Obstacles In Life

photo credit: r2hox via photopin cc

photo credit: r2hox via photopin cc

It is an obstacle course out there!

I’ve been taking classes to learn a new style of communication for the past year.  Another woman signed up for the same courses as me, and we’ve been together the whole way through.  We are now in our last class, and oddly enough, communication between the two of us has become problematic.  Some of her comments to me following my practice sessions in class struck me as being jab like, hitting below the belt.  The first time I overlooked it, but then it happened again and again and again until I decided to point it out to her using the communication skills we had been practicing and in the best way I knew how–calmly and assertively.  Only, it wasn’t well received and she yelled at me in front of another classmate.

Since we live on opposite sides of the country, I arranged for a phone appointment to clear the air and give each other a chance to say what we each needed to say.  My primary question for her during that call was essentially how can we move forward together?  I took this opportunity to share with her the comments that had really bothered me, but I was met with explosive laughter followed by “You are way too sensitive!”  She then informed me that from here on out she would make every effort to speak to me “plain vanilla.”  Her words.

Needless to say, I could see that this conversation wasn’t going to be as productive as I had hoped.   I invited her to share her frustrations, but she wasn’t really interested;  and what little she did say was that it was all me.   Within 15 minutes, the conversation came to an end and she hung up on me right as I was thanking her for her time.  While it wasn’t an easy 15 minutes of my life, I was calm and polite the whole way through.  I wasn’t expecting the hang up.

Maybe I am naive.

But, I still have three months left of class with her and there’s no turning back.  So, I decided last night to do what I always do in times like these; chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, pray for this woman’s happiness, and study Nichiren Buddhist literature published for my faith community.  It didn’t take me long to find an article that would help me out titled “Polishing Ourselves Through Adversity.” One statement from President Ikeda’s guidance really struck a chord with me.  He says:

“Never fear hardships.  Don’t allow yourselves to be defeated by criticism.  Rather, be grateful for all obstacles because they help you polish and develop yourselves.”

We are here to learn, grow, and improve ourselves for the better.  In spite of the fact that this particular individual was not open to a dialogue, it took a huge amount of courage on my part to contact her and invite her to problem solve with me.  I challenged myself to do something that I normally would have cowered away from doing.

But, I did it, and that was a big growing step forward along this life journey of mine!

Greatness Is Upon You

photo credit: steve loya via photopin cc

photo credit: steve loya via photopin cc

On the rare occasion, I cross paths with another individual who just doesn’t seem to enjoy my company. They may send off signals of agitation by my mere participation in the conversation and give off a vibe of disrespect.  They may even strike below the belt with a verbal jab here and there.  When I happen to meet a person like this, I wonder–what is this all about anyway?  Why is this person difficult?  Why don’t they like me?  What did I say or do to offend?

What is IT all about?

Interacting with folks like this, doing one’s best to effectively communicate, it can seem like no matter what is done for the sake of positive interactions, attempts at making amends, and seeing things from their perspective–some folks just aren’t feeling your vibe.  Even though it can be uncomfortable, perhaps people like this cross our paths as a learning opportunity, an opportunity to challenge some aspect of ourselves that requires fine tuning. When I view these strange happenings from that perspective, then I can come to appreciate their brief presence in my life.  They are showing me something within that needs changing, and I get to make the adjustments for a stronger, happier me.  Even if that person loses their cool, I can stay strong and calm and not let it get the best of me.

As these thoughts floated about my mind, I came across this quote:

“Who is truly great?  I hope you can develop the ability to discern true human greatness.  A great person is someone who forges unity among human beings through sincere dialogue, armed with a solid philosophy, feet firmly planted on the ground.  A great person is one who lives among the people and earns their unshakable trust.  Fickle popularity and temporary fads are nothing but illusions.” -Daisaku Ikeda

I might not win everyone’s heart, but as long as I keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, as long as I am genuine and sincere the whole way through, that is the stuff greatness is made of!

What is your special brand of greatness?

Living Life With Wellness

photo credit: Twig Aho via photopin cc

photo credit: Twig Aho via photopin cc

On my journey toward becoming a Health and Wellness Coach, I have learned that you can be physically healthy, void of any illness and at the same time lack the experience of wellness.  On the other hand, wellness can be present even in the midst of battling disease.

Wellness encompasses many aspects of life and it doesn’t necessarily mean you are free of health challenges.  Rather, wellness is about living your life to its fullest with a sense of purpose and a loving acceptance of self.  It’s about developing your awareness and living with conscious choice in a way that improves your overall health and well-being.  Wellness is about achieving your fullest potential with vitality and a positive attitude in spite of whatever challenges you face.  These ideas are very Buddhist in nature which is probably why I was drawn to this particular field in the first place.

Along these same lines, Daisaku Ikeda (President of the SGI, a lay Buddhist organization) states:

“HEALTH IS NOT simply a matter of absence of illness.  Health means constant challenge.  Constant creativity.  A prolific life always moving forward, opening up fresh new vistas. That is a life of true health.  An unbeatable spirit is what supplies the power to keep pressing ahead.”

Life is full of difficult circumstances.  That is a fact.  Our challenge then is to enjoy and treasure our lives and the experience of living throughout the stumbling blocks we inevitably face now and in the future.

What challenges do you face today?  How will you respond?  Will you let them beat you down, or will you stand up with the determination to move forward with vitality and that unbeatable spirit to win no matter what?

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!

An Exercise For Peace

“Peace Makes A Comeback”  Photo by Betsy Streeter (no changes made, see license here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode)

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!

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!

Motivation For A Rainy Day

By Vinoth Chandar (Flickr: on a rainy day…) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Here is one awesome “quick fix” for your day especially if, like me on this rainy afternoon, setting yourself in a productive motion proves to be quite tricky.  On a day like today, for example, I find myself asking, “How can I best manage my time?”  In my research of time management and goal setting, here is what I learned.

All you can really do is your best to use the time you have and make the most of it.  Focus on being effective with the time given rather than practicing busyness.  Being busy does not necessarily  mean that effectiveness is your experience.  Proper planning may be required.  Start by identifying your goal.  Then, manage your tasks by labeling them either high priority or low priority.  Spend your time and attention taking care of those high priority items rather than busying yourself with those low on your list.  When deciding if an item or activity is worth doing, ask yourself, “Is this necessary, and will doing this move me closer to my goal?”  If your answer is no, then it may be in your best interest to release that low priority item.  Simply let it go.  If it’s not all that important, why waste your time doing it?  Freed up time could be better used doing something you enjoy!

And remember….

“YOUR ENVIRONMENT DOES NOT MATTER.

Everything starts with YOU.

You must FORGE yourself through your own efforts.

CREATE something,

START something,

and MAKE A SUCCESS of something.

That is the ESSENCE of human existence, the CHALLENGE of youth.

Herein lies a WONDERFUL WAY OF LIFE always aiming for the future.”

-Daisaku Ikeda in From Today & Tomorrow