Conspicuous and Inconspicuous Benefits

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Conspicuous benefits are obvious.  For example, you do something good and the results are immediate.  You can see and enjoy the effects of that cause immediately.  Inconspicuous benefits are different.  You may set a positive intention and see it through, but the results may not be so obvious.  You may even think to yourself, “I did all that for nothing.”  Of course, that is hardly ever the case.  Prayers in Buddhism are like this.  For some, they are answered very quickly-conspicuous.  Others are slower to come by-inconspicuous.  The reality is that we are all in process of our progress, like a garden in constant growth and that growth takes time.  You will not see a sapling spring into a fine tree right before your eyes, but over time you will begin to notice changes that move in that direction until one day a fully matured tree stands before you with deep roots, a mighty stem, and adoring leaves.  Inconspicuous benefits born from prayer are very much like this.  It takes time and patience is required.

Daisaku Ikeda, Presdient of the SGI, Buddhist philosopher, educator, and peace activist shares solid encouragement on this matter in the Guidance Series of Living Buddhism September 2014.  He states:

1.  Sometimes our immediate prayers are realized, and sometimes they aren’t.  When we look back later, however, we can say with absolute conviction that everything turned out for the best.

2.  Buddhism accords with reason.  Our faith is manifested in our daily lives, in our actual circumstances.  Our prayers cannot be answered if we fail to make efforts to realize them.

3.  To create something fine and solid, it would be better to build anew from the foundation up.  The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to transform our lives on a fundamental level, not superficially.

4.  Conspicuous benefit is the obvious, visible benefit of being protected or being quickly able to surmount a problem when it arises.  Inconspicuous benefit, on the other hand, is less tangible.  It is good fortune accumulated slowly and steadily.  We might not discern any change from day to day, but as the years pass, it will be clear that we’ve become happy, that we’ve grown as individuals.

5.  No matter what happens, the important thing is to keep chanting.  If you do so, you’ll become happy without fail.  Even if things don’t work out the way you hoped or imagined, when you look back later, you’ll understand on a much more profound level that it was the best possible result.  This is tremendous inconspicuous benefit.

Vincent van Gogh once said, “If you hear a voice within you saying, ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint, boy, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.”  You can replace the bold words with whatever it is you desire to be, but keep in mind that nothing of true value happens overnight and certainly not without action.  Greatness takes time to develop, and it requires diligence, determination, faith, and action.  As time passes, you will look back to observe the inconspicuous fruits of your prayer and labor.  Just remember to never give up and keep making efforts toward whatever it is you want to manifest!  That is the key!

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

24 Hour Spiritual Fitness

Photo by Arya Ziai, CC (no changes made, access license here:

Photo by Arya Ziai, CC (no changes made, access license here:

“The highest offering to the Buddha is not to worship something reminiscent of the Buddha.  Rather, it is to inherit the Buddha’s spirit.  In other words, the highest offering lies in struggling to manifest, as one’s own way of life, even a part of the spirit of the Buddha, who upheld the philosophy that everyone is a Buddha and tirelessly strove to save all from suffering.”       -Daisaku Ikeda in Buddhism Day By Day

The process of developing a Buddhist practice (or any spiritual practice for that matter) can be likened to a spiritual workout.  This is because as an individual develops and engages in their practice, they enter into a process of change.  How does this work?  Well, our Buddhist practice becomes a way to transform our lives on a fundamental level.  When this happens, resistance naturally occurs.  We know life is full of hardships and obstacles.  These challenges serve as the resistance we encounter to improve the direction of our lives.  Their source can be internal or external in nature, but just as lifting weights creates the resistance needed to build stronger muscles, the obstacles we encounter through our practice become the resistance we need to build our inner muscles.  When we engage in this spiritual workout, we gradually develop and increase our wisdom, compassion, and general life force.  As a result, we become better equipped to face life’s challenges and our fears head on with gumption, know how, and grit.  It is a learning process that develops over time where we gradually overcome ignorance and negativity, realize the true value of our lives and the lives of others.  It is through this struggle or spiritual workout that  we are able to inherit the Buddha’s spirit.  (Buddhist Concepts, “Faith for Overcoming Obstacles”, Living Buddhism, September 2014)

Through this lens, everyday is a spiritual workout to develop and become your best!  How will you exercise your inner muscles today?

