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

Physician’s Good Medicine #20 – Prayer

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To begin this chapter on prayer I would like to offer two stories that to me illustrate one view of how prayer manifests and is to be approached as a Buddhist. While the individuals in these two stories were not Buddhist that doesn’t prevent us from learning from their examples. The two individuals here are and were real people I have known though I have disguised them to some degree. One is still living and I have interactions with that person on occasion, the other individual has since died, and my connection with that person were remote at best.

These two people are so different from each other except in how they lived their lives. One person a physician, reasonably well off, educated, and Caucasian. The other a woman, poor, minimally educated, living is less than optimal circumstances. What these two people shared was a sense of dedication manifest through action. Their prayers were the work of their lives and not the sound of their voices.

The good doctor several years ago began to devote more and more of his time and private research to the study of AIDS and the search for a cure. Through the years he has managed to run many trials and has worked hard to receive funding for prescriptions for many drugs and drug combinations that would have been prohibitive price wise to those who most needed it. All of my experience with him reveal a very humble man who while allowing the spotlight to shine on him never seeks it out and quickly reflects its light on many others. In many ways you could say the young men and women of Charlotte and beyond who have benefited from his tireless efforts are his children he seeks to provide the good medicine to cure them of their ills.

Auntie only had five children of her own, three she raised as her children were in fact her grandchildren. More than 20 other children were never hers except they were neighborhood children whom she always had time for. Often the children would call upon her to mend clothes, provide a meal, or help sort out the many difficulties that children often manage to get into. She was always there to help with the homework, even when she herself would struggle with what was being expected of the child. She was the mother to many, always there, always with care. So many times she had to provide just the right medicine for the many different ‘ills’ of the children. She did plane work, simple, underpaid, but regular. She pinched pennies, frugality was her middle name, though the children never knew of what she went through. She was determined that they should suffer as little as possible.

Prayer is less about the words we utter than about the lives we live. We have a choice in how we live and that choice frequently if not always reflects the heart of our prayer even if our words to not match. We can say all manner of clever phrases yet it is our actions that ring the loudest.

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The Physician’s Good Medicine #19 – The Physician’s Cure

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(This section is out of order and should have been posted after #15)

The physician’s cure, as I mentioned in the beginning of this chapter is composed of seemingly impossible to attain ingredients. The illusion is that they are impossible, when in fact they are merely extremely difficult. The Lotus Sutra offers the analogy of a one-eyed tortoise finding a piece of wood with a hole in it the perfect size and shape of the tortoise itself as an indication of the difficulty of seeing a Buddha in one’s lifetime.

“This Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma is the most difficult to believe and the most difficult to understand.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter X, page 180)

Since the Buddha died some 2500 years ago it may seem as seeing a Buddha would be impossible. Yet it is not impossible if we realize that the Eternal Buddha does not die. So how do we see the Eternal Buddha? Believing in and understanding the Lotus Sutra is the key and the Sutra itself says it difficult to do this, but not impossible. Comparing some impossible things found in the Nine Easy and Six Difficult things in Chapter XI we can gain a perspective on just how difficult it is to follow the Lotus Sutra.

The Six Difficult things are; 1.) Expound this Sutra, 2.) Copy and keep this Sutra, 3.) Read this Sutra, 4.) To keep this Sutra and expound to even one person, 5.) To hear and receive this Sutra, and 6.) Keep this Sutra after the death of the Buddha. In other words it is extremely difficult to keep, read, recite, copy, and teach the Lotus Sutra in this age so far removed from the historical Shakyamuni Buddha. These things are more difficult that doing such things as “putting the great earth on the nail of a toe and go up to the Heaven of Brahman.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter XI, page 196). At the conclusion of the Beholding the Stupa of Treasure Chapter XI in the Lotus Sutra we have the section of verse recited during services called the Hotoge. In this verse those people who are able to take faith in, practice, understand the meaning of this Sutra, and teach others are praised and told of their worth and value in the eyes of all gods and men.

