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.
I think one of the neat things about Buddhism is that while it can be confusing at times, there are usually many ways of understanding or explaining the teachings. But ultimately it is through our practice and faith that we can most deeply understand the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. Just as it is possible to travel to a strange country not speaking the language and have a good time, see a variety of things, and have wonderful experiences, it isn’t necessary to have a scholar’s understanding of the Lotus Sutra. We do not need to master theory, though we should try to understand the basics, where we need to excel is in our practice and faith.
I read something the other day that said it isn’t the big things that really make us happy or unhappy. It is little things. Think about this. The research found that for example on our jobs we gain a sense of happiness or dissatisfaction more from the accumulation of little events throughout the day or days, than we do from one or two major events. We have a sense of our general disposition more from viewing a series of events than from one event. Today we are able to practice Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra because we have created the causes to do so. And by the same method, the accumulation of the merits of our practice we can manifest the Buddha potential within our lives.
We are given the perfect instructions in the Lotus Sutra for our individual attainment of enlightenment. It really doesn’t matter who we are, or even who we think we are. We can achieve the same enlightenment as all the Buddhas, though it will be unique to our individual selves. The directions are pretty straightforward. They are not complex, though they are difficult to maintain. Keeping, or upholding the sutra, reading it, reciting it, copying it and teaching are all we have to do. Praising the Lotus Sutra in all we do is fundamentally at the heart of each of these things.
Until we remove our ignorance of the cause of suffering and attachments to these causes we won’t be able to manifest enlightenment in our lives. We need the corrective lens of the teachings and practice of Buddhism in order to see clearly the causes of our suffering and hindrances to our enlightenment. Chanting the sacred title, Odaimoku, gives us the courage and strength to follow the Eightfold Path and remove the delusions.
In many ways, even if we have perfect or near perfect eyesight, we all need corrective lenses. Our Buddhist practice helps us to create the correct lens through which to see the reality of life, the true nature of cause and effect. If we look through distorted lenses, not seeing the suffering caused by our unskillful actions we will continue to manifest results we may not wish to experience. Buddhism helps us abandon the distortions that bring on suffering. By following the Eightfold Path we can begin to see how our distorted views cause suffering for ourselves and for others.
“I offered him anything he wanted. I collected fruits, drew water, gathered firewood, and prepared meals for him. I even allowed my body to be his seat. I never felt tired in body and mind. I served him for a thousand years. In order to hear the Dharma from him, I served him so strenuously that I did not cause him to be short of anything.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter XII)
This passage, from the Devadatta Chapter tells how the Buddha served Devadatta in a previous life so that he could be taught the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sutra. When I think about the truth of the Buddha being present in all beings as taught by Never-Despising Bodhisattva I can’t help but think that we can begin to really understand the teaching of the Lotus Sutra when we serve other beings, when we can help them as the Buddha did seeking the Dharma from Devadatta.
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.