An Exercise For Peace

“Peace Makes A Comeback”  Photo by Betsy Streeter (no changes made, see license here:

To pass judgement is easy.  It does not require a highly evolved nature.  To treat another as your equal with true respect, minus the Judger’s cap, can be much more challenging.

Regarding a fundamental principle for a more peaceful and respectful way of living, Daisaku Ikeda states:

“Buddhism teaches that all people are inherently Buddhas.  I believe that this Buddhist view of humanity embodies a fundamental principle for world peace.  You are a Buddha and I am a Buddha.  That’s why we must not fight each other.  That’s why we must respect each other.”

Think of someone who drives you crazy.  Reflect for a moment.  What is your typical response towards that person? How does your response contribute to an unhappy encounter?  How can you begin to neutralize the charged energy that develops when you are around that individual?  And then, how can you treat that person with more respect than perhaps you think they are giving you?

It can be a hard exercise to establish, believe you me.  It helps to keep in mind that it is a practice and practice does not mean perfect.   Acknowledge yourself for the small steps you take and remember, in the end, everything begins with you.  When you change, the environment and the people around you change too.  You are a Buddha and I am a Buddha.  That is why we must not fight each other.  Rather, that is why we must respect one another.

Have a wonderful week and happy peace making!

A Leap Of Faith

by Mary Brack

Photo by Mary Brack

This morning while performing my morning prayers (a.k.a. doing Gongyo) I suddenly broke into a crying fit of tears.  You see, I am engaged in a battle with myself, and I suffer because I am afraid.  I’m not talking about being a little bit scared about whatever goes bump in the night.  I am talking about immobilizing fear.  It is  probably more than, you know, a deer in headlights sort of thing.

I describe my situation as one where I am standing at a fork in the road and on my back is this giant monkey.  Take a closer look at that monkey and you will find that what I really carry is a massive amount of fear.  This is a fear about living, fear about choosing which path to take on this journey of mine and both choices scare the hell right out of me.  It is an internal battle of questioning, doubt, and confusion.  And so, I stand in this place, stuck as can be, afraid to move, and afraid of making the “wrong” choice.  At the same time, I am learning that being a grown up is all about the hard choices we have to make, and life is a series of hard choices.

Along with the fear and stuck stickiness, I am frustrated by the presence of this huge gap in my life of where I am and where I want to be. I realize that time is passing me by and the only way to get past this is through it.  I know I cannot get from point A to point B without trucking through the space in between.  Life gets hard and I think after awhile one simply has to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  Trying to avoid the discomfort is itself a source of suffering.  And the stress, oh the stress times like these can bring!  Yuck!  Somebody call the doctor!  The stress I feel right now is so great that even my body responds in an agitated way as if to communicate that this must change.  I simply cannot continue to stand stuck upon this path any longer.  Heck!  I’m not even on a path anymore.  Rather, I’ve taken to lying in the dirt.  Good grief!  It is true that the mind and body are one.  Seriously. It is as if my emotional suffering is now expressing itself in physical form. I literally get pains in the heart space of my chest and this morning my right rhomboid seized up in a most painful way, so much so that it is nearly impossible for me to turn my neck left or right with ease, even as I write this.  And it hurts.  Truly.

In Nichiren Buddhism we would say that my faith is being tested.  It is a battle of win or lose, and I am determined to win!  And so I up the ante.  I increase my life force by stepping up my practice.  I get in front of my Gohonzon and I chant my butt off!  I search for guidance in the Living Buddhism magazine, World Tribune, and other sources of Nichiren Buddhist literature.  This pays off, and I find words of treasure to keep me company along this journey of mine.

