Now. This Instant.

Ever have one of the moments when you really, really wish you hadn’t said something? I have. Actually, I’ve had many…too many to count. But one stands out in my memory. It was so bad I can’t even tell you what it was. I was a teenager, I didn’t know I was a Buddhist…but it was so vile, so out of character even for the person I was then, that I still cringe when I remember it.

Ever do something you wish you hadn’t done? I’ve got a few of those too…here’s one. I was at my best friend’s birthday party. She had invited a man she was interested in, whom she thought was showing signs of being interested in her. She was an accomplished pianist, and I sang. We had tried performing together, but I wasn’t used to a piano accompaniment, so I ended up singing a capella. Somehow, after I’d finished singing, I found myself out on the porch with “the man”, reluctantly accepting a kiss from him. I don’t remember being especially attracted to him, but I was flattered that he seemed attracted to me. I had to let him know that nothing more was going to happen without letting him know why. It was a horrible, awkward moment. In an instant I felt myself transformed from sophisticated chanteuse to inarticulate, clumsy friend-betrayer.  Things got worse when I found my friend sobbing in the kitchen, surrounded by her other female friends who all looked daggers at me, and I started crying too as I tried to explain what had happened. Eventually she forgave me, but our friendship was never the same. After I married a man she despised, and she married one I thought was just as bad if not worse, we lost touch, and I never saw or heard from her again.

And then, of course, are the times when you wish you had said or done something…not just esprit d’escalier moments, but real soul-searing, wee hour insomniac regrets for feelings not expressed, or actions not taken…you ask yourself why, why, why didn’t I?

A Buddhist maxim is to live your life so that you have no regrets. Another important concept is “from this moment on”…in other words, whatever regrettable things you may have done in the past, what’s important is what you do now, because that’s what truly shapes your future. And then there’s the quasi-Buddhist saying “be in the now”, which sounds kind of exotic and cool until you try to figure out what it actually means. To be “present”, to be “mindful”, to “live each moment as if it might be your last”…how does that work, what does it mean in terms of reality? And why, why, why, despite our best intentions, do we find ourselves doing something that we instantly realize was a big, big mistake.

Remember T’ient’ai? His studies of the Lotus Sutra led him to formulate the theory of ichinen sanzen, or “three thousand realms in a single moment of life”. This sum of three thousand was meant to include the entirety of one’s life. Here’s how he arrived at that number: he took the ten worlds (see previous post, Seeing the Elephant) and multiplied them by ten because each of them also possesses all the others, then multiplied that by the ten factors (describing the nature of life itself; read more here http://www.sgilibrary.org/search_dict.php) and then multiplied that by the three existences of past, present, and future. So that’s 10 x 10=100 x 10=1000 x 3=3000. Each moment of life thus presents many more possibilities than it seems to, which is something to think about at those times when it seems like our choices are limited to only one or two.

How, then, can we insure making the best possible decisions in life? Buddhism speaks of the “crucial moment”, but if we’re supposed to “be in the now” and live each moment as if it might be our last, isn’t every moment crucial? Being on high alert at all times, afraid of failing to make the most of every moment, sounds like a miserable way to live. Plus, those moments are not ours alone, so we can’t simply eliminate those who might diminish the quality of our “now”. The reality is that as human beings, we rely on a certain amount of infrastructure, a status quo, so that we don’t have to agonize over every moment. The downside of this approach is that we can become attached to our present circumstances when they’re good, devastated when things go wrong, and paralyzed when it comes to decision time.

That’s when a Buddhist practice comes in handy. Being mindful doesn’t have to mean agonizing over every moment. When we chant twice a day, we are in effect renewing a vow to live in the wisest, most compassionate way possible. And if we do happen to say or do something (or not say or do something), it’s usually not irreparable.

