In December 2014 I was invited to Las Vegas by then Bishop Shokai Kanai of the Nichiren Order of North America. He suggested that I do a presentation on the Parable of the Skillful Physician and His Sick Children found in Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra. On many occasions I have been asked to share my experiences as a hospital chaplain. It seemed like a good opportunity to combine both and so I began writing this book. This book is the second volume in my series “Studying the Lotus Sutra”. In this book as in all the books of this series I take one portion of the Lotus Sutra and examine it more deeply. This book focuses on the parable found in Chapter XVI of the Lotus Sutra; The Physician and His Ill Children. As I write about this parable I am tying to do so in a way that brings the stories told over 2500 years ago into our contemporary lives. I hope that through this little effort of mine a door will open for you to have a greater sense of connection to the Sutra.
It is true that, on the one hand, the elimination of suffering does not lie in the acquisition of more material things. It also does not lie in the abhorrence or avoidance of the material. The Buddha chose the middle path. This path turned away from asceticism and from hedonism. The middle path is one of finding the way between the two, without ignoring either. This is our challenge.
As we grow in our faith and learn better applications of Buddhism to our lives, we obtain a degree of inner wisdom that we can use to guide us in making wise choices in life. This greater integration of Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra into our lives allows more moments when we manifest the innate Buddha wisdom residing at the core of our lives.
Acedia, the idea of not caring or being curious about one’s life, is one of the ills curable by our faith in and practice of the Lotus Sutra. It can be a cure, though, only if we are willing to dig deep into our lives with honesty.
Attempting to implement change in someone else’s life is going to yield the least amount of improvement in your life. The place where you have the most leverage and effectiveness for making change lies within yourself.
Over the years, my Buddhist practice has given me the tools to change and the direction in which to make those changes. The Lotus Sutra has been the key. The Buddha doesn’t preach to the congregation that they are defective. He doesn’t tell them that they will not attain enlightenment in this Saha world because they were broken or bad. Instead, he points out that after a certain length of time and after certain practices they will attain enlightenment. None of this is punishment. Can we also be as kind and gentle with ourselves even as we strive to make changes in our lives?
Giving ourselves the space to make changes to the good will guarantee our enlightenment. This is freedom from suffering. You are not a broken person; you can be better though. We all can be better.
How many of us expect some fantastical spiritual awakening? How great is the disappointment when the everyday results seem mundane at best and even unnoticeable? An easy assent to some experience is followed by the reality that hard work is necessary to maintain or even re-experience that same spiritual high. It all seems now to be much harder than one expected.
The practice of Buddhism is not a guarantee of a life of complete ease and trouble-free living. To believe that is to believe in a fantasy. Buddhism is a lifelong application of a spiritual practice, one of awakening by degrees. The practice of Buddhism is working to overcome obstacles that test us and then making changes we would otherwise overlook. This is why the medicine of the Lotus Sutra sometimes does not appear to be of good flavor. The taste of practice and devotion is not always sweet, even though the outcome tastes of nectar, of ambrosia.
There is no perfect realm of only spiritual ideas or existence. It is in fact only an imaginary idea that leads to unhappiness in the end because it is not attainable.
It is better to realize that our everyday lives are the places where we are capable of attaining a tranquil existence. This accepts and cherishes the twists and turns, the ups and downs, the successes and failures of life. These are the true places in which to live our spirituality and reach enlightenment. The material world is the ground upon which we can build a beautiful, peaceful, and joyful life. It is also the place where we can show others how to live a similar life, which in turn will enable others to also reach enlightenment.
By living and being an example for the real possibility of attaining enlightenment, we are proving the truth of the Lotus Sutra, the truth that all beings regardless of their capacity or capability are capable of attaining enlightenment.
Each of the realms of the Ten Worlds – Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity, Heaven, Learning, Contemplatives, Bodhisattva and Buddhahood – possesses the other realms, including Buddhahood. Enlightenment does not exist outside the 10 Worlds.