Recently Published Books

Two new books are now available. I have completed both the children’s book titled “King Wonderful Adornment” and “The Physician’s Good Medicine: Studying the Lotus Sutra, Vol 2″. Both are available through Amazon.

King Wonderful Adornment

King Wonderful Adornment

“King Wonderful Adornment”, the children’s book is based upon the chapter of the same name found in the Lotus Sutra, Chapter XXVII. A long held dream of mine was to see this story produced for children. When I met Kanjo Grohman and saw his illustration work I immediately knew he was the right person to do the illustrations for this project. His work exceeded my expectations, I am grateful. The story is a short one which focusses on the idea that our actions carry greater weight than our words. Also at the end of the book I offer some thoughts about race, racial identity, gender and gender identity. These thoughts came about both before work was begun on the illustrations as well as something that happened in the middle of the illustration work. While it was conceived and produced as a children’s book I do believe the idea is appropriate for all ages.

The Physician's Good Medicine

The Physician’s Good Medicine

“The Physician’s Good Medicine” is the second volume in a series of books which take smaller portions of the Lotus Sutra and examines them in detail and from various perspectives. This book draws from some of my work in hospitals as a chaplain as well as from my personal life, both of which I have been asked repeatedly to write about. The first in this series was _The Magic City_. After I wrote _Lectures on the Lotus Sutra_ I realized there was much more I wanted to say. This series of books allows me to do so in a focused and dedicated way. The next volume in this same series is on the creatures found in the parable The Burning House, one of the most famous Buddhist parables which is found in the Lotus Sutra. You may follow along as I post my first drafts on my blog.

In addition to the “Creatures of the Burning House” I am also writing the first draft of book one of a two part series devoted specifically to inmates who practice Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism in particular. This two book project will be titled “Incarcerated Lotus.” Volume one will be for the individual practitioner who may or may not be practicing in a prison sangha. The second one will be for the sangha.

As always I thank the many readers of my blog and books for their continued support, encouragement, and feedback.

You may also keep up with me by Liking and Following my Facebook Author Page.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, chaplain, children, compassion, concentration, death, Dharma Talks, dying, education, focus, Goal Setting, Good Things, healthcare, Hope, language, lgbt, Lotus Sutra, lotus4kids, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, Pastoral Care, peace, Prison, Prisoners | Leave a comment

Incarcerated Lotus – #8 – Vulnerability & Safety

In this installment I present two sections from the chapter tentatively titled Vulnerability.


Vulnerability is a subject that I feel is important for you and me to consider. Much of what I feel important in Buddhist practice is about realizing we are all vulnerable, we all have hurts and pains, we all have our own areas of brokenness. Learning to be vulnerable can be healing and empowering. It may sound counterintuitive to say being vulnerable can be powerful. Yet when we know our weaknesses we gain a power over them we do not have when we are blind to them.

If you know what causes you pain you can prepare for it. If for example I were interested in defending myself in a fight I might take up some sort of martial arts training or boxing or wrestling. But I wouldn’t know to do that if I didn’t confront the fact that I can not fight. It is the same with our emotions. If we don’t confront our pain places then we will not know how to prepare or defend against that pain.

Being incarcerated and perhaps isolated from a Buddhist teacher places upon you some serious challenges. One challenge is who can you go to safely and discuss areas of vulnerability? Who is safe to talk to about such things, or to listen to your pains? I don’t have an answer for your specific situation. I have a temple member who leads counseling sessions for inmates at a prison in North Carolina. I do not know that service is provided at all prisons. I would suggest that if the resource is there for you that you investigate it and speak with the person in charge. Perhaps you might bring this book along with you and you may find they will support you on doing this work.

I do know from conversations I have had with inmates that sharing this with another inmate can be risky. I’ll leave it to you to manage your own situation.

In the mean time here are some suggestions I can offer. When safe, you may consider writing about what causes you hurt. At first this will be challenging, you won’t want to do it. It may be too painful to bring back up. Perhaps you have a childhood trauma. Just the thought of it causes you to hurt and run or lash out. Perhaps it is a later in life trauma around trust and betrayal. It could be any number of things, or it could be many things all tied up and tangled up. As long as you avoid these areas in your life you will remain a victim to them and they will exert power over you in ways you may be unaware.

As painful as it is, as fearful as it may seem, the more you work in that messy space the more power you will gain over your emotions and feelings. There is a part of you that is trying to communicate with you. It may be your 5 year old self asking why something happened and why you didn’t protect it. Listen deeply. Say to yourself if you need to “I hear you, I am listening to you”. You can be kind to yourself by saying that you did not have the ability in those moments to protect or listen. That now you are trying to learn and you will try to protect and listen.

Let me give you an example from my life. I call a part of my self the 5-year old boy. That 5-year old boy needed to be listened to. That boy wanted to be told he was loved. That boy wanted to be protected from being verbally abused. That boy did not want to be ignored. When I began to face my pain with my therapist we listened to what that 5-year old boy had to say. Now this is not a split personality, the boy didn’t have a different voice or anything like a television movie. The boy did have feelings and needs, these represented suppressed feelings and unfulfilled needs that I have and had not been aware of. I told that boy, myself, that I am learning new skills, that I will try to listen more carefully and that I wanted to protect that boy and not let him get hurt again. I welcomed that boy into my life instead of pretending he wasn’t there and had no feelings.

In the process of doing this work, several weeks, I began to see how I would often act in ways that I didn’t understand but were in fact places where this 5-year old boy was trying to be heard. It began to make sense to me and I could begin to change the way I responded to certain situations. Is the work done, I believe it will never be done and that is a pretty darn exciting thing. Buddhism encourages my constant development. There is no terminus to improvement and change. It doesn’t end, it is limitless and that means I am limitless also.

