Thursday, 3 July 2014

Previously... On Mentor-Disciple Day

Over the last few years I have written several posts on the significance of the SGI’s Mentor-Disciple Day and the mentor-disciple relationship.

Please click on the links below to go to previous posts:

Leaders of the Park (see Part IV)

“Only one person can make a breakthrough,
the second and a third will follow.
This is the formula for victory! 
Become a pioneer of the new era
and shine in your community.”
               Daisaku Ikeda, "To My Friends", 3 July 2014

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Spirit of May 3

"May 3, Soka Gakkai Day, is the eternal starting point for making our lives and those of others shine even more brightly"

(President Ikeda, Newsletter 8982, 3 May 2014)

It is the day that Josei Toda became the second president of the Soka Gakkai in 1951 announcing his determination to achieve a membership of 750,000 households during his lifetime (which he achieved).  It is also the day that Daisaku Ikeda became the third president in 1960, and vowed to march boldly on a journey for worldwide kosen-rufu in which he would ensure Buddhism spread to the farthest reaches of the earth.

"3 May is a day infused with commitment, action, unity, gratitude, hope, victory, fresh departure and new progress.  Each 3 May is a day when we strengthen and deepen our commitment to kosen-rufu more than the year before."
  (President Ikeda, Newsletter 8538, 13 June 2012)

"[At] the Soka Gakkai General Meeting held on May 3, 1954, ... President Toda declared that the essence of the Soka Gakkai spirit is "to return to the time of the Daishonin."  What he meant by this, he said, is for each of us to take the Daishonin's spirit as his own and strive to help others embrace faith in the Mystic Law and realize genuine happiness."
(Daisaku Ikeda, Newsletter 8982, 3 May 2014)

"Our goal is to actualize the vision of Nichiren Daishonin and bring about lasting peace and prosperity for all humanity.  I therefore hope you will become champions of faith who never retreat a single step, and that you will continue to struggle valiantly together with me as we advance into the future."
(Daisaku Ikeda, NHR12, p7, 3 May 1967)

"Nichiren Daishonin constantly called out to his disciples:

You must summon up the great power of faith more than ever.  (WND-1, p1000)

Strengthen your resolve more than ever. (WND-1, 615)

You should therefore strive in faith more than ever to receive the blessings of the Lotus Sutra"  (WND-1, 33)

Our courage is limitless and our efforts know no bounds.  As long as we have that spirit and continue to press forward, cherishing the great ideal of kosen-rufu in our hearts, the path to victory will open up endlessly before us."
(Daisaku Ikeda, Newsletter 8759, 7 May 2013)

"To dedicate our lives to the great vow of kosen-rufu, just like the Daishonin - this is the very heart of 3 May."
(Daisaku Ikeda, Newsletter 8538, 13 June 2012)

"Let us ensure that this vow of May 3 - embodying the Soka Gakkai spirit and directly connected to the spirit of the Daishonin - is transmitted to the future and endures for all eternity."
 (Daisaku Ikeda, Newsletter 8982, 3 May 2014)

In April 1988 at the first national Soka Gakkai Women's Division meeting held in Tokyo, President Ikeda also proposed that in recognition of their sincere efforts and their contribution to the growth of the organisation, May 3 should also be celebrated as "Soka Gakkai's Mother's Day" in honour of the "mothers of kosen-rufu".


Sunday, 23 March 2014

Benefit of Human Revolution

In the "Ten Benefits" chapter of the "Immeasurable Meanings Sutra" (The Prologue to the Lotus Sutra) Shakyamuni responds to the audience’s questions, explaining that this sutra comes “from the dwelling and abode of the Buddha.  It’s aim is to lead all living beings to conceive the desire for enlightenment.  And it abides in the practices carried out by bodhisattvas” (LSOC, p21) and then he starts to explain the ten benefits of following the sutra. 

This post focuses on the first of these ten benefits and is one of my favourite sections of the Lotus Sutra.  This extensive list of benefits, all of which make up only the FIRST of the ten benefits, reveals human revolution in action, and explains how negative tendancies and fundamental darkness can be changed into positive traits through this practice.

“Good men, the first [great benefit] is that this sutra can cause bodhisattvas who have not yet conceived the desire for enlightenment to conceive such a desire.

It can cause those who are without compassion or benevolence to nurture compassionate minds.

It can cause those who delight in killing and slaughter to nurture minds of great pity.