If the world is an ocean, our lives are like sailing ships. If we fail to chart a course, we can still sail, but we’ll drift along at the mercy of tides and currents, and we may never arrive at whatever we hoped our destination might be. Even if we’ve planned everything to the last detail, there will be storms, or maybe icebergs, other ships that aren’t being steered, or pirates. We don’t sail alone, either, so there’s always our “crew” to consider. Any of these factors can lead to a “crucial moment” where the wrong decision could result in the ship running aground, or worse. Nichiren says, “One who listens to even a sentence or phrase of the sutra and cherishes it deep in one’s heart may be likened to a ship that crosses the sea of the sufferings of birth and death.” By centering our lives on the law of cause and effect through our daily practice, we develop a depth of understanding that enables us to move freely and joyfully across “the sea of suffering”.

Now. And for the rest of our lives.

Seeing the Elephant

Buddhists, bear with me…you already know about this. For my non-Buddhist readers, I want to explain two key Buddhist terms before I launch into any more topical issues. The first concept is the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds. The ten worlds (or conditions of Life) are hell, hunger, animality, anger, humanity, rapture, learning, realization, bodhisattva, and Buddhahood. (For a more extensive explanation, you can check out the SGI Dictionary of Buddhism, http://www.sgilibrary.org/search_dict.php.)

In short form, hell is a state in which your life is all misery and suffering; it’s slavery in its most extreme form, in which all your actions tend only to make matters worse. In the world of hunger, you cannot be satisfied; it’s the world of addiction, where nothing is ever enough. In the condition of animality, you revert to your basest instincts of kill or be killed; everyone else is an enemy or a potential enemy to be erased or at least subdued (or sucked up to, if too strong). In the world of anger, your ego becomes overpowering; there is no room for anyone else’s feeling or point of view. These four worlds comprise the “four evil paths”.

Things look up a bit as you “ascend” (more on that in a moment) to the next world, humanity. This is the state of a “good person”, who tries to control his/her emotions, think rationally, get along well with others, and who also aspires to an even higher life state. Then we have rapture…also known as “heaven”; it’s that wonderful feeling you get when a desire is realized or when you’re relieved of suffering. But that’s not as good as it gets! In fact, these two worlds added to the four evil paths comprise the “six paths”, and are still considered “lower worlds”. That’s because when we’re in these conditions we are subject to influence; you could say we’re at the mercy of our surroundings, so that we can go from humanity to anger in a nanosecond, or plummet from rapture to hell faster than the blink of an eye.

Next up? The “four noble paths”, beginning with the world of learning…it’s that condition where you are not satisfied with the status quo of the six paths, when you determine to be a better person and start finding out how. Realization, the next world, is when you put your research to use; as you begin to understand the nature of your existence, you make the causes necessary to improve it.

Sound better still? Yes, BUT. In the old days, such persons were considered incapable of attaining Buddhahood, because they tended to become excessively concerned with themselves, enchanted with their own growing wisdom…smug. Not so good after all…which leads us to the condition, or world, of bodhisattva. As a bodhisattva, you realize that your happiness is connected to others’ happiness…even that you cannot be truly happy unless you are also helping others become happy. This is the world of compassion; it encompasses, yet transcends, all the preceding worlds.

Which brings us to the world of Buddhahood. This is a state of absolute freedom, of boundless compassion, of being fully attuned to the nature of life. Early interpretations of the sutras regarded “the Buddha” as a deity; the state of Buddhahood was thought to be removed and discrete from the reality of human suffering. Likewise, each of the ten worlds was thought to be separate from the others; a person whose life tended to manifest a particular state was generally regarded to be “stuck” there. The best he might hope for was to somehow “move up” in his next life. (I’m using “he” because women weren’t even considered part of the equation.) Fortunately, T’ient’ai, a 6th century Chinese scholar, realized this was not the case at all.

In fact, each of the worlds contains and is contained by each of the others. When I first started practicing Buddhism, I had a hard time grasping this. The idea of the Ten Worlds was easy, especially when emerging once again from the world of anger and feeling that my inner Buddha was as distant as a star. But “mutual possession”? Huh? How’s that work?

