Thursday, 23 October 2014

The enlightenment of women

"Nichiren stresses, '...among the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, that of women attaining Buddhahood is foremost.' And, in another letter, he writes, 'Only in the Lotus Sutra do we read that a woman who embraces this sutra not only excels all other women but surpasses all men.' Nichiren vowed to share the Lotus Sutra's hopeful message with all the women of Japan."
In many Buddhist sutras it was taught that women could never become Buddhas. One sutra reads, "Even if the eyes of the Buddhas of the three existences were to fall to the ground, no woman of any of the realms of existence could ever attain Buddhahood."
This no doubt reflects the prevailing view of women in India in the fifth century B.C.E. where they were considered more or less the property of their husbands. However, it is said that in response to requests from his aunt and other women, Shakyamuni allowed women to become nuns and carry out monastic practice after establishing eight rules which they should follow. According to Indian studies specialist Dr. Hajime Nakamura, "The appearance [in Buddhism] of an order of nuns was an astonishing development in world religious history. No such female religious order existed in Europe, North Africa, West Asia or East Asia at the time. Buddhism was the first tradition to produce one."
However, in the following centuries, prevailing perceptions of women began to reassert themselves, and it was commonly believed that women would have to be reborn as men and carry out endless painful practices before being able to attain Buddhahood. The bhikshuni sangha, or order of Buddhist nuns, declined and nearly disappeared.
Nichiren, the 13th-century Buddhist monk whose teachings SGI members follow, was a firm believer in the equality of men and women. He wrote, "There should be no discrimination among those who propagate the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo in the Latter Day of the Law, be they men or women." This was a revolutionary statement for his time, when women were almost totally dependent on men. The "three obediences" dictated that a Japanese woman should first obey her parents; then she should obey her husband; and finally, in old age, she should obey her son.
Nichiren sent letters of encouragement to many of his female followers and gave several the title of "Shonin," or saint. The strength of faith and independence of spirit shown by these women impressed him deeply. To Nichimyo Shonin, he wrote: "Never have I heard of a woman who journeyed a thousand ri in search of Buddhism as you did.... you are undoubtedly the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra among the women of Japan."
In the 12th or "Devadatta" chapter of the version of the Lotus Sutra cited by Nichiren, Shakyamuni demonstrates that Buddhahood is within reach "even" for women. It is revealed that an eight-year-old female dragon has been able to attain Buddhahood quickly by practicing the Lotus Sutra.
This girl, often known as the dragon king's daughter, appears and dramatically demonstrates her attainment of Buddhahood, illustrating the principle of becoming a Buddha in one's present form. She overturns the prevailing belief that enlightenment could only be attained after carrying out painful practices over an extremely long period of time. The dragon girl has the form of an animal; she is female; and she is very young. That she should be the very first to demonstrate the immediate attainment of Buddhahood is striking, even shocking.
Nichiren stresses, "... among the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, that of women attaining Buddhahood is foremost." And, in another letter, he writes, "When I, Nichiren, read the sutras other than the Lotus Sutra, I have not the slightest wish to become a woman. One sutra condemns women as emissaries of hell. Another describes them as large snakes.... Only in the Lotus Sutra do we read that a woman who embraces this sutra not only excels all other women but surpasses all men." Nichiren vowed to share the Lotus Sutra's hopeful message with all the women of Japan.
Buddhism views distinctions of gender, race and age as differences which exist in order to enrich our individual experience and human society as a whole. The Lotus Sutra is sometimes called the teaching of nondiscrimination, because it reveals that the state of Buddhahood is inherent in all phenomena. There is no difference between men and women in terms of their capacity to attain Buddhahood, as both are equally manifestations of the ultimate reality. If we consider the eternity of life, it is also clear that we may be born as a man in one life, and as a woman in another.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda states, "The important thing is that both women and men become happy as human beings. Becoming happy is the objective; everything else is a means. The fundamental point of the 'declaration of women's rights' arising from the Lotus Sutra is that each person has the innate potential and the right to realize a state of life of the greatest happiness."

