Creatures of the Burning House – #1 – Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Incarcerated Lotus – #2 – If Only

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incarcerated Lotus – #1 – Introduction

Hello, it’s nice to meet you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Physician’s Good Medicine – Update

Beginning today, 26 July 2015, the segments of Physician’s Good Medicine are no longer available on this blog. This is in keeping with my practice of removing the blog postings when the book is ready for publication. Within a few weeks the official publication will be available for purchase.

Writing this book has been an interesting experience to say the least. It was a project that I began perhaps out of time. I was prompted to write something about this very short parable which appears in the Lotus Sutra, Chapter XVI. In all honesty I was not prepared at that time to begin writing about the parable, however the then Bishop Shokai Kanai suggested I do so. Believing that nothing happens without a reason I put aside writing about the Burning House and started on what turned out to be a difficult project.

I am confident of the value of the book and the contribution it will make to enhance one’s relationship and understanding of the Lotus Sutra. One thing I am particularly excited about is this book was review by a professional editor. John H. volunteered to do the editorial work and so I am deeply indebted for his donation of time and talent. Cleaning up my written mess is not something I am qualified to do, and also I don’t think I do such a good job. Once I’ve written it I welcome editorial assistance, and I am very open to changes as long as they don’t significantly alter the content. In this instance, giving John freedom to do what he is qualified to do I felt very confident and so I am leaving it much as he has suggested. It will be a better book because of that.

I hope you will consider purchasing the book when it is available and exploring the Lotus Sutra in perhaps unique ways you may not have considered previously. Finally let me extend to you the reader my deep respect and appreciation for you faith and practice.

With Gassho,

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

Fundraising For Children’s Book Illustration

The last day to make a donation and have your name included in the print version is July 10, 2015. Thank you to all who have made a contribution.

We have raised $875 so far.
Thank you to those who have made a donation.
Won’t you too please consider helping out with this project?
Use the donation buttons below.

I am currently in the process of having the first of what I hope will be several books published specifically for children. I believe it is important to provide the tools for parents to help them teach their children about the Lotus Sutra.

Children’s books, unlike books for adults, need to be illustrated to help engage them in the learning. I have contacted a very good illustrator whom I believe will do an excellent job. He has done the illustrations for Seattle’s two books for children. He also is currently training to become a priest.

The estimated cost to do the illustrations for the upcoming book is $1500. I am asking you, my readers, to consider helping to fund this cost. I have looked at various crowd source funding options and have found them to have a much higher cost than PayPal. The temple has been using PayPal for a number of years and I have found them to be very trustworthy, perhaps the industry leader. Other than direct donations through cash or check, PayPal will be the only way you will be able to contribute.

In return for your kindness and generosity I am offering the following as small tokens of appreciation.

❅For a donation of any amount, if received before the book publishes, I will include your name in the book, unless you request to have it withheld.
❅For a $25 donation you will receive a signed and specially dedicated copy of the book.
❅For a $100 donation you will receive copies of all the illustrations in the book.

These are small rewards and I hope you will accept them along with deep gratitude.

The book currently in the works will be drawn from the story of King Wonderful Adornment and his children which is found in Chapter XXVII in the Lotus Sutra.

I will update this page occasionally with a progress report.

Thank you for your generous support.

With Gassho,

Important Notice:

Please use only these PayPal buttons for your donation to be credited towards the book funding, otherwise your donation will go into the general account and I’ll be unable to credit you for supporting the book.

As of 9 July 2015 – $875 raised
As of 8 July 2015 – $825 raised
As of 8 July 2015 – $800 raised
As of 7 July 2015 – $773 raised
As of 6 July 2015 – $763 raised
As of 4 June 2015 – $563 raised
As of 20 May 2015 – $513 raised
As of 7 May 2015 – $498 raised
As of 5 May 2015 – $463 raised
As of 12 April 2015 – $458 raised
As of 8 April 2015 – $350 raised
As of 7 April 2015 – $150 raised
As of 6 April 2015 – $125 raised
As of 5 April 2015 – $100 raised

Posted in children, Finances, funding, lotus4kids, Myosho-ji Temple, Nichiren Shu | Leave a comment

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

(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.

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 – #14

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

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

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

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.

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