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

Lives Like Gems

Different Cultures

Different Cultures (Photo credit: Bill Gracey)

Our lives are like gems.

Delighted to learn.

Possessing traditions,

and cultural treasures.

Forces for good.

Deserving of peace.

We are all human.

Comrades.

Confronting the universe.

United in the same experience

of birth, aging, sickness, and death.

(Inspired by the words of Daisaku Ikeda, World Tribune, October 18, 2013)

The Key to Creating Value

Everything begins with the resolve to take the...

Everything begins with the resolve to take the first step. From that action, wisdom arises and change begins. Without action, nothing changes. -Daisaku Ikeda (Photo credit: deeplifequotes)

Last evening I sifted through the pages of my World Tribune in search for much needed encouragement.  The World Tribune is a weekly newspaper devoted to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, the SGI organization, and world peace.  I love this newspaper because I get to read all about the amazing accomplishments my fellow Buddhist members are conducting around the United States.  Daisaku Ikeda, President of the SGI, also provides guidance and support for leading happy lives with no regrets.  In this week’s World Tribune, I came across bundles of wonderful wisdom from President Ikeda that really brightened my day about how to create value in our lives.  I’m not going to share all of it, but I will share my favorite parts that I highlighted.  By the way, what you are about to read is taken from The New Human Revolution which is a series of novels that President Ikeda has written about SGI and the kosen-rufu movement to share this practice with others for the sake of world peace.

Daisaku Ikeda writes…

“It’s important to be optimistic and to look on the bright side, constantly moving forward.  There are times when, even though you’ve been chanting [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] for something, the situation doesn’t go as you wish.  But remember, there’s always a reason.  In the end, you will genuinely feel that things worked out for the best.”

“Buddhism is a teaching of value creation, and value creation begins with having the wisdom to appreciate every situation we face and transform it into joy, hope, and victory…Let’s imagine, for example, that it starts to snow.  If you react negatively, thinking about how cold and slippery it is outside, then you will have a terrible day.  But if instead you think to yourself: ‘What a rare chance it is to see such beautiful snow!  I’ll show the kids how to build a snowman and create a wonderful memory with them!–then from that moment everything will be a joy.”

“The key to value creation is to find joy and meaning in whatever happens, to courageously rise to the challenge.  To do that, we need a philosophy of life, we need wisdom, and we need life force.  In fact, that is the purpose of our faith.”

“Our personal philosophy determines how we look at things.  Whether we see events from a pessimistic or optimistic point of view, whether we take things positively or negatively, makes all the difference in the world.”

[Buddhism] is…”a philosophy of transforming the negative into the positive.  As long as we base ourselves on such a forward looking approach, we will never be deadlocked.”

“How we perceive events is also intimately related to the strength of our life force.  When we are weak-spirited and apathetic, we end up falling into a negative mindset in spite of our best efforts to remain positive.  Our mental attitude is inseparable from our state of life.  Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the source of powerful unflagging vitality.”

This guidance is absolutely amazing.  I love it, and in my own personal experience I find that it really is true.  When it comes to how we interact with others and experience the world, if our mind is set in darkness, if we look at the world through a negative lens then what we experience will most definitely be negative.  If that negativity is taken a step further, and one reacts out of anger then we harm not only our relationships, but ourselves as well.  After all, anger is poison and it is the gateway to hatred.  It can cause you to lose control of your ability to think and act in a rational way.  The good news is that poison can be changed into medicine.  That is the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo!  Tapping into the power of our lives or Nam-myoho-renge-kyo provides a way to channel anger into something positive thereby creating value in society.  For example, someone who has been the victim of violence can channel their anger and energy into fighting for justice and world peace.  It really all comes down to one’s mindset.  Every human being is capable of greatness, of contributing to the world, society, and the community in a positive way.

Try it out! Pay close attention to the experience you have today and remember if the mind is shrouded in negativity then negativity becomes part of your daily life.  It becomes your experience.  However, if the mind is positive then you are able to look on the bright side and experience the joy life brings!

Be Yourself

Fifth Grade

Fifth Grade (Photo credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina})

Yesterday, I became overwhelmed with excitement after receiving an e-mail from an assistant principal at a charter school in the bay area.  A 4th and 5th grade math and science position was opening up at the school and they were looking for a teacher with experience in those two subject areas.  I taught 6th grade math and science for two years.  I couldn’t help but feel that this could be a “shoe-in” opportunity knocking at my door.  The e-mail asked me to forward my resume and three letters of recommendation as soon as possible.  We would go from there.  Following the request, I reviewed and updated my resume.  I responded to her e-mail and attached the necessary documents.  Then, about ten minutes later I received another e-mail from her.  She wanted to know if I had experience in technology and engineering?  I admit I was somewhat shocked that engineering would be required for teaching 4th and 5th grade science.  Most folks I know with an engineering background or degree have an engineering career and job.  I started to rack my brain with ideas of what I could say in response that would put me in a good light and build her confidence in my abilities.  The school that I taught at last year had an afterschool engineering robotics program the first year I was there, but when the new administration took over, the program fell to the wayside.  I was never trained as planned.  So, I couldn’t beef myself up using that information.  My brain performed all types of twists and turns, but continuously I came up short.  Truth be told, I really didn’t have that much experience in the two areas required.  So, I responded the only way I could….with the truth.  My message said:

