Achieving Your Fullest Potential

Buddhism is the art of living life to the fullest and attaining your personal highest potential.  Maintaining a seeking spirit is not only key to living up to your fullest potential but is also the fountain of youth.  How can that be?   When we have a seeking spirit we are constantly searching for personal growth, knowledge and wisdom.   As our bodies age and begin to show the wear of time, our minds become the source of youthfulness.    As long as we continue to search for growth opportunity when can be seventy or eighty years old and still be youthful in spirit.

In Buddhism we chant Nam-Myoho-renge-kyo morning and evening to summon our youthful spirit and our highest life condition.  We do this to help us tap into our Buddha wisdom and live life to the fullest.  That means that we do not shy away from challenging circumstances but engage them with enthusiasm.  We understand that the little things each day add up with a multiplier affect that have greater impacts that our limited mind can conceive.

While in our youth we take time for granted.  We have lots of time and lots of life to live.  As we get older we start to appreciate how short of time we have to live.  Some people may feel satisfied with what they have accomplished and retire.  Others may start taking college classes at age 50, 60 or even 70.  They maintain a youthful spirit.  They continue to reach out to help people become happy anyway that they can. The keep trying to learn more about life and how to live expertly and to their fullest potential.

Buddhism is about learning to be who you are to fullest and to help people become happy.  It is about maintaining a seeking spirit to tap into our fullest potential.

What does a Nichiren Buddhist Worship?

The title of this blog is might be considered a trick question.  Many people that do not practice Buddhism imagine that all Buddhist worship the founder of Buddhism who is referred to as the Buddha.  However, in Nichiren Buddhism, anyone who is manifesting their life condition of Buddhahood, a life condition where compassion for humanity is first and foremost on their mind and they optimize the wisdom inherent in themselves and in the universe.   In other words, anyone can express Buddhahood in their lives.   Gautama or Shakyamuni Buddha is considered a great teacher and founder but is not considered a deity.

If worship is defined as the expression of reverence to a deity, worship is not a part of Nichiren Buddhism.   We do have an object of devotion, the Gohonzon, which helps us devote our chanting meditation toward tapping into the buddhohoold that already exists within us.  As stated on the inside page of every edition of the magazine, Living Buddhism, we practice to “awaken to the dignity and power the resides within us and transform ourselves to the deepest level.  This is referred to as our human revolution.   By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we reveal our inherent Buddha nature.”

When chanting to the Gohonzon, the Gohonzon is a mirror of our life condition and a symbol of the inherent Buddhahood within us.   Think of it this way, when we look into a mirror we have a tendency to see ourselves through the eyes of self limiting filters.   When we chant facing the Gohonzon we meditate to bring out our Buddhahood and we begin to see the mirror of our Buddhahood.  In other words, we begin to believe in ourselves without limitation.

The Alchemist, Buddhism in Other Words

It never fails to amaze me how much I learn about Buddhism through non Buddhist literature.  I have practiced and studied Buddhism for over thirty years now but a vast majority of the time it has been from one specific school of Buddhism.  While the SGI Buddhist literature has taught me the fundamentals of Buddhism that have changed my life dramatically for the better and has become a core part of my daily life, I am amazed at the new insights on Buddhism and life that I get from reading non Buddhist books about spirituality.  There is something about reading about the universal truths of life in a different vocabulary and a different context that provides new insights and helps me reach a deeper comprehension of Buddhism.

This week I have been reading the old classic book, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, which is a story about a shepherd who learns the universal truths through his adventure to the great pyramids.    It talks about the universal language that he discovers along the way, how he needs to make his own decisions and to never to give up on his dreams if he wants to achieve happiness.  During is journey the shepherd discovers a universal language that everyone understands, “It is enthusiasm and of things accomplished with love and purpose.”  That sound like a Buddhist teaching presented in different words and a new enriching context.  In Buddhism we talk about the importance of our attitude.  People are attracted to enthusiastic people and we all feel great when we accomplish something with love and purpose.  This is Buddhism.  This is living with a high life condition and living our mission.