Wisdom and understanding of the Lotus Sutra is possible through faith and practice. Neither wisdom or understanding are gained through simple intellect. If the possibility of attaining enlightenment rested solely upon how much one knows of the Lotus Sutra or of an individual’s intellectual capacity then the promise of enlightenment would not be universally achievable. Enlightenment comes from faith and faith is a function deeper than intellect. Faith is a feeling not an idea.

People get sick, they go to the doctor or hospital to be cured. Sometimes they are given some medicine to take and sometimes they are advised to take some specific actions such as diet, exercise, or avoiding certain foods. On the surface this seems easy enough and usually straight forward. Frequently the instructions make perfectly good sense. Yet for all of that many people either don’t take the medicine or they stop taking the medicine too soon, or they don’t follow the prescriptive advice of life-style changes. Doing the seemingly simple easy things are in fact the most difficult. It is exactly the same with faith in the Lotus Sutra. Just as I have witnessed patients who fail to do as the doctor says and become ill again, so too with the number of people who occasionally chant the Odaimoku or recite the Sutra. Before too long they completely abandon their practice, they instead choose an easier thing and nothing changes in their life and then of course it is that Buddhism doesn’t work for them. We are indeed complex beings, us humans.

For us the ingredients of the Physician’s Cure are the five practices of the Lotus Sutra, to keep, read, recite, copy, and teach this Sutra. All of these are simple enough except they are indeed very difficult.

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Physician’s Good Medicine #18 – Metanoia

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Metanoia from the Greek word simply means to change one’s mind. It also means a spiritual conversion. While penance is associated with it in its more Christian interpretation this would not be the case and not possible from a purely Buddhist perspective.

It may be true that in our individual lives we have made causes for which we are regretful, is to the person impacted by those causes we would seek forgiveness and understanding, and not some dirty or force outside ourselves. We may even have cause to regret actions we have made against the environment but again it is there were we should make efforts of repair. Learning to understand how our causes affect not only ourselves but others as well is also part of taking the good medicine and making meaning.

A story if you will. A man comes home to find his house almost completely destroyed. The contents have been scattered throughout the house. In the kitchen all the plate shave been smashed, the table broken to splinters. The living room is a disaster, the television is busted, the couch stuffing is strewn everywhere. Upstairs he hears one of his children raging, he is frightful of what he will find. As he makes his way up the stairs he can see into his own bedroom, the room he used to share with is wife who has left him.

He knows what he will face she he finds his child, this is the reason his wife left him after all. The child whom he continues to love even at the cost of the pain it causes him, and the cost to his marriage is up there. In the cost pocket the father carries a new prescription which he is sure will finally be the cure for the seizures his son has, seizures he can not control.

These seizures have gotten worse over the years as the child has grown, but the father has ever given up regardless of the cost financially, physically, or emotionally. It is all he can do, all he thinks of doing is to keep trying. At the doorway to the room of the child the father leans his back against the door frame and slowly slides down. As he does so he holds out the medicine he hopes his son will take, the medicine to bring his son back to his right mind. He can force his child to take the medicine, the child to strong and he too weak. He simply holds his hand out with the medicine towards his child.

Some unspeakable link is made some awakening occurs in the child, perhaps it is the lack of coercion or perhaps it is the tears of the father. Whatever it is the child takes the medicine.

Since this is simply a story the cure can be the magic cure or it may be only a temporary cure and one that needs to be continually administered. In real life it can happen both ways. In our spiritual lives it more frequently is the later; we continually may need to experience awakenings and changes of mind.

But what is to be done about the damage done to the house. The plates remain broken, the stuffing is not magically inserted back into the sofa. The TV doesn’t
T repair itself, nor does anything, either in he story or in our lives. Part of the metanoia process is not just an awareness of a different or changed future it also includes an awareness of the connection we have to the past with the realization that we can not undo the past but we are accountable for and may need to be ready to do the work to attempt repair.

As the woman who was dying of cancer became aware we do need to participate in our dying and equally so in our living. In some ways this in itself is the medicine as much as is the reality of our own Buddha potential. It isn’t enough to simply be aware of or belief in our Enlightened nature, we must participate in it, we must act upon it.

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Physician’s Good Medicine #17 – Metanoia

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One understanding of making meaning is the realization that life is more than random events with no connection backwards or forwards. Our lives, and this is a fundamental teaching of Buddhism, are and endless stream of causes and effects stemming from causes and effects and morning forward to future causes and effects. Beginning to understand our present and making a choice as to how we proceed into the future.

