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 – #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

Incarcerated Lotus – #2 – If Only

(This is long, I’m not going to divide this up like I usually would into small sections. I’m going to give you what I’ve written as I write it. It will be here a while so you can take your time and come back to it in sections if you wish.)

How about you and I agreeing to an important ground rule as we develop our plan for practicing in your prison. I’d like to start with setting aside any conversation that begins with “If only…” as being unhealthy, unskillful, and not beneficial. I know that may be difficult for you, heck it is hard for most of society. We all know, at least I suspect that deep down you do, that if only a fair trial had been conducted, or if only so and so hadn’t done what they did, or if only the prison system were different, and over 123 other possible if only statements. I ask you, what value it is to dwell in the past and if only, when the only reality that exists for you and I is this moment and what we do with it. So can we agree that, “if only” will get us nowhere?

Next ground rule is that whatever crime you were convicted of doing is to a large degree less important than what you were feeling at the moment or those moments of the crime. We’ll spend some more time on this later, so perhaps you will need to trust me on this. In conjunction with this is the futility of complaints about the fairness of the judicial system that has placed you where you are. There is a time and place for this too, however not here not now. Will that be all right with you? I’d like to keep our relationship, as strange as it is me not knowing you, as free and as focused on Buddhism and your practice of the Lotus Sutra.

At this time I would like to assure you that I am well aware of the injustice of the justice system in America. I am also aware there are many other models in the world many of which are more successful and productive than our own. I get that, I understand that, so perhaps we are on the same side here. Yet, let’s not let that interfere with the work we have ahead of us. I am also very much aware that the philosophy of our judicial system is often more focused on revenge and not so much on rehabilitation. We both know that, and you live it with your life every day. And I am sure you are also very much aware that as it stands right now there is no motivation in society to tackle this issue, especially not when prisons have become a money making operation.

Given this what shall we do? Well, I suggest that now might be a good time to begin at the beginning. Here I am inviting you to join with me in holding up the First of the Four Nobel Truths as a place to begin our work. That’s where the Buddha began and so to me it suggests that perhaps we too should start there.

It sucks. Sometimes it sucks really really bad. Sometimes it sucks so bad you could scream, or worse yet harm someone, something, or even harm yourself. And that sucks too. So let’s get to work and start at the beginning of Buddhism.

I think, though you may not agree at first, that in some ways the First Nobel Truth is about “if only”. If only we didn’t have problems, or if only my mom hadn’t died when I was born. How about if only my dad had hung around, if only I had the resources that the guy in the next desk in school had. If only I had had good influences in my life and not the crowd in my neighborhood. There are an infinite number of if only possibilities.

Let me tell you a little about myself, and how I have come to understand the First Nobel Truth in the light of “if only”. First a little history, if I may. I’ll try not to bore you, and please understand I am not trying to in any way diminish or devalue your own life experiences. Nor am I in any way implying that my story is worse or equal to your own. Your own story is something that over the course of this book I hope you will develop a different relationship to and understanding of. We’ll talk more about the idea of life story. For now I am offering my story simply as an example.

When I was young, first and second grade, I was bullied. Constantly I was harassed, teased, called names, you get the idea. I lived in fear, real or imagined I was constantly afraid to be anywhere in school alone, such as the bathroom. One day the worst happened and some of the boys got a hold of a rope and hung me by the neck from a tree on the school playground. I lived as I am guessing you could tell. At that time I did not have the necessary tools to fully understand or process the event. Complicated as that was my parents actually blamed me for it happening and for the bullying I was subjected to. Alright, that’s event number one, and we can talk more about what I did in response to that and how response is different than react.

Number two event happened many years later when I was raped. Some of you may know either first hand or through other’s experiences, and yes I am aware that some of you may have actually raped someone. Rape happens, though few even to this day are willing to admit that men can be rapped. I was in the Marine Corps at the time. I knew that I could not tell anyone about it because men don’t get rapped, and if you were rapped you must have asked for it or deserved it and so you must be gay. Now what the hell am I supposed to do with that, how in any way is that helpful when there is no one you can even ask for help?

