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

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 | Leave a 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.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, compassion, conservative, Dharma Talks, economy, Finances, Good Things, healthcare, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, Nichiren's Major Writings | 1 Comment

Four Sufferings – Birth – March 4, 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

Traditionally there are four things given as sufferings of life. The four are variously given as birth, old age, disease or sickness, and finally death. Today, and for the following three Tuesdays, I will write about these four sufferings.

Recently on an email group list the question came up about whether or not birth was such a bad thing, and didn’t we need to be born in order to carry out our Bodhisattva practice to save all beings. A distinction I would like to make here is concerning the idea of birth being either good or bad, and separating it from an understanding of it being directly related to suffering.

I think if you ask most people birth is a good thing, especially for the parents of a newborn child. On the other hand a birth might be an unwelcome event, depending upon circumstances. This value of good and bad is too subjective, and potentially misleading when we are talking about causes for suffering.

Suffering in itself is merely suffering, and is a fact of life. The First Nobel Truth speaks to this very subject. I believe that what Buddhism helps us to understand is for every action that occurs there is a potential for suffering. When we understand this we can actually begin to free ourselves from much of the effect of suffering and when it occurs we are less likely to respond to that suffering in ways that will increase the suffering.

I sometimes will talk about it in terms of a contract, a contract where there is a clause, which says ‘something may go wrong and things may not work out or last forever’. This is not a part of the reality of life we are comfortable looking at or even acknowledging. Yet it is always there. It is there when we get in our car in the morning and go to work, it is there when we fall in love, it is there when a new life it brought into the world. We choose to ignore it for a variety of reasons not the least of which is it is a terribly pessimistic way to live and just the reality can create fear and consequently more suffering.

Let’s look at birth today. I am guessing that most people when they think of birth in this context they think about a newborn baby, so let us start there. I know a chaplain who talks about the terror or trauma of birth for the baby. Here is this baby who is living in this perfect climate controlled, water-cushioned environment where food is automatically supplied, there is a waste management system included. Life in this environment is just about perfect for the infant. Finally on birth day the baby is ejected from this perfect environment into a cold room full of bright lights and people, perhaps lots of people.

The baby soon realizes that its water cushioned ride no longer exists and it also realizes that if it wants nourishment it will need to do something to have its needs met. Things just got extremely complex for this helpless life form. The trauma of birth sets into motion a life that until death is one of trying to manipulate life in such a way that will allow it to survive, joy and happiness are potential by products of this experience but certainly not priorities. Survival is the single most important thing for life. Yes different life forms have the ability to exhibit compassion and self-sacrifice but those only come later and under select circumstances.

Birth in itself is an event that begins with trauma, but that trauma does not reflect whether or not there is suffering. In fact I suspect that the concept or experience of suffering distinct from pain doesn’t develop until much later in life. I’m not an expert in child development but this is what I suspect to be the case.

Now let us consider birth in other ways. Every day we are born again to a new day of new experiences. Yes, they are new, even if they are like other experiences in previous days. Every day begins again, and every moment begins again. In way our entire life is defined by birth, unceasing, unrelenting. Because we have done it so many times in our lives we don’t give it much thought, but it is there none the less. Every moment we begin again. All of the security of having survived to this moment is gone and the struggle for survival begins again, since nothing is guaranteed in life and nothing lasts forever, even if the odds are that nothing will change, they could.

We also give birth to new ideas and new projects for our lives. This birthing of ideas can be exciting or it can be scary, it depends upon the individual. Frequently though the birthing of ideas is a cause for hope and excitement, though certainly not always. As new ideas are born within us they are also safe, because the do not need to meet any expectations of performance or success. Once they have been born and launched into the world though it can be very challenging to keep them alive.

There are, as you can see many ways in which to consider birth. As to whether or not birth is a good or bad thing is a value we attribute to the event, and purely individually subjective. But birth is indeed a cause of suffering simply because along with that birth, any birth, there is that clause in the contract which states ‘it may not last, it may not succeed, it will not remain unchanged’. Also keep in mind that suffering is not necessarily a bad thing or something to be avoided.

Suffering, when we understand the nature and cause can become a fertile place to grow and nurture our enlightened life. It is when we become stuck in the suffering or when we proceed in unskillful ways that suffering is less than desirable. Becoming a victim to our suffering leads to more suffering, as does acting in unskillful ways. Suffering is not something to be avoided, since it really can’t be avoided any way.

Birth as a potential source of suffering is a fact. It isn’t a bad thing, nor good, it simply is, it is neutral. What we do with the effect, which has been caused, is the key to becoming happy and enlightened.

Next week I’ll post about ‘old age’ and it may not be what you are thinking about.

I welcome your comments. Now it’s your turn.

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

Purpose of Various Teachings – People Are Calling Out for Help – March 2, 2014 Dharma Talk

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Hello from Paris, France. Today I am giving my Dharma talk to a group of Nichiren believers in town outside Paris. I want to thank the people I have met here for being such wonderful hosts. I also want to thank Isabelle for receiving us in her home.

Tomorrow I will have the wonderful opportunity to visit the great cathedral in Chartres, France. In preparation for my visit to this historic and religious place I have done a little studying. For the people in France what I will say is something they are well aware of, but probably most Americans do not know. The current building of the Chartres Cathedral is constructed in the Gothic style, but is not the first or even the original building.

One thing that fascinated me as I was reading was the fact that the site of the current building has been occupied and used as a religious or place of spiritual practice for perhaps several thousand years. There is some evidence to believe that long before Christians were ever heard of or came to the area the place was used by Druids and even before them perhaps by early megalithic people as far back as 2000 BC.

In keeping with my outline for Dharma Talks this year during the month of March I will offer some reflections on Chapter II the Expedients chapter. For those who may be unfamiliar with what I am doing, I am covering one chapter a month spending each of the Sundays in a month on a single chapter offering reflections and connections between Buddhism and life. I am a big fan of taking Buddhism and applying it to our daily lives.

Chapter I is primarily about waiting, everyone is gathered around the Buddha who is sitting in deep concentration. The assembly is there watching the Buddha and suddenly some very spectacular things occur which most in the gathering had never seen before. They learn that according to Manjusri who has seen many Buddhas over his lifetime of practice suspects that the Buddha Shakyamuni will now begin to teach a very special teaching called the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma Sutra.

I have previously broached this subject but I would like to talk about it some more. The idea that in some ways I think the Lotus Sutra is also a teaching of unification of the Sangha, but not a unification of elimination of differences.

By the time the Buddha teaches the Lotus Sutra there are many people in the Sangha, and it is evident from the sutra itself that there were many approaches to practicing Buddhism. There were those who favored the teachings for Sravakas, and those who aligned with Pratyekabuddha practices, as well as those who felt the Bodhisattva way was suitable. I would imagine that even within these three groups there were variations, after all we are talking about human beings. I do not believe that the basic nature of humans was any different at the time of the Buddha as it is now. Humans by our very being are both social and independent, and have a perhaps limitless capacity for finding and creating variety, even in similarities.

I can imagine the Buddha approaching the end of his life and with his enlightened mind looking at the Sangha and knowing that with all the variations of practicing and believing that it would soon splinter if there were not some unifying teaching. I also believe that the unifying principle was always there and always at the heart of what the Buddha taught, and that principle was that all beings are capable of and possess the potential to become Buddhas equal to all other Buddhas. The path to this was the Four Noble Truths.

If we look at the Lotus Sutra we see a theme of the Four Noble Truths come out over and over, and I will talk more about this as the year progresses. For now though let me just stay with the variations within the Sangha, because I think it is important to our own time and practice.

In Chapter II the Buddha says several times that he has previously taught many ways, many expedients in order to cause people to enter the “Way to the wisdom of the Buddha.” The reason for the various teachings previously given is to enable various types of people with differing natures and capacities to come to the single ultimate understanding that there is a single underlying purpose of Buddhism, which is to enable all people to become enlightened.

Chapter II and in fact I don’t believe anywhere in the Sutra does the Buddha say stop what you are doing, change your belief and practice and now do something else. What he does say is move beyond your attitude of superiority in your approach, expand your mind to also encompass something greater which is a unity of purpose for all Buddhist practitioners.

Yes, ultimately there is a single objective, which encompasses all the differences, and this single objective is an enlightenment of equality, but that equality does not eliminate the differences.

Now I do accept that I could be wrong, and I also know this is what I believe in my heart is the important message for us as modern practitioners who are trying to attain enlightenment in this Saha world. I do sincerely believe that all of the different approaches to practicing Buddhism have a purpose, a valuable purpose, in the spread of Buddhism in our world.

Just as the Buddha offered various avenues to various people so they could enter into the Way, the various denominations of Buddhism today serve the same function. I think if you approach any Buddhist in any country or culture and ask them why they practice Buddhism each one will tell you about the same thing, which is to attain enlightenment and to enable others to do the same.

I believe what the Lotus Sutra calls on us to do is to move beyond focusing on the differences between practices and focus on the ultimate objective of all Buddhas and Buddhists, which actually is a practice that encompasses all the practices, unifies them but does so without denying them.

It is interesting that in most of the world Buddhist get along remarkably well. Yes there have been and continue to be some frictions between various denominations, but generally in the history of Buddhism it has been quite peaceful, even in interactions with those of other religions. This is one of the great offerings of Buddhism to modern society, and Nichiren Buddhism is well suited to continue and enhance this tradition, which I think is also the mission of the Lotus Sutra.

Looking at other non-Buddhist religions we see a mixed history of peaceful interactions, which as one author I read recently put it, at the core of human strife is the insecurity of religious belief and an absence of spiritual depth. If as practitioners of the Lotus Sutra we see as our mission the spread of the Lotus Sutra, I think we also need to recognize that the Lotus Sutra embraces variety while also holding onto equality. The Lotus Sutra does not impose the elimination of differences in order to achieve equality; it in fact celebrates differences and variety.

We as Nichiren Buddhist should focus, I believe, not on differences but on similarities. Now some will say this is contrary to what Nichiren taught. I don’t necessarily agree that it is so radically different. First, on a personal day-to-day interaction with people I don’t think Nichiren was so dogmatic as to condemn people because they practiced another brand of Buddhism, there just isn’t evidence to support this. He did of course respond critically to government support and interference in religions and practice. He also responded firmly to those who criticized him for his belief. He was firm in his faith, but not mean spirited.

Of course Nichiren believed that to have faith in the Lotus Sutra was to be desired above all. His Rissho Ankoku Ron was written because Nichiren wanted to understand the cause of the troubles that were causing so much suffering in Japan. He also sought to sort out why so many different ways of practicing Buddhism and which one might provide the most benefit. He did propose that people would be much better off if they took up the single practice of chanting the Odaimoku and belief in the Lotus Sutra. But he did not advocate banning other practices, though he did advocate the suspension of government support for other religions. He also clearly laid out his reasons for belief.

I think this is a good model to follow even today. We should understand the differences in religions and belief systems and we should be willing to clearly articulate what our beliefs are. But saying what you believe in does not preclude someone disagreeing with you or not accepting what you believe. This is especially true if we really believe that all beings are Buddhas. It may be that for a while the other Buddha will travel a path slightly different than your own. Just as the Buddha made predictions of future enlightenment for his contemporary practitioners so too will those today who do not take faith will eventually practice the Lotus Sutra.

One of the books I am currently reading is The Wise Fold of Chelm that is a story about a folk tale of the largest collection of foolish people on earth who through an accident were all living in the same small village. I won’t go into the whole story, suffice it to say that because everyone in the town was foolish they thought they were all wise and that everyone around them was wise. Some of the incidents these people get into are quite humorous and also quite foolish.

“Some bhikṣus and bhikṣuṇīs
Were arrogant.
Some upāsakas were self-conceited.
Some upāsikās were unfaithful.
Those four kinds of devotees
Were five thousand in number.

They could not see their own faults.
They could not observe all the precepts.
They were reluctant to heal their own wounds.
Those people of little wisdom are gone.
They were the dregs of this congregation.
They were driven away by my powers and virtues.”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter II

When we engage in a mentality and practice that says I am superior and the things I do are better than you we are acting foolishly, think most people would agree to that. If you encounter someone who is arrogant and condescending, demeaning and belittling, without respect for others and differences, do you think highly of that individual? Is this someone you want to be around, or even be like? For most of us we would say no.

Yet, how easily do we adopt this very mentality and attitude when it comes to religion? For some it is easily adopted. The Buddha doesn’t display this kind of attitude when he comes to the point in his teaching where he begins to unify his Sangha. He exhibits graciousness and expansiveness, something I think we all can learn more about. Yet foolish people are unable to see the value of differences. Foolish people are also incapable of examining their own faults but all too easily see faults in others. If we think about it, these very actions also prevent a person from fully observing the precepts.

Foolish people and foolish behaviors cause people to think they are superior and also cause them to withdraw and separate from others. The actions of the foolish are the same as those who left the assembly in Chapter II whom the Buddha referred to as sticks and twigs. The Buddha did not eject them from the assembly but he did allow them to freely exit.

The foolish today are those who cling to religious superiority and thereby cause suffering in society. We as Nichiren Buddhists and practitioners of the Lotus Sutra, have a choice to make and that is will we contribute to the greater collective of foolish people in the world or will we contribute to wisdom?

Today I am here in France among Nichiren Buddhist and together we chanted the Odaimoku of the Sacred Title of the Lotus Sutra. Yet here I am unable to speak French, which makes things rather complicated for communication. The cathedral of Chartres has a long history of being on a very spiritual place, a place where Christians were able to see something of value even in something that wasn’t Christian. Today even though we are unable to freely communicate with each other these wonderful French people welcomed me as a fellow Nichiren believer to chant with them.

Humans are infinitely capable of manifesting wisdom, generally though that wisdom is greatest and most powerful when we focus on what we all share in common while also honoring and recognizing our differences.

I strongly advocate for a unification of purpose among Buddhists. The purpose being to spread the Dharma in all of its forms to as many people far and wide so that we can bring peace and joy to people all over the world. We can walk side by side even though we may practice differently. Especially this is true among Nichiren believers. Individually we are rather small, but I invite all Nichiren believers to chant together the Sacred Title and share the many ways of following the teaching of our masters Shakyamuni Buddha and Nichiren Shonin with as many people as possible. Let us take up the mission the Buddha gave to the Bodhisattvas who emerged from beneath the ground and came forth in various groupings with various leaders. Now is the time, people are calling out for help, let us bring to them the wonderful teaching of the Lotus Sutra.

Thank you. With Gassho,
Ryusho Jeffus, Shonin

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