way to manage suffering, a way to experience suffering through truth. Buddhism teaches us a way to move into suffering with grace and strength and courage knowing that just as happiness is not without end so too is suffering and so we proceed through life in all situations making the causes that will cause us the least amount of further suffering.

Next week we get to talk about disease, something I witness almost every day in the hospital.

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

Praising the Buddha – March 9, 2014 Dharma Talk

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Good morning to you all, thank you for joining with me today to celebrate the Lotus Sutra by reciting portions of Chapter II and Chapter XVI as well as harmoniously chanting the sacred title. Today is the first day of Daylight Savings Time here in the United States. For most of us the next few days or even weeks will be challenging as our bodies adjust to the change in time. I know I am one of the group for which it takes several weeks to make the adjustment.

As I was thinking about this it reminded me of something I had read a short while ago.

“The things you do often create the things you believe.”
McRaney, David (2013-07-30). You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself

Each of us will over the course of the next few days, thanks to the necessity of following social conventions gradually adjust our bodies and our minds to becoming in rhythm with the new time. By doing the same things daily in the new time schedule we will eventually “believe” in the new time and we will forget the old time. In other words because we are forced into making the adjustment eventually we do make that adjustment.

The book I quoted is an interesting book, which explores the function of the mind delving into understanding why we think the way we do and some of the universal principals that we all seem to follow even unknowingly.

In Chapter II there is a section which talks about the merit to be obtained by doing various practices such as making images of the Buddha, making offerings to the Buddha including beating drums, by offering flowers and incense, and by expounding the Dharma to others. Not only do we gain the merit of the Buddha by doing those things ourselves but we also benefit from causing others to do the same.

“Those who respectfully offered
Flowers, incense, streamers, and canopies
To the image or picture of the Buddha
Enshrined in a stūpa-mausoleum;
Or those who caused men to make music
By beating drums, by blowing horns and conches,
And by playing reed-pipes, flutes, lyres, harps,
Lutes, gongs, and copper cymbals,
And offered the wonderful sounds produced thereby
To the image or picture of the Buddha;
Or those who sang joyfully in praise of him for his virtues;
Or those who just murmured [in praise of him],
Have already attained
The enlightenment of the Buddha.”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter II

By doing the various practice of Buddhism, such as reciting the sutra, chanting the Odaimoku, meditating, making offerings, and teaching others are all acts which further strengthen our own belief according to science.

The really interesting thing which science has discovered is that the belief that is nurtured by doing then leads to becoming.

These things then influence you to become the sort of person who owns them.
McRaney, David (2013-07-30). You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself

In other words our practice, engaging in the various practices the sutra teaches us, enhances our faith, which then enables us to transform our lives into being those things we practice.

Faith, practice and study are the three cornerstones of Buddhism, which have been so since the very beginning. What the Buddha understood more than two thousand years ago today science is proving.

I encourage each of you to carry out your Buddhist practice faithfully day-in and day-out so that you are able to transform your lives into the lives of Buddhas and reveal your vast inner potential.

Let us together attain Buddhahood and enable countless others to do the same.

“Those who bowed to the image of the Buddha,
Or just joined their hands together towards it,
Or raised only one hand towards it,
Or bent their heads a little towards it
And offered the bending to it,
Became able to see innumerable Buddhas one after another.
They attained unsurpassed enlightenment,
Saved countless living beings,
And entered into the Nirvāṇa-without-remainder
Just as fire dies out when wood is gone.”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter II

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Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, compassion, concentration, Dharma Talks, focus, Good Things, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mind, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, peace, Prayer | Leave a comment

Buddhism and Money #5 – March 6, 2014

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I wonder if you had any revelations as you worked through the inventory of items in a room? Now think about your whole house and what that inventory list would look like.

We have done several different types of meditations or awareness exercises now. What are your thoughts? What are your feelings? Has anything arisen within you, perhaps a new understanding, or a desire to make some changes?

Let’s recap the exercises so far.

1. Physical characteristics of money – what does it look like, what does it feel like, what emotions are triggered when you think about money?

2. Money is time – knowing the amount of time it takes to earn a dollar and practicing thinking of purchases in terms of time it took to earn the money.

3. Inventory of possessions – what things do you have, what is their value to you, what items on the list are absolutely essential to your life, what items are merely nice to have, what items would you take and carry on your back if you needed to flee you dwelling?