Ok, I’ve brought up several realities you live with every day. One reality is almost anything that happens around you will more than likely be blamed on you, or someone may contrive to have you blamed. Another reality is trust is rare and always suspicious, so expecting help can be futile if not impossible. Another reality is no one, or very few are interested in either your safety, your convenience, or your well being; you’re on your own.

So we will spend some time on how you might consider moving forward and how might some alternate ways of processing things that happen might be possible. Also, and this is very important we are going to do some work on developing, understanding, and reframing your story. I am guessing you may be curious what I am talking about when I refer to your story and how that is different from your history.

The examples, both true by the way, I gave are examples of history. They are events, they happened, they can not be changed no matter how much I might wish. I have no power to change the history, I do however have the power to understand the events in context with my whole life. I also have the sole power to at any moment in time change my relationship to those events. This is really big so I hope you will suspend any thoughts of disagreement, and stay with me.

You may or may not know that I work primarily as a Chaplain in several hospitals in Charlotte, NC. I have worked with sick and dying folks since the early 1980’s, though in those days it was primarily providing primitive medical care. Let’s right here and now put some investment in trust. I’m going to trust you with an important piece of information about myself. I trust that even if you disagree with me or don’t like what I am about to say, you will know that I am still on your side and your enlightenment is important to me. I also trust that you will respect my difference just as I respect you as a human. I am gay. So the medical care I provided was to sick and dying young men. Men that the rest of society had tossed aside, much as society has tossed you aside. I sat with men whose friends and family had completely abandoned and didn’t care if they died alone or how painful it might be. I changed nasty puss filled dressings that some in the medical community at the time would have nothing to do with. These men were not all people I actually knew, they were people others had told me about and asked that I might look in on them since no one else was.

Now I’ll tell you straight up here, to me that sucks even worse than anything that has happened to me. It sucked over and over and over again. There were times when I wished it would all go away. Now here is something also very important, a lesson or a gift many of those young men gave me. There were some who were heavy drug or alcohol users, and you know what many of them wanted? They wanted to die clean or sober. Now you or I might excuse them if they had wanted to die high as a kite. You or I might say, sure why not, what else do they have to live for. For many though that wasn’t good enough. It was important to them to die differently, to die with dignity, to die and to have lived with meaning.

No matter what you have done, no matter where you are in your life right now, you have a choice and this is something no one can take away or give. You have a choice in how you will live your life even if you have no choice in the outcome. You have choice on how your story is told even if you have no choice on the recounting of the history of your life. Those young men had a choice about how they would die, they had no choice about the death sentence they faced. Most of those young men only lived a couple of weeks perhaps a month longer by the time I was told about them.

So yes, I get that life sucks. The Buddha got it too and that is why he taught about the First Nobel Truth. These men could also say life sucks, and they did in many cases. However they went to the next question, the question I believe the Buddha invites us to ask. That question is, so what are we going to do about it? How will we proceed with our lives? How will we either react to or respond to that really awful event?

The turning point in your life may just be when you can transition from staying stuck in the history of your life towards the meaning of your life.

All right first exercise, and this may be difficult, perhaps even painful. I encourage you to be as gentle with yourself as you can possibly be. I know this may hurt, and if I could be there to help I would do my best. So perhaps it might be helpful if you imagine that as you do this you have the most supportive person you can possibly imagine. Even if you feel you have never had anyone that truly supports you, imagine what that person would have bene like.

After you have that firmly in your mind and can smile every time you think about it then it will be alright to move on. Let’s pause here for a moment. I am guessing you may be like many people, and will be eager to move right on along here. That is the normal way we read a book. Let’s remember that this is part book and part work book, so only move on when you are ready. If you need to put this book down or reread a part, give yourself permission to do so. Some of you may be working independently and some of you may be working in group. For the independents I strongly encourage you to take this book in sections perhaps one section or one activity per week. I’ll let you decide, the important thing is not to rush.