I tried to come up with various ways to describe it. I thought of circles within circles…colors…no analogy seemed completely apt. But it’s such an important principle; I want to understand it fully. My latest idea is to consider Buddhahood as a stage production, with each world represented by an actor. Each actor has a role to play, has a “star turn”…and each is an understudy of all the other parts. The audience sees a continuously changing cast of alternating heroes and villains. The killer in today’s Act II becomes the rescuer in tomorrow’s Act I. Today you’re hissed and booed; tomorrow your path is strewn with flowers. But then the next day you may be in for more hisses…it’s all in the part you choose to play.

Because none of us is all good or all evil. We all (no exceptions) have the capacity for both. The ideal of Buddhism is to make Buddhahood your prevailing condition. As a human, this can seem impossible. One manifests one’s Buddhahood through bodhisattva behavior, resisting the urge to fall back on the “I’m only human” defense (but I am! We are!)…or worse yet, wallow in the evil paths. But with the mutual possession, even when one is playing the villain, there’s still a hero inside…however deeply buried. And that’s why we have to help each other bring out that hero. That’s the bodhisattva way.

Remember the old parable of the blind men and the elephant? Each of them gropingly encounters a different part of the elephant, attempts to describe the entirety based on his limited experience, and (at least in some versions) they end up in violent disagreement as to the true nature of the elephant. Our state of life colors our perceptions in much the same way; when in hell, all the world seems hellish. When in rapture, the world seems beautiful. When angry, we see angry people everywhere. And so on… In another version of the elephant story, the men are not blind, but they encounter the elephant in a dark room with the same results. I’m now imagining the ten worlds as those people in the dark room with the elephant with eyes shut and blindfolds on…Hell, Hunger, Animality and Anger duly touch the elephant, draw their conclusions, and get into a huge fight over it. Humanity tries to stay out of it, tries to calm them down, and wonders what else to do. Rapture’s blindfold slips, but won’t come off all the way. Learning manages to get the blindfold off and eyes open. Realization finds the light switch. Bodhisattva turns on the light, helps the others take off their blindfolds, and encourages them to open their eyes.

Buddhahood? Well, Buddhahood always knows about the elephant. Buddhahood always sees the elephant. Buddhahood is something that’s inside all of us, and within all of those other worlds. Attaining Buddhahood isn’t like climbing a ladder, with each of lower worlds representing a rung. We don’t attain it so much as reveal it, just as the elephant is revealed. All we have to do is take off the blindfolds, open our eyes, and turn on the light.

Cash and Prizes!

I’ve heard it before from some people who’ve just attended their first Buddhist meeting…sometimes even from people who have been around for awhile.

“People were talking about getting stuff,” they complain, “it sounds so materialistic. I thought it would be more spiritual…”

Does being a Buddhist call for deprivation? Should one eschew worldly comfort in the pursuit of more lofty aspirations? Is it non-Buddhist to ask for a raise? Is it okay to chant (pray) for the well-paying job, the hot boy or girlfriend, the expensive car, the dream house?

Short answer: to the first three questions, no. To the last question, yes indeed. Go for it!

There’s a concept in Buddhism that “earthly desires are enlightenment”, which may seem confusing in the light of it being a spiritual practice. It’s said that before he became a Buddha, Shakyamuni employed all sorts of ascetic practices to attain enlightenment, including prolonged meditation and fasting almost to the point of death, before he realized that denying one’s earthly needs was not the way to overcome suffering. The point of Buddhism is not only to overcome suffering, but to achieve happiness in this world. Our desires are the impulsion that keeps us moving toward this goal.

It is a worthy goal, though there are those who think that the pursuit of happiness is somehow frivolous. But even if you believe that this brief existence is all there is, and that when you die you will be judged and sent to heaven or hell for the rest of eternity, does a life of misery make any sense at all? Buddhists believe that we return lifetime after lifetime, so why not make each existence the best (happiest) it can be?

