How incredible it is to chant this wonderful daimoku each day! Nichiren Daishonin writes, "There is no greater happiness for human beings than chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The sutra [Lotus Sutra] says, ?The people there [in my land] are happy and at ease.
Welcome to the group, Dolly! Wow, you have a good friend-in-faith in Chetana. Keep close to her. They are hard to find. BTW, you would enjoy reading my blog post titled "The Aspiration for Enlightenment." You will be glad you did ;-) Best always....
Q: Is there something wrong with me? Why doesn’t this practice seem to be working for me?
A: We tend to view ourselves as either good or bad, right or wrong. We have a tendency to be judgmental in this regard. But this is not the primary approach Buddhism takes in how we look at ourselves. The Buddhist view, recognizing that we all have both innate good and bad in us, focuses on strengthening our good points and challenging our weaknesses.
Buddhism doesn’t tell us that we’re essentially good people or bad people — it says we can always become better and stronger.
In “The Treatment of Illness,” the Daishonin states: The heart of the Hokke sect is the principle of ichinen sanzen, which reveals that both good and evil are inherent even in those at the highest stage, that of myogaku or enlightenment. The fundamental nature of enlightenment manifests itself as Bonten and Taishaku, whereas the fundamental darkness manifests itself as the Devil of the Sixth Heaven. (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 3, p. 279)
In this passage, he teaches that human life has the potential to exhibit either good or bad according to where we are coming from within. In other words, are we coming from Buddhahood or from our fundamental darkness? That’s a vital question in Buddhism. Most important is whether we can consistently come from Buddhahood in our practice.
When we feel that there’s something wrong with us, that the practice isn’t working because of this, it may actually be that we are waiting passively for results — thinking there’s something wrong becomes an excuse! Or we are becoming overly impatient. The problem in these cases is our attitude in faith, not that we’re bad people. The overall goal of Buddhism, we should remember, is to achieve an unshakably happy state of life. This is a life strong and enjoyable even in the face of problems and obstacles, a life that seeks profound rather than shallow happiness.
In the beginning, we may assume that practicing means no problems — that if we have lots of problems there’s something wrong with us — but that’s not so. Life is a series of problems, whether we practice or not. Happiness is the confidence and power to solve each one.
The power of the Law is such that we can change the source of our problems and, deep within our lives, our weaknesses into strengths.
Therefore, in the final analysis, Buddhism is primarily concerned with winning. Always thinking there’s something wrong with us can become a serious hindrance to our practice. Ultimately, it flies against the teaching that each of us is potentially a Buddha.
In “Letter to Gijo-bo,” Nichiren Daishonin explains that the phrase “Single-mindedly yearning to see the Buddha” (isshin yok ken butsu), which is part of the sutra that we recite during gongyo, means “to see the Buddha in one’s own mind, to concentrate one’s mind on seeing the Buddha, and that to see one’s own mind is to see the Buddha” (MW-2 [2nd ed.], p. 205).
There are no good or bad Buddhas — rather, all Buddhas are continually striving to better themselves as Bodhisattvas of the Earth.
Q: Why do we need an object of devotion like the Gohonzon?
A: The Gohonzon as a physical object helps us reveal our Buddhahood. It enhances our practice. But merely having or seeing a Gohonzon does not determine whether we are actually revealing our Buddhahood.
Before the advent of Nichiren Daishonin, Buddhist objects of devotion were wooden statues or pictures of Shakyamuni Buddha or other Buddhas or bodhisattvas. By contrast, in the Daishonin’s Buddhism, the inner life-condition of the Buddha, not the external form of the Buddha’s appearance as symbolized by statues, was reflected through Chinese characters on a paper mandala — the Gohonzon, our supreme object of veneration. The Law, the seed of enlightenment, is not found merely in a Buddha’s physical characteristics. It is within his or her heart.
According to the Buddhist view of a life-moment possessing 3,000 realms, even an insentient object like a piece of paper has the potential to fulfill the function of Buddhahood — depending on what is written on it. In this vein, the Daishonin inscribed his
own life-condition on the Gohonzon, thus attempting to share a life-condition where Buddhahood or the Mystic Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo illuminates every realm of an individual’s life. In other words, he could inscribe the Gohonzon because he fully embodied the Mystic Law. This he proved through his behavior as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.
Buddhism expounds that our lives exhibit ten worlds: Buddhahood, Bodhisattva, Realization, Learning, Rapture/Heaven, Tranquillity/Humanity, Anger/Belligerence, Animality, Hunger and Hell. And that each of these life-conditions manifests itself
according to our relationship with our immediate environment.
Therefore, our life-condition is influenced by the relationship that we create with our object of devotion. This relationship is crucial to our happiness. As the Daishonin writes in “Letter to Horen”: “As for the characters of the Lotus Sutra
[i.e., Gohonzon], a blind person cannot see them at all. A person with the eyes of a common mortal sees them as black in color. Persons in the two vehicles see them as void. Bodhisattvas see various different colors in them, while a person whose seeds of Buddhahood have reached full maturity sees them as Buddhas. So the sutras states: ‘If one can uphold this [sutra], he will be upholding the Buddha’s body’” (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 7, p. 112).
We can take the Gohonzon as the Buddha’s heart — and also as the supreme potential within our own heart. Our relationship with the Gohonzon is like our relationship to our own heart. Hence, the Daishonin states, “Never seek the Gohonzon outside yourself” (MW-1, 212).
The Daishonin tells us that when facing the Gohonzon “faith alone is what really matters” (MW-1, 246). In the same respect, he says to “believe in the Gohonzon with your whole heart” (MW-1, 120).