For those working together in an organized sangha type environment I realize that some discussions may be difficult or even strange. For our purposes here perhaps as a group you might begin to define what a supportive person my look like, what might their characteristics be, what would you look for. Perhaps for those who feel safe you might share about people you have found supportive in your life. This is beneficial because unless you know what you are looking for you may not know you have found it. Also helpful is the lessons it may teach you about how you can be supportive to your fellow sangha members or others in your prison community. You can be a model of support.

Now that you have spent some time on this it is time to get into some real self work, some deeper Buddhist reflection. We will start with perhaps your first exploration into the meaning of your life to this point. How would you define the meaning of your experiences? How would you describe the meaning of your existence in society? Be gentle, and be honest. Learning to be honest with yourself is I believe a key practice in Buddhism.

I’ll give you some hints here since I realize for some this may be the first time you’ve thought about this.

I visit patients in the hospital, some who are there to have elective surgery, some there to have necessary but not life threatening surgery, some there to cure a sudden unexpected illness, some are there due to a life threatening illness. There are many reasons why a person might be in the hospital. When I visit a patient I am visiting a unique person, a person whose story I may know nothing about. All I frequently know is their illness or their disease. The disease is not the person nor is the person the disease. You are not the criminal and the criminal is not you. The crime does not define you, your present situation in life does not define you, the label society has given you does not define you. Only you can define you, unless you allow all of those other things define you. You’re in charge here, and you have the ultimate control.

Start with how would you like to be defined. If you were to die tomorrow what would you want people to know that they might not know because of how others have defined you. What would you really want the newspaper to print in your obituary? What would you like to say about your life that you haven’t said before? What lies in the deepest places of your heart? What are the things that are important to you that really wish you could have people hear? These are some places where you might begin. Talk not just in terms of what you’ve done, or what did or did not happen in you life. Learn to talk about what makes you tick. Learn to honor and cherish the values you think are important. Don’t get stuck in how others may talk about you. Liberate yourself from the story others may have given you and learn to know your story as you would wish it told. Here begins a life long journey and an important step in healing and self work. So begin when you are truly ready. Take it slow, don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t come out easy or smooth. You’ll get better the more you practice this, and your story will change over time.

I am hoping that you will remember this moment as time goes by. It may or may not be safe for you to keep written notes. Perhaps you might already have developed a system of journalling where in you use personal code words to disguise your writing. I do hope though you can recall this experience, because later on when we do it again I am hoping you will see a difference.

***As I have been writing and thinking more about the book and what I hope it will be I have decided it will be two different books. My thinking on this is book one, this one, will be about self. Here I’ll be addressing a single person, even though that person may also be in an institution where there are other Buddhists practicing. This book will provide specific activities and practices geared to you individual work on your own enlightenment. The activities may be done in community, but community is not always available and so I am suggesting things which can be done solo. Book Two will be about community and working as a Sangha developing a study plan a practice plan and ideas of how to work with the fact that people come and people go. Here are some reasons for me doing it this way. The individual books will be cheaper, so Book One on Self would be easy to donate or provide to prisoners. Book Two could be donated one per Sangha if cost was a factor. Also by breaking it into smaller books Book One will be available long before a combined book would. In the prison where I visit inmates I can provide them no unbound printed material. Unless it is a book I can’t get it to them. Also it can take and has taken three months to get a donated book approved to be placed in the library. By the way, when you see something that is set off by these little asterisk marks it means this won’t be in the finished book, this is simply part of my exploring and thinking. As I am working on this, since I am inviting comments I would like people to have an idea of what’s going on and why. ****

Let me recap what I hope you are doing as part of your Buddhist journey at this point. I have not gotten into specific Dharma practice, I will next. For now, going at your own pace, I hope you will take seriously the activity of learning your story. Events happened and….

A brief example from my life, again trying to keep it real. I was bullied and hung by the neck and by the next year of school I claimed my name. All summer long I practiced and repeated endlessly the taunts, jeers, and the name calling on myself. I could say them just as well as any bully. At the new school I was attending I claim my First name and not my middle name which was the name used by the bullies. This new year, every time someone tried to go down the path of teasing or making fun, I was right there with them, I sang along with them. They quickly stopped, and life went on. Now this isn’t the whole story nor was it the end of the story. For years even though I had now claimed victor instead of victim I was still haunted by that memory in many ways. It has only been in the past couple of years that I have a new and different interpretation of those events, a new way of looking a those fixed events that further liberates me. I am not defined by the bullies nor by the bullying, I am not defined by being weak, I am not defined by being a victim in a dysfunctional system. I am who I am today BECAUSE those things happened and I CHOSE to write my own story.

You know I wish I was there to answer any questions. Perhaps you might be able to find a counselor or advisor within your institution. Ideally you would be able to work along with a priest. I don’t know what you’ve got so I’m trying to write for the worst possible situation.

Next up will be your daily practice and some ideas about how you might structure it, some of the difficulties some of you face and some possible solutions. Even if my suggestions don’t fit your situation perhaps something I say will inspire in you a unique creative solution.

Posted in Basics, 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, Nichiren's Major Writings, Pastoral Care, peace, Prison, Prisoners | 3 Comments

Incarcerated Lotus – #1 – Introduction

Hello, it’s nice to meet you.

I am undertaking the writing of this book because I was inspired by a group of men I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting during the summer of 2014 at two Texas State prisons. I am still humbled and in awe of the spirit with which these men practice and seek out the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sutra, frequently referred to as simply the Lotus Sutra.

Previous to my visit with these men, some young some not so much, a couple of them had independently contacted me because they had been given a copy of my Lotus Sutra Practice Guide by friends or family. The handwritten letters I received in some ways frightened me, and not for some of the more obvious reasons. I was frightened because here were people I was directly influencing, a group of people I had not even considered may want my book. Yet they did, they desperately did.

This was not my first encounter with prisoners, I have my own work in a Federal Prison which I visit on a quarterly basis. Over time and conversation with Bishop Myokei Cain-Barrett I learned that the two of have both common and also some very different experiences because the two systems are dramatically different. Her prison population tends to be more stable, whereas mine is very transient. In fact one of the methods employed in Federal Prisons that serves both to control gang activity and also as further punishment is to move inmates around to various prisons without notice or reason. It is arbitrary and because of that it is also, I feel, cruel.

This book will be an evolutionary writing. I am sure that as I get deeper into it what I envision now will be different from the final result. That is one of the exciting things about being a writer, you get to discover.

That said this is what I think the book will look like. I don’t see this as something to educate the general population about what it is like in prison, though it certainly will include some of that. It couldn’t ignore the reality of prison life and be relevant to the audience I am writing for. I also don’t see this as the definitive answer on Nichiren Buddhism practice in prisons. If anything perhaps it will be a beginning or an invitation for others to contribute to this necessary project. I do see this as perhaps an expansion on my Lotus Sutra Practice Guide however written with prisoners specifically in mind.

Why do I say necessary? The reality is the prison population has skyrocketed over the past several years. While the number of prisoners has grown there has been only small contributions from Nichiren Shu to helping prisoners face the challenge of practicing according to Nichiren’s doctrines in a very unique environment. I do not feel I have the luxury of ignoring the need, especially after what I experienced in Texas. There is a hunger, a desire on the part of these people to change and to manifest their innate Buddhahood. If I can help in even a small way that will be good.

So with all of this I am excited to begin this project and curious to see what evolves. As always I’ll post segments in public places and welcome comments. Really I do welcome comments both good and bad. Also, for those who know prisoners I hope you will assist me in reaching them, and I also welcome their input with the promise that I will make anything they share so disguised that no one could possibly know who said what, they do not enjoy the security many of us take fore granted. The working title of this series will be Incarcerated Lotus, and who knows maybe that will be the finished title.

Posted in Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, chaplain, compassion, Dharma Talks, Lotus Sutra, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, Pastoral Care, Prison, Prisoners | 17 Comments