Review: Dancing In The Garden Of The Lotus Sutra

dancing-lotus-reviewbook cover

Finished reading “Dancing In The Garden Of The Lotus Sutra: A Buddhist Perspective On The Three Gates To Freedom From Alcohol Addiction” earlier this month. In reading, and subsequently reviewing this book, I arrive with an interest in seeing how Nichiren Shu’s teachings can be put to work in the real world, a world full of suffering. I have no actual experience in addiction recovery and therefore no way to judge the value of this work for recovering addicts beyond the declaration of author Margaret Cram-Howie of the benefits that blossomed in the garden of the Lotus Sutra.

For what it’s worth, I heartily recommend this book. I wrote the review pictured above, giving the book the first of what I hope will be many 5-star ratings.

Margaret Cram-Howie and Rev. Kanjin Cederman
Woven throughout the book are the lessons of the Parable of the Hidden Gem, the Parable of the Burning House, the Parable of the Poor Son and the Parable of the Magic City, the Five Precepts, the 10 Worlds, Mara’s challenge of Siddhartha and story of Kishimojin. Beyond the Lotus Sutra and teachings picked from her mentor, Kanjin Cederman Shonin of Seattle Choeizan Enkyoji Temple, Cram-Howie interweaves lessons from her studies with Marshall Rosenberg and Nonviolent Communication and her studies with Dr. Deepak Chopra, where she became a certified meditation teacher with The Chopra Center.

The book’s “Journey Out Of Addiction” passes through three gates, which are broken into nine chapters:

  • The First Gate: Awareness
    • Chapter One: Lifting the Veil of Delusion
    • Chapter Two: Discovering Your Buddha Nature
    • Chapter Three: Taking Refuge
  • The Second Gate: Introspection
    • Chapter Four: The Precepts
    • Chapter Five: Planting the Roots of Virtue
    • Chapter Six: Atonement
  • The Third Gate: The Dance of Life
    • Chapter Seven: Flow
    • Chapter Eight: Prayer and Meditation
    • Chapter Nine: Opening the Mind and Heart to Love

While reading I highlighted a number of quotes. I’ve taken those quotes and created what I consider to be a summary of the book’s teaching of the Lotus Sutra in the author’s words. This is not a summary of the book, since there is a great deal more in the book about addiction and recovery. However, I see this as a reasonable representation of the author’s effort to bring the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Shu to bear on the problems of addiction recovery.

In the words of Margaret Cram-Howie:

The steps along the path in this book are loosely based on the principles I extracted from The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I started my recovery journey in the rooms of AA. The primary difference between the twelve steps as presented in this book and the official twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is that there is no mention of a god of any understanding in the steps along the path presented in this book. I never believed in an external god of any description and this was problematic for me in making sense of the steps.

The discrepancy between what I was being told in twelve-step programs and what I was personally experiencing finally became reconciled when I began to study Nichiren Shu Buddhism. The concept is actually very simple. The “Power” is my “Buddha Nature.” This power is within each of us. There is a “Buddha Nature” within me. There is a “Buddha Nature” within you. It is our original nature. We are born with it. The reference to “myself” is pointing to ego-self. In recovery, we need to look for help beyond our ego-selves, that serves only our self-interest, and instead cultivate our “Buddha Nature,” that connects and aligns us with all other beings. The Lotus Sutra is the primary text that Nichiren Shu Buddhists study. There is a story in Chapter 8 of The Lotus Sutra that helps illustrate this idea of going beyond our ego-selves and polishing the gem of our “Buddha Nature.” When we polish the gem of our “Buddha Nature” we see it more clearly.

This story is called a parable because it is used to illustrate a spiritual lesson. The poor man is each of us before we realize our hidden gem, our “Buddha Nature” that exists within each of us. Without awareness it will remain hidden. The wealthy friend is the Buddha who has given each of us this precious gift that can remove suffering and provide ease in our world. As long as we wander around in a drunken state, a state of unawareness, nothing will change. We remain lost in the world of the Ego.