Legacy has a connotation of choosing what impact our lives will have on our future and possibly on the future of others. Legacy and meaning making are tied together in our advance into the future whatever it may be. Legacy is also a history of our past regardless of whether it had meaning for us.

After being called to provide a Buddhist prayer for a patient I spent time with her talking about her faith and understanding of Buddhism. Over the course of more than a month in the hospital she made great effort to deepen her understanding of Buddhism and the death she knew she faced because of ovarian cancer. What had it meant to live, what was the value of her life?

The parable of the physician and his sick children can be understood also from the perspective that being born in this Saha world is to the act of taking poison. We are born forgetting out eternal connection to the Eternal Buddha, we are unaware of the truth of our Buddha potential residing in the core of our lives. Our lives as Buddhists is the journey to rediscovery of that truth or the realization of the good medicine.

When I was in first and second grade there was not a moment in school when I didn’t experience fear, terror even. Going to the bathroom or any place in school where I could potentially be trapped by other boys and made fun of was frightful. Late one afternoon even the playground became unsafe as a group of those same boys got ahold of some rope and used it to hang me from a tree. I was cut down and taken to the emergency room.

When my mother came to get me I would like to think her anger at me was more about her fear that something bad had happened, I’m not sure. Even at home when I complained of the way the other boys made fun of me there was no understanding. It was as if I were inventing the whole thing in spite of the evidence of the hanging.

The summer between second and third grade we moved to a new city, which meant I would be going to a new school. Though I lacked the capacity to explain what occurred with my thinking at the time I now understand as an awakening. In the study of children who grow up in abusive environments there are those who develop skills of resilience. Common among that group is the realization that the environ they are living in is broken, they can not depend on others to fix it and so they usually either withdraw and develope inner defenses or develope survival strategies to exist as active players.

During that summer I made a decision that I would change my name and use my first name. I remember even going through all the ways in which my fist name might be used to tease me. I practiced all the torments in my head, I played them over and over, to the point where I could say them better than anyone else could possibly say them. Going to school I introduced myself by my first name and that is the name I kept in my public life even if my parents refused to ever use it.

I had an awakening if you will that I am ultimately responsible for the meaning of my life, and what is most important is how I understand myself and how I view and value myself.

As the woman who had ovarian cancer was dying her last words to me were “I didn’t realize I would have to participate so fully in my death.”

We don’t have to participate in either life or death. We have a choice. We can choose to wander aimlessly on, ever endlessly moving towards and unavoidable end of our lives. We can choose to ignore this reality, but we can not escape it.

Some people when they hear a term such as spiritual awakening immediately think of some mystical experience, perhaps some brilliant light, or some other physical or emotional experience. Of course those things may happen, however fundamentally I believe it is an awakening, even if only subtly of an awareness of the ability to participate fully in life, living, and even death and dying.

The Lotus Sutra teaches us that our legacy for the past and into the future is as Bodhisattvas with an eternal connection to the Buddha who arise from our seemingly mundane lives in a seemingly impure world and manifest our true potential and reveal our connect from eternity as Buddhas. The medicine the Lotus Sutra offers us from the skilled physician, the Buddha, is that we are not who we seem to be but that we are truly are Buddhas who have simply emerged, awaken to an understanding, that we have always been disciples of the Eternal Buddha and as such possess all the inner potential to become equal to the Buddha.

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Physician’s Good Medicine #16 – Metanoia

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Metanoia – Spiritual Change

Thinking about the parable I am aware of moments of change, some good, some not so good. The story presents us with a large family of children and only a father. What happened to the mother, perhaps it is not important in the overall message of the story, however I am unable to let it simply slip away unobserved. Did the mother die, is she there but not there, divorce is unlikely at this time, but death is highly likely? For a woman to die in childbirth was very common so it is entirely possible the father physician had to raise the children all by himself.

Earlier on in the book I told a story, it may or may not be true, though it does put some flesh onto the story and I also think it helps to identify some pivotal moments worth considering all of which have a potential impact on our own lives. Every day in our lives we are faced with changes, some we are aware will happen and many others were are uncertain about. Some of the changes are easy for us to adapt to, while others cause us tremendous stress.