What is happiness, anyway? Is it simply a matter of getting “stuff”, like the good job, the car, the dream lover, the gorgeous house, the winning lottery ticket? And does “earthly desires are enlightenment” mean that it’s okay to take whatever you want in life (even if it belongs to another) because “hey, it’s my enlightenment!”?

Um, no. True happiness can’t be had by making someone else unhappy, and desires fulfilled don’t always guarantee happiness. There are two kinds of happiness, relative and absolute. Relative happiness is the fleeting kind that you get from getting something or someone you wanted. Absolute happiness? That’s when you realize that you can be happy even when you don’t get what or whom you wanted.

Paradox? Maybe…but life itself is our “vehicle” on the Road to Happiness; the stuff and things are merely accessories. We live in the world; our desires for the things of this world are in effect the gas that runs the vehicle. We’re constantly looking for more gas, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the spiritual aspect of our existence needs fuel as well. That’s why the practice of Buddhism requires that in our pursuit of happiness, we bring others with us along that road.

A road, by the way, that’s filed with karmic pitfalls. Karma is often referred to as “bad” or “good”, but it’s both. And neither. Simply put, karma is the accumulated effects of all the causes we have made in our lives. Everything we think, say, and do is a cause, and it has a simultaneous effect. (This is the law of the universe, which, like gravity, functions whether or not you believe in it.) To carry the analogy of the road trip further, sometimes those effects seem to come out of nowhere, just like that driver that suddenly changes lanes into the one you were already in. Your karma may be such that you have an open lane to switch into, or the driver of the other car sees you in time and moves back over, or there may be a collision. Similarly, you may have the capacity to make lots of money, but lack the fortune to hold onto it. You may be brilliant, yet desperately unhappy. You may be attractive enough to draw all eyes when you enter a room, but have no friends. This is all a function of karma. The good news is, you can change it! By continually moving forward, perpetually renewing ourselves, being conscious of our thoughts, words, and actions and controlling them accordingly, we can rid ourselves of nasty karmic buildup.

There are only three prayers that will never be granted: a prayer to harm someone else, for the physically impossible (say, to sprout wings in one’s sleep and fly to work in the morning), and for something that if you got it, would destroy your life. Otherwise, anything goes. If it’s cash and prizes you want, enter the contest as many times as you like. Just remember (cue Mick Jagger), ”you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need.”

Everyone’s a winner…

Alone Again, Or…?

Yeah, I heard a funny thing
Somebody said to me
“You know that I could be in love with almost everyone
I think that people are
The greatest fun”
And I will be alone again tonight my dear

Yeah, that’s from a song. “Alone Again Or”, a love song (of a sort), and a Love song (written by Bryan MacLean of Love…the band). In our culture, we are inundated with the concept of love: the need for it, the damage caused by lack of it, the gaining and the losing of it, etc. It’s not just the songs; movies, books, television, all speak to us of the necessity of love. If you don’t find your other half, you are doomed to a miserable, pathetic, lonely existence (you will never have “a life”). Of course, what most of them mean by “love” is what’s come to be known as romantic love, the idea that two people find each other somehow across the universe and complete each other, two halves of a whole. There’s someone out there for everyone, and all you need do is, oh, transcend time, space and reality and you will somehow find the one. You will be together forever, you will always love each other, and you will always be happy. Relationship problems? Must not be the one. Better keep looking…

I’m sure it’s no newsflash to anyone that having such an expectation almost always leads to broken hearts, failed relationships, and unhappiness all around. You may have found your ‘soul mate’, but eventually you will have to realize that keeping him/her requires work. Your ‘soul mate’ also happens to be a human being, a separate person of flesh and blood and differing opinions and…belches and farts. Ah, romance…

