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.
The numbers are sobering. Every year some 15 million people die of hunger. Do we even know what 15 million is, can we comprehend that number? New York city has a population of 8.3 million, and Los Angeles is 9.8 million. So if we eliminated the entire population of Los Angeles and half the population of New York city every year that would be a fair representation of the number of people who die from hunger in one year. Now do that every year. It is frightful. This doesn’t even address the number of children who die as infants, the number of homeless, and so on. We just aren’t doing a very good job of taking care of each other. In the United States, we live in relative comfort for the most part. We consume as if there is no end to resources and completely oblivious to the suffering taking place all over the globe. Life goes on. You know I have written a lot about our personal practice, our practice to attain enlightenment. We cannot understand enlightenment without considering the suffering of others. We will not truly become happy until we enable all other to do so as well. The first of the Bodhisattva vows speaks of enabling all living beings to become enlightened, even before we do so.
Because of the ray of light the Buddha emitted those present in the congregation were able to see far into the past. They were able to see Buddhas, and stupas of those Buddhas. In various places in the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha reveals the past causes of a variety of people so they can know the causes made that enabled them to become Buddhas.
We may think that these are not things we can accomplish, yet through our daily practice of the Odaimoku and faith in the Lotus Sutra, we are able to reveal the historical truth of the Bodhisattvas who arose from beneath the earth. We can, by chanting Odaimoku, manifest the life of these great Bodhisattvas and reveal our infinite connection with the Eternal Buddha.
In the Lotus Sutra, we have a distant connection to the past as well as the infinite future. In this instance the connection and the history depend upon our actions in the present to manifest the reality of the historical event. The Lotus Sutra depends not on the actual physical presence of some thing that existed before us, but on the connection we create with the past and the future.
With confidence that we can overcome all of our obstacles through the power of faith in the Lotus Sutra, through the power of our upholding the Odaimoku, we can purify our world and travel over clear paths lived with golden ropes and jeweled trees. All of these we create through our practice.
It is easy, especially when we are in great difficulty, to seek to be rescued by some outside source. It is sometimes very easy to think we do not possess the resources within our own lives, and so are unable to call out the solution from the depths of our existence. When we do that, however, we are actually engaging in a distortion of the Buddha and a distortion of our inherent Buddha potential. It is important to always keep in mind that the fundamental aim of the Buddha in teaching the Lotus Sutra was to reveal not only his eternal nature but also the equality of all beings and the great desire to enable all beings, you and I included, to become Buddhas.
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.