At one part of his journey he runs into a lot of bad luck as of a result of his own ignorance.  The Shepherd is about to give up but then realizes that he is looking at things in the wrong way.  He should not be thinking of himself as a poor victim of theft but rather as an adventurer in quest of his treasure.  Once he changed his perspective, suddenly he was invigorated, even though the circumstances had not changed.  That is as Buddhist as it gets!

One of the universal truths in the book indicates, “When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.”  In Buddhism we believe that when we chant with heart felt, sincerity and determination  we become in synch with the universe and our environment responds in kind.   I like to add one more point here.  We can’t just want and chant for something,  we must  also take action.  Chanting alone does not do it, and wanting alone does not do it.

There are many more wise sayings or “truths” about life that are presented in a creative manner throughout the book.  For example, “Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life.”   In Buddhism we refer to this as being in synch with the universe and tapping into our Buddha wisdom.  I could go on for pages drawing parallels but I think you get the point.

Some people may think that it is sacrilegious to study Buddhism through other literature and many people fear that it will lead to the bastardization of the Buddhist teachings.  Those fears are legitimate but then everything we encounter in our lives can impact our understanding of Buddhism.  They also need to keep in mind that not everyone that lectures on Nichiren Buddhism gets the message right either.  Sometimes they interpret things through their own filter of life experience and at times it is wrong or what limited to their own ability to understand the concept.  Lets face it, that is true no matter who is the teacher.  But that is okay.  That is why we have an organization of faith and a large library of literature to guide us.  We cannot stop pth-4eople form misinterpreting or inadvertently teaching the wrong thing.  It happens all the time.  The key is for everyone to maintain a strong seeking spirit and an absolute determination to truly and deeply understand the correct teaching.  That determination along with always going back to the fundamental Buddhist teachings and staying engaged in the SGI Buddhist community will enable you to study and learn from non Buddhist literature without concern for losing your way.   Please do not be insecure about your Buddhist practice.  If you are insecure you may be afraid to explore what others have learned in life and lose out on some enlightening material.    If you are secure about Buddhism and read other literature through the eyes of Buddhism it is an enriching experience.

 

 

Buddhism is about Absolute Victory

When most people think of Buddhism they think of the middle way, avoiding conflict and general pacifist behavior.  However, Buddhism is grounded in the everyday realities of life.  It is a life philosophy based on universal truths that we refer to as the Universal Law.  Just as gravity is a law of physics that describes one small aspect of of the universe, Buddhist philosophy teaches us about laws of the universe that apply to the behavior of and interaction between human beings.

So what do Buddhist teachings have to do with absolute victory?  The founder of Nichiren Buddhism wrote, “Buddhism primarily concerns itself with victory or defeat.”   This was not meant within the context of competing against others but rather our own experience in life, overcoming our self-imposed limitations every day.   Each day we face challenges.  They could be challenges we choose or they could be problems that arise from what seems like out of no where.  Even beyond clearly recognizable challenges and problems, everything we do ends with success or failure.  Another way of looking at it is that we are either moving forward in our lives or we are going backwards.  There is no standing still.  Buddhism is all about raising our life condition, tapping into our inner wisdom to see the universal truth and to be victorious over our weaknesses and keeping moving forward.   So Buddhism really is about victory and defeat.

From a Buddhist perspective, how do we achieve victory in our lives?   We chant daily to purify ourselves and our perceptions of the world around us.  We chant to tap into our Buddha wisdom that we and everyone has within them.   We chant to help others become happy.  We chant for others to realize their Buddhahood.  We chant for our family’s health and happiness.  We chant about living life to the fullest with no regrets.   We chant for absolute victory. We chant to have the courage to take action from a place of wisdom, not from a place of unchecked emotion.

But success and failure on any given day or with any given challenge does not define us.  Victory and happiness in life is what Buddhism is all about.  It is about accepting responsibility for your own happiness no matter what the situation or environment around you.  It is about victory over our self imposed limitations and bringing out our buddhahood and the buddhahood of the people around us. That is victory in life and that is Buddhism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Five Components: Our Windows and Doors to the World

The Five Components are an important concept in Buddhism as they are the key to our perception of everything we encounter on a day to day basis.  It is through the five components that we sense and begin interpreting the words that are said to us and others; the actions that others take for us and others; the overall environment we experience every day.   How we interpret our environment leads to the creation of our karma; our thoughts, words and actions in response to it.  For this reason Buddhism teaches the importance of achieving a state of mind, or life, where we sense our environment accurately.  Where we are able to see through our insecurities and baggage that we bring to our five components and not just to avoid creating a chain reaction of negative causes and karma but to also contribute to both our own happiness and that of society.  Essentially the Five Components are the source of delusions in our life when we are not able to see things from our Buddha nature.

If we interpret words or an action as hostile or condescending toward us it typically will lead to defensive responses.  If we interpret something as complimentary or supportive we are apt to respond with warmth and appreciation.  Those are our human tendencies or instinctive responses.    However, if we meditate and actively pursue achieving a higher life condition we will be more apt to respond positively, or at least in a constructive manner, even when we are actually verbally attacked, but more importantly, we will accurately see the situation for what it truly is as opposed to misinterpreting it.  When we do see a situation accurately and if often requires changes in ourselves to effect change.

Before I go on with further explanation of the Five Components, it is important to mention that by meditating/chanting, we tap into our Buddhahood and purify how our five components interpret our environment.  We break through our delusions so that we can optimally experience life and generate happiness for ourselves and society.  The great thing is that we do not need to intellectually fully comprehend and remember the details of the five components for us to breakthrough the delusions they create in our lives.  All we need to do is meditate/chant to overcome a problem, achieve a goal, achieve happiness or whatever else you want in your life.  Through chanting we raise our life condition so that we perceive our environment more clearly.

So what are the Five Components of life?  They are form, perception, conception, volition and consciousness.  For those of you that have studied Nichiren Buddhism extensively, the five components are the elements that constitute a human being and represent “the self” of the three realms of existence.   The other two realms of existence are the society and the land.  (Outline of Buddhism, edited by Yasuji Kirimura). Understanding each of the components better can help understand the role they play in our lives.

Form:  Physical aspects of life and the five sense organs – the eyes, nose, ears, tongue and skin through which one perceives the world

Perception:  Receiving external information through our senses and integrating the mind for sensory impressions

Conception:  Forming ideas based on what has been perceived.

Volition:  The will to take action based on conceptions

Consciousness:  Integrates the previous four components to form value judgements, distinguish good from evil.

The first component form, represents the physical aspect of life and the other four represent the spiritual aspect of life.  But what is most important to realize is that we frequently misinterpret our environment and peoples intentions and form opinions and take actions and make judgements based on a delusions verses reality.   If our perceptions are wrong, and worse yet wrong in a negative way, we form opinions and take actions that create negative cause and negative karma.  In other words, our actions work against our own happiness and that of the environment around.   This is why it is essentially to always try to break through our ego and insecurities in all situations.  I recognize that that is a lot easier said than done.  That is why we need to meditate to bring our Buddhahood, our Buddha nature, into our life condition.  By doing so, our five components will naturally, without conscious effort, break through our delusions as we experience our lives.

I find this concept vital to meditation/chanting.   When chanting about anything, I find greater effectiveness when reminding myself that my perceptions of the situation and my interpretations about how to deal with the situation are key to achieving it.   That does not mean that I strategize when I am chanting.  It means that I chant to bring up the wisdom to understand what about me needs to change to achieve the result I desire.  Do I need to change my approach, do I need to change my attitude, do I need to listen to others better, do I need to be more assertive, persuasive and confident?   How I perceive my environment is an essential part of the answer.  Remember, our environment is a reflection of our inner state of life.  If we are paranoid our five components read our environment from that lens.  If we are insecure, our five components read our environment from that lens.  If we are arrogant the same is true.  So raising our life condition through meditation and helping others is essential to breaking through or delusions.   Chanting for others to change or for the environment to change so that you can achieve something is counter to Buddhism. This is why it is so important to understand the essence and importance of the five components.

Achieving Happiness in this Lifetime

“A Buddha is one who, by becoming enlightened to the one truth, acquires eternally indestructible peace and happiness.”

Buddhism is often associated with the idea of eliminating suffering through the practice of asceticisms and meditation to eliminate worldly attachments and suffering.   It is true that Buddhism has always addressed how humanity deals with and over comes suffering, but according to the Lotus Sutra, it is through meditating to attain happiness in this lifetime for ourselves and others we tap into our inherent Buddha nature and attain eternal happiness as opposed to a focus on eliminating suffering.

Buddhism teaches that all people have the inherent potential to achieve Buddhahood in this lifetime which is a life condition of eternal happiness.  At the same time, it does not suggest that suffering can be eliminated, but that it is a fact of life.  This may seem paradoxical until you have experienced an underlying sense of happiness in the midst of heartbreak, sorrow or a sense of loss.  When we raise our life condition by tapping into our inherent Buddhahood through meditation, we achieve a state of self-awareness and contentment within our lives independent of any suffering.  Buddhism further views suffering as essential to achieving enlightenment in this life time.  But when practicing Buddhism the primary focus of our meditation is achieving happiness for ourselves and others, not eliminating our suffering.

No matter what your current life condition you can tap into your Buddhahood immediately and begin building a path toward indestructible happiness in this lifetime.  It does not require years of practice.  Years of practice builds a wealth of positive karma, experience and faith, but it is not a required right of passage to tap into your inherent Buddha nature. People who just begin Buddhist meditation typically experience pleasant unexpected changes in their lives rather quickly.  They breakthrough some suffering or they achieve a highly desired goal.  The effort put into to meditation creates a positive cause in their life the is immediately reflected in their environment.

Buddhahood is only found within ourselves and our environment is a reflection of our life condition.  When we raise our life condition our environment will change without fail.  When we meditate with sincerity and determination to achieve happiness we will break through our sufferings, recognize them for what they are, and not let them become an obstacle to happiness.

 

 

 

 

Earthly Desires Equal Enlightenment

I need to acknowledge a few of things regarding all content in my blogs.  First of all the process of writing this blog is part of my seeking nature and does not suggest that I have mastered the concepts.  In fact, I do not know that we ever master all the concepts because enlightenment is a never ending daily process and is not an end state, which many people think it is.  For example, over time our understanding of a concept like Earthly Desires Equal Enlightenment evolves.  Our current life condition, life state, has a direct impact on how we interpret it.   So I never feel that I have “now mastered” a particular Nichiren Buddhist teaching but rather I am continuing to learn.  Second, before I write one of these blogs I prepare by studying various material on Nichiren Buddhism.  In many cases I study books written by Daisaku Ikea and other times I study material written by other Nichiren Buddhists.   So what I write is my current perception or understanding of the concepts, which again, is always evolving.  Third, the blogs are intended to stimulate thought and reflection and ideally encourage a spirit to keep seeking a better understanding and not to simply accept what I have written.

When most people think of Buddhism they tend to think about the need to rid oneself from attachments in order to avoid suffering.  Can you imagine what life would be like if a person were able to rid themselves of all desires?   No desire for a relationship.  No desire for family.  No desire to earn enough money to sustain a place to live.  No desire to make others happy.  What kind of life would that be?  How would it prepare you to contribute to society?  What kind of enlightenment is that?

It is true that there are schools of Buddhism that focus on this early pre-Lotus Sutra teaching.  However, the Lotus Sutra recognizes that having desires and emotions are a part of human nature and encourages that we use our desires to fuel our path to enlightenment.  At the same time, it does not suggest that the objects of our desire will lead to enlightenment or provide happiness.  So what is meant by earthly desires equal enlightenment if achieving those desires does not provide enlightenment or happiness?

Earthly desires in and of themselves are neither positive or negative, but rather simply innate to human nature.  It is how you deal with those desires that can turn them into a positive or negative force in your life and your environment.  Remember that your environment is a reflection of your inner state or life condition.  The Lotus Sutra teaches that we can and should transform our desires into wisdom.  In other words, Buddhist practice enables us to see the true nature of our desires through meditation and then use them as a driving force to gain happiness, wisdom and enlightenment into our Buddha nature.    It is through meditation on achieving our desires we gain insights into our life that help us achieve happiness for ourselves and in our environment.  Whether we actually achieve the desire or not is secondary.  Often times when chanting for something we are awaken to the reality that the desire would not make our core life any better and we choose no longer to pursue it or we pursue it from a different perspective that we had not thought of before.  For example, we frequently refer to the idea of someone chanting to complete a large drug deal to make money.  They chant for days, maybe weeks about it.  Then when the opportunity arises,  they do not complete the deal because they realize that selling drugs is not a positive cause for their happiness but rather a negative one that will impact their life negatively.

In theory this sounds practical, but in practice I still find chanting/meditating to achieve my desires can be tricky.   It is easy to get caught up on the desire itself and to forget that the desire is what leads us to chant and the chanting is what leads to awakening our Buddha nature.  For myself, I find it most effective to chant to awaken my Buddha nature/wisdom to help me achieve my desires, rather than chanting directly for the desire blindly so to speak.  After all, for me, more than anything I want to tap into by Buddha nature first and foremost and the desire helps spend more time chanting.  And it is clear to me that if I did not have some strong desires it would be difficult to chant consistently and with vigor.   For other people, chanting specifically to achieve their desire effective for them.

I do not believe that there is only one way to bring out our enlightenment through chanting to achieve our desires.  I think that it varies by person and it may even change day by day depending upon our life condition.  I encourage people to frequently study the concept.  Each time you study it you may see it from a different light and it may help how you chant and even the effectiveness.  The key is to keep a seeking spirit and to keep chanting to tap into your Buddha nature.

 

 

 

 

Oneness of Life and Environment (Esho Funi)

Nichiren Buddhism has many powerful teachings, or should I refer to them as enlightened teachings, that reflect the mystic law of the universe, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the foundation of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.   None of the teachings stand alone but are inter-related.  As such, it is difficult to discuss one teaching without referring to one or more additional teachings.  Today my seeking spirit is leading me to explore and challenge one of my favorites concepts, Oneness of Life and Environment, also known as Esho Funi in Japanese.   This teaching states that your environment is a reflection of your life condition and is closely connected to the teaching of cause and effect which essentially conveys that all thoughts, words and actions create an effect in your life and your environment.  Buddhism teaches that life and the environment are not two independent entities but are tightly connected and interdependent.  Your environment is your shadow and no matter how hard you try, you cannot separate from your shadow.  The same is true of your environment.   On the surface this sounds like a harmonious concept that you might expect from Eastern philosophy.  However, it is profoundly empowering if well understood and practiced in real life.

Imagine having the power to change your work, home or any environment that you experience during the course of a day.   People spend  a lot of time trying to change people in their environment with the idea that if they could change the people everything would be better for them.  A wife or husband tries to change their spouse or kids.  A manager tries to change his staff.   The intention for desiring to change people is irrelevant.  What is relevant is people spend a lot of outward energy trying to change people with the idea that it will make their life and their environment better and more enjoyable.   What they fail to recognize is that the most expedient means to change ones’ environment is to change themselves.

The environments in our lives are a reflection of who we are emotionally and intellectually and the corresponding thoughts, words and actions that we have compiled over time, our karma is reflected in our environment.  Karma is not a predefined fate but rather the destiny that is created through thoughts, words and actions and the environments that you experience in your life every day are a reflection of your karma.  In other words, your thoughts, words and actions create the circumstances in your environment.  That also means that you can positively impact your environment by changing yourself and the way that you interact with your environment.

I encourage that you test this universal law in your own life.  If you wake up and start out the day treating your spouse extra special or having a particularly good mood at work, how will your spouse or your colleagues respond?  Will they respond differently than if you woke up moody and expressed that moodiness with them?  This is an easy test.  Think of all the situations where you may have been impatient, stubborn or even angry.  Next time try to patient, considerate, flexible and nice.  Do you think that your environment will respond differently?  How would the people respond differently?  If they become more supportive of you you have just created a supportive environment.

What if you have either a boss that you do not get along with, or you have staff that you do not get along with for some reason.  It does not matter if you are the manager or the staff, if you work to change how you deal with them, the environment between you will change without fail.  If there is some heavy karma it may take a few days, a few months, or it could be immediate.  But without question, it will change.

You can test this in almost every situation you encounter in a day and observe the result. Even better, there is a side benefit to the broader environment.  That is the ripple effect.  If you express joy in seeing someone and make them feel good about themselves, the are apt to carry that good feeling to their next encounter.   So kind acts can lead to more kind acts that ripple throughout the day and you have the opportunity to be the one initiates the ripple.