That same infinite possibility exists for you, even incarcerated.

You do have unique challenges facing you. Here is something I have come to know about people in prison. They are extremely creative, clever, and have skills that many in society never develop. Of course there are some who use these skills for negative reasons, but guess what there are a whole lot of people in the outside world who use their talents for personal gain and to harm others.

I am unable take away your pain and suffering. I can try to encourage you to not be defeated. In a later part of this book I will write about ‘fearlessness’. I hope you will go through your life with the fearlessness of a Buddha.


In all things you need to stay safe. This is fundamental. I’m guessing you don’t need me to tell you this, not really.

What I can say is stay safe skillfully. By this I mean learn ways of safety that do not compound our problems of being unsafe. You may need to be strategic about what you share or how you act with others, but do not then become so safe as to be a threat yourself. Practice a cautious safety.

An example from my own life again. I offer these examples from my own life because I am not at liberty to share other peoples life experiences. Also speaking from my heart I feel is a place of integrity. What I share with you and have shared with others could easily be used by someone who wished to cause me harm or further pain. I have engaged in deep introspection and mindful self work. I am comfortable sharing what I do, and I am at peace with what I share. I have taken the power of hurt away from these events of my life. They no longer have any power over me and so they would be useless to anyone as a weapon.

My skillful defense, my skillful safety comes from my own inner strength and my own confronting these events.

I try to write from my own story and from my own life experiences. To do otherwise would seem to me to be more about being afraid of my self and hiding behind the stories of other people. So that would not be a very secure place to be if I were concerned with safety. Yes it might have the appearance of safety since I was not exposing myself. But the weakness is that I would forever remain fearful. That fearfulness would then be a barrier to heart-to-heart communication. So my defense, my safety, would then be a cause of my being unsafe, and ineffective.

Going back to my lack of skills in fighting. I could take up training in martial arts, lets say. I could become so dedicated to it that I developed a persona of a tough guy, though if you knew me you wouldn’t be fooled. But let’s say I could be a tough guy. Well, I could be so tough that then people would be fearful of me. So my safety would be a threat to them. Does this make sense. Let’s think about the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The US got the atomic bomb. Well that made the US safe, but it also caused other countries to be afraid. Then in order for them to be safe they had to get the atomic bomb. Now the US didn’t feel so safe so they got more. Now the safety of the US caused others to be fearful, and they had to get more atomic bombs. The cycle went on and on until there were and still are more atomic bombs in existence that are necessary to blow up the whole earth. Now that is crazy. How does the ability to destroy the entire earth make any of us safe? So safety in this instance actually causes us to be unsafe.

I don’t know you, so I don’t know where you safety is threatened. Perhaps it isn’t physical, perhaps it is in your heart. Only you can know this. Sometimes when it is our heart that feels unsafe we don’t allow others to connect with us and frequently it happens that the fear in our heart actually drives people away, even when we don’t want to do so. This is another example of safety causing us to be harmful to others and in the end more harmful to ourselves.

Explore your fears and learn to listen deeply to your life, your heart, your self. Don’t be satisfied with a simple surface explanation. If you do then you may not actually accomplish your desired objective. Going deep into your life will provide you with important insights and perhaps reveal more solutions than you ever expected.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, chaplain, compassion, concentration, Dharma Talks, focus, Good Things, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mind, mindfulness, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, Pastoral Care, peace, Prison, Prisoners | Leave a comment

Incarcerated Lotus – #7 – Personal Practice

Personal Practice

It is impossible for me to write a customized daily practice routine for each person who may read this book. I figure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I’m just making sure you understand that what follows will be a suggestion. Please use this according to your situation based upon the idea that every moment is an opportunity for you to engage in your Buddhist practice and to live a life based upon the Lotus Sutra.

Chant Odaimoku endlessly and ceaselessly

Every moment of your day fill up with Odaimoku. Every step, every breath, every thought focus on the Sacred Title of the Lotus Sutra. This swamp you live in is the perfect fertile ground upon which the most beautiful Lotus will appear, if you nourish it with the fertilizer of Odaimoku. These are not simply nice, optimistic, feel good words this is an absolute truth.

Memorize the sutra as soon as you are able

It is not necessarily ideal to always chant from memory, and if you do not have to then don’t. But there may times when, perhaps isolation, when all you will have is your memory. Learn the sutra, memorize it. I believe this is important, as I will illustrate in a story following this.

Here are some ways to incorporate Odaimoku into your daily life, many of which you can do without anyone knowing.
• Chant while walking; either instep by chanting Namu on the left foot, Myo on the right foot, Ho on the left foot, Ren on the right foot, Ge on the left foot, Kyo on the right foot. Or you may wish to disguise the activity by chanting and not walking in an easily identified fashion.
• Chant while doing chores
• Chant while exercising
• Chant while eating between any conversation
• Chant during any free moment
• Chant during any movements or between structured activities
• Find creative spaces in your day to insert Odaimoku – they are there, you’ll need to find them

Silence Can Save Your Life

About six months after I first began to practice I was assigned to a new duty station in the Marine Corps in 1969. When I got to the new assignment I was placed in a room in the barracks with 7 other guys. We were all about the same age and this was during Vietnam. I was only one year out of boot camp and had finished with about half of my specialized training. So, yes I was ‘green’.

On the first day in the room I learned that I was in a very dangerous situation. The 7 other Marines had all recently returned from completing their tours in country. They were very damaged young men. They were also expendable to our country so no one cared if they got better or not, they would be discharged, sent home, and forgotten about. Well, the first thing they each told me was that if I made a sound, and especially if I made a sound at night they would kill me. There were already many holes in the walls and broken furniture in the room, no one cared what they did.