Life is full of uncertainty, never knowing what will happen in the next moment or sometimes why things have happened the way they have.

I spent four days with the family of a young man who had, at the end of a day of fun in the river, jumped into the water to fetch some keys that one of the party had accidentally dropped into the river. After quite some time he never resurfaced. Some friends jumped in and retrieved his lifelss body. They immediately performed artificial resuscitation until the paramedics arrived. He was brought to the unit I was assigned to. Having worked in the cardiac unit for quite some time and being present when the doctors were doing their initial assessment, knowing what they were saying I knew the outlook was not good. His parents arrived the next day having flown in from out of town. They were concerned to say the least and they were also optimistic that their faith would make it possible for complete recovery.

Over the course of the next three days I journeyed alongside the family as they tired to understand what happened, why it happened to their son, what role their faith could play as increasingly it became clear that recovery was not likely, and how with all of that do they make meaning and continue to live with it all. Finally on the last day, the day they had decided to remove life support the father showed me some of the last photos taken of him and his son, this young man only being kept alive by machines, on their last fishing trip. When the time came and they were ready I notified the physicians and nurses the family was ready. The family requested that I remain in the room with them as their son took his last breath and his heart beat for the final time. The mother and father both held on to me for support.

Through the gift of life their son continues to live in almost ten people extending his life even into his own death.

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Physician’s Good Medicine #15 – Physician’s Cure

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In Greek mythology Asclepius is such a skilled physician that he is able to bring the dead back to life.  There is also the myth that there is such a thing as a ‘physician’s cure’ which is composed of several impossible to acquire ingredients.  Once those ingredients have been obtained then with the aid of one of the gods it can be combined to create a cure which can be administered to a dead person and they will be brought back from across the river Styx and live again.  

I chose this phrase as the title to this book on the parable of the physician and his ill children even though the parable only mentions death as a disguise the father takes on as a device to encourage his children too take his good medicine.  

In the section on Ichinen Sanzen I bring up the fact that in many ways every moment contains a death and a rebirth.  The nature and experience of that rebirth regardless whether we are cognizant of it or not will depend on what our overarching attitude towards life.  How we view our life will determine the nature of the causes we make and will influence our perceptions of all three aspects of life; past, present, and future.  

The physician’s cure for us, the thing that enables us to truly be brought back fro death is the Lotus Sutra.  Of course we understand that in the parable the physician is the Buddha, the medicine is the Lotus Sutra, and we are the children who have become ill after taking the poison.  

The stupor of delusion is not simply that we can become equal to the Buddha, but also that we have always been that way and that our existence is not simply this single lifetime or really even this single moment.  The delusion removed is also the false notion that this simply an intellectual exercise, that the reality is literal understanding is also part of the poison.

Stories, parables, similes are by their very nature designed and employed for the purpose of connecting at a deeper level than simple rational understanding.  If intellect alone were the requirement then there would be no need for stories, and there would also be no possibility for those who had neither the capacity nor ability to intellectually grasp the truths to attain enlightenment.  

For those  who avoid the truth and wisdom of the story and believe the entry to enlightenment lies solely in rationality or intellectual understanding I believe have ignored or failed to take to heart the countless times the Buddha repetitively says enlightenment is by faith.  The stories I believe are the entry way to the heart of the sutra, the heart of the Buddha.

In all the time I spent working in various cardiac units and in the many discussions I have  been a part of with physicians the concept of heart is indeed a mysterious notion.  On the one hand there is the organ which resides in the chest which we have intellectually identified as the heart.  There is also the emotional-spiritual aspect which we also refer to as heart.  In some ways and in some instances the one we know the least about, the emotional-spiritual aspect is the most important one.  Physicians do indeed know a lot about the mechanics of the heart organ. They can even restart it if it quits beating.  It can be replace, or repaired.  Yet for all of that if the patient has no will to live, who’s heart isn’t in it so to speak, there is little the physician can do in the end.  

