Category Archives: Blog

A Lifetime Journey

On Aug. 30, 2015, I had something of an epiphany: At 63, I’m old enough to believe I’ll live to see my death.

Then today, Rev. Ryusho Jeffus, during a discussion following online services at Myosho-ji, suggested that a 500-day journey is trivial. A 10-year timeframe is more useful for judging the merits of the practice of Nichiren Buddhism.

One of the aspects of this 500 Yojanas project that I’m enjoying is its finite nature. My goal is, quite literally, to blog until I die.

500 days. 10 years. This journey will be a lifetime.

Sunday Service Online

Sunday Service with Ryusho Jeffus

With no Sacramento service this Sunday, I chose to attend Myosho-ji Services online. Above is Rev. Ryusho Jeffus and a man who attended the service  in Charlotte, NC. The mugshots above me are two of the other online attendees. Virginia is in Spain and Brandon in Indiana. It’s all a wonderful example of the worldwide sangha.

Home altar with computer ready for servicesWhen I attend online services I set my computer up in front of my altar, light the candles and burn incense.

Ryusho Shonin maintains a calendar of services and lectures  on his website at myoshoji.org. (Do not be surprised if you have to wait a minute or more for the site to load. Once it loads, things get better. In a pinch, try this direct link to the Google calendar.)

The Lotus Sutra in 32 Parts

Myoho Renge Kyo Romanized bookcoverIn March I started using the Nichiren Buddhist Sangha of Greater New England’s Myoho Renge Kyo Romanized as my morning service.

The book contains a Shindoku reading of the entire Lotus Sutra rendered in Roman characters. As the book explains: “Each day a section from the Sutra is read, so that by the end of 32 days, all 28 chapters of the Lotus Sutra have been chanted.”

The division is based on the Lotus Sutra’s original eight fascicles, which are each divided into four sections, giving 32 total parts.

The book includes words and translations for Shomyo sung at the beginning of services. For my morning service, I read both the Romanized words and the translation followed by the English Invocation and the English translation of the Verses for Opening the Sutra.

That day’s section of the Lotus Sutra follows, after which I read Shoho Jisso Sho. This is included as an example of Nichiren Shonin’s instructions.

After chanting Odaimoku for a period (usually 10 minutes), I read The Difficulty of Retaining the Sutra. This English version of Hotoge includes markings that help give the English translation the traditional beats. (Actually, I’m not able to do this but it’s there for those who want to try.)

The traditional dedication prayer and the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows follow. I conclude by morning service each day by reading the Sanki and Buso Shomyo along with their translations. (The book includes additional Kundoku readings, but I don’t use those.)

According to the calendar maintained by the Meetup Group for the Nichiren Buddhist Sangha of Greater New England, the cycle of 32 days began Jan. 1, 2015. I received the book on March 1 and the next 32 day cycle was to begin March 6. To get on schedule I chanted eight sections each day between March 2 and March 5. I have been chanting one section a day ever since.

Lotus Sutra with tabsTwo months ago I purchased the Third Edition of Senchu Murano’s English translation of the Lotus Sutra. I divided the book into 32 parts mirroring the divisions in the Romanized version. Most breaks are easy to locate but I had to guess on a few. Now I read the English version in the afternoon of what I read in the Morning.

Rev. Ryusho Jeffus Shonin writes in his Physician’s Good Medicine: Perhaps our challenge today 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.

On Aug. 13, I started doing that. The two things I noted from the Day 1 reading of the Introduction:

1. The gods represented:

Śakra-Devānām-Indra was also present. Twenty thousand gods were attending on him. There were also Beautiful-Moon God, Universal-Fragrance God, Treasure-Light God, and the four great heavenly-kings. Ten thousand gods were attending on them. Freedom God and Great-Freedom God were also present. Thirty thousand gods were attending on them. Brahman Heavenly-King who was the lord of the Sahā-World, Great Brahman Śikhin, and Great Brahman Light were also present. Twelve thousand gods were attending on them.

2. Calling upon Mañjuśrī to “Remove our doubts!”:

Mañjuśrī, Son of the Buddha!
Remove our doubts!
The four kinds of devotees
Are looking up with joy at you and me,
Wishing to know why this ray of light is emitted
By the World-Honored One.