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/the-enlightenment-of-women.html

Emptiness

"An understanding of ku [emptiness] helps us to see that, despite how we may see them, things--people, situations, relationships, our own lives--are not fixed, but dynamic, constantly changing and evolving. They are filled with latent potential which can become manifest at any time."
The concept of shunyata (Sanskrit), or ku (Japanese), has been variously translated as latency, non-substantiality, emptiness and void. One of the first detailed articulations of this idea comes from the Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna, living in India between 150 and 250 C.E. Nagarjuna believed that the state of "neither existence nor nonexistence" described in this concept expressed the true nature of all things. The paradoxical nature of this idea, however, makes it somewhat foreign to Western dualistic logic, and has helped contribute to a stereotype of Buddhism as a detached, mystical philosophy which sees the world as a grand illusion. The implications of ku, however, are much more down-to-earth, and are in fact consistent with the findings of contemporary science.
Modern physics, in attempting to discover the essence of matter, has arrived at a description of the world that is very close to that of Nagarjuna. What scientists have discovered is that there is no actual, easily identifiable "thing" at the basis of matter. Subatomic particles, the building blocks of the physical world that we inhabit, appear to oscillate between states of being and nonbeing. Instead of a fixed "thing" in a particular place, we find only shifting waves of probability. At this level, the world is actually a highly fluid and unpredictable place, essentially without substance. It is this non-substantial nature of reality that the concept of ku describes.
Ku also elucidates the latent potential inherent in life. Consider how, when we are in the grip of a powerful emotion, such as anger, this expresses itself in our entire being--our glaring expression, raised voice, tensed body and so on. When our temper cools, the anger disappears. What has happened to it? We know anger still exists somewhere within us, but until something causes us to feel angry again, we can find no evidence of its existence. To all intents and purposes, it has ceased to exist. Memories are another example; we are unaware of their existence until they suddenly rise into our consciousness. The rest of the time, as with our anger, they are in a state of latency, or ku: they exist and yet they do not.
An understanding of ku, therefore, helps us to see that, despite how we may see them, things--people, situations, relationships, our own lives--are not fixed, but dynamic, constantly changing and evolving. They are filled with latent potential which can become manifest at any time. Even the most seemingly hopeless situation has within it astoundingly positive possibilities.
It is very natural for us to apply various types of definitions to people, situations and ourselves, in order to make sense of the world. Unless we are careful about the nature of our thoughts and opinions, however, we can easily become trapped in narrow and often negative views: "He's not a very nice person," "I'm no good at relationships," "There will never be peace in the Middle East." As soon as we make up our minds about something in this way, we impose a limitation on it, shutting out the possibilities of positive growth and development.
When we choose to view things in term of their infinite positive potential, however, our thoughts and actions become a constructive influence, helping create the conditions for that potential to become a reality.
Because of the intimate interconnectedness of all things, each of us, at each moment, has a profound impact on the shared reality of life. The way we see things has a definite, defining effect on reality. Realizing this enables us to act with the confidence that we can shape reality toward positive outcomes.
The most positive and constructive view is to believe in the unbounded positive potential inherent in all life. Buddhism terms this potential--the true nature of life--"Buddhahood," which Nichiren defined as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Nichiren encouraged his followers to chant this phrase with the firm conviction that by doing so they are tapping the latent potentiality of Buddhahood in themselves and in the situations they are part of.