Of course the reverse is also true, but outcomes are still slightly better if the person wishes to live, if the person has the heart or will to live, even if the organ has failed or is failing.  For all of our theoretical understandings there is still an unknown quantity present, an unpredictable outcome possible which often lies solely with the individual.  

None of this should be taken to imply that study and intellectual understanding should be ignored.  On the contrary, study is vitally important, but either devoid of the other is a fools game.

Heart failure plan of care, an initiative I participated in for a year brought the spiritual component of human life into the medical care of the physical heart.  It has been determined that if a person has the ‘heart’ to take care of their heart the outcome for their good health is greatly improved.  The deeper the will to live is the a part of a persons health goal and not merely an intellectual thought the more they will actively participate in their own good health.

Why do you want to live?

I am seriously asking you that question.  I hope that you will put this book downright now and spend some serious reflection time on answering this question. 

Some may want to avoid thinking about or answering the question.  If you didn’t put this book down, then more than likely this is you.

In our protocol at the hospital we didn’t ask that question quite so bluntly.  A year ago though when I went to the Veterans Administration for my semi-annual that was the exact wording of the question they asked me.  

Why do You want to live?

Live in this case can have a double meaning.  You can of course merely exist or you can awake to the reality of participating in your life actively, and further as a Buddha. 

Why do you want want to merely exist?

These are not simply intellectual questions, not really.  These questions invite you to delve deep into your life, your spirit, your heart.  This is the same as what the Lotus Sutra is inviting you to do.  It is what the Lotus Sutra is inviting youth feel, to touch, to live.

Perhaps you have previously done this kind of inner work on why life matters to you.  Perhaps this is new.  I wonder if it was painful for you, or even scary?  For many people it can be and is.  A diagnosis of a terminal illness will force this on you whether you are ready for it or not.  Of course it is possible to exist in denial, but that is hardly a definition of living.

The physician’s cure of the Lotus Sutra can bring us back from spiritual death by reveling the heart of what what enlightenment is and what our relationship with the infinite past and infinite future.  This life, this lived experience is not just this moment, or a collection of previous moments or the unfolding of future moments.  This life is all of those and the connection with all life in the universe.  

Intellectually this has no energy, on the level of the heart this has unlimited energy.  This I  know, and this I have felt.  My experiences though are beyond the realm of theoretical understanding or sharing.  I do this writing and tell these stories in the hope of in some small way sharing my experience.

With the thought of why you want to live fresh in your mind, I ask you what will you do to  live?  How much does life matter to you? What will you do to manifest the answers to these questions.

In some ways these are the ingredients to the mythological elixir that will bring you back from the dead.  The Lotus Sutra is the teaching and Nichiren gave us the method of application.  Sometimes faith simply is the answer.  Not by intellect alone is enlightenment, is life, possible.  

For all the advances in medicine there are times when there is no medical explanation for life.  You can touch it all you want, you can dissect, you can examine it, but life is ultimately a feeling experience and unexplainable, even if describable.

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Physician’s Good Medicine – #14

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It is just a story, a possibility, perhaps a connection for some of the missing points in the parable found in the Lotus Sutra. We have a single father who is a doctor, many children, a possible reason why there is no mother mentioned, a son who has taken some poison clouding his mind and judgement, a son who returns home, taking the medicine, upon hearing of his ill father and spiritual death. This could be your story or it could be the story of someone you know. There are potentially countless other ways the story could be told, you may even have one of your own. What would your story sound like? Can you write or speak your own story? What is your reaction to the story both the one I shared and now reconsidering the parable in the Lotus Sutra?

People have approached me on occasion saying they feel incapable of teaching people about Buddhism or about the Lotus Sutra specifically. Really all it takes is to learn to tell your story. It doesn’t need to be complex, it doesn’t need to be fancy, it simply needs to be your story as a person who practices the Lotus Sutra. You might be a visual person so your story may not even contain words, it might be pictures, it could be anything as long as your story is in there somewhere. Your story will connect with others in ways technical explanations may not.

Stories are also beyond controversy, you do not need to defend your story, it simply is. Whether another persons accepts it or not is about them and not about you. Your story is important, it is valuable. Learn to tell your story and you will know how to speak to others about Buddhism at a heart to heart level. You can worry about dazzling them with brilliant explanations of complex theories later, for now learn your story.