It can cause those filled with envy and jealousy to nurture minds of joyful acceptance.

It can cause those who are begrudging and attached to things to nurture minds capable of relinquishing.

It can cause those who are close-fisted and greedy to nurture minds of almsgiving.

It can cause those of abundant arrogance and pride to nurture minds that uphold the precepts.

It can cause those much given to wrath and anger to nurture forbearing minds.

It can cause those who are indolent and lazy to nurture minds of diligence.

It can cause those who are scatterbrained and disordered to nurture minds devoted to meditation.

It can cause those with much ignorance and folly to nurture minds of wisdom.

It can cause those who are not yet capable of saving others to nurture minds set upon saving others.

It can cause those who practice the ten evil acts to nurture minds devoted to the ten good acts.

It can cause those who delight too much in the conditioned to strive for minds fixed on the unconditioned.

It can cause those whose minds are given to regression to cultivate minds of non-regression.

It can cause those given to outflows to nurture minds free of outflows.

It can cause those with many earthly desires to nurture minds that cleanse and extinguish such desires. 

Good men, this is called the first benefit and inconceivable power of this sutra”  (LSOC, p21-22)

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Shakyamuni's Shakubuku Style

In one of my previous posts “The Teacher of the Law” I looked at the various stages of the Buddha’s teachings and how he chose to break down the true aspect of all phenomena into smaller stages to fulfil his vow “to make all persons equal to [him], without any distinction between us” (The Lotus Sutra & Its Opening and Closing Sutras (2000), p70).  Over the last few posts I’ve looked at some of these earlier practices, but this time we continue with Shakyamuni’s journey and how he introduced this path to enlightenment to his first followers.  These early teachings (including the Pali Canon) are part of the Agama Period which Shakyamuni taught for 12 years and formed the basis of the Therevadan and Vinaya schools of Buddhism.

After becoming enlightened and thinking through how he could teach this wisdom to others, Shakyamuni returned to Varanasi and Deer Park to reveal the first stage of the Mystic Law to the five ascetics that he had practiced with before.
When we awaken to the wonder of the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra, we want to share this joy and knowledge with the people around us that we know, such as our friends, family, classmates, etc.

At first, they weren’t very excited to see him and doubted his enlightenment because he had previously turned his back on these austere practices.
The people we talk to may not initially be interested in what we have to say and may even be disparaging of our faith. 

But when they noticed his confident attitude and his demeanour, they realised that there was something different about their old friend and wanted to know what his secret was.
Often it’s our attitude and behaviour as Buddhists, especially how we react when facing sickness, challenges and negativity in our lives, which make people want to know more about our practice.

Hearing these early teachings, they decided to become followers of Shakyamuni and the Buddhist Order was born.  Shakyamuni’s first disciples is thought to have been Ajnata Kaudinya.

The people we introduce to Nichiren Buddhism may initially show an interest and decide to come along to a discussion meeting, but after a period of study and practice they may decide to join our Buddhist Order – the SGI. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Chain Reaction

In addition to the topics already covered (Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, Five Precepts, etc.)  another one of the early Buddhist teachings was the twelve-linked chain of causation, and Shakyamuni is thought to have taught this twelve step program to explain the causal relationship between ignorance and the sufferings of aging and death.

Shakyamuni introduces these twelve links in the Assutava Sutra :

"When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises." 

These twelve links are:

(1)  ignorance, which results in
(2)  action, which causes
(3)  consciousness or the function to discern, which causes
(4)  name and form (or spiritual and material objects of discernment) which consist of 
(5)  the six sense organs, which interpret
(6)  contact , which arouses
(7)  sensation (visual, aural, intellectual, etc.), which leads to
(8)  desire (or cravings for sights, sounds, smells, ideas, etc.) which precedes
(9)  attachment, which causes
(10) existence (a karmic force of becoming), which manifests in
(11)  birth (a new status/position, a born again identity, etc.) which begins the process of 
(12) aging and death.

These twelve links can be viewed pessimistically as "the way things are" and that we are doomed to a perpetual existence stuck in this cycle of suffering, or it can be interpreted optimistically, reasoning that through wisdom, ignorance (the source of our delusion) can be eliminated freeing us from this chain of suffering and leading to Shakyamuni's initial teachings on nirvana.  Returning to the Assutava Sutra:

"When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases."