President Ikeda shares a bit of wisdom from the famous jazz musician and SGI member, Wayne Shorter.  Wayne says, “Do not avoid confrontation with the unexpected and unknown.”  Ikeda builds on this by saying, “You will also be sure to encounter many things you find difficult or challenging from now.  When that happens, it’s important to have the lion-hearted spirit to confront them with resolve. ‘I’ll try my best!’ Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will give you the courage to do so.” (From Opening A New Era of Kosen Rufu Together by SGI President Daisaku Ikdea, World Tribune, September 12, 2014)  And of course, nothing beats the words and wisdom of Nichiren himself who says, “Though one might point at the earth and miss it, though one might bind up the sky, though the tides might cease to ebb and flow and the sun rise in the west, it could never come about that the prayers of the practitioner of the Lotus Sutra would go unanswered. (“On Prayer,” WND-1, 345)  With this I recharge my batteries and renew my determination to break through.  And so, with both feet firmly planted on the ground and my eyes toward the sky, I take my next step and a leap of faith.

What about you?  What inspires you to move through your fear place?

The Pulse Of Your Dreams

I want to know about you.

photo credit: Lara Cores via photopin cc

photo credit: Lara Cores via photopin cc

Have you forgotten your big dreams?

Think back.

They are there,

floating about in the harbour of your mind.

Dig deep.

Anchor down as you sleep.

Reach out.

Grab that one, as it twinkles and beats.

Like the mind of a child,

precious and divine.

Believe in yourself

the way you did back then.

Let your light shine.

Your life has power,

and there is courage inside.

The Voice Does the Buddha’s Work

medium_3850756797The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, Volume I

The Significance of Hearing the Law

In Buddhism, there are ten worlds.  There are the six lower worlds and the four noble paths.  The third world of the four noble paths is the world of bodhisattvas.  Bodhisattvas maintain a strong spirit.  They are relentless and push themselves to gain enlightenment of a Buddha.  In this regard, bodhisattvas are always working to share the teachings of the Buddha with others in an effort to relieve suffering and bring about happiness in the world.

The development of one’s voice along this spiritual path is a crucial characteristic of guiding others toward enlightenment.  The sound or vibration of the voice is a powerful and critical feature of being in the world of Buddhahood.  Nichiren Daishonin says that the voice of a Buddha is a “pure and far reaching voice” and it is one of the Buddha’s thirty-two outstanding features.  Ikeda says, “The voice is the vibration of the living whole.  A person’s being and character are revealed by the voice.  A French writer once said the voice is our second face.  Though we may hide our true appearance, we cannot hide the voice” (78).

We reveal much about our inner state of being through the vibrational sounds of our voice.  Just by speaking, one can communicate to another if he/she is happy, sad, angry, frustrated, genuine, sincere, or sarcastic.  In my experience with communication and relationships, I know that when a voice generates a vibe of anger, frustration, or condescendence, communication often shuts down, the receiver stops listening and the original message is lost.  Forward movement towards dialogue and mutual understanding stops dead in its tracks.

How can I relate this to my life?  Well, I think it becomes really important for me to develop and conduct myself in such a way that when I use my voice, I am able to speak from a place of sincerity, honesty, compassion, and friendship.  Rather, I practice and develop a genuine voice from the heart.  How often have we heard someone speak from a place of anger, releasing their frustration by attacking another person and choosing not to say what really needs to be said from the heart space?  When we choose to speak from the heart in a real and honest way, I think we naturally move to a place of calm and peace.  Give it a try and see what happens!  What have you got to lose except, perhaps, a bit more peace in your life?

President Ikeda says, “Not sparing one’s voice doesn’t refer to loudness or volume.  It means the great voice of compassion that seeks to bring all beings to enlightenment.”  So, go out there and do your life’s work.  Fulfill your mission or purpose!  Use your voice and speak your heart.  The voice is a tool to create and liberate!

Lessons From “The Wisdom Of The Lotus Sutra: Volume I” Part 1

In SGI, we have several activity groups based on age.  These include the young women and men’s groupings as well as the women and men’s groupings.  A few months ago, I graduated from the young women’s group into the women’s group.  I was then given an opportunity to join Sophia which is a gathering of women with the purpose of studying Soka Gakkai publications and other Nichiren Buddhist study materials.  We decided on The Wisdom Of The Lotus Sutra: Volume I”.  This book is a discussion between SGI President, Daisaku Ikeda, and Study Department leaders Katsuji Saito, Takanori Endo, and Haruo Suda.  Although it is fairly thin, the contents are thick requiring deep thought and reflection.  Below is my written preparation of study that I presented to the group during our May gathering.  The topic of discussion for this particular meeting covered chapter three.