I’ll level with you, I’m not a big guy, I’m not intimidating to others. I’ve never weighed much, and never had big muscles. There was no way I could defend myself against these young guys. In order for me to survive I had to play by their rules. That meant that all of my practice, my personal chanting, my reciting the sutra had to be done silently and from memory because once they turned out the lights I could have no light on, and I had better not bump into anything in the dark.

I don’t know what your situation will be. You will more than likely need to be creative in how you practice.

Many times during my Marine Corps service I was stationed in barracks that housed 80 or so guys with no walls and no personal boundaries beyond your rack and your locker. There was not quite time, virtually everyone had a stereo and they all played at maximum volume. The noise was deafening. This is where I learned to meditate in silence even in the midst of so much activity and noise. I learned how to be at peace, at ease, in mindful meditation even when the environment around me was tumultuous. I learned and I hope you will also that silence and ideal conditions are not the most important thing for your enlightenment nor for your happiness.

Wisdom the Way of Survival

Using your wisdom and choosing how to respond will serve you better than reacting without consideration.

At one point in my school life I was challenged to an after school fight by the most notorious bully in the school. This guy was huge and could certainly cause me much physical damage. He challenged me to the fight in the morning one day. I was scared shitless. What the hell was I going to do?

It came to me that perhaps my best defense would be to hope for early teacher intervention. So my plan was simply to tell as many people throughout the day about this after school fight. I told everyone, people I knew and people I didn’t. Mostly it was people I didn’t because I was still new in the school so I didn’t have many friends.

At the designated time and location I showed up. So did virtually all the rest of the school, at least a couple hundred or so. Well, the bully never showed up. There was no fight, and I won. I did not intend to win the fight I simply did not want to get hurt. The bully lost face and never again was a problem for me. I had friends I had not expected to have. I didn’t intend it to happen that way. I was trying to use the most clever thing I could think of in order to survive.

It is true it doesn’t always work out that way. Perhaps I’ve only been extremely lucky all of my life, or perhaps not. I do believe that wisdom and skill will serve us better than unchecked emotions or thoughtless behavior. In your situation you will need to be perhaps the most clever person in your unit.

You do not need to be a Pushover or a Badass

The above two incidents are only a couple of examples I could share with you from my life. What I hope you can understand is that it is proper to push back or to claim your space, but only with great skill, compassion, and wisdom. Sometime it may be appropriate to step back such as when I had to maintain the silence to survive. Other times it is perfectly appropriate to stand your ground, such as when I met the bullies challenge but with skill. Perhaps he was afraid to show up with all the students and teachers there, I was not since I ‘invited’ them. Maintain your personal dignity with skill and wisdom. Learn when it is most appropriate for different methods.

This is actually a practice that you may learn faster than many people who are not incarcerated. You have no choice but to learn in order to survive. People on the outside can avoid the lessons by living in an illusion of control, safety, and freedom.

We are all Prisoners, or Not

Yes, believe it or not whether you are in prison or not we are all prisoners to some degree. The difference is whether or not we can see the bars that confine us. For you the bars are very physical and easy to be distracted by. You may believe now that the physical bars define your prison. I challenge you that you are mistaken. The physical bars are not your prison, any more than the lack of bars is freedom. Your confinement or freedom lies beyond the physical. Folks not incarcerated only imagine they are free for the most part. Yet it is not difficult to find many people who are imprisoned by debt, job, family, society, money, education, skin color, country of origin, language, and on and on the list could go. We all have our prisons, some more harsh than other it is true, but confinement it is.

How do we each, and how especially do you, achieve our Buddha freedom? How do we each realize that our lives can soar wherever we may be? How do each of us realize that we are not bound and nothing but ourselves prevents us from the freedom of enlightenment?

Our freedom begins when we wake up.

Posted in Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, chaplain, compassion, concentration, Dharma Talks, education, focus, Goal Setting, Good Things, Hope, language, Lotus Sutra, mind, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, Pastoral Care, peace, Prison, Prisoners | Leave a comment

Incarcerated Lotus – #6 – Isolated Practice in Crowded Environment

This portion of the book is out of sequence. This is from what will be Chapter 4. I have not posted anything from Chapter 3 yet. The series number is simply offered so any reader will be able to follow the sequence I post things in. Writing is an organic process for me. I simply go with what emerges offering up the structure of my outline conception as a framework from which thoughts and ideas to emerge, and to find a place in. Sometimes more emerges, sometimes less. I actually have a lot written for Chapter 3, I’m just not ready to post any of it yet. I am ready to get this out for any comments it may generate.

There are things that being incarcerated you deal with that others do not. Practicing by one’s self when no one else does is not one of them. There are many people who practice in remote locations. In your situation you may not only face practicing alone, you may also face open hostility to your practice. In the next part of this chapter I’ll talk about hostile environment. For now I will offer the same advice I do to those who practice in isolation who have reached out to me.

“Throughout these kalpas he made
These various and wonderful offerings
In order to attain
The enlightenment of the Buddha.

He also observed the precepts,
Kept purity and faultlessness,
And sought the unsurpassed enlightenment
Extolled by the Buddhas.

He was patient, gentle,
And friendly with others.
Even when many evils troubled him,
His mind was not moved.

He endured all insults and disturbances
Inflicted upon him by arrogant people who thought
That they had already obtained the Dharma.

He was strenuous and resolute in mind.
He concentrated his mind,
And refrained from indolence
For many hundreds of millions of kalpas.”