Stories are a fascinating and interesting entry point into and from a person’s life. The Lotus Sutra on one level is a collection of stories which can seem baffling even intimidating. Sometimes it may be helpful to simply relish the splendor of the story and allow it to connect with your life, your heart, your soul rather than simply your brain. By doing this science has recently discovered that stories actually activate deeper and more complex parts of the brain. Perhaps this is what the sages and wise men of religions of ancient times intuitively understand or perhaps because of stories of old our brains have evolved to relate to stories so deeply. When you hear a story and absorb that story, barriers are overcome that the solely intellectual process stumbles over. Stories bring a teaching to life in ways that make it real and personal.

I do believe that entering the Lotus Sutra through the stories is what the original authors intended. The Lotus Sutra is not a collection of theories laid out in some formulaic order, yet the theories reveal themselves within the context of all of the myriad stories that make up the Lotus Sutra. Perhaps our challenge today in our time is to hear the stories again from a more modern perspective. This is an invitation to make the sutra your own, to possess it in your life and use it to tell your own story.

Before I move away from stories I would like to consider for a moment how easy it is to take poison and how difficult it can be to take the cure. The day on which I write this, a Monday, I spent the morning visiting newly admitted patients in the detox unit. Monday’s are frequently not the best time to visit patients since many have come in over the weekend and are very ill. Today though I had consults to visit seven patients and surprisingly I was able to have conversations with all seven, three of which were very lengthy and deep. One 22 year old patient, a heroin addict, said that he brought himself in and was not forced or coerced to come by anyone. In almost the same breath he said that he was sorry he had done it and didn’t know why he came since he really didn’t want to quit using.

I spent some time with him inviting his exploration into why he felt that way. Simply put, he said it was too much trouble. He said that if he got clean and quit using he would have to face up to the things he had done and it was just too complicated. He admitted that he faces possible jail time for possession with intent to sell, that his family didn’t trust him, and that he had no friends and wasn’t allowed back onto the campus of the college he was attending. Yea, all of that really sucks. Yet in his mind it was easier to continue to get high than it was to unravel all those problems.

We may sit in our safety and security and see no personal connection or identification with this young man, and yet for most I suspect there are or have been instances where avoidance seemed easier than confronting the problem. Sometimes we can continue to avoid, frequently though that has its own consequences. It is easier sometimes to take the poison than to take the medicine. Perhaps this is another story, a real life story, a story not too different from the one in the Lotus Sutra.

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Physician’s Good Medicine – #13

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Now you might imagine that perhaps Erin was getting into drugs with his friends. This would be a common thought however it was not the case. Erin and his friends simply hung out and talked. They talked about philosophy, religion, politics, they talked about everything. It was a time of intellectual engagement and expansion. Here was a group of friends who encouraged his free thinking and his exploration of ideas. He was both challenged and nourished in ways that he never was at home. At home all he did help his siblings out with their homework, or cleaning up, never ending chores it seemed, yet no conversations of any depth. The only things he heard were needs of others, and his own needs seemed to be unmet. It really wasn’t the fault of any one person, it was simply the fault of life. His new friends seemed to make the hurt less and helped him feel like he was growing up.

One night around midnight Erin comes home and immediately his father starts yelling at him. It really was too much for Erin. He felt he didn’t deserve it, he wasn’t doing anything bad, and he was almost an adult. He wished his father would get off his back and respect him and give him some freedom. It was just too much. Early in the morning Erin packed up a bag and snuck out of the house. If things couldn’t be better for him at home, then it was time he changed his home.

Sometimes it is easier to run away from home than it is to return. Six years go by and Erin and his dad never spoke, in fact Erin’s father did not even know where his son was. Six years Erin survived, not always easily, but he managed. If truth be told though he really missed his father, he missed his brothers and sisters. He really longed to go home and reunite with his family. How do you go home though? He knew how he left, that seemed easy, he knew how he survived, that too seemed easy. He wasn’t physically far from his father, but the path seemed virtually impossible to travel.