Son of the Buddha, answer me!
Remove our doubts and cause us to rejoice!
For what purpose is the Buddha
Emitting this ray of light?

Each day I plan to post the points I noted in the previous cycle and in the current cycle.

Today I was struck by the powers of Bodhisattvas:

They had already obtained dhāraṇīs, turned the irrevocable wheel of the Dharma with eloquence according to the wishes [of all living beings], made offerings to many hundreds of thousands of Buddhas, and planted the roots of virtue under those Buddhas, by whom they had always been praised. They had already trained themselves out of their compassion towards others, entered the Way to the wisdom of the Buddha, obtained great wisdom, and reached the Other Shore so that their fame had already extended over innumerable worlds. They had already saved many hundreds of thousands of living beings.

And by what the congregation saw revealed by the light coming from the Buddha:

The congregation saw from this world the living beings of the six regions of those worlds. They also saw the present Buddhas of those worlds. They also heard the Dharma expounded by those Buddhas. They also saw the bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas and upāsikās of those worlds who had already attained [the various fruits of] enlightenment by their various practices. They also saw the Bodhisattva-mahāsattvas [of those worlds] who were practicing the Way of Bodhisattvas [in various ways] according to the variety of their karmas which they had done in their previous existence, and also according to the variety of their ways of understanding [the Dharma] by faith. They also saw the past Buddhas [of those worlds] who had already entered into Parinirvāṇa. They also saw the stūpas of the seven treasures which had been erected to enshrine the śariras of those Buddhas after their Parinirvāṇa.

Once I complete the current cycle I’ll continue to post each day.

Sunday Service

San Jose Myokakuji Betsuin

With no service scheduled in Sacramento, I drove to San Jose to attend services at Myokakuji Betsuin Temple.  Normally I attend San Jose’s Shodai Gyo Meditation service on the third Sunday of the month since that’s the service that is followed by a study session led by Rev. Ryuei McCormick. This Sunday, the second of the month, is a standard Nichiren Shu service with recitation of the Lotus Sutra. Today, in addition to the standard Chapter 2 section, we recited all of Chapter 16, which I was told afterward was something special.

It’s interesting to experience the different services. The differences are significant.

Nichiren, the Buddhist Prophet

Nichiren, The Buddhist Prophet bookcoverIn August I was browsing books on Nichiren available on Google Books and stumbled upon Masaharu Anesaki’s book, “Nichiren, The Buddhist Prophet.”

The book, which is now in the public domain, was published in 1918 when the study of religious psychology was a new domain and a university professor could focus his academic career on “the science of religion.”

What sold me on downloading the book was this line from the introduction:

“In the present sketch all traditions and legends of later growth have been excluded, and all the main points, as well as many minor details, are related exclusively on the basis of Nichiren’s own statements. For this reason it may be regarded as virtually a record of Nichiren’s own confessions, and as such, it will, I hope, be found a useful study in the religious psychology of a prophetic leader.”

While I’m familiar with the biography of Nichiren and have read the seven volumes of his writings published by the Nichiren Shoshu and the two volumes of his work published by Soka Gakkai (yes, I intend to study the Nichiren Shu volumes as well), I haven’t before read a work quite like Anesaki’s book.

I’ve added more than 50 quotes from the book that I found inspiring. Of particular interest are the explanations of personal enlightenment.

For example:

[T]he object of worship, the Supreme Being is to be sought nowhere but in the innermost recess of every man’s nature, because the final aim of worship is the complete realization of the Supreme Being in ourselves.

And:

The attainment of Buddhahood is not a matter of individuals or of the aggregate of individuals, it is the embodiment of the all-embracing communion of all beings in the organic unity of Buddhahood which is inherent in them all.

And:

Then the store of truths (Buddha’s teachings), eighty-four thousand in the number of its gateways, is nothing but the record and diary of our own life. Everybody reads and embraces this store of truths in his own soul. Illusion occurs when we seek the Buddha, the Truth, and the Paradise outside of our own self. One who has realized this soul is called the Tathagata. When this state is once attained, (we realize that) the cosmos in ten directions is our own body, our own soul, and our manifestation, because the Tathagata is our own body and soul.