Dear _______,

Unfortunately, my experience in those two areas is limited.
However, I can say with confidence that I am eager to learn and I do learn quickly.  I am hard working, great with preparations, and willing to do whatever it takes.  For example, I would be willing to pay for training out of pocket if needed.  In addition, my fiance is a mechanical engineer and able to be my resource as I learn the new material.  This may not be the answer you are looking for, but I can assure you that I am very dedicated.  I hope this helps.
Sincerely,
Heather
I never heard back from said assistant principal.  But, I was proud of my answer.  In the beginning, I did what I think many people may do.  I hammered away at myself with negative comments that most likely would be considered verbal abuse.  “You’re not good enough!”  “Great job on choosing the wrong degree!”  And so on and so forth.  You get the idea.  We all are guilty of beating ourselves up when something doesn’t seem to work out in our favor or when we feel we just don’t measure up.  Following the e-mails and disappointment, I moved on to my Buddhist practice and morning prayers.  At the end, I opened up the encouragement book I read daily.  It’s set up like a calendar, so you read the encouragement given for that particular day.  I couldn’t believe it.  The piece of advice for that particular day read as follows…
“Don’t put on airs.  Conceit and pretense don’t win people’s hearts; the facade soon crumbles.  Be yourself.  Buddhism teaches we can shine most brilliantly through natural, unaffected behavior.  Being sincere, dedicated and honest is the key.  People of integrity triumph in the end.”
For this job, I didn’t meet the requirements.  But I was able to release that part of my day with a feeling of pride in myself and a strong sense of integrity.  And that made a HUGE difference in the way I felt about me. :-)
Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

The Power In You

Mahatma Gandhi with textile workers at Darwen,...Recently, I started an intensive yoga teacher training.  Regarding my decision to change careers, I decided that yoga would be the beginning of this journey.  I chose Kripalu because the focus is reconnecting with your body and spirit.  It is a spiritual journey of sorts towards cultivating a healthier body, mind, and way of being.  Rekindling one’s relationship with prana or the breath sets the stage, and from there a transformation is initiated as the body and mind begin to heal from anxieties, fears, and a separation from ourselves. Slowly, through the asanas, these emotions are replaced with confidence, a sense of strength, and reconnection.  The heart opens and expands.  The point of Kripalu is meditation in movement, awakening one’s life force, and cultivating peace within oneself.  Over time, one’s practice on the mat can become one’s practice in daily life.  As a person transforms themselves, the environment around them responds to this change and transforms as well.  In Nichiren Buddhism, this is often called a human revolution.  Many of the yoga sutras teach that when you are happy, it affects everyone in your environment.  If you are angry or are having angry thoughts, that anger is generated out into your environment as well.  In Nichiren Buddhism, a great deal of discussion surrounds the “mystic function of the mind.”  Our attitude changes everything.  This statement is used quite often.  Kids hear it all the time in school, but it can be difficult to believe or put into practice especially when you are suffering or are facing serious obstacles in life.  But the power of thought to alter reality must never be underestimated.  If you believe you can, then you will.  Regarding this topic, Nichiren said “This mind that is beyond comprehension constitutes the core teaching of the sutras and treatises.  And one who is awake to and understands this mind is called a Thus Come One.”  The Thus Come One refers to each individual’s inherent Buddha nature or one who has awakened to the powerful and mystical workings of the mind.  There is a saying that at this moment in time “You are now all that you desire to be.”  Our minds determine our future both individually and collectively as a society.  Daisaku Ikeda devotes a chapter to this idea in My Dear Friends In America.  In it he refers to Mahatma Gandhi who believed and once said that people became whoever they expected themselves to be.  Daisaku writes: “The potential of the human brain remains an unknown.  We do not know what powers it holds.  But one thing is certain: The power of belief, the power of thought, will move reality in the direction of what we believe and how we conceive it.  If you really believe you can do something, you can.  That is a fact.”  To give a simple example of how this can play out I will share with you a small thing that I experienced at the end of my first week of yoga teacher training.  In the evening of that last day, I stopped by my friend’s house to say hello.  I had not seen her in months and was excited to catch up.  When I arrived the first thing she offered me was something to drink.  I immediately responded that I would love a cup of tea.  She then asked me, “Is mint okay?”.  My first thought was that I really wanted ginger.  I felt this strongly, but I didn’t want to be a picky guest, and I figured that if she had other selections she would have offered them.  I said that mint would be lovely, and she pulled the box of mint tea out of the cabinet.  The water soon came to a boil, and I heard the clanging of cups and the tearing of a small paper package.  Within minutes, the cup of tea was set into my hands, warming my fingers, and I quickly took that first delicious sip.  To my pleasant surprise, the taste of ginger delighted my taste buds.  A little confused at first, I asked her what kind of tea she gave me.  She replied mint of course.  I responded that it couldn’t be.  There was no mint in my cup of tea.  Without a doubt, I was drinking ginger tea.  She replied, “You know, now that I think about it, I think I had some random leftover tea selections from other boxes that I put in that box of mint to consolidate.  I completely forgot about that.  I must have accidentally opened one of those.”  Some folks may say that this experience was plain old luck or just a mere coincidence.  But for me, this was a wonderful confirmation of the power we hold and the mystical workings of the mind.  Our thoughts, beliefs, and desires become our reality and lived experience.

At the end of the first day of my yoga training, I wrote in my journal: “I know peace is possible.  I know deep relaxation is possible.  I know these things because I just experienced them both.”

If what you seek is peace from the negativity in life, try out a Kripalu yoga class or tap into the Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in your life.  I highly recommend a good dose of both.  Take some time to reconnect with the mind.  Be a witness to it.  Check the patterns and quality of the thoughts that come and go.  Change the script, and create the life you want to live.  The power is within you and anything is possible.