One day while Erin was working at the saw mill in the town next to where his family lived he ran across one of his old family neighbors. Erin recognized him even though he didn’t at first recognize Erin because he had grown so much; he was 21 now. The neighbor recounted how his father had really declined since that night Erin had run away. The neighbor told Erin that his father seemed to be only a shell on the outside and it was as if he had died on the inside. He told Erin how his father never stopped talking about his missing son and how much it would mean to him if only he could find him, if only he would come home.

This may sound a little like the parable of the rich man and his poor son, but that is another story for another time. Erin was by no means poor, he had done well saving his money and living very economically. He too was well respected in his town. And like his father he too longed to return home. Hearing the news of his father was the catalyst for his decision to go home, even if only to say hello and then return to his job at the mill.

Finally on his 22nd birthday Erin goes back home to reunite with his family. He didn’t really know what to expect, but he wasn’t prepared for the condition of the house, his bothers and sisters, and especially his father. Most of all though he wasn’t prepared for the emotions that he experienced, it was almost overwhelming. There was the sadness of the loss of his mother so many years ago. There were the memories of all the chores he had to do and his father never being there for him. Also the memories of how he and his father would fight seemed so fresh. All of this was so painful he almost never went in to say hello.

Should he knock on the door and risk opening up all the wounds that had never healed, or should he simply leave and let the past be gone? It isn’t easy going home sometimes.

Posted in Basics, Buddhism, by Ryusho 龍昇, Dharma Talks, Good Things, Hope, Lotus Sutra, mindfulness, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu | 1 Comment

Physician’s Good Medicine – #12

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It isn’t possible for me to think of all the possible reasons or descriptions of the illness which keep us away from becoming the Buddha we inherently are. Up to this point I have described a few of the ones I see most frequently manifest.

Returning to the parable we have presented to us in the Lotus Sutra we have a physician who is the parent and his children who have gotten a hold of some poison causing some to refuse to take the cure that is offered to them. I wonder how it is they got into the poison, and I also wonder what the nature of the poison may have been. As I think about this a story comes to mind.

There was a young boy who for most of his early childhood years adored his parents and was very obedient. When the boy was ten his mother became very ill and soon died from cancer. The father was left to care for all of his five children he and his wife had as well as two others they had adopted. Seven children to be cared for by this single grieving father. The young man, let’s give him a name shall we, Erin was the oldest of the seven children, a good boy really.

When Erin’s mother died he really missed her tremendously, but he never had a chance to really be sad, at least not on the outside. Immediately his whole world changed, suddenly he was responsible for more and more around the house, things he never had to do such as laundry, or fixing all of the lunches for his brothers and sisters. There weren’t any sisters in the parable but let’s add some in our story shall we? He didn’t mind doing these things so much but it left him no time to just be sad, and of course he couldn’t cry because, well you know boys cry but men don’t and he needed to be a man now, even though he was only ten. There was a lot going on inside his head.

His father was a well respected doctor, the only doctor in the small town in which they lived. In spite of the death of his wife the father also had no time to grieve and so really couldn’t help Erin in his process of loss. Every day and many times at night the father was called away from the home to attend to various illness the town folk had. Sometimes he even had to cure the illness of sick farm animals. As much as the father wished he could be at home for his children, the needs of the town seemed to always compete with his desire to be there for his children. He was very thankful that Erin was able to do so much.

The years passed by, five years flew by and things on the surface seemed good. The children were growing and Erin who is now 15 was managing around the house taking care of his younger bothers and sisters. His school work always showed he performed well, he always seemed to get either A’s or B’s. Gradually though as he met knew friends and his intellectual expansion grew he began to chafe at his responsibilities and how unfair it all was that he had to do so much around the house, his father was never at home, and he resented the fact that his mother died and left him. These are not so uncommon feelings but for Erin and his father they were confusing and their ability to communicate with each other declined to the point of either arguing or not talking to each other.

Slowly Erin began to ignore his chores around the house, and his school grades began to decline. His father noticed this and as one would expect he became frustrated with his son. Even though he was a skillful physician and loved by the community at home he found it increasingly difficult to be a father to his children. He did the best he could, he did what he thought a father should.

