Lecture on the Lotus Sutra Now Available

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Now available "Lecture on the Lotus Sutra"

Now available “Lecture on the Lotus Sutra”

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

Thank you for your support.

With Gassho,
Ryusho Jeffus

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

The Magic City: Studying the Lotus Sutra

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The Magic City front cover

The Magic City front cover

My latest book “The Magic City: Studying the Lotus Sutra” is now available through Amazon. In this book I explore some of the profound meanings of this major parable found in the Lotus Sutra and the applications to modern life. Employing spiritual practices such as Midrash from Judaism and Lectio Divina from Christianity as well as labyrinths I take you on a spiritual journey into and along the road to the Magic City in your own life. Reading this parable not as a story about someone else’s life but as the story of your life I invite you to take a journey into your own life towards your own Magic City.

I hope you will find this book meaningful and inspiring.

With Gassho,
Ryusho Jeffus

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

Most Famous Mother in the Lotus Sutra – May 11, 2014 Dharma Talk

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Good morning to all who are present either here at the temple or viewing the live stream or even those who only read this blog. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, and Happy Mother’s Day to my mother who died in 2002.

The most famous mother in the Lotus Sutra is actually a demon. Kishimojin is not the only mother in the Lotus Sutra, she is however the most famous one and a statue of her is usually present in Nichiren Shu temple, ours is on a side altar left of the main altar. Kishimojin is a manifestation of Hariti from India who is the deity representing fertility, childbirth, and childhood diseases. She has both a positive attribute and a negative one as well.

In Eastern mythology just as in Greek mythology the deities were not always without some negative characteristics. The deities were not simple beings who only represent good or evil as is the case later on in Western European mythology where many of the lesser qualities are frequently ignored or not spoken of.

This is actually rather fitting to consider as we celebrate this special day we set aside to celebrate our mothers. Every one of us has a mother, but not all of us are comfortable celebrating our mothers. For many the relationship with their mother is complicated, encompassing both good and bad emotions. Over time some come to a greater appreciation of their mother as they learn to set aside the negative memories. And over time some never reach that healing and continue holding a negative image of their mother.

Mother’s too frequently have complicated relationships with their children. It isn’t always that a child brings joy to the life of the mother.

Relationships are always complicated though we may wish them to be simple.

Kishimojin is portrayed as an ogress or a non-human in Japanese iconography. Throughout the ages in her various representations in different cultures she is not always depicted as such. The influence of the Lotus Sutra on Japan and Japanese culture perhaps is the reason why Kishimojin is depicted in such a way.

According to mythology Kishimojin is the mother of many children, the number varying in different tellings, but in the Lotus Sutra she has 10 children who are raksasa, or devil, and they receive their nourishment by their mother stealing human babies to feed them with.

I had often wondered how this negative image of Kishimojin stealing human babies came about, there must have been some reason for this idea. As it turns out it is the negative aspect of childhood disease that is the root of the idea of Kishimojin stealing human babies.

In the story the humans make pleas to Shakyamuni Buddha to do something to save the children. The Buddha steals one of Kishimojin’s babies and hides it under his robe. When Kishimojin discovers her missing baby and after looking everywhere she goes to the Buddha greatly distraught. The Buddha produces the baby and explains that while she has so many children humans usually only have one or two babies so as much as she missed one of many so too humans miss even more the loss of one of so few.

Repenting her ways Kishimojin then vows to protect practitioners of the Lotus Sutra and to no longer steal babies to feed her own. In Chapter XXVI Kishimojin and her children make vows to protect those who uphold the Lotus Sutra. This is why we set aside a special place for a statue of her.

“Anyone who does not keep our spells
But troubles the expounder of the Dharma
Shall have his head split into seven pieces
Just as the branches of the arjaka-tree [are split].

Anyone who attacks this teacher of the Dharma
Will receive the same retribution
As to be received by the person who kills his parents,
Or who makes [sesame] oil without taking out worms [from the sesame],
Or who deceives others by using wrong measures and scales,
Or by Devadatta who split the Saṃgha.”
(Lotus Sutra, Chapter XXVI)

As I mentioned in the beginning not everyone has a good relationship with their mother, there may be many complicating factors in our memories of our mother. Not everyone has had a good experience with their mother through their lifetime. And not every mother had good experiences with their children. It may not be possible to forgive either our mother or for mothers their children. The hurts may be too deep and too severe.

My own relationship with my mother both when she was alive and even in death is one of those complicated ones. Neither she nor I were perfect in any way. We were neither all good nor all bad. That is most commonly the way of much of our lives. Yet what are we to do with the negative stuff, for the good stuff is usually easy to accept.