The Great Commentary on the Abhidharma, a text of the Sarvāstivāda school, views the twelve-linked chain of causation as operating over the three existences of life, such that "aging and death" in this life are the results of causes formed in a previous life:





























From a Nichiren Buddhist perspective, we can see that the cause of all our suffering is ignorance, and especially ignorance of the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra, and therefore, the only way to break this chain and achieve our own emancipation is through our faith in the Lotus Sutra and our practice of Nichiren Buddhism.  In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni also reveals for the first time, the rarest and most-difficult-to-understand Law, the true entity of all phenomena ...

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Story So Far ...

Between August and October last year I started a series of posts on the history of Shakyamuni's awakening and early teachings.  So far there have been four posts on this journey, including his life up to sitting under the Bodhi tree, his encounters with Mara, his enlightenment and his decision to teach others about the Law.  There have also been four posts on his early teachings, including the four noble truths, the eightfold path and the five precepts

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Same As Last Year

[Toda]...finished gongyo, chanting daimoku three times.  With a beaming smile, he turned to look at the leaders’ faces.  Although they were shabbily dressed as usual, their faces were bright and ... every eye was ... shining.
Koichi Harayama saluted him formally, “A happy new year to you, sir.  Please continue to support us, just as last year.”
Toda responded with a smile, “A happy new year to everyone.  But not “just as last year”.  If we continue this year “just as last year”, kosen-rufu will not be achieved.  Mr. Hirayama, will you continue your inactivity “just as last year”?”
A roar of laughter greeted this observation.  “I will be greatly distressed if Mr. Mishima is always complaining, if Mr. Konishi sulks and Mr. Seki looks pale and worried, just as they did last year.
Even louder laughter greeted this comment.  ... “I hope every one of you will, with strong faith, make the most of your abilities and carry out splendid shakubuku activities. ... I hope you will change a great deal for the better this year.”                                   
                                    (Human Revolution: Vol. 3, p3-4)

As Toda says, each year shouldn’t be “just as last year”.  Each year through chanting, study and taking action based on wisdom, courage and compassion, we can grow in faith and introduce our friends, family, co-workers and neighbours to Nichiren Buddhism, as well as supporting and encouraging other members to deepen their understanding of our practice.

New Year’s resolutions are a great opportunity to give up addictions to alcohol, tobacco or chocolate, strive to become a better person and overcome some of your negative traits and tendancies, but the greatest resolution at New Year (or any time of the year) is to renew your vow as a Bodhisattva of the Earth and a Votary of the Lotus Sutra. 

The SGI has named 2014 as “The Year of Opening a New Era of Worldwide Kosen-Rufu” but this new era of kosen-rufu won’t open itself.   All of us as individual members and as districts need to take action and “at all times ... think to [ourselves] “How can I cause living beings to gain entry into the unsurpassed way and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?”  (The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 16, p273)  

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Buddhism Rules!


I previously looked at Shakyamuni's earlier teachings of the FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS and the EIGHTFOLD PATH as they relate to Nichiren Buddhism, but Shakyamuni knew that it would be difficult for his followers at that time, especially lay people, to remember all of a sutra or to commit time to study his teachings in detail, so he distilled the essence of a good life into five precepts.  These precepts were a list of 5 rules to live your life by, and while they didn’t give a detailed explanation of the workings of the universe,  they would ensure that followers lived a respectful life, creating good causes for their future happiness.

In the Abhisanda Sutra he introduces these precepts and mentions that these are eternal guidelines since the beginning of time and as they “will never be open to suspicion” explains they will be eternal guidelines for all time in the future as well.
These five precepts were:

 “A disciple of the noble ones ... abstains from taking life.  ...
The disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking what is not given. ...

The disciple of the noble ones abstains from illicit sex. ...
The disciple of the noble ones abstains from lying. ...

The disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.”
I will go into these in a little more detail in a moment, but it’s interesting to note that in this sutra, all of these precepts are followed by the phrase:

“In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings.  In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression.”

I think this is a really interesting phrase, especially that by following these precepts a person “gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression”.   How does this happen?
Let’s imagine living in a village of 1000 people where everyone takes from others and there is no freedom from danger, animosity and oppression. If you and four friends choose to live by the precept of “abstaining from taking what is not given” there are now a few people in the village who will not take things from you, your friends and others, so you have already gained a very very small share of this limitless freedom as a result of your decision.  If another 300 people start to practice Buddhism and agree to follow these precepts, there is now a 30% drop in theft in the village which you all continue to share in.  And if in the future 98% of the village agrees “not to take what is not given”, your environment will be mostly free from danger, animosity and oppression.  In the same way, as we propagate Nichiren Buddhism and people start to reveal their Buddhahood, and respect the Buddhahood of other people in their communities, society starts to become a better, more peaceful and more harmonious place to live.