But what does ‘love’ mean to a Buddhist? Buddhism views all people as possessing the capacity for enlightenment, or Buddhahood, the condition of absolute happiness. The closest concept in Buddhism to this idea of “love” is the lower world of rapture. It’s considered a lower world because it is transient…not meant to last. The idea of a “soul mate” doesn’t really work either, because Buddhism does not support the idea of an eternal soul, at least not as is commonly meant. In Buddhism, life itself is eternal; the manifestation of an individual human life at a particular time, in a particular place, and in a particular form, results from the accumulation of causes made in one’s previous life (karma). One’s next life will manifest as an accumulation of causes made in this life, and so on and so on throughout eternity. While there is a certain level of continuity, there is no fixed, unchanging eternal soul that either ascends to heaven and finds its other half there, or is reborn again and again to resume the search on earth. Though it seems likely that the people we meet in each lifetime were known to us in previous lifetimes, in our current manifestation we can’t really know that for certain. To fixate on finding that “missing half” (as well as dwelling on who we were in past lives, and/or what evil karma we might have created) is detrimental to our present happiness. What’s important is to focus on one’s present existence, keeping the future in mind because it is shaped by the choices we are making now.

But what about the Love song? Are there really people who can “be in love with almost everyone”? And is that a good thing? What is love, anyway? Buddhism recognizes the idea of love, but not as life’s purpose. That would be the enlightenment (Buddhahood) that we work toward, a process that emphatically includes helping others to achieve enlightenment as well. Buddhahood, as defined by the Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, is “a state of complete access to the boundless wisdom, compassion, courage, and other qualities inherent in life; with these one can create harmony with and among others and between human life and nature.” However, it must be remembered that a Buddha is not a deity; we can attain this state of life as the common mortals that we are. In theory, I suppose we could “be in love with almost everyone” (or anyone) in this happy state. But because we are also common mortals, we are constantly at war with our lesser selves. We feel as though we are at the mercy of our desires, and our desires lead us to particular people, not anyone and everyone, when we love.

There’s nothing wrong with desire; the pursuit of our desires fuels our lives. It’s the attachment to those desires (and even worse, setting a timetable for their fulfillment), at the expense of all other considerations, that leads to unhappiness. This is particularly the case when the object of desire is another person; no matter how strong one’s desire, there is no guarantee that it will be reciprocated, and it can’t be forced. We tend to attach too much value to the “love relationship”, as though the other relationships in our life are of lesser value or don’t matter. This in turn creates an excessive burden of expectation, so when a love relationship changes, evolves, or ends we feel a corresponding sense of failure.

But…that feeling of being in love…it seems so real. Our senses are heightened, our perception changes, the whole world seems different. The idea of being “in love with almost everyone” seems absolutely abhorrent when you are in love with the one. You want to be with that person only. No one else seems to matter, or at least not as much. As to why you love that person and not someone else…how to explain that?

From a scientific standpoint, we can look to biology and chemistry. Life must reproduce itself to continue; it’s the biological imperative. Studies have shown that people are drawn to each other by such factors as smell. But this seems problematic as well. From the sublimity of Buddhahood we plunge into the lower world of animality. Do we really, really want to be controlled by our biology, at the utter mercy of our senses? Surely there’s more to it than that. And what if we’re drawn to people who seem completely wrong for us; should we assume that nature knows best, and go with it?

This is where choice comes in. It just might be karma that has brought this person into your life. It may be that you are meant to have some kind of relationship with him/her, but it may have nothing to do with what we think of as “love”. Or…maybe it does. You decide to enter into a “relationship”. You don’t know if it’s meant to last a lifetime or not. This is what the two of you will have to determine. If left to chance, you may outgrow each other. At times you may feel indifferent; at times you may hate each other. You may feel anything but “love”. The physical attraction usually fades over time; if that was the sole basis for your coming together, and you have never carried the relationship further, you will invariably move away from each other. It’s not that the feelings you had weren’t real, it’s just that they didn’t last.