Lotus Sutra, Chapter XVII

I have highlighted some lines in the above quote to indicate to you that when the Buddha taught us the Lotus Sutra he fully understood that the condition of society would be terrible. You are in a physical construct called prison, life is truly as the Buddha understood. Not every prison in the world is run the way they are in the US. There are some countries who are doing much better for those who are incarcerated. So it isn’t simply that you are in prison, I believe it is much deeper and more significant that. Consider this, why you at this time, what is your connection to this time and place? Why now that you should be practicing or exposed to the Lotus Sutra? Why are the conditions you experience so clearly spoken to by the Buddha? These are mysterious profound circumstances. You are actually being spoken to by the Buddha and a part of your story as you live it is mentioned by the Buddha. How is it possible that you and the Lotus Sutra are not one? How could it be that the Lotus Sutra was not meant to be read by you? Now? Where you are?

I. Goal

The first and most important thing to remain encouraged in your practice when alone is to have a clearly identified goal. Having a reason and knowing what that is will help you return to your central focus point in your practice. I suggest you make this goal as concrete as possible. Having a goal such as “Attaining Enlightenment” is nobel, and praise worthy. Yet how will you measure it. As you continue your practice what will you use to determine your progress. I suggest something a little more measurable. If you’ve done the work on Discernment then you already have something to work with for goal setting.

Some examples of a concrete goal could be any of these or others you make inspired by these suggestions.
• Monitor progress towards managing and moving beyond anger – if this is not your main problem identify what is
• Study so you will be able to explain some basic Buddhist concepts to fellow inmates
⁃ 10 Worlds
⁃ Main themes in the Lotus Sutra
⁃ Ceremony in the air and what it means
⁃ Understanding the connection with the Bodhisattvas from beneath the ground.
• Consistent daily service and Odaimoku – set a goal for a year and note your progress
• Sharing your belief with others – working towards developing a Sangha
• Teaching one person to chant Odaimoku – keeping track of your effort and results noting what works and what doesn’t
• Identifying your emotional weakness and working to change it – measure by noting numbers of times of success
• Enroll in classes if they are available – discover what resources you have and developing them as strengths
• Learn a new trade or a first trade – measure your progress either monthly or yearly

The range of possible goals is only limited by how far you are willing to look. Again, be as specific as possible, and set up a schedule or timetable for measuring your progress. Do not be discouraged though if you are not on target. Perhaps after some time you may realize the goal needs to be modified. If so do it by the Discernment process.

I encourage people to near to self rather than far off. Set a goal for a near future or a result that is close to you. The closer the goal is the easier it will be to keep it present and hold in your heart.

Pick no more than 3-5 goals at any one time. Yes you may have several or one, but don’t get all spread out so you are not focussing on anything.

II. Record Your Goal

Once you have your goal or goals you’ll need to write them down. If you think you will remember it without writing it down I will say you would be the rare individual. The fact of human nature is we forget or become distracted, and loose focus. Writing the goal down helps you not only remain focussed it also helps you be sure of what you originally decided. As time goes by you may forget your original words and then you might veer away from the power of your original idea.

After writing down your goal you will need to review it constantly. By constantly I really mean all the time as many times a day as you are able. You can not review it too much, that isn’t possible. One of the facts of humans tends to be that what is not at the front of our thinking soon slips to last and gets ignored when distractions arise. Every motivational technique taught includes advice to review goals daily or more often. So write down your goal, review it constantly, put the written goal in places where you can see it frequently.

Along with writing it down comes the advice to write down your progress. Even daily you might consider noting things you did toward accomplishing your goal. Write down successes and those times when you missed the mark. Don’t think of missing the mark as a failure. Something is only a failure if you do not learn something from the experience. Note things such as frame of mind, circumstances, environment, physical health, mental health, and so forth.

“By doing so, he became able to practice
Many dhyāna-concentrations.
His mind was peaceful, not distracted
For eighty billion kalpas.

With these merits of concentration of his mind,
He sought unsurpassed enlightenment, saying:
“I will complete all these dhyāna-concentrations,
And obtain the knowledge of all things.”

Lotus Sutra, Chapter XVII

III. Importance to You of Your Goal

Why is your goal important to you? List as many positive outcomes of achieving this goal you have set. This reinforces your goal and reminds you why you chose to accomplish it and the outcomes you expect to benefit from. These may be small picture items. In other words we are not looking at larger far off objectives. Yes this goal may indeed lead to a big change, though frequently it is merely one step along the way to the larger objective. If you focus on the far off objective then you may ignore the importance of these little steps. Finally as always right things down and review what you have written frequently. It helps to constantly remind yourself of your reasons and objectives. Remember you may only have yourself to encourage you, reviewing what you’ve written is you encouraging yourself.

“The Bodhisattvas who have practiced the Way
For the past innumerable kalpas,
Will believe my longevity
When they hear of it.”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter XVII

IV. What Motivates You

Here is where you put the big picture goals you may have. This is the place to be grand. Identify the larger goals that motivate you. For example let us pretend you want to get a Law Degree, yet you’ve never had any college. The small step goals would be items such as begin the enrollment process, then start taking the first courses, continue with courses year after year until you get to that end goal of the Law Degree. All along the big picture is the Law Degree, however to get there required the accomplishment of many smaller incremental steps. Once again, as before, write everything down.

Keep handy and visible your motivation, written down, something you see every day. If you don’t see it regularly you will forget. Maybe you won’t forget for a few days, then a few days you forget then something reminds you and you get back on track. Now you have an irregular focus and perhaps even an irregular practice. It is a regular practice, a regular chipping away at your goals that leads to ultimate success.

Our path to enlightenment is the same. Manifesting the wisdom of the Buddha in our life takes steady consistent effort. Short bursts of activity and practice does not provide the kind of foundation required to fully manifest an enlightened life.

