The practice of Buddhism is about changing our lives deep at the core. Buddhism calls on us to examine the causes of our suffering in brutal honesty. After making this self-assessment we then take the next step and make the necessary changes so we can free ourselves from the cycle of suffering in ignorance. The essays in the book are short; usually only several hundred words. It is possible to read them quite quickly. That however, is not what I intended and so I have concluded each essay with either some questions for you to consider or suggestions for actions you might decide would be beneficial. You will get the most value out of this book if you take your time and use the essays and the follow-up comments as tools. Use the book sparingly, sampling each essay as if it were a most delicious candy. This book will be of the most value to you if you actually try to use it as a tool for making changes in your life.
When I think about the difference between the actions of the original disciples of the Buddha who approached the Buddha asking for a prediction of their future enlightenment, and the actions of the Bodhisattvas from beneath the ground who approached the Buddha and only asked about the health of the Buddha, I am struck by the contrast. As Bodhisattvas practicing the Lotus Sutra we assume many different personalities. The variety among us is endless. There are also countless others who are not practicing the Lotus Sutra who have many different personalities as well and require our examples to inspire them to practice the Lotus Sutra.
One of attitudes toward our practice that Bodhisattvas try to cultivate is childlike. That is with an open-eyed pure eagerness to embrace Buddhism in our lives without all the filters and conditions that we impose upon things as we age. If we think of a puppy or a young child, someone who is eagerly and openly enjoying every experience then we can really begin to get to the depths of having the sutra expounded to ourselves.
Sometimes it is difficult to maintain our enthusiasm for practicing and studying the Lotus Sutra. There are some days when it may be all we can do to just chant Odaimoku three times. There will naturally be days like that, so do not be discouraged. But in our hearts if we can maintain and nourish the kind of eagerness to stay connected with the teachings of the Buddha, then even gradually our lives will undergo a significant change.
A while back I had a part-time job delivering pizza. My hours were mostly in the evening since that was the only time I had available to work. In the summer it wasn’t so bad making the deliveries at night because it didn’t become dark until almost the time I was scheduled to get off. However, in the fall and winter, when it got dark early, it was very challenging. The problem was folks would order pizza and their houses would either not have house numbers or numbers that were difficult to see from the street, or they would not turn on their house lights.
Our daily service in praise of the Lotus Sutra begins with preparing the altar for service. Then we engage in the practice of reciting the sutra and chanting the sacred title. It is like we are making sure our house numbers show clearly and our lights are turned on as we invite the protective deities of the universe into our lives.
Without the proper directions, markings, and lights it is difficult for the pizza to be delivered. So too, without opening up our lives, and calling upon the universe using the proper praise it is difficult for the protection to be available.
Because we seek the power to control things in our lives we fail to seek that which can ultimately give us the ability to end suffering. We seek mistakenly to eliminate suffering by clinging to mistaken views. We may think that if we only had just a little more money or a better house or a better job or a different spouse that all things would be well. We merely look at the surface and think that the conditions that surround us are the things we need to change, never looking at our lives and seeing what we need to change within ourselves. Seeing that we are fundamentally enlightened beings who are living lives of common people can allow us to see the heart of the cause for suffering and free our minds from the attachments that actually are the root of sufferings.
We have a lot of practice seeing the flaws in our lives. Sometimes we focus only on what is missing in our lives. Yet when we consider our lives from the perspective of the Lotus Sutra we can begin to see that our lives, no matter how seemingly flawed, are in fact the perfect life and present the perfect condition for the emergence of our Buddhahood.
Our lives are actually complete from the perspective of the practice of Buddhism. There is nothing missing. While there may be things in our lives that we can change or improve upon, we should also consider that each one of those things actually could represent strengths, something we can change into a positive.
It isn’t necessary to become someone else. It is only necessary to redirect our lives completely to enlightenment.
Sometimes uncovering or showing a small part of something enables us to see the potential of something even greater. Protecting something that is small or encouraging a fledgling effort can result in unimaginable outcomes. As our lives are slowly freed from illusions and then our eyes purified we are able to see the truth in the sutra, the truth in our lives and become Buddhas.
It might be eye opening for you to actually make a list of improvements in your life, both big and small, since you began practicing Buddhism.
We cannot expect our practice of Buddhism, wishing to become enlightened, to take a short period of time, or little effort. Yet we can destroy all that we have attained all that we have accomplished within a short period of time by being discouraged and abandoning our practice.
“A man who misses his opportunity, and a monkey who misses his branch cannot be saved.” Hindu proverb
When you consider the many opportunities we have had to practice any number of other religions other than Buddhism we can appreciate how rare the chance we were presented with. Buddhism is not the most common religion in America. I have heard that Buddhism is the fourth major religion in America, yet it is still rare to come into contact with Buddhism, especially in some areas of the country.
The two princes in Chapter XXVII of the Lotus Sutra realized what a rare gift they had been given to meet the Buddha. If you have a copy of the Lotus Sutra you might enjoy refreshing your memory of Chapter XXVII.
The choice has been presented to us. We have been given a wonderful and rare opportunity. Now, do we miss this chance, will we be like the monkey who misses his branch as he swings through the forest? There is no saving either the monkey who misses his branch, nor the person who misses the opportunity to practice the Lotus Sutra when given the option to do so. The branch presents itself – the Lotus Sutra presents itself – but it is up to us just as it is up to the monkey whether or not we reach out and hold fast.
Learning the facts of wisdom of life is as important as learning the facts of life. It is not enough to know what words mean; it is important to know how to use the words. It isn’t sufficient to learn numbers but to learn how to employ the numbers. It is true in everything. We learn the facts, but we need to learn how to use those facts in skillful ways, in productive ways, in ways that enhance not only our lives but also the lives of others.
In Buddhism it helps to learn as much as we can. In that way we are better prepared, as the Sutra says, to answer questions skillfully, to answer not only the questions of others but our own questions as well. Yet, perhaps as important if not possible more so is the requirement that we learn how to use the knowledge of Buddhism in our lives in both practical and useful ways. In other words, to bring the wisdom of the Buddha into existence in our life.