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 people 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.