I believe that no matter what it is possible to shift our thinking to one of possibilities. Through our practice of Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra it is possible to change our lives in such a way as to open up new ways of either viewing the past or of reinterpreting previous experiences. For some whose mother is no longer living it can be difficult, that is the case with me. There is no one living to sort things out with, and so the work is left to the individual.

Sometimes we are left only with the possibility of moving on, of not being help captive by the past. Sometimes we may be able to come to a realization that no thing is either all good or all bad, even though is it frequently easier to hold on to the bad stuff. It may take learning how to less tightly hold on to the negative and more firmly grasp the sometimes tiny bits of good.

Today on this Mother’s Day it is my prayer that we can all come to celebrate our complicated relationships with our mothers while also realizing that we too are complicated individuals and our mothers may have also complicated relationships with us.

I cannot imagine the difficulty of nor the joy of motherhood. I can only be in awe of the efforts of being a mother. Even my mother showed devotion to being a mother even if it manifest in ways that were sometimes hurtful to me. Today I would like to remember those efforts of nurturing, rearing, providing, protecting, sacrifice, pain, and suffering that my mother gave.

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

May the Fourth be With You – May 4, 2014 Dharma Talk

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Star Wars Day

Good morning, I hope everyone is doing well today and has had a pleasant weekend so far. I don’t know about where you live but here in Charlotte yesterday the weather was beautiful. My dog and I walked over eight miles yesterday, played with my new chickens and even had time to read and cook out. While I was out walking I spent a lot of time talking to neighbors out working in their yards or also out walking.

Today is Star Wars day May the fourth and that is how I titled today’s Dharma Talk as a take off on “May the Force be With You.” Now I must be honest here, I am not a big Star Wars fan so there is much in the plot and story I don’t remember. I have seen all the episodes but cared little enough to commit them to memory. I saw the first episode, though it wasn’t really the first part, in a theatre in Hawaii. That is about all I can recall of the movies other then of course some of the main characters.

In today’s Dharma talk I bring this up because I wanted to talk about our struggle with our personal practice and achieving enlightenment. As we engage in our Buddhist practice of the Lotus Sutra frequently we will be faced with many challenges, that we can be assured of because the Buddha actually predicts this many times in the course of his delivery of the Lotus Sutra.

Obstacles to our practice can make their appearance in many forms. Sometimes these hindrances may be our job interfering because of time required to work or even a hostile supervisor opposed to Buddhism. The interference might also come from family life when we might not have sufficient time to engage fully in our practice. Other times there may be various other obstructions that arise causing us to abandon or slack off in our practice.

While all of these and many more may serve to limit our practice it is ultimately up to our own mind as to whether we succumb to them and abandon the path to enlightenment. In the story of Star Wars, if I have my facts correct, we could say that Anakin Skywalker gave in to the forces of evil and became Darth Vader, for us that would be giving in to the forces of Mara and abandoning our practice altogether.

As we learned Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker, is actually the father of Luke Skywalker, and as Darth Vader he tried to influence Luke to joining forces with the Sith and going over to the Dark Side. Luke however overcame the temptation and coercion and the final betrayal of learning his own father was Darth Vader. We could say that Luke beat back the forces of Mara in his life and stayed true to the Force.

We too most assuredly will face challenges to our practice however it is solely up to ourselves as to whether those difficulties win over and cause us to abandon our practice and fail to attain enlightenment.

“Your merits cannot be described even by the combined efforts of one thousand Buddhas. Now you have defeated the army of Māra, beaten the forces of birth and death, and annihilated all your enemies. Good man! Hundreds of thousands of Buddhas are now protecting you by their supernatural powers.” Lotus Sutra, Chapter XXIII

I hope that you will continue your practice even in the face of great adversity. Realize the ultimate obstacle we all are faced with, the one that has the greatest power over us is nothing other than our own minds. It is our mind that determines whether we will achieve enlightenment. Our own mind is where the greatest struggle against Mara or the Dark Side takes place. Every time we overcome our own self doubt or our desire to quit we are victorious over Mara and we advance our own enlightenment.

As you go through this week and the days of your life I hope that you will keep this in mind. In closing I wish you great merit and “MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!”

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

Becoming a Chaplain – Personal Journey #3

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After moving to Charlotte, NC with my partner after his retirement from the Navy I reconnected with my Buddhist practice in a deeper and more intentional way. Instead of the haphazard and inconsistent practice I had fallen into in California. In Nichiren Buddhism a practitioner is encouraged to recite portions of Chapter II and Chapter XVI on a daily basis as well as chant the Odaimoku or Sacred Title, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.

Throughout most of my life I had followed a regular schedule of doing this morning and evening along with chanting the Odaimoku for extended periods of time. During my time in the Marine Corps I also did a special service beginning at midnight doing this every night for 3 years. All of those practices had drifted away for a variety of reasons while I was living in San Diego and during the years I was involved in taking care of guys with AIDS.