As with everything in this book you may need to make adjustments to my suggestions. Try to stay as close to the material here as you are able in your unique circumstance. If something isn’t working use that as an opportunity to engage in reflection to identify what is and what is not working for you, then make the necessary changes.

“Those who have firm faith,
And who are pure and upright,
And who hear much and memorize all teachings,
And who understand my words
According to their meaning,
Will have no doubts [about my longevity].”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter XVII

to be continued…

Posted in Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, chaplain, compassion, concentration, Dharma Talks, education, focus, Goal Setting, Good Things, Hope, language, Lotus Sutra, mind, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, Pastoral Care, Prison, Prisoners | 3 Comments

Long View Dharma Practice

September 9 – random thoughts from home

This morning I received an email from a Nichiren Buddhist friend who recently was contacted by her first convert to Nichiren Buddhism some 40+ years ago. On top of that a few days later she was contacted with friends in Ghana whom she had known 30+ years ago. In each of these cases they were people she had not heard from nor knew anything about their lives.

Over the course of my friendship with this individual and my interactions with others who practice Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism in particular I hear frequently about the discouragement of practicing alone or without visible results. It is difficult I know to stay encouraged and also to practice in isolation. It seems to many that if only there were more buildings to attend in practice it would be better. It seems to many that if only there were more people to practice with it would be better.

This is an illusion, a mirage if you will. The fact is, even with a building and even with more people there is no guarantee it will be easier. It would be different, but not easier. When the practice is focused on self improvement and development then there can be no other place to practice any better than the place where you are. That is one point.

Another point is the ability to practice without constant visible proof of the benefit of practice. As one person who has reviewed my books put it, I have the audacity to suggest using a time frame of 10 years for finding evidence of proof of practice. I imagine it does sound somewhat laughable when put up next to the culture of instant gratitude. Yet, that is what my first teachers told me, and that is how I’ve always looked at it. At that time it had taken me 19 years to develop into the person I was. I wanted to change that so 10 years seemed like a bargain. In a way I was getting a 9 year discount.

Based upon the Predictions of Future Enlightenment Chapters I suggest that we each learn the Practice of Long View. Perhaps I’ll copyright and paten that term, haha. Long View Dharma Practice.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, Dharma Talks, focus, Goal Setting, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, peace | 3 Comments

Incarcerated Lotus – #5 – Chapter II Summary

(you probably didn’t realize it was Chapter II)

Before we move on to look at challenges you may face as a Buddhist who is incarcerated, let’s review the chapter. I have given you two exercises or activities to engage in.

One is to practice gratitude awareness. Doing this by keeping a gratitude journal would be highly recommended. For anyone who comes to me for advice, or guidance on practice, or who wishes to train with me I always give them gratitude awareness as a practice. It may seem trivial. It may seem to you there is nothing to be grateful for. It may seem pointless. Yes, it probably does. I understand. I also understand how important it is to creating change within self. I also understand how science, psychologists, have done studies which have proven the effectiveness of this practice. It has been shown to influence a sense of well being. It has proven beneficial to people suffering from depression. It has many well researched benefits.

And if that isn’t enough, it is also a fundamental practice of Buddhism.

“The merits of the Buddha are beyond the expression of our words. ”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter VIII

It is not possible to know the merits you have received if you are not aware of them. Keeping this journal enables you to first be aware, be in the state of knowing, be in the state of deep appreciation, and be in awe of the very merit of life. Also knowing what you have can empower you to know you have enough to help others become happy and attain enlightenment. Consider this. When you know what you have you are then free to give of yourself.

“‘Good men! I think that the Buddha, the World-Honored One, wishes to expound a great teaching, to send the rain of a great teaching, to blow the conch-shell horn of a great teaching, to beat the drum of a great teaching, and to explain the meaning of a great teaching.’”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter I

The Buddha’s life is immeasurable and infinite, he is able to freely give of himself to benefit all life. Knowing what you have frees you from being miserly with your gifts to help others. Also knowing what you have will help to identify your strengths and how you might be the best person to help a fellow human.

The second thing covered in this chapter was discernment. Where are you right now, where do you wish to go? What do you feel now, what do you hope to feel? What do you know, and what do you hope to learn? Who are you now and who do you wish to become? What gifts have you received and what gifts can you share? These and many other possible questions are yours to answer and explore.

“Maitreya Bodhisattva, wishing to have his doubts removed, and also understanding the minds of the congregation, asked Mañjuśrī: ‘Why is the World-Honored One displaying this good omen, this wonder?’”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter I

Maitreya knew his own mind and so knew to ask to have his doubts removed. He also understood that others may feel as he did. Without a deep sense of personal awareness we can only move forward blindly, causing much suffering for ourselves and others.

“I think that this Buddha also is emitting this ray of light, and showing this good omen, wishing to cause all living beings to hear and understand the most difficult teaching in the world to believe.”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter I

The Buddha is fearless, and without limits. In this instance he uses his great supernatural powers to demonstrate something very profound is about to be taught.

“I have the store of the Dharma in which the immeasurable wisdom, powers and fearlessness of the Buddhas are housed. These living beings are all my children. I will give them the Great Vehicle. I will not cause them to attain extinction by their own ways. I will cause them to attain the extinction of the Tathāgata.”
Lotus Sutra, Chapter III

And finally here the father of the children in the Burning House who represents the Buddha states he has the storehouse of the Dharma which is limitless. With such infinite treasure he is free to give the highest and greatest teaching, the Lotus Sutra, so all beings can become enlightened. Knowing what you have and who you are can give you strength and courage to freely give to others to help them become truly happy.

For your benefit I hope you will take seriously the gratitude awareness exercise and use the discernment process for self discovery and personal awareness.