Returning to the five precepts, they are all based on respecting ourselves, our bodies and our property and the lives, bodies and property of others.  The Brahma Net Sutra goes into a little more detail: 
            (1)          A disciple of the Buddha shall not himself kill, encourage others to kill, kill by expedient means, praise killing, rejoice at witnessing killing, or kill through incantation or deviant mantras.  He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of killing, and shall not intentionally kill any living creature.”

(2)          "A disciple of the Buddha must not himself steal or encourage others to steal, steal by expedient means, and steal by means of incantation or deviant mantras.  He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of stealing. 

(3)          “A disciple of the Buddha must not engage in licentious acts or encourage others to do   so  ... nor create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of such misconduct.”  Generally, according to the sutra, priests, monks and nuns were forbidden from engaging in sexual activity, while lay believers were encouraged to conduct themselves in a pure way.  Some people wonder how this might relate to other aspects of sexuality?  Is it okay to have a same-sex partner or is this licentious?  Is it okay to engage in role-play, S&M or other fantasies, or is this licentious?  How about multiple partners?  Personally, I think a lot of this is down to your own personal choice, and as long as you and your partner are both consenting adults and happy within the relationship I don't see a problem.  Ultimately, like all of these precepts, the focus is on respecting yourself, your body and other people. 

(4)          “A disciple of the Buddha must not himself use false words and speech, or encourage others to lie or lie by expedient means.  He should not involve himself in the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of lying, saying that he has seen what he has not seen or vice-versa.”   In addition to verbally lying, this also includes physical gestures such as nodding or shaking your head to confirm or deny something, and remaining deceptively silent when asked if you have or haven’t done something. 

(5)          A disciple of the Buddha must not trade in alcoholic beverages or encourage others to do so.  He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of selling any intoxicant whatsoever, for intoxicants are the causes and conditions of all kinds of offenses.  The key point of this precept is that disciples of the Buddha should maintain a clear mind and body, and encourage others to do the same, so that they are aware of their behaviour and avoid committing offenses due to a lack of self-control. 
In addition to these there were an addition five precepts added for priests to follow and, over the years, these precepts were extended until there was a total of 250 precepts for monks and 500 precepts for nuns to follow.  Some people believe these precepts for monks and nuns were part of Shakyamuni’s teachings and designed to ensure followers who wanted to devote their entire lives to his teachings focussed on the essential qualities of a good monk or nun, while others disagree and think that 250 or more rules for living goes against his spirit of following the Middle Way.  

Are these precepts still relevant today or have they also been replaced by The Lotus Sutra?

In general, Shakyamuni mentions in the “Treasure Tower” that the key precepts of the Lotus Sutra are accepting and upholding, and reading and reciting, this sutra, and Nichiren also advises a follower about to take part in a debate with another Buddhist school to “tell them that the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the heart of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra, contain the benefit amassed through the countless practices and meritorious deeds of all Buddhas throughout the three existences.  Then, how can these five characters not include the benefits obtained by observing all of the Buddhas’ precepts?  ... Now in the Latter Day of the Law, any person ... who embraces Myoho-renge-kyo and practices it in accordance with the Buddha’s teaching, cannot fail to gain the fruit of Buddhahood. ... Now that so wondrous a precept [the Diamond Chalice Precept of the Lotus Sutra] has been revealed, none of the precepts expounded in the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings or in the theoretical teaching have the slightest power to benefit people.  Since they provide not the slightest benefit, it is totally useless to observe them, even for a single day.” (WND-1, p481-482)
From this Gosho we can see that none of the pre-Lotus Sutra precepts are necessary for our practice, but I still think these first five precepts are important "eternal guidelines" for us to consider in our daily lives, which accord with the general philosophy of the Lotus Sutra to respect the dignity of our lives and the lives of others.
So what are the precepts for the modern Nichiren Buddhist? 

The four precepts of the Lotus Sutra are:
(1)      Accept the Lotus Sutra
(2)      Uphold the Lotus Sutra
(3)      Read the Lotus Sutra
(4)      Recite the Lotus Sutra

And for Nichiren Buddhists: