I am in the process of writing a new book on the practice of Nichiren Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra. What I'll be posting is my first draft, imperfect as it is. What I post has been sent to my editor and trust me will be greatly improved by his wonderful work. I'm sharing here on the chance others may find something of value or something to correct of offer feedback on. Let the reading of this not be an onerous task nor a task of anything less than joy. The source material comes from the Shutei Nichiren Shu Hoyo Shiki which draws from Miao-lê, as well as most importantly the Mohe-zhiguan or Makashikan by Chi-i.
Rai Sanbo Kan
Not sure about your mind, however if it is anything like mine is at times, it is full of all kinds of stuff. There’s good stuff and bad stuff and stuff I don’t know quite what to do with, though I’m hoping I figure it out soon. When I’ve taught folks in detox to meditate almost to a person the common plea is “I can’t get my mind to stop thinking, how can I make it stop.” For all of those thoughts of theirs, yours, and mine there is one truth underlying it all. That truth is our minds all contain the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Each of our minds in any single thought moment encompasses all Dharma qualities and pervades all realms.
That’s a pretty powerful statement, it is also one worthy of deep reflection. What kind of Dharma qualities are in our thoughts? Yea, that’s the rub, what kind of Dharma qualities are we manifesting in all of our thinking. The good, the bad, and the ugly all reflect our own Dharma quality. The ten worlds are always present and the ten worlds always have each of the ten worlds present in some form. So even your bad stuff is Dharma, and so is your good stuff. What manifests in your life out of all those thoughts is your Dharma nature but never absent is any thought good or bad. The key to our practice is to not suppress or hide from those less than admirable thoughts but to see where they come from, examine them, and then manifest our actions from the mind of the Buddha, from the heart of the Buddha.
The principal of the Three Jewels being present in our one mind is acclaimed by Buddhas in numerous sutras. This principle is the basis of the sutras, it is not incidental nor did it arise after the sutras. It is the fundamental truth on which the sutras arose. The sangha both in body and in mind has protected the Buddha Dharma throughout all time and spreads it all over the world and the infinite universe.
In our own Saha world, it is we the common mortal, full of defilements, discursive thoughts, fleeting attention spans who is tasked with spreading the Dharma. It isn’t being spread by gods or deities, it is you and I in all of our perceived imperfections that are the most qualified to teach the Dharma to others showing with our lives that there is a way to end suffering and attain enlightenment as promised in the Lotus Sutra.
It is our minds that the Buddhas respond to. Our minds reveal our true self. It is easy to speak great words, it is exceedingly more difficult to keep the good words in ones mind and heart. One needs only look into one’s mind and heart to see the answer to why certain things keep occurring, things we don’t necessarily wish to keep happening. It isn’t an esasy exercise, and it isn’t always pleasant to reflect on one’s mind and heart. It can show some pretty nasty stuff or at least some undesired stuff that we might rather not see. Yet it is by repeatedly examining this where change begins. Buddhism demands honesty to our selves. You don’t need to bring it out to the attention of anyone except yourself. That’s hard enough.
For all that gunk that hangs around in our hearts and minds there is something else there. This something else is not to be taken lightly and should never be forgotten. Our minds while being perceived by the Buddhas also contains the perception of the Buddhas. Our minds are also the minds of Buddhas, and yes no matter how bad you may think you are you are indeed a Buddha and possess the mind of the Buddha within your mind. The trick as it always is, is for us to tap into it while working on lessening those other qualities which work against the Buddha in our lives.
“The innumerable great virtues of the Dharma-realm is where the Three Treasures and all human and heavenly beings abide and what the Dragon King looks up to in reverence. These Three Treasures are not only of great benefit and win over all sentient beings but are also of the same nature and entity as us.”
I have in the past and continue to this day to stress the importance of the Sangha. I don’t stress this importance over and above the importance of all Three Treasures, simply that without Sangha there is no Three Treasures. Sangha is not self only, Sangha is community. Sangha is a dynamic community, it is not simply an association with or belonging to a social platform of exchanged monologue entries. Social media is not inherently bad and it is not automatically a substitute for Sangha.
Here are some of my reasons for saying this. One, in a Sangha there is a dynamic process at work. This process is dynamic because it happens at once and not one at a time. When you enter into an activity with Sangha present your presence altars the environment and causes reactions and interactions of others present in the Sangha. The activity is for ever impacted by your presence and even your absence. That is why for my online digital Sangha I task everyone with participating by speaking, asking questions, responding to other’s comments, as well as showing one’s face by video stream. It isn’t perfect and it is an exploration into the possibility of this type of Sangha offering benefit and a close approximation of a physical Sangha. What you hear, and what you say all change the experience for not only yourself but for others. Sangha is about a shared experience and also a sharing experience.
Second, a Sangha is somewhat like a family sitting together at meal time. It is an opportunity to come together, even with people you haven’t chosen to come together with and may not associate with any other time. A Sangha is not merely being with like minded people but being with people who share a common objective to practice the Dharma together, help one another, encourage one another, and even disagree with one another.
I recall the evening meals my family shared together virtually every day I lived at home. Sometimes they were contentious as not all the time did we get along, though mostly during meals difficult matters were set aside. Most of the time they were happy and sometimes even boisterous. There was always plenty of milk in the jug my dad kept on the floor beside his chair. I liken that jug of milk to the wonderful benefit of the Lotus Sutra always there, limitless, and easy to acquire. That milk always tasted good. That milk sticks in my mind and even though I continue to drink milk at all my home meals it isn’t quite the same as the milk poured from that jug.
The milk I drink in solitude is good, it is to me what makes a meal a meal. The milk in solitude though does not have the same memory nor the same experience the milk beside my dad’s chair. Sometimes we didn’t feel like talking to one another, and the meal was consumed in an ill tempered silence and even in those times there was always unlimited milk. More than anything else that milk in my mind was the golden elixir or ambrosia, the nectar of the gods.
Third, a Sangha provides an environment of nourishment and encouragement immediately. Of course we may not always feel like sharing our concerns. The sharing of one’s problems is built on a trust in those you share with. In a physical Sangha that trust is built over time and by experimenting with problems of a less personal nature. Given enough time the sharing can become deeper and the trust continues to build and the ever dynamic nature of Sangha expands. It expands because of trust, contribution, respect, and a realization that when it gets down to the core of things we all are pretty much alike and much less different than we sometimes think.
I will admit that I do not participate widely in social media and so am no expert. I am though aware of a large body of studies on social media as well as I have my own experiences. It is from this I say that I am not convinced that social media provides the same experiences in any way one gets from a dynamic Sangha. One of my chief criticisms is the environment of monologue. While I have seen some deep and caring postings and responses it still happens one event at a time and lacks a dynamic presence of concerned individuals coming together for the sole specific purpose of practicing the Dharma and participating in Sangha with the Buddha.
The Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are not only beneficial for each of us this also benefits all sentient beings. The benefit is greater than simply to the participants in Sangha. The benefit expands outward to our whole environment affecting all we experience. In our time of increased silos of shared likes and a decrease in interactions with those not like us, the Sangha I believe will serve as a model to society at time in the future when society may need to relearn getting along and working together to solve shared problems.
Many of the Shomyo, or Buddhist hymns, we sing contain a phrase “I shin kyo rai” (Jpn), which means with our whole heart we bow. With our whole heart we bow to the Three Treasures, not the One Treasure, not the Two Treasures, but all three of the Three Treasures.
“Our own bowing and the Buddhas who are bowed to are all originally within one mind in which there is no bowing and no one to receive it. Although there is no bowing and no one to receive it there is certainly the response of the Buddhas and the receptivity of the ordinary people.”
The ten directions, the four primary, the four intersecting directions of the four primary, combined with up and down encompass all the conditions of the mind. There is no separation between our mind and the entirety of the universe.
Not completely the same I have often taught that fundamentally there is no division or distinction between ourselves and others around us. The substantial differentiation is the manifestation of our unique karmas. There is really no way to separate ourselves from others when it comes to Buddhist principles as we are all part of our collective environments which would be dramatically altered and changed if even one person was absent or different. Our uniquely seeming existence is not simply dependent upon our presence rather it exists because of the presence of others along with ourselves. We cannot become happy alone. If all around us is suffering then we too will suffer. It is possible to manifest the Buddhas land in our environment because we can also affect the potential for the Buddha land to be manifest in the lives of others.
Our mind encompasses the entire universe even if we choose to ignore it. Simply being unaware or disinclined to be aware does not absent us from the reality. The same is also true of every other person. This does not mean that we know all the inner workings of the universe or have the answers to every problem. It does mean that we have the capacity to tap into the vast cosmos, the wisdom of the Buddhas of the past, present and future. We have all of that potential within us. We are much more than we tend to limit ourselves as being.
Practicing the Lotus Sutra allows us to first see and experience and then open up to the vast treasures of the universe. The Buddha, a common man, a prince from a small tribe in ancient India, did just this very thing. The result is that here we are today some 2500 years or so removed from him and yet are able to benefit from the insight and enlightenment he gained. That path he has revealed to us in the very teaching he found and allowed him to attain what he did. Rather than keep it to himself, rather than dilute it down, rather than change it he gave it to us in the form of the Lotus Sutra.
I wonder if when we engage in our daily practice, however it manifests, if we really approach the devotion with the awareness of the greatness of the teaching and the incredible fortune we have to have been exposed to this profound teaching. I don’t believe anything that has come along in my life has come close to comparing to the greatness of the Lotus Sutra. It is unimaginable that I should have been exposed to it in this lifetime. A seemingly chance encounter in a military barracks only a few nights before Christmas has led me on a path which has given me fortune beyond what I could have imagined then or even now having lived it still finds hard to believe.
Bowing when there is no bowing for me means that all of my life is both an expression of gratitude and an attempt to repay the favors I have received. Bowing when there is no one to bow to means that when I try and succeed in living according to the principle that all beings possess Buddha then even if they do not seem to respond their lives are forever impacted and the Buddha in them bows even without either of us being aware. There receptivity is not dependent upon their knowledge or awareness, the Buddha is always receptive to the actions of Buddha. The one mind of self always abiding in the Lotus Sutra is far reaching and encompassing. The one mind abiding in the Lotus Sutra speaks to the one mind of every being in the universe and so the universe abides in us and bows to us.
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