So. What’s the best way to be a Buddha, yet enjoy all that love has to offer? We are not meant to live on such an exalted plane that we don’t get to experience the pleasure of our senses. It is not necessary to eliminate our earthly desires to attain enlightenment; the two are inseparable. This is what we have to remember when “love” makes us suffer. In a sense, if what we most desire is to maintain a solid relationship, we could “be in love with almost everyone”-as long as we remember that. Shared values, respect for yourselves and for each other, and a shared determination to make it work are what keeps a relationship going long past what might have been its “sell by” date. It’s important to remember that no matter how much you may love someone and feel happy in that person’s presence, ultimately you alone are responsible for your happiness. Love may “make the world go ‘round” (yet another song), but our Buddha attributes of boundless wisdom, compassion, and courage are what enables us to keep it alive.

Humans: Revolting? Discuss

By now I think most everyone’s finally heard about the “Occupy” movement, and various permutations of “the people are revolting” have already been used (do a quick search and you’ll see what I mean). The “Occupiers” have been ignored, derided and laughed at, infiltrated by spies and opportunistic criminals, and accused of being unwitting tools of George Soros. Even those who applaud their actions have criticized their lack of leadership, agenda, list of demands, coherency, etc. In some places, protesters have been attacked by police (either on orders from higher-ups, or because they are unclear on the concept of the Constitutional right to peaceful assembly), and many arrests have been made. So, what does a Buddha make of all this?

Let’s consider the life of Nichiren. Born into 13th century feudal Japan to a low caste family, he grew up wondering why, in a country whose dominant religion was the highly regarded teaching of Buddhism, was so much suffering? After entering a monastery at the age of twelve (the only hope of education for a boy in his position, even if he hadn’t been so inclined), he also began to wonder why, with only one “official” Buddha, there were so many sects of Buddhism? Surely there had to be one teaching that was superior to all the others; to discover which one it was, he proceeded to go to temples from each of the Buddhist sects and study what they had to offer. It took him years.

As Nichiren pursued his studies, the feudal system was working fairly well…for a small group of people. The lords had their vast landholdings and their retinues, and those who were fortunate enough to be of use to the lords were employed to service them in various capacities. The leading Buddhist sects supported the government and enjoyed its protection in return. The general populace had to be content with prayers (if they could afford to make an offering) and the hope of being reborn to better circumstances in a “pure land” somewhere in the west. Meanwhile there was drought, famine, disease, the fear of Mongol invasion, and of course, the mind-numbing and soul-destroying knowledge that one had little hope of moving much (if any) beyond the station to which he had been born. Women for the most part were utterly dependent upon men for every aspect of their existence.

His studies finally completed, Nichiren came to the realization that there was indeed a superior teaching: the Lotus Sutra. He determined that the reason why there was so much suffering was the country’s attachment to earlier, provisional, and erroneous Buddhist teachings. He called for a meeting of the priests from the leading schools, and proceeded to publicly refute them. The outrage was such that he had to run for his life. He then wrote to the government’s most powerful ruler, pointing out that not only was this the cause of the country’s current troubles but predicting more to come. The response? Exile. Persecution, including murderous attacks on himself and his followers. Attempted government execution, followed by another exile to a remote island where people were routinely sent to die. Nichiren, however, survived. Eventually, after everything he predicted came to pass, the ruling clan made him what they probably thought was an offer he couldn’t refuse. He could come back; he would be pardoned, and he would be supplied with a temple of his own. All he had to do was stop causing trouble…and remember who his real friends were…

Nichiren, of course, did nothing of the sort. He had taken to heart the lesson of the Lotus Sutra: that all people possessed the capacity for enlightenment in their present form, not just a few; that this could be attained in one’s present lifetime (not in some “pure land” elsewhere); and that the sutra’s truths would be spread in the future not by saints or sages or priests, but by the common people. Having done his part to remonstrate with government leaders, and having established a simple universal practice encompassing the essence of the Lotus Sutra, he spent the rest of his life spreading this teaching and encouraging his followers to do so as well.