In all seriousness, if you are facing a dark situation and something looks hopeless.  If you realize that you can change the situation by changing yourself.  What does that mean?  How do you change yourself?  That is a good question and the answer is always unique to the person and situation.  In Buddhism we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, meditate, to awaken our Buddha nature or highest life condition and inner wisdom.  If a person chants to understand what they need to change with deep sincerity, and not blame anything in their environment, they will make the change in themselves and the environment will change.

It is important to realize that if you just leave a current environment that is bad and do not go through any self human revolution, you will over time recreate the same situation over again.  So running from a problem does not help.  To be clear, there are cases where changing oneself means having the courage to leave a physically abusive relationship.  But to find a truly healthy relationship, a human revolution in oneself (change) needs to take place so that you attract people that will treat you well.  And once in a new relationship, you will need to continue the human revolution and build positive karma in your relationship and in your environment through your thoughts, words and action.

One final comment on this topic, though I could go on much longer, chanting in itself is a positive cause that starts to change your environment.  Chanting about changing your karma, changing yourself, is very powerful.  Chanting to change someone else is less powerful.  In theory, if you chant enough eventually you will recognize that it is you that needs to change in order to change the environment.  So please always chant to understand what you need to change about yourself to create change in your environment.  And never blame yourself for being in a bad environment for there is no positive or redeeming value to do so.  Rather focus on the power that you have to make change and when you change how you view something and how interact with your environment, your environment will change without fail.

As always, do not just believe but rather try it and see for your self.  Test it,  challenge it, but do so with a seeking spirit to understand.

 

 

The Importance of having a Seeking Spirit

For years I have been practicing Buddhism with a seeking spirit to understand more.  Early in my practice I quickly learned the power of exploring both the meaning of the fundamental Buddhist teachings as well as how people experience them in their life.  I could never just blindly accept any of the teachings.  I always had to study them and then test them in my life.  After all, why should I believe something just because I read it?  How could I truly believe a concept without exploring it through questions, learning about how other people experience it and most importantly applying it in my thoughts, words and actions?

I am often times surprised and sometimes envious of people that can read or hear a new teaching and apparently immediately have complete faith in it.  While I may immediately agree with a teaching because it follows common sense, it often takes time to build faith in it.  Thankfully, in Nichiren Buddhism, as taught by the Soka Gakai, having faith is not a prerequisite for Buddhism to work in your life.  After all, Nichiren Buddhism teaches that Nam myoho range kyo is the mystic law of the universe.   I will leave it for another blog to explore the meaning of Nam-myoho-range-kyo, for now, think of it as all the Buddha’s teachings encompassed in a single phrase.  In essence all the teachings describe how life works, so you do not need to believe or have faith for the teachings to work.  The teachings operate in our lives, and everyones’ lives’ everyday.  People just are unaware of them.

Of course having faith in the teachings leads to bolder actions and greater results.  One with strong faith in their ability to swim jumps into the pool.  One with little faith will stick their toe in the pool.   For all practical purposes, the same is true when it comes to Buddhist practice.  If you have not studied the fundamentals, if you have not challenged them and experienced them in your life, seen them in others and taught others about them, it is difficult to have the faith it takes to make revolutionary changes in your life.  Instead, it is easy to stick a toe in, go through the motions of practice but not really understand how to make them become powerfully alive in your life.

Some people consider questioning and doubting as either weak faith or possibly negative skepticism.   Both can be true.  It is the intent of the questions and what you do with the doubt that makes a difference.  If doubt and questions are used to fuel your seeking spirit to better understand they are powerfully good things.

What has lead me to starting this blog is my desire to encourage the seeking spirit in the practice of Nichiren Buddhism to build strong faith in the core Buddhist teachings.   To be clear, I am just an ordinary practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism.  I do not hold any administrative positions within the SGI and I do not consider myself to have superior ability to comprehend the teachings.  I simply have a strong belief in the importance of having a seeking spirit for truly understanding the core teachings and the ichinen to encourage people to have a constant seeking spirit even for the most mundane teachings. Always question, always challenge, always test the teachings in your own life with a desire to understand them better and to build stronger faith.