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/emptiness.html

Discussion meetings

"SGI discussion meetings are held in all corners of the globe, usually on a monthly basis. The meetings are held in local neighborhoods, and give people the opportunity to develop the kind of relations that are increasingly rare in contemporary urban environments--where people may live for years as neighbors without developing any personal connection."
Dialogue, interaction and discussion have always been crucial to the process by which people come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of Buddhism.
Large gatherings may be an effective means of transmitting information; likewise, print and other media can provide important sources of information and inspiration. But they also hold the risk that they will become one-way avenues of communication. Within religious movements, in particular, even with the best of intentions one-way communication can establish a sense of hierarchy--between those who teach and those who learn. The result can be the disempowerment of believers, who become reliant on their leaders or teachers. If the true mission of religion is to enable people to enjoy the highest happiness, it is vital to make efforts to avoid such outcomes.
Small group discussions provide an opportunity for questioning, for voicing and responding to doubts. This is a shared process of learning that proceeds at the pace that is genuinely comfortable and effective for all the participants. From the perspective of Buddhist humanism, truth is not the exclusive possession of a select individual or group. Rather, truth is something to which all people have equal access. It is discovered through our committed engagement with our fellow human beings and is shared and transmitted through an expanding web of empathetic connection among people. Such interactions, on the basis of equality, are the crucible in which our humanity is forged.
Nichiren (1222-82), the Buddhist reformer whose teachings inspire the SGI's activities, valued this form of dialogue and study. From his writings, it is clear that his disciples gathered on a regular basis to study a wide range of Buddhist texts. Nichiren saw such discussion as crucial for the correct transmission of his own intent. He begins one letter written at a time of severe persecution with these words: "Those resolved to seek the way should gather and listen to the contents of this letter."
Small group discussion meetings have been the foundation of the Soka Gakkai since the 1930s. Founding president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi traveled widely throughout Japan to participate in such meetings, attending some 240 small group discussions during a two-year period near the end of his life, even as religious freedom was being suppressed by the militarist authorities of his day.
Today, SGI discussion meetings are held in all corners of the globe, usually on a monthly basis. The vast majority of these are held in the homes of members who make them available for this purpose. Participants are women and men, children from all walks of life, educational and economic backgrounds.
The meetings are held in local neighborhoods, and give people the opportunity to develop the kind of relations that are increasingly rare in contemporary urban environments--where people may live for years as neighbors without developing any personal connection. Discussion meetings are open to all and bring together people who might never otherwise encounter each other in societies divided along various seen and unseen lines. Everyone, including children or those for whom speaking in front of others does not come easily, is encouraged to speak, to offer their comments or reactions.
The sharing of faith experiences--the transformation in people's lives realized through Buddhist practice--is a central element of discussion meetings. There is perhaps nothing more heartening for people struggling with problems than the example of others who have successfully confronted and overcome their own challenges. The best discussion meetings are filled with a bright mood of mutual encouragement. Buddhist study is another important feature; an individual or group of individuals may prepare a presentation on a theme or concept, which then sets the stage for further discussion. Guests or others interested in learning more about Buddhism are encouraged to comment and question.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has described the significance of the modern-day discussion meeting in these terms: "The culture of the spirited, resilient common people is found in the exchange and interaction of voice with voice, the coming together of people in their raw humanity, the contact of one life with another. Contemporary society is a flood of soulless information. It is for just this reason that sharing of living language, the actual voices of people, can make a crucial contribution to the health of society."