Eventually the feudal system collapsed, as it later did in Europe (not as an immediate result of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381; though considered a failure at the time, it later came to be regarded as the beginning of the end of feudalism). Throughout history there have been many such uprisings, and regardless of their initial success or failure at the time, change always comes eventually. One definition of a Buddha is “one who endures”. Does this mean that we should sit back, waiting for it to happen? Accept that the power hungry, like the poor, are always with us? Take the view that as long if we are not personally suffering, that there is no reason for us to rise? Buddhism resoundingly says NO. To be Buddhist means to stand up against injustice, to speak out against evil, and to have compassion for those who are suffering. To do otherwise is to abandon one’s faith in favor of some lesser teaching. One might as well believe in the divine right of kings…

There is a limit to how much oppression people can stand. The people will always rise. The “one percenters” who sneer as they sip their champagne, their supporters who claim there’s nothing wrong with the system (it’s just that people made bad choices!) and especially the police who are brutalizing the protesters, are on the wrong side of history, once again. If the Occupy movement has done nothing else, it’s opened our eyes and sparked a national discourse. Should it collapse, it will be up to all of us to carry out the change. The real revolution that leads to lasting change always starts within, when we transform ourselves into persons of compassion and courage who are not afraid to speak out. We can no longer stand by and ignore the perversion of democracy. Attention must be paid.

A Buddha’s View

I am a Buddha. So are you, whether or not you are a Buddhist, have any knowledge of or belief in Buddhism, practice another religion entirely, or have no religious beliefs at all. At least, you have the potential to be a Buddha. Briefly, a “Buddha” is a human being who is enlightened to the eternal and ultimate truth that is the reality of all things, and who leads others to attain the same enlightenment.

Most Americans, when they hear of Buddha or Buddhism, think of the Dalai Lama or Zen. Or they may have read Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. Or they may think of the various statues (the skinny Buddha with peaceful expression, or the fat happy Buddha of the restaurants). Or they may relate it to the concept of karma, usually understood as “what goes around comes around”, although there’s a lot more to it than that. The Buddhism that I practice is that of Nichiren Daishonin, who based his teaching on Shakyamuni’s Lotus Sutra. (Shakyamuni lived approximately 2500 years ago, and is considered the ‘historical’ Buddha from whom subsequent teachings flowed; he was not and is not the “only” Buddha.) Nichiren regarded this sutra as Shakyamuni’s most profound teaching, as it recognizes the potential of every person to become a Buddha. Not only can every person become a Buddha, it can happen in this lifetime and in one’s present form. This revolutionary concept is found nowhere else in Shakyamuni’s teachings; earlier sutras had excluded (for example) evil people, those who were excessively devoted to learning, those who reviled and slandered the sutra, and…oh yes, women.

Small wonder that I practice this form of Buddhism! I belong to a world peace organization, the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), of which you can learn more about here: www.sgi-usa.org. (You can also learn more about Nichiren Buddhism.) The SGI is the largest lay organization practicing in the world practicing a religion without being connected to any clergy. We have no temples or priests. We have no hierarchal distinctions amongst members. No one is more “connected” than anyone else. I’ll refrain from going into the whole history of how this came about, but henceforth any references to Buddhism or the Buddhist point of view should be understood to mean the Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism and no other. I have opinions about everything, but my opinion won’t necessarily be your opinion, and that’s not a problem. Everything I write about, be it art, music, politics, or life in general, will be from a Buddhist perspective.  I am not an official spokesperson for the SGI, nor am I a Buddhist scholar; I am simply a practitioner of Buddhism, and I strive to see my life and the world through the eyes of a Buddha. Because being a Buddhist is not about removing oneself from society, or ridding oneself of desires, or spending one’s life performing austere practices. Being a Buddhist is about revealing one’s best self, experiencing life to the absolute fullest with fully opened eyes, and helping others do the same. There’s room under the Buddha umbrella for us all!

No statues, though.