A Scripture That Calls Out to All People

In chapter three on page 43 I learn that the Lotus Sutra makes frequent use of the phrase “good men and good women”.   Elaborating on this expression, President Ikeda states, “Returning to the expression ‘good men and good women,’ I think it is used in the Lotus Sutra not to make a distinction between lay practitioners and priests but instead to transcend that division. I believe these men and women are referred to as ‘good’ not because they come from good families, but because  they have made the commitment to follow the path to Buddhahood set forth by Shakyamuni—in other words, the path to true independence as human beings and victory in life.  ‘Good’ here refers not to lineage but to goodness of intent.” Saito then replies in agreement stating, “Unless they are truly committed people, whether lay practitioners or priests, they cannot carry out the difficult tasks of upholding and propagating the Lotus Sutra after Shakyamuni’s passing.” (pg. 44)

What makes a practitioner of our practice a truly committed person?  For me, the answer to this question is an ongoing journey of continual learning whereby I focus on gaining a deeper understanding and awareness.   I liken my faith and practice to something of an onion.  Each year offers another opportunity to peel back another layer. When I first began, my perspective of a committed practitioner was one who chanted daimoku everyday and performed gongyo.  Life, being as busy as it was, often times included evening gongyo alone.  The mornings were simply too rushed.  I quickly realized a notable difference between the days when morning and evening gongyo were realized in place of just the one.  As daily struggles became my focus to overcome, I understood that there was more to my practice.  Attendance and participation in monthly meetings as well as stepping into a leadership role offered another layer of commitment toward making positive changes happen in my life.  The passing of a third year brought additional insight.  This time I learned the importance of member care and the different ways I might assist others in their practice.  Yet, I am sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg for me.

On page 45, President Ikeda speaks of Nichiren’s Buddhist faith and practice.  He says, “Nichiren Daishonin read the Lotus Sutra with his life”.  Nichiren revealed the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and demonstrated how each person could realize their own happiness.  On page 46, Sudas says, “Only a heartless Buddha would fail to care about the fate of those living after him and refuse to teach them the path to happiness.” The Lotus Sutra teaches that all people whether they be rich, poor, male, female, of high or low status, all possess an innate Buddha nature and all have the capacity to bring it forth with absolute happiness.  Shakyamuni’s intention was to share this teaching with all people and so he chose to speak using the language of the everyday people rather than using the language only the wealthy and educated would understand.   This is an important point.  Propagating a teaching that can assist ALL people to realize their fullest potential is clearly important.  SGI is actualizing this goal by translating the teachings of the Lotus Sutra into a diversity of languages around the world.

President Ikeda is very clear about the difference between knowing what your mentor has taught and putting the teachings into practice, demonstrating the power of the teaching with your own life and sharing the teaching with others so they too can transform the suffering of their own lives.  He says, “It is no outstanding distinction to simply know what your teacher has taught; what matters most is the reason or purpose for which you know those teachings. Anyone can say, ‘My mentor’s teaching are wonderful!’ But, for example, Nikko Shonin took the next step: ‘Since they’re so wonderful, I must share them with others no matter what!”  On the other hand, five senior priests during Nikko’s time thought themselves great simply because they knew Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.  Since the teachings are so powerful and transformative both for society and the individual, it would be selfish to keep them a secret or to gain benefit alone.  An important step in one’s practice is to share the teachings with others because there is always someone somewhere seeking peace and happiness within their life.

President Ikeda best summarizes an absolute amazing truth about Mayhayana Buddhism, and these compelling reasons are, in part, why I love this practice.  He says, “Mayhayana Buddhism does not subscribe to a complicated list of rules of behavior or discipline with which to bind people. It respects the freedom and autonomy of the individual. However, when we hold the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism up before the mirror of the people, they offer an extremely demanding model of leadership. This is because irresponsibility is not permitted” (pg. 49).  And so, with the passing of another year, comes yet the peeling back of another layer.  The wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, as indicated at the end of this chapter, is that my life is the greatest gift, worthy of the utmost respect.  That is my Buddha nature.  It is clear to me now that the best thing I can do is to spread that message, share it with others, demonstrate the power of my faith through the transformation of my own life, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo no matter what!