So, how do we polish this stone, this gem, and bring out our “Buddha Nature”? Nichiren Daishonin states in Showa Teihon, p.1433, “A singing bird in a cage attracts uncaged birds, and the sight of these uncaged birds will make the caged birds want to be free. Likewise, the chanting of Odaimoku will bring out the Buddha nature within ourselves.” Chanting the Odaimoku is the primary practice of Nichiren Shu Buddhism. “Odaimoku” translates as “great” (O), “title” (dai), and “chant” (moku). The chanting of the Odaimoku is made up of the characters, “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.” “Namu” is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning “I honor” or “I give reverence to.” Together it translates to “I give reverence to the Lotus Sutra.” The Lotus Sutra is the title of our primary text. Make it a practice to start each day by chanting the Odaimoku aloud a minimum of three times. “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.” This is the starting place for becoming aware of and growing the Buddha seed that exists within you. As you become more comfortable with your chanting, increase the number of repetitions.

This final step on the path of awareness is all about making a decision, a personal choice. Choose wellness! Make the decision to cultivate your “Buddha Nature.” Allow your essential nature to grow. Allow happiness to permeate your life. There are many different forms of Buddhism, but one common characteristic is that each “takes refuge” in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. To take refuge means both to seek protection from harm and danger and also to seek spiritual guidance and direction. A Buddhist is a person who seeks protection and guidance by turning to the Buddha (the Enlightened One), the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), and the Sangha (the community that learns and practices the Buddha’s teachings).

The Dharma includes all of the teachings of the Buddha. In Nichiren Shu Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra is considered to be the Buddha’s supreme teaching. In order to take refuge in the dharma, you will need to read and study the Lotus Sutra. … It is important to study the Lotus Sutra under the guidance of a Nichiren Shu minister. Look online to see where the nearest Nichiren Shu Temple is and then contact the minister attached to that temple.

Regardless of whether you participate in a Taking Refuge ceremony or not, it is important for you to create the habit of starting your day in front of your home altar. Up until this point, you have been starting your day by chanting “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.” Once you make this decision to leave your addictive life behind and embrace recovery with the assistance of Nichiren Shu Buddhism, you need to learn more about this spiritual path.

Each morning, Nichiren Shu Buddhists start the day in front of their home altar. A candle is lit to represent light or enlightenment. Incense is lit using the light from the candle. The burning of incense purifies the air and also represents purifying our senses. Thus the day begins by being reminded to keep one’s senses clear, to not lay interpretation or judgment upon them. Being restored to sanity, becoming addiction-free, begins with seeing (or hearing, etc.) clearly. Start each day by chanting the Odaimoku in front of your simple home altar.

By tapping into our “Buddha Nature” during chanting or other mantra-based silent meditation practices, we are able to grow our “Buddha Nature.” As you grow your “Buddha Nature,” there is less and less room for troublesome thoughts or feelings. You become less reactive to specific situations and people. You see the bigger picture. You no longer see yourself as a separate being.

Being able to rest and renew ourselves through meditation is an exceptional skill. However, the peaceful land of meditation is not our destination any more than the Magic City was the final destination of the travelers in the parable. Once rested, they returned to the road and traveled on to the land of treasures. On our road through life, we may need to stop and rest from time to time. But then we return to the road of life until we reach our treasure land, the world of the bodhisattva.

In the world of the bodhisattva, you will recognize and use your innate talents and creativity in order to add happiness to your own life and to the lives of others. In this way, your human life becomes meaningful. The mind opens to all kinds of possibilities and the heart opens to all those who suffer. This is the treasure land, the Garden of the Lotus Sutra. Our destination, as humans, is full and abundant living in harmony with all others.

Full and abundant living involves inclining the mind towards wholesome mind-states. It is there that we will find the principles that guide us in this human life. These principles, these wholesome mind-states include, but are not limited to, the following: honesty, truth, acceptance, hope, commitment, willingness, courage, integrity, humility, love, reflection, justice, forgiveness, perseverance, vigilance, service, wisdom, compassion, responsibility, freedom, respect, generosity, joy, delight, and happiness. It is my wish that in reading this book, you may be able to bring sobriety and the fullness of life into your world. May it be so.