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/discussion-meetings.html

Dialogue in Buddhism

"The practice of dialogue expresses a central tenet of Buddhism--faith in human beings, in their limitless dignity and potential as possessors and embodiments of universal truth. In the Buddhist tradition, dialogue--open and respect-based human interaction--has played a central part in the quest to discover and identify common or universal values that would allow human beings to live in the best, most humane and empowering ways."
We are clearly living in a period of profound historical transition. As many point out, more positive forms of human interaction and dialogue must be developed if we are to bring out the creative possibilities of this era. What can Buddhism contribute to building a new culture of dialogue?
The word dialogue comes from the Greek dia--through--logos, a word that includes the meanings of language, principle, rationality, law, etc. Dialogue in Buddhism is not merely a vehicle or means for communicating its message. Rather, the practice of dialogue expresses a central tenet of Buddhism--faith in human beings, in their limitless dignity and potential as possessors and embodiments of universal truth. In the Buddhist tradition, dialogue--open and respect-based human interaction--has played a central part in the quest to discover and identify common or universal values that would allow human beings to live in the best, most humane and empowering ways.
Today the idea of "universal values" is often viewed with suspicion, if not open hostility, as code and cover for one culture imposing itself on another. But a belief in the existence of common human values need not contradict belief in a particular cultural and religious perspective.
If we examine the lives of all of humanity's great religious and philosophical teachers, we find that they have all been masters of the art of dialogue. At the same time, they are without exception people of firm, seemingly unshakable faith. This suggests that strongly-held convictions are not necessarily an impediment to dialogue; rather, they may be the critical condition for its success.
The sutras, which record the teachings of the Buddha, reveal Shakyamuni as a teacher who spent his adult life traveling from one place to another, interacting with people, striving to offer the means of living with confidence and hope in the face of life's inevitable sufferings. The people he encountered were diverse in terms of their level of education, their social and economic backgrounds, and their capacity to grasp the full implications of his teachings. Thus, he engaged in a fluid and organically unfolding style of dialogue through which he sought to awaken people to the dharma--the enduring and universal truth within. And he sought to share with others his profound confidence in their ability to embody and act on that truth in order to realize lives of genuine happiness.
Nichiren, the 13th-century Japanese Buddhist reformer whose teachings inspire the SGI, was himself a master of dialogue. Many of his important works, including those in which he remonstrated with the government, are written in dialogue form. Perhaps his most important treatise, "On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land" (Rissho ankoku ron), unfolds as a dialogue between two individuals, the host and the guest, whose views are quite at odds, but who find a common ground in their shared concern for the plight of a society wracked by warfare and natural disaster. The host tells the guest, "I have been brooding alone upon this matter, indignant in my heart, but now that you have come, we can lament together. Let us discuss the question at length." The dialogue develops as the two exchange views on the causes and possible responses to the dire situation confronting society; it concludes with the two vowing to work together toward a common goal.
Dialogue has been central to the SGI since its inception. From the earliest years in the 1930s in Japan, small group discussions have been the key venue for study and practice. One-on-one dialogue and encouragement rooted in a sense of mutual respect and human equality have also played a central role.
As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has stated: "The conquest of our own prejudicial thinking, our own attachment to difference, is the guiding principle of open dialogue, the essential condition for the establishment of peace and universal respect for human rights."
Humanism is a key concept within the SGI, which often describes its philosophical basis as "Buddhist humanism." Dialogue is a process through which we uncover and reveal our human grandeur. Dialogue withers when our hearts are closed to the infinite possibilities of the other and we assume we already know all we need to know about them. Dialogue flourishes when it is conducted in an open-minded spirit of discovery based on compassion, on the desire to build on what we have in common and transform our differences into rich sources of value.