Erin began staying out and away from the house more and more and he stayed out later at night. He had met some new friends and he enjoyed his time with them. They provided a community, a family if you will, that would listen to him and would also share with him. They would hang out late, their parents didn’t seem to mind them being away from home, but Erin’s dad was worried. The more this happened the more Erin’s father would get angry and the two of them would yell and fight, with Erin storming off to his room slamming the door and playing his music loud. The father would try to calm things down for the other children, but they knew. Late at night the father would sit in the darkened living room longing for some reconciliation between himself and his son. Nothing he did seemed to make it any better, and he was afraid.

Erin couldn’t understand his father wanting to control his life. Since his mother had died he had been in charge and it seemed his dad never bothered to be involved, at least that was his perception. He didn’t hate his father yet he did resent his interference in his life when before he didn’t seem to care.

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

Physician’s Good Medicine – #11

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For a period of time in my life I worked in sales. Being a salesperson is difficult work, it requires a person to be able to process a lot of rejection and still remain positive. An individual who defines their self worth by the success or failure of their job, or role will find it difficult to remain positive and healthy mentally as a salesperson dealing with rejection. What the salesperson needs to learn is their role is not the same as their identity.

When I was being interviewed by my committee to become a certified chaplain I made a comment that for me being gay is not a significant part of who I am. It is not completely irrelevant but it is certainly not the defining characteristic of who I am as a human being. One of the people interviewing me disagreed with me on that.

My response was that it is true that within the context of the cultural dialogue on homosexuality it is certainly a prominent subject. My feelings though are that as our culture and society work through to accepting homosexuals as equal human beings the importance and significance will shift.

It has only been a few hundred years perhaps since being left-handed was branded as an abomination and left-handed people were forced to be right-handed. Today the fact that I am one or the other is not important. We don’t consider my right-handedness to be a defining characteristic of what defines me as a human. We don’t factor handedness any more than perhaps blue eyedness. There are many small and insignificant characteristic that make up who I am but don’t define me as a unique individual.

All of this I offer to help illustrate the distinction between self identity and self function or role in society. Learning to separate the two can be an obstacle to ones becoming happy and even attaining enlightenment. And the inability to separate role from identity can lead to physicl illness. We only need to look at the number of men who once retired are unable to function and feel worthy and give up and die; it happens.

I would like to share with you a couple of examples when I have felt dread. One instance was upon joining the military, another was right before I undertook the final monastery stay towards becoming an ordained priest.

On the night before I was to leave for Marine Corps bootcamp, the basic training every Marine undergoes to prepare them initially for service, I lay in my bed trying to go to sleep. My mother came into the room and sat down on my bed beside me. I think this was the most affection I ever recall her displaying. She said to me that she was afraid of me being killed. I shared with her that what I feared the most was not being killed but of having to kill someone.

I wasn’t dreading going to bootcamp. I figured I would be able to manage that, even if it was hard. What I feared was being put into a situation where I would need to kill someone. I just didn’t know if I could do it, and I certainly knew I didn’t want to do it.

The other example I wish to offer is before I entered into the monastery, Shingyo Dojo, in Japan. I had traveled to Japan a week before I was to enter in the monastery so that I could get my body adjusted to the time change, and also to help me switch from American culture to Japanese culture. The last three days of this advance period I spent at Minobu staying at one of the lodging temples.

On my first morning there I woke up early so that I could walk up the hill to attend morning services. This hill is the same one I would be required to walk up every morning during Shingyo Dojo. On that first morning I was unable to make it all the way up. I was almost in tears because I didn’t know what I was going to do if I could not make it up that hill.

Perhaps it is my nature but in both cases I set aside my dread or my fear and followed through trusting that somehow things would work out even though I didn’t know how they would. In the Marine Corps I was never called upon to go into combat. I came close to being called upon to go to Viet Nam however due to a complication and the rule preventing siblings from being in a war zone at the same time I was passed over. At Shingyo Dojo two factors appeared that enabled me to accomplish my goal. One was the speed at which the group walked up the hill began much slower than I had begun. Eventually they did increase the speed up the hill but I was able to build up to that speed and so never really struggled making the climb. The other factor was having a group of 80 plus other priests along with me. As I think about it now, even getting through bootcamp was manageable because it was not a solo undertaking.

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