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.
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.
Enlightenment is a possibility for each of us no matter how ill we have become. Regardless of our circumstances, a cure is possible. We can change. This is the truth of the teaching within the Lotus Sutra.
We would be better served if we abandoned the notion that enlightenment is a terminus in our spiritual journey. Instead we should view enlightenment as a process to engage in until the end of our lives.
Enlightenment is the ongoing engagement of seeking enlightenment. When we no longer engage ourselves in the activity of being enlightened, when we no longer seek enlightenment, then we are, in fact, no longer enlightened and have left the path. It may not look like regressing, especially at first, but the spiritual light dims, it becomes clouded and corrupted. Enlightenment becomes a disappointment but only because there is no longer enlightenment present. Complacency and enlightenment cannot coexist within the same spirit.
People have approached me on occasion, saying they feel incapable of teaching people about Buddhism or about the Lotus Sutra. Really all it takes is to learn to tell your story. It doesn’t need to be complex. It doesn’t need to be fancy. It simply needs to be your story as a person who practices the Lotus Sutra. You might be a visual person so your story might not even contain words. It might be pictures. It can be anything as long as your story is in there somewhere. Your story will connect with others in ways technical explanations may not.
I believe that entering the Lotus Sutra through the stories is what the original authors intended. The Lotus Sutra is not a collection of theories laid out in some formulaic order, yet the theories reveal themselves within the context of the myriad stories. 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.