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/dialogue-in-buddhism.html

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Desires and enlightment

"The teachings of Nichiren stress the transformation, rather than the elimination, of desire. Desires and attachments are seen as fueling the quest for enlightenment. As he wrote: 'Now Nichiren and others who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo... burn the firewood of earthly desires and behold the fire of enlightened wisdom.'"
People encountering Nichiren Buddhism for the first time are often surprised by the stance taken toward desire which seems to contradict prevailing images of Buddhism. For many, Buddhism is associated with asceticism, and indeed there are many schools and traditions which stress the need to eliminate desire and sever all attachments.
Needless to say, a life controlled by desires is miserable. In Buddhist scriptures, such a way of life is symbolized by "hungry demons" with giant heads and huge mouths, but narrow, constricted throats that make real satisfaction unattainable. The deliberate horror of these images grew from Shakyamuni Buddha's sense of the need to shock people from their attachment to things--including our physical existence--that will eventually change and be lost to us. Real happiness does not lie here, he sought to tell them.
The deeply ingrained tendencies of attachments and desire (Jpn bonno) are often referred to by the English translation "earthly desires." However, since they also include hatred, arrogance, distrust and fear, the translation "deluded impulses" may in some cases be more appropriate.
But can such desires and attachments really be eliminated? Attachments are, after all, natural human feelings, and desires are a vital and necessary aspect of life. The desire, for example, to protect oneself and one's loved ones has been the inspiration for a wide range of advances--from the creation of supportive social groupings to the development of housing and heating. Likewise, the desire to understand humanity's place in the cosmos has driven the development of philosophy, literature and religious thought. Desires are integral to who we are and who we seek to become.
In this sense, the elimination of all desire is neither possible nor, in fact, desirable. Were we to completely rid ourselves of desire, we would end up undermining our individual and collective will to live.
The teachings of Nichiren thus stress the transformation, rather than the elimination, of desire. Desires and attachments are seen as fueling the quest for enlightenment. As he wrote: "Now Nichiren and others who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo...burn the firewood of earthly desires and behold the fire of enlightened wisdom..."
In the same vein, the Universal Worthy Sutra states: "Even without extinguishing their earthly desires or denying the five desires, they can purify all of their senses and eradicate all of their misdeeds."
Nichiren's approach has the effect of popularizing, humanizing and democratizing Buddhism. In other words, by making the aspirations, dreams and frustrations of daily life the "fuel" for the process of enlightenment, Nichiren opens the path of Buddhist practice to those who had traditionally been excluded by the demands of a meditative withdrawal from the world--those, for example, who wish to continue playing an active role in the world.
It is thus not a coincidence that this attitude toward desires should be central to the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, with its emphasis on the role of lay practitioners. For people living in the midst of ever-changing, stressful realities, those challenges are a far more effective spur to committed Buddhist practice than an abstract goal of "enlightenment" through severing of all desires and attachments.
Overcoming problems, realizing long-cherished goals and dreams--this is the stuff of daily life from which we derive our sense of accomplishment and happiness. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has emphasized the importance not of severing our attachments, but of understanding and, ultimately, using them.
Often the faith experiences of SGI members describe events and changes that seem at first glance to be focused on the external, material side of life. But such "benefits" are only part of the story. Buddhism divides the benefits of practice into the "conspicuous" and the "inconspicuous." The new job, the conquest of illness, the successful marriage and so on are not separate from a deep, often painstaking process of self-reflection and inner-driven transformation. And the degree of motivation generated by desires can lend an intensity to our practice which ultimately reaps spiritual rewards. Bonno soku bodai--literally, "Earthly desires are enlightenment"--is a key tenet of Nichiren Buddhism.
Through our Buddhist practice, even the most mundane, deluded impulse can be transformed into something broader and more noble, and our desires quite naturally develop from self-focused ones to broader ones concerning our families, friends, communities and, ultimately, the whole world.
In this way, the nature of desire is steadily transformed--from material and physical desires to the more spiritually oriented desire to live the most fulfilling kind of life.
As President Ikeda says: "I believe in the existence of another kind of human desire: I call it the basic desire, and I believe that it is the force that actively propels all other human desires in the direction of creativity. It is the source of all impelling energy inherent in life; it is also the longing to unite one's life with the life of the universe and to draw vital energy from the universe."