All in all, we practice to the Gohonzon to make our innate Buddha nature our regular basic life-condition. Attaining Buddhahood means to solidify our inherent Buddhahood to where it actually supports the other nine worlds all the time — the Gohonzon helps us to do so.
Q: While I’m chanting before the Gohonzon, I notice that I have several nervous habits such as biting my fingernails and tugging at my hair. How can I overcome these habits and become more focused on the Gohonzon?
A: In discussing the proper stance we should have in front of the Gohonzon, the most important point to bear in mind is that we should chant wholeheartedly — to the point where we enjoy chanting. In a sense, it can be like a warm, open-hearted exchange with a trusted, respected friend or mentor. The experience should be refreshing; it’s not like going to boot camp.
Of course, this is a practice that we strive to do every day of our lives, so there is the same tendency to develop bad habits as in any part of our lives. And these can interfere with how we focus on chanting to the Gohonzon.
Our minds may begin to wander from time to time, or we may catch ourselves fidgeting or squirming. When this happens, it is important that to the best of our ability we try to keep our mind on the right track. Becoming aware of these negative tendencies is nothing to feel guilty about. The very nature of habits necessitates that we make conscious efforts to change them; recognizing an unwanted behavior is the first step in eradicating it.
If you were standing face-to-face with someone you held in high esteem, you would never allow yourself to bite your fingernails or tug at your hair. Think of world leaders meeting at an international summit: They greet each other confidently and with mutual respect, not biting their nails and tugging their hair. We should view our time in front of the Gohonzon similarly.
In February when SGI President Ikeda was in Hong Kong, he gave the following guidance about how to do morning and evening prayers, based on instructions from his mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda:
President Toda spoke on the essential practice of our faith, gongyo: “When you do gongyo in front of the Gohonzon, it is the same as if you are sitting before Nichiren Daishonin himself. You should never have a careless or sloppy attitude, nor should you doze off or yawn while doing gongyo. Chant resonately and joyfully.”
Mr. Toda is not saying that we have to be rigid and tense when doing gongyo. The Daishonin is “the Buddha originally endowed with the three properties” (Gosho Zenshu, p. 759), so we should just be ourselves in our “originally endowed” form, as if we were in his presence.
When we realize that chanting is the fundamental cause to awaken our “originally endowed” selves and develop the life force and wisdom to change any problem, we begin to settle down and fuse with the Gohonzon. We chant with a voice that is clear and sonorous, focused on our prayer. With conviction and hope for the future, sensing that we are clearing away doubt and worry. With the determination that “I will make this happen,” tapping into the Buddhahood inherent within us. The challenge we face each day is to master the act of enjoying chanting in this way. Our earnest prayer when chanting is the source of all solutions.
What does Buddhism have to say when Buddhist practitioners become ill?
A: First, Buddhism views sickness as something inherent in life and therefore unavoidable. It is part of the cycle of birth, old age, sickness and death. Yet Buddhism urges us to awaken to the fact that illness is not something permanent in life — it is a temporary phenomenon — and that it can be a meaningful event in one’s eternal life.
When we fall ill, we tend to see the current sickness as the only thing that matters, and therefore we can become its slave, perceiving it as an immovable wall or foreboding obstacle separating us from happiness. Some people who are ill may even lose the will to live out their existence joyfully.
However, when we realize that becoming ill is only a natural phase of our lives — and that it can be an opportunity to build an even more solid foundation of happiness in ourselves — then, we can tap the courageous spirit to face the illness and battle it, as Nichiren Daishonin states, “From illness arises the mind that seeks the way” (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 5, p. 280).
Therefore, the important thing when it comes to this problem is to have strong will to triumph over the “devil of sickness.” This is the faith with which you can say to yourself: “I will defeat my sickness! I will change poison into medicine!”
In other words, often times, sickness itself is not the real problem. If we are defeated in our life-condition by sickness, that is the problem.
SGI President Ikeda says: “In life, you may, by rights, become sick from time to time. However, as you practice to the Gohonzon, you will come to realize that you are now sick because being sick now is the most natural thing for your life at this moment.
In other words, you can consider your sickness to be the sickness of hon’nu [a natural illness that accords with the rhythm of the Law]. Put another way, if your life-condition remains healthy through the practice of faith, you will never be swayed by your sickness. You will never fall into painful agony due to your illness. Rather, as you go through your current sickness, you will find your true self or absolute happiness solidifying.”
In the “Medicine King” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, there is a phrase that reads: “This sutra can save all living beings.… It can cause living beings to cast off all distress, all sickness and pain. It can unloose all the bonds of birth and death” (The Lotus Sutra, p. 286).
Lecturing on this passage, Nichiren Daishonin states, “In view of the enlightened vision of the essential teachings of the ‘Life Span’ chapter, ‘cast off all distress, all sickness and pain’ means to have a clear awareness that all our sickness, pain and distress are natural parts of our lives that occur as they should” (Gosho Zenshu, p. 773).
Finally, President Toda gave the following encouragement to a person struggling with a serious illness: “A human being has a body that has the potential of developing all kinds of disease, including stomach cancer and tuberculosis. Likewise, we innately possess the ability to cure sickness in the body. Curing our own illness is just like the person who has climbed a slope and will surely climb down it. I can say this with conviction based upon the philosophy of Buddhism.”
He added: “Faith is not something we practice out of formality. Chant Nam-myohorenge-kyo to the Gohonzon with all your heart — with a burning desire in your heart to overcome your sickness. No sickness will remain uncured if you chant with the type of determination to offer your entire life from now on for the cause of the Gohonzon, that is, for kosen-rufu, for the peace and happiness of all humanity.”