After moving to Charlotte I made a personal determination to reintroduce a consistent practice as well as to work very intentionally on some of my deeper personal struggles. The first thing I tried to tackle was my anger. I tried several different approaches but finally what seemed to work the best and yielded the greatest result was to begin looking at how I physically felt when angry, look at the things that seemed to trigger the anger, and finally work to deconstruct the anger cycle.

The first breakthrough came quite by accident during the holiday season. The company I worked for was a small to medium sized printing company. It was pretty much a family business and was a very intimate place. The owner his wife and his son were all recovering alcoholics and very active in AA. In fact the company printed the meeting schedules for all of the various AA meetings in the city of Charlotte.

I am very grateful for their openness in talking to me about their lives before recovery as well as what recovery was like for them. We had many many conversations as they shared with me and tried to help me to understand alcoholism and addictions. I can honestly say that before talking with them I really didn’t understand the disease and after talking to them I came to realize that I am not sure I will ever fully understand addictions. It is a very complicated disease.

I have, as part of my chaplain training read many books and attended many lectures on addictions and still it is difficult for me to completely understand. I know the current science behind addiction research, and I have worked and continue to work with patients trying to recover from their addictions, and I am still mystified and admit that I know almost nothing beyond theory. Yet the disease is not just a theoretical disease.

My first holiday season working for this company I was introduced to the custom of the shop which was to begin a cuss cup at Thanksgiving and continue to Christmas. The idea was that for each cuss word used some money had to be put in to the cup. No one was exempt and there were no exceptions. For some of the lower grade cuss words such as damn the fine was a nickel. As the words became harsher the fine went up to a quarter. A really large outburst or tirade would cost the speaker a dollar.

It was a fun way to learn to curb one’s speech and to collect some money to have a little party with at the end of the year. No one really took it too seriously and tried hard to completely abstain from cussing. After all we were trying to raise some money and we were quite successful.

The activity took hold of me after a few days and I began to notice, to be aware of either the need to cuss or what I was experiencing when I cussed. As I look back on it the first thing I recall noticing was how reflexive cussing was for me. I would just toss the word out without giving it a second thought. Now I was never a heavy user of swear words, I found them to be cheap inexpensive words. But with the cuss cup I made a conscious effort to avoid the use of all swear words. After a while folks in the shop would kid me about being a free-loader at the holiday.

What I also noticed is how using swear words was also a way to avoid controlling or even being aware of anger or frustration or irritation. It was as if cussing masked the anger. Now on a basic level there is perhaps no harm in this. But if you compound it over time and if unaware the anger creeps out more and more. It was as if cussing was an excuse to not process anger in a healthy and mature way.

I began to observe this simple activity of cussing in other people and my observations seemed to back up the conclusions I drew from my own feelings. Cussing was a cheap way to be and express anger without actually doing anything constructive internally to deal with anger at a root level.

Please do not read this as me saying that everyone should quit swearing or using cuss words. I am merely describing my process and what I learned along the way. For me not swearing created an opportunity to learn something and to explore something that otherwise I might not have. By not swearing I was faced with one of those moments that stopped the world, as we Buddhist frequently like to say.

In that process I had to examine what my feelings really were, and then search for a word or words to adequately express myself. Just doing that slowed the anger/response cycle down which gave me space to look deeply and become even slightly more mindful of my speech. Strange this all began in the very early 90’s and it is something that I have continued to do. Now I find it awkward to cuss and on those very rare occasions when I slip up it is such a jarring experience that I am automatically put into a more reflective mindset.

What this taught me and what I became aware of was how many shortcuts we take in our lives unknowingly and how those shortcuts really do have an accumulative effect.

I would like to hear your comments and thoughts or experiences similar if you care to share them.

Posted in Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, chaplain, compassion, concentration, conservative, death, dying, education, focus, Good Things, healthcare, Hope, language, lgbt, Lotus Sutra, mind, mindfulness, Nichiren, Nichiren Shu, Pastoral Care, peace | 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming a Chaplain – Personal Journey #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming a Chaplain – Personal Journey #1

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Today I am beginning a series of articles recounting my personal journey as a Chaplain. I am making a personal determination to post an article at least one time a week until I feel I have completed my objective. I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to comment.
~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~

In 1979 I lost my first friend to AIDS, several years before the disease had an actual name and before people really began to understand this terrible illness. At the time I was living in Hawaii and the partner of a very close friend who was living in Los Angles at the time was the first time I had even been associated with anyone who died of a serious illness. I received a phone call telling me that Dan was very sick and probably dying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohigan – Renewal – March 23, 2014 Dharma Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us all practice together.

Here are the Six Paramitas:
1. Dana – Giving

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

3. Patience

4. Striving

5. Meditation

6. Wisdom

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

Four Sufferings – Disease – March 18, 2014 Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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