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/desires.html

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Courage

"What may to one person seem a simple problem may be experienced by another as overwhelming and insurmountable. But the process of summoning up the courage required to take action is always the same regardless of how seemingly big or small the challenge."
Developing the quality of courage is essential to achieving anything in our lives. Courage is required before we can take action in any endeavor, and it is courageous people in every field who tend to achieve their goals and realize their dreams.
Courage, however, is not always heroic action in a time of danger--it can consist of the persistent, unglamorous effort to do what we feel is right.
In Buddhism, courage, or fearlessness, is highly valued. In one of his letters, Nichiren, the 13th-century founder of the Buddhism practiced by members of the SGI, urged his followers: "You should not have the slightest fear in your heart. It is lack of courage that prevents one from attaining Buddhahood. . ."
Buddhism originated in the teachings of Shakyamuni some 2,500 years ago, and it is the principles of the Lotus Sutra specifically that underlie the teachings of Nichiren. The Lotus Sutra teaches that every single person has infinite potential, and that, through sincere practice, each person can bring forth that potential, allowing their abundant creativity to blossom and enabling them to contribute to the enrichment of society.
Although we may know intellectually that we have great potential, unless we muster the courage to act on that knowledge, the potential will remain unfulfilled. Buddhism also teaches that our efforts to expand and develop our lives will inevitably be met by resistance, often severe, from both within and without. It is by persevering in the face of these obstacles and triumphing over them that we are able to unlock the rich possibilities of our lives and manifest our inherent enlightenment.
This process naturally requires courage, but it also requires faith. Buddhist practice is the ongoing exercise of faith--faith, ultimately, in ourselves--in the midst of the often harsh realities of life. Moreover, it is rooted in an understanding that the positive transformation of our own lives will bring about a corresponding transformation in the greater web of life in which we exist.
Buddhist teachings place great emphasis on wisdom, and it is easy to see how a simple lack of wisdom is the cause of many of the problems that beset human society, globally as well as locally. Often, though, it is a more fundamental lack of courage that prevents people, notably leaders, from acting on what they know to be right; thus it is a lack of courage that is at the root of much of the suffering that confronts us individually and as societies.
Closely linked to the exercise of courage is conviction--conviction in the right and possibility of oneself and others to be happy, free and fulfilled. Such conviction is the basis of social justice and is the core vision on which Buddhism is founded. It is a fierce, unyielding commitment to such a vision that endows the Buddha with the quality of fearlessness.
Buddhism thus views courage as a vital element of compassionate action to help others--as well as key to our ability to change our own lives.
Many people live their lives locked in a paralysis of fear, seemingly unable to take a step forward to resolve a deadlock or reveal their true potential. These challenges differ for every individual, both in their nature and their scale. What may to one person seem a simple problem may be experienced by another as overwhelming and insurmountable. But the process of summoning up the courage required to take action is always the same regardless of how seemingly big or small the challenge.
Further, to the extent that we draw on this resource of courage in our daily lives, fearlessly rising to the challenges that face us in the immediate here and now, we are positively transforming not only our own lives but also the world around us.
The transformative possibilities of courage exist around and within us at every moment. As SGI President Ikeda has said, "Small things matter. What may look like a small act of courage is courage nevertheless. The important thing is to be willing to take a step forward."

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/courage.html

Changing poison into medicine

"The process of changing poison into medicine begins when we approach difficult experiences as an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and to strengthen and develop our courage and compassion. Suffering can thus serve as a springboard for a deeper experience of happiness. From the perspective of Buddhism, inherent in all negative experiences is this profound positive potential."
SGI members often speak of "turning poison into medicine" when they describe how their Buddhist practice has enabled them to transform a difficult, negative or painful situation into something positive.
In its most fundamental sense, "changing poison into medicine" refers to the transformation of deluded impulses into enlightenment. The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, attributed to the third-century Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, compares the Lotus Sutra to "a great physician who changes poison into medicine." This is because the Lotus Sutra opens the possibility of enlightenment to people whose arrogance and complacency had caused them to "scorch the seeds of Buddhahood." In earlier sutras such people had been condemned as being incapable of becoming Buddhas. An important implication of this principle, thus, is that there is no one who is beyond redemption.
In his writing, "On First Hearing the Teaching of the Supreme Vehicle," Nichiren develops this idea, stating that by using the power of the Mystic Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, one can transform the three paths of deluded impulses, karma and suffering into the three virtues of the Buddha, i.e., the Dharma body, wisdom and emancipation.
This can be understood to mean that any unfavorable situation can be changed into a source of value. More fundamentally, it is by challenging and overcoming painful circumstances that we grow as human beings.
How we respond to life's inevitable sufferings is the key. Negative, painful experiences are often necessary to motivate us. One Buddhist scripture describes illness as awakening the desire to seek the truth. Likewise, people have been inspired to a lifetime commitment to peace and justice by their experience of war and injustice.
The process of changing poison into medicine begins when we approach difficult experiences as an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and to strengthen and develop our courage and compassion. The more we are able to do this, the more we are able to grow in vitality and wisdom and realize a truly expansive state of life.
Suffering can thus serve as a springboard for a deeper experience of happiness. From the perspective of Buddhism, inherent in all negative experiences is this profound positive potential. However, if we are defeated by suffering or respond to challenging circumstances in negative and destructive ways, the original "poison" is not transformed but remains poison.
Buddhism teaches that suffering derives from karma, the causes that we ourselves have created. The Buddhist teaching of karma is one of personal responsibility. It is therefore our responsibility to transform sufferings into value-creating experiences. The Buddhist view of karma is not fixed or fatalistic--even the most deeply entrenched karmic patterns can be transformed.
By taking a difficult situation--illness, unemployment, bereavement, betrayal--and using it as an opportunity to deepen our sense of personal responsibility, we can gain and develop the kind of self-knowledge from which benefit flows. Buddhism teaches that self-knowledge ultimately is awareness of our own infinite potential, our capacity for inner strength, wisdom and compassion. This infinite potential is referred to as our "Buddha nature."
The original meaning of the phrase "to turn poison into medicine" relates to this level of self-knowledge.
In the "Belief and Understanding" chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Subhuti and others of the Buddha's long-time disciples respond to the prophecy that another disciple, Shariputra, will attain the ultimate enlightenment. The disciples admit that they had long ago given up on becoming Buddhas themselves, but that on hearing the teaching of the Lotus Sutra they renounced their earlier stance of resignation and spiritual laziness: "[T]heir minds were moved as seldom before and danced for joy." Nagarjuna and T'ien-t'ai (538--597) therefore compare the Buddha to a good doctor capable of turning poison (the laziness and resignation of the aged disciples) into medicine (a sincere aspiration for the ultimate enlightenment of Buddhahood).
This teaching of the possibility of profound transformation makes Buddhism a deeply optimistic philosophy. This optimism propels Buddhists as they seek to transform the negative and destructive tendencies within their lives as well as those in society and the world at large.