Of course, anyone who has read this book will at once remember Anesaki’s repeated efforts to explain Nichiren’s goals in terms of a Catholic Church of Buddhism.

As we have had repeated occasion to note, Nichiren associated every step of his life with some feature of the Scripture, and especially regarded his life in Sado as the chief part, the climax, of his life. Now the last stage was to be inaugurated, and dedicated to the consummation of his mission and to the perpetuation of his religion, just as the last twelve chapters of the Scripture made up the consummation of the Truth. He had proclaimed the Sacred Title at the outset of his ministry; he had furnished the object of worship and spiritual introspection by the graphic representation of the Supreme Being; one thing alone remained — to prepare for, or establish, the central seat of his religion. These three instruments of his propaganda were called the “Three Mysteries.” Although there are some allusions to them in his writings before this time, Nichiren proclaimed this trinity for the first time in the first essay written after his retirement. This treatise is dated the twenty-fourth of the fifth month (June 24) — just a week after his arrival at Minobu. The great plan which he had long been meditating, and the motive which led him to retire from the present world, and to work for the future, was the establishment of the “Kaidan,” or the Holy See of the Catholic Church of Buddhism.

I understand from discussions with people within Nichiren Shu that this issue of a physical Kaidan, sanctioned by the government and functioning as one true religion is a disputed area. Still, when placed in historical context …

I’ll admit that Anesaki’s use of the Catholic Church as metaphor gets a bit stretched at time:

The individual, the nation, the world, and the Kingdom of Buddha — these terms stand for different aspects of the one ideal. The Holy Catholic Church of Buddhism is to have the world, the whole cosmos, as its stage; while the cosmos is not to be conceived as a mere universe in space, but essentially exists in the heart of every true Buddhist. Buddha is the Father and Lord of the Kingdom, and his children should strive for the realization of the Kingdom both in their own lives and in the community of all beings.

Or:

‘Behold, the kingdom of God is within you!’ This was the creed of Nichiren also, witnessed by his life, confirmed by the Scripture, and supported by his metaphysical speculation. When he concentrated his thought on his own calling, he was in communion with the saints in the Lotus; when he expressed anxiety about his country, yet with confidence in its destiny, he was a prophet and an ideal patriot; when he reflected on his tranquil life among the mountains, he was almost a lyric poet, glorifying his surroundings by his religious vision; he was a scholastic philosopher when he interpreted the truths of existence and the nature of the religious community; and he was a mystic in his vision of the future realization of Buddhahood in himself and in the Kingdom of Buddha.

Christian metaphors aside, I strongly recommend this book.

Sunday on the Internet

Sept. 6, 2015, Service at Myoshoji with Ryusho Jeffus Shonin“Attended” Sunday services at Myoshoji Temple in North Carolina in the morning and in the afternoon joined a discussion led by Nichiren Order of North America Bishop Myokei Caine-Barrett in Houston.

Hangout with NONA Bishop Myokei Caine-Barrett

 

 

Comparative Religions

The Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church‘s September newsletter contains this explanation of “What is Buddhism?”:

Buddhism is the teaching of the Buddha, just as Christianity is the teaching of Jesus Christ and Islam is the teaching of Mohammad.

Yet, there is one major characteristic that distinguishes Buddhism from the other major religions: Those who embrace Buddhism can also become a Buddha. In Christianity, Judaism and Islam, believers are encouraged to learn the teachings of the founder and to devote themselves to a unique, absolute deity. Nonetheless, these followers cannot become a deity.

However, in Buddhism, anyone is said to have the potential to become the Buddha if they awaken to the truth behind the universe and human beings, which can be understood through studying the teachings of the Buddha.

Ultimately, Buddhism is everyone’s attempt to become a Buddha.

Recently I stumbled when attempting to explain what made Buddhism and, in particular, Nichiren’s teachings so special. I wish I had had this simple description at hand.

That such a commonplace explanation inspires me should be embarrassing.  Instead, it makes me smile. It pleases me to be reminded that the Buddha wants me to be exactly like him.

As the Buddha sang in gāthās:

Know this, Śāriputra!
I once vowed that I would cause
All living beings to become
Exactly as I am.

That old vow of mine
Has now been fulfilled.
I lead all living beings
Into the Way to Buddhahood.

Chapter II, Expedients