Now I would like to consider the distinction between fun and happiness. The two are related to each other but they are not the same thing. Happiness is a state of being, whereas fun is a state of doing. Happiness is a continuing condition, something that defines a general condition of your life. Fun is a feeling that arises because something was done.

Think of it like this. You can say the statement, ‘I feel happy’ or ‘I am happy’, but we don’t say ‘I feel fun.’ You can say ‘I am having fun’ or ‘I had fun’, but we wouldn’t say ‘I am having happiness’, or ‘I had happiness’. Hopefully you get the idea. Our language can give us some clues if we pay attention to it.

Fun can affect happiness but that effect is temporary. Scientists have studied the effect of various activities on the state of happiness in various individuals and have determined that the length of time that fun causes happiness varies between individuals and activities. But in all cases the effect is indeed temporary.

An interesting phenomena is when fun is derived through observing something the affect on happiness is much shorter then when fun is derived through actively participating in an activity. For example, if you go to the movies, that can be fun and produce an effect of happiness. But if you go to a movie and engage in a discussion about the movie with a friend the affect will produce a longer lasting affect on happiness.

The same can be said for example of sports. Watching a sporting event can affect happiness, but playing a sport will produce a longer lasting effect.

Since happiness is a state of continuing being or condition of self it is not possible to buy, though we can spend money doing things that are fun and so contribute to our state of being happy. Money doesn’t bring happiness it might however allow us to have fun. Spending doesn’t increase happiness it isn’t even guaranteed to create fun. Any fun that is created through spending money is short lived, doesn’t last forever or usually even very long.

I am currently reading a book I have found interesting dealing with the subject of happiness titled The Owners Manual for Happiness; Essential Elements of a Meaningful Life by Pierce J. Howard.

The importance of Sangha is one of the Three Jewels, which you know, if you have read much of my writing, that I believe in strongly and promote regularly. Here is another example of how being connected and staying engaged with others in community affects our assessment of our personal well being.

Connecting with and being engaged with people has, in studies shown that it can have the greatest and most long lasting impact on our happiness. There are a great many things that can be done together with friends, which cost no money, at all, take little effort and yet will last a very long time in terms of elevating our happiness.

Exercising and being active are also activities that contribute to personal happiness and do so over a longer period of time. Getting up, and out walking around the block or through the neighborhood is an excellent way to begin to move the body and affect happiness, and can be done so with minimal requirement for spending money. Both sitting at a computer and watching TV have been shown to produce relatively small impact on happiness.

It is as if in our modern society we have selected to do all the things in our lives that actually serve to move us away from happiness instead of towards happiness. We have cut back on personal connections and we have stopped moving and exercising as a natural part of our living. Now we need to be intentional about creating opportunities for these happiness-producing activities.

If we couple how we spend our money and free time on things that have minimal or no impact on our happiness with the way we feel about our efforts to actually earn that money we may have inadvertently filled almost our entire waking life with only things that cause us unhappiness.

Filling our lives with unhappiness or with things that produce little to no happiness may not have been our intention but it can happen if we are not fully aware of what we do or if our values have been swayed by misunderstanding or even false messages from outside sources. If we have taken someone else’s word for what should make us happy then we might be setting ourselves up for continued suffering.

If you believe you are not happy because you do not own some product, or use some item, then you are allowing someone else to dictate to you the condition of your state of being which is a message once embraced or felt is not eliminated by merely owning or doing something. Owning or doing are activities and as such are about doing related things such as having fun. Fun and happiness though are not the same.

The important thing I hope you will consider from this section on Buddhism and Money is what you do to actively contribute to your happiness versus what you think you do. Are your activities active or passive in nature? The more active they are the more likely they will have the greatest impact on your sense of well-being and happiness. Also do your activities connect you with others, do they foster human interactions, conversations, and life-to-life connections? The more connected you are and the more you engage with other people the more happy you will become and the longer that condition of happiness will remain in your life.

Our Buddhist practice, as all Buddhist practices really, serve to facilitate our examination of our lives to determine if we are living in a skillful manner so as to produce a state of well being and happiness not only in our own lives but in the lives of other around us. Our Buddhist practice also directs us to practice in community and connected to Sangha and not merely as independent isolated singular beings. Sharing our experiences or having shared experiences actively are potential sources of greatly improved and long lasting happiness.

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