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/changing-poison-into-medicine.html

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Buddhism unity (Itai Doshin)

"The type of unity aspired to is not a mechanical uniformity, imposed or coerced from without. Rather, it is unity that has at its heart respect for the diverse and unique qualities of each individual. Such unity arises, to quote SGI President Ikeda, when people 'treasure each other as unique and irreplaceable individuals, and try to bring out the best in each other.'"
Buddhism places great stress on the human bonds that form the context in which the teachings (the Law or dharma) are practiced and transmitted. This web of connection can be compared to the threads of a woven fabric, with the vertical warp corresponding to the bonds between mentor and disciple, and the horizontal woof to the mutually supportive relations among believers.
While the teachings themselves are accorded highest value and Nichiren himself often reminded his followers to "rely on the Law and not the person," his writings are also filled with references to the importance of developing and maintaining harmonious unity. As he wrote in one letter, "All disciples and lay supporters of Nichiren should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the spirit of many in body but one in mind, transcending all differences among themselves to become as inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim." This letter was written at a time when the small community of Nichiren Buddhists was facing severe persecution from the feudal authorities. Nichiren encouraged them not to give up hope despite being few in number, writing, "If the spirit of many in body but one in mind prevails among the people they will achieve all their goals, whereas if one in body but different in mind, they can achieve nothing remarkable."
The expression Nichiren uses, "many in body but one in mind," consists of four Chinese characters that could also be rendered, "different in body, same in spirit." What is crucial here is that the type of unity aspired to is not a mechanical uniformity, imposed or coerced from without. Rather, it is unity that has at its heart respect for the diverse and unique qualities of each individual ("many in body"). Such unity arises, to quote SGI President Ikeda, when people "treasure each other as unique and irreplaceable individuals, and try to bring out the best in each other."
In contrast, he adds, " 'many in body and many in mind' is a situation of utter disunity, while 'one in body and one in mind' is one controlled by group thinking in which individuality is ignored and totalitarianism ultimately results. Neither situation allows people to manifest their unique abilities."
The phrase "one in mind" does not mean to adopt a standardized, uniform set of values or way of thinking. Rather, it points to a shared, yet deeply personal, commitment to an overarching goal or ideal. It offers a model for solidarity among people working for positive change in the world. Each person has a unique mission that only they can fulfill, their own special contribution to make. A spirit of respectful and spontaneous collaboration toward a common ideal creates the