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

Incarcerated Lotus – #4 – Discernment

Discernment is not a word frequently used in Buddhist writing. I’m not sure why. I think the word is useful in describing certain aspects of our personal practice in Buddhism as we strive towards enlightenment. Discernment is a process of examination and reflection when making a decision or a change in life. It involves gathering information, weighing options, and considering possible outcomes and the benefit. That is the mechanical or physical aspect, that’s the busy part of the process. There is another part that takes place inside the self, it does not appear from the outside to be very busy, and yet it is.

It would be a mistake to think of discernment as simply a gathering of facts and determining which option would yield the greatest reward. I don’t even believe this would be possible or that an outcome could be guaranteed. Much of religion, any religion, is unverifiable. Notice I said unverifiable not unprovable. I do believe on a personal level of experiences that a religion is provable, but only for that individual. Because the proof of a religion to a large extent lies only within the individual experience and belief it is unverifiable.

If discernment is not so much about the physical activity of fact gathering and evaluation, then what is it you may be asking? For our purposes I’m only talking about discernment about religious practice. This discernment process I’m inviting you to do is one specifically geared to a change in life based upon a new religion. You may, as you read this book, not have decided firmly to practice Buddhism. You may have received this book as a suggestion from family or friend. Or you may indeed be seriously considering practicing Buddhism. And there is the possibility that you are already doing some Buddhist practice and are new to Nichiren Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra. This discernment process is one I propose to help you at various stages in those instances.

The discernment process is not about finding a right or wrong answer. The wisdom you gain from the discernment process is personal, you do not need to justify your outcome or even share what your process looked like. You can of course share, and in fact being able to explain your process and your discovery may be helpful to a fellow inmate. Discernment is about the discovery of your feelings in the process of making a decision. Knowing your feelings includes knowing what you were feeling before you considered making a decision. Perhaps most important of all is the awareness of your feelings about what you wish to gain, or that you think you will gain in making the decision. In other words identifying deep seated feeling you wish to have or wish to change from your decision.

As you continue in the practice you choose time goes by. Perhaps a year or two later and something happens to discourage you in your practice of Buddhism, or actually anything in life. The discouragement may be easily overcome, though occasionally it doesn’t seem to go away. It hangs around and eventually perhaps it grows because it hasn’t been resolved. Then the discouragement becomes so overwhelming that you may begin to slack off of your practice, or you may simply quit altogether. It is at those times being able to remind yourself of the reasons and feelings you had when you first started can be so important, crucial even.

Further the discernment process can be a valuable tool at various stages or milestones in your practice of Buddhism. You may use the process to determine if your practice is developing in the way you wished. From that you can determine if either your practice needs to change or perhaps your expectations were incorrect. It is a valuable process to engage in frequently. I myself find the discernment process to be valuable and something I engage in around the New Year. I also do it frequently during the year as I face various challenges or potentially life changing events. Sometimes I’ll use it as I am considering making a change in direction or starting a new project. It is an extremely powerful and valuable process.

Let’s get started. This will be mostly a list of questions to ask, yourself. Sometimes you may need to keep asking the same question repeatedly until you have exhausted all the possible feelings. Other questions you may ask repeatedly because you might not be able to answer at this time. Of if you are able to answer the answer feels incomplete. To a certain degree the discernment process is a life long endeavor.

• What do you presently know about Buddhism?
• What are your expectations in this moment about practicing Buddhism? What do you expect to receive, experience, gain from this practice?
• Why are you considering Buddhism?
• Emotions have their own information or data be open to collecting your feelings – write them down if necessary.
• I feel ________ when I consider practicing Buddhism – inquire within your self repeatedly filling in the blanck over and over. Repeat as necessary.
• When I consider practicing Buddhism am I feeling peace? Joy? Excitement? Calm? Certainty?
• What obstacle, if any, can you identify that prevents you from feeling those feelings? What’s in the way? There may be nothing, that is fine, simply note it and be aware.
• Is there a deep seated longing you hope to fulfill? If there is, what about Buddhism do you think may help?
• What is your deepest desire about practicing Buddhism?
• As you consider Buddhism in your life what are some ways in which your practice can help others?
• Are there inner pains you wish Buddhist practice to help repair? If so, what are some of those pains?
• Is there any pressure you experience that makes this not a freely chosen decision? Guilt? Peer? Administration?

You may not be able to easily or clearly articulate an answer to some of the above questions. That is fine, don’t worry. Asking yourself these questions and seriously reflecting on the answer or lack of answer is all part of the process. This is not meant to be a quickly accomplished task. It may be an ongoing process even as you already begin your practice of Buddhism. Hopefully you will actually begin to practice so you will be able to have some experiences to use in your decision or discernment process. Engaging in Buddhist practice may also help you answer these questions from a deeper place in your being.

I would encourage you to engage in this type of self-examination on a regular basis. Perhaps you might do as I do and make it a part of my New Year ritual. And I would definitely encourage you to use this whenever you undertake a significant change or endeavor in your life.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, chaplain, concentration, Dharma Talks, education, focus, Goal Setting, Good Things, Hope, language, Lotus Sutra, mind, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, peace, Prison, Prisoners | Leave a comment

Incarcerated Lotus – # 3 – Gratitude

First let me express my sincere appreciation to you and exclaim how wonderful it is you are taking this first step into faith and practice of the Lotus Sutra in Nichiren Shu.  Repeatedly in the Lotus Sutra the Buddha welcomes the questions put to him by the various persons in the congregation.  During the course of working through this book I am certain you will have many questions and definitely you will be asked many questions.  This journey you are beginning is not a solitary one.  Unfortunately I don’t know your individual circumstance so I don’t know if you will have access to an inmate sangha or if you will have a priest visit you from time to time.  Know this, though it may at times be of minimal comfort, I will be thinking about you and those who are practicing the Dharma incarcerated.

When I was first introduced to Nichiren Buddhism in 1969 I still recall the sense of being at home, of being where my life needed to be.  That night as I left my first sangha activity I recall feeling such great excitement.  This was especially noteworthy because this was a very low point in my life.  I was in the Marine Corps, just 19 years old, opposed to a war in Vietnam, which I might possibly be forced to participate in.  I was in deep despair and even contemplated the futility of living any longer.  Yet that first night I immediately felt hope.

Looking back over these many years of practicing the Lotus Sutra I am frequently in awe of the great fortune I have had and how it all began that one night.  My life today is so much more than I had ever dreamed possible, and I honestly believe it is due to faith and practice of the Lotus Sutra.

It is my hope that someday in the future you will look back on this beginning and be amazed at how your life has changed and how you have grown in unimaginable wonderful ways.  It won’t be easy; change never is, especially when the thing we wish to change is our own lives, our own basic tendencies, our own natures.   Depending upon your age as you begin you may have accumulated a number of years of unskillful living which you will be working to undo even while possibly experiencing the effects of those past actions.  Though I certainly enjoyed more freedom in the Marine Corps than you do in prison, in many ways the environment in both situations was beyond personal control.

Initially my practice was met with great opposition by my commanders. In fact within only a few weeks of beginning I was threatened and told that I was not allowed to practice Buddhism. Yes, in America that is what I was told. My liberty to come and go, to leave the base, to do anything other than go to training and the chow hall was taken away. I was confined to barracks essentially. Here I was just beginning and already I had to sever my connection with the sangha. And here I was in America where freedom of religion is one of our rights, something that had just been denied to me. I was told that if I didn’t give it up, if I didn’t quit my top secret security clearance would be taken away which would have meant immediate reassignment to Vietnam and ground forces. I was both scared and angry.

Here I offer a possible lesson for you to hold on to and consider its value to you in your interactions in the prison. I called my leader in the sangha, the person who actually had first spoken to me about Buddhism and Nichiren. I explained to him what had happened and I told him that I was going to write to my congressman about the incident. He asked me to pause for a moment and consider what he was going to tell me. He said, yes you can certainly write to your congressman, that is your right. However something to consider is that your military personnel file with have a stamp right on the cover, this was during the time when records were on paper, and the stamp will warn everyone “Congressional Intervention.” The action, while your right, has long lasting consequences and may be something you reserve for a last resort. He then asked me to consider the promise of the Buddha of enlightenment regardless of circumstances, and the promise of the Lotus Sutra to be able to change any place we are in to the Buddha’s Pure Land. He suggested that perhaps I might want to put this to a test, why not give it six months and see if things change. What he was encouraging me to do was to consider a response as opposed to an immediate reaction.

Taking time to consider alternate responses is challenging. It isn’t immediate and that can be frustrating. I can say that by following the advice given to me I did indeed change my situation. Within only a couple of months I had gained back my liberty to leave base and attend sangha activities. By the end of six months the person who was most vigorously opposed to me practicing Buddhism was asking me for information and answers to questions. And by the end of the six months I was given a meritorious promotion. Two more times during my four years on active duty I would face similar opposition to my practice. In every instance I choose to respond the same way. By the end of my time every promotion I received throughout that four years was meritorious and in every instance the obstacle was overcome.

I don’t know what your situation will throw at you in opposition to your practice. I know what some of the inmates I have worked with over the years have experienced. I know though without a doubt that through your practice and through your following the teachings of the Buddha you will prevail eventually. Remember you have some significant effects to work through resulting from previous causes. It isn’t impossible, it won’t be easy. I am guessing though that some of you have experienced worse things in your lives, and you know all about struggle.

This will not be a journey of looking backwards.  Buddhism is not a belief system of guilt or regrets.  Buddhism’s focus is always and ever on the present, for in this present moment lies the key to your happiness both now and on into the future.  And it is the present moment, which I invite you to celebrate and hold sacred.  For in this moment as you begin a life-long practice, that a new you will emerge.  Just as the beautiful lotus blossom grows from the mud and emerges pure and clean so too you life will rise up from the sufferings and tribulations and from that muddy swam your enlightened self will manifest.  The potential is already present in your life, even if you don’t believe it to be so.  The Lotus Sutra is the ultimate teaching of the Buddha given so that all people will be able to equally manifest an enlightenment equal to that of all Buddhas.

“I will expound this sutra of the Great Vehicle to them,
And assure them of their future Buddhahood, saying:
‘You will attain the enlightenment of the Buddha
In your future lives.’”  (Lotus Sutra, Chapter II)

This is the promise of the Buddha, this is the guarantee the Buddha teaches in the Lotus Sutra.  This promise applies equally to all living beings, which includes you.

Beginning here I would like you to start keeping a weekly ‘Gratitude Journal’. I’ve already talked about how you may face some challenges, especially when it comes to keeping a record of things. I don’t know your security situation so you will need to determine what you feel safe doing. Let’s just say that you will do the best your situation allows always trying for the optimum. In this case the optimum is to write this down.

What is a ‘Gratitude Journal’ you may be asking. Simply put this is a once weekly activity of sitting down and writing out in a list all of the things you are grateful for in your life. At first, depending upon where you are emotionally or spiritually, there may be nothing that comes to your mind. If nothing is popping up, then write down breathing. I am every moment of my life grateful for the fact I am breathing. Yes, I realize it is a simple thing and perhaps you may even laugh. It’s true isn’t it, even for you? So there you have your first item.

What comes next I’ll leave up to you. Please take your time and try to come up with things. This can be things you would miss if you didn’t have them. It might be things you are thankful you don’t have so it might write ‘I am grateful they don’t use whips’. Whatever comes to your mind write it down. Eventually you can move away from being grateful for the negative things not happening. Keep writing until nothing else comes to your mind. After you are finished doing this reread what you have written and chant as much Odaimoku, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, as you possibly can. While you are chanting let a sense of gratitude and thankfulness arise within your spirit. Your mind may wander, it may get distracted, that is just fine, don’t fight it let your mind go where it needs to and when it is finished you will naturally come back to the list. Over time you will get better at coming back to your list much faster.

I would suggest and recommend that you make it a part of your regular weekly schedule to once a week set aside time to write in your gratitude journal. You can keep the gratitude journal as part of your regular journal if you keep on, or you may simply keep a gratitude journal. Which ever option you decide do it, and do it regularly. You may notice that your list looks the same every week and you may ask what is the point. Let’s go back to the very first item I suggested you write down. Breathing, just because you write this week after week, does that make it any less important in your life? Breathing is always important, so why not be thankful. You may indeed find that your list remains the same week after week. Over time though I suspect it will grow little by little.

Here is a psychological effect keeping a gratitude journal provides. It has been proven to reshape a person’s outlook on life. It helps to remind us of things that are meaningful and important. These are things which often get pushed aside as we are constantly faced with the unpleasant things, the difficult things, the things that don’t go right or the way we want. In short the gratitude journal helps to remind us that our lives are not all bad.

Let’s spend a moment on distractions or interruptions. These things will happen. Someone may call out to you, they may not be used to what you are doing. You may even get teased about your practice. Try to be at peace with this, it will go away eventually. Remember what I did with the bullies. It works the same with teasing. As long as you don’t react to it and instead choose how you will respond eventually they will loose their interest. It will be how you choose to respond that will determine if they have the energy to continue. Your anger will feed them, it will nourish their actions, it is as if they are hungry ghosts who feed off of anger. It’s hard to do, dam hard sometimes, it does work. Remember you, your practice, and your enlightenment are worth it.

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

Creatures of the Burning House – #2 – Visio Divina

In my mind this is the most visually descriptive parable in the Lotus Sutra. It is full of images and descriptions that are meant to elicit an emotional visceral response. I believe we are supposed to see this as a really fearful place to be. It isn’t safe on many levels. There are creatures that can harm us there are distractions which inhibit our rational decisions. The fire is coming we should be running. Someone is outside trying to get our attention. There is a man waving and calling out to us. It is difficult to understand what he is doing, what he is trying to say, or what he wants us to do.

The use of all the imagery in this parable inspired me to explore visio divina, the idea of spiritual vision, divine vision if you will. What do we see or choose to see and how does our spirit influence that vision?

This parable has been written about and lectured on so many times I almost felt there was nothing more I could contribute to the conversation. Yet the more I thought about it the more my mind kept seeing images of the things that hold some people back from seeing and manifesting their inherent enlightened spirit. I also kept going back and forth between the use of fire in this parable and the use of fire in Chapter XVI. Then I thought about how fire as one image is presented in the first half of the Lotus Sutra, versus how fire is presented in the second half of the Lotus Sutra.

In the parable of The Burning House as it appears in the Lotus Sutra Chapter III fire is something we are supposed to see. We need to see the fire and perceive the danger it posses us. In Chapter XVI we are supposed to see beyond the fire and not flee because the fire is not real. This is quite a contradiction on the surface. If it weren’t for the placement in the two different halves of the Sutra it might be confusing, it might be a contradiction. However because the fires lie in the two different halves there is no contradiction. The fire is both to be seen and to be not seen. There is a fire and there is no fire.

An interesting juxtaposition is presented to us and it is in the presence of the two fires I will offer my exploration of spiritual image, of divine image. To do this I will present use some of my spiritual images and hopefully encourage you to do the same as the spirit moves you and inspires you.

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

Creatures of the Burning House – #1 – Introduction

It has taken me a while to get around to this parable, due to the request to write about the Physician’s Good Medicine at the end of 2014. At the time I was disappointed that I would need to put this parable aside for a while. Looking back I know I would not have written it the way I’m going to now. This is going to be the shortest of the books focused on the parables found in the Lotus Sutra. One reason for this the color photos I am including. I’ll explain in detail later why I am using color in the printing. A simple explanation is I am using color so the little pieces of art I created for the book could be seen better. As to why I am using art, that you will need to wait for.

This project also includes an aspect of community participation and input. This was an unexpected outcome from the little art creations. On a whim I posted the first one on Facebook and decided whoever liked it first I would send it to them. In some cases this prompted some exchanges in the comments section. I thought this was an interesting development, an unintended outcome if you will. Sometimes the exchanges became in depth explorations of the concept depicted in the art.

While this was going on I attended an International Dharma Teachers conference in June 2015. One of the main reasons I wanted to attend this conference was the part on the use of technology in spreading and teaching the Dharma. Out of that portion of the conference I set up the first online fully digital weekend retreat for Nichiren Shu in America. Using some of the strategies I learned at the conference and with the eager participation of those doing the retreat, we were able to build something quite unique which included a sense of community and an experience many of us did not think possible.

Here were two instances where community sprung up and deepened providing an enhanced experience for all those who chose to participate. The tie in here to the parable is the children are together playing in the burning house. The father is required to develop a strategy that will enable all the children to leave the house together. The possibilities of a digital experience replicating a retreat held in a physical structure, I now see as possible. It will require a leader who has both skillful means and one who will employ a good strategy. There are some other tie in’s however they will be better presented later on in the book. So let’s get started.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, children, compassion, concentration, Dharma Talks, education, focus, Good Things, Hope, language, lgbt, Lotus Sutra, lotus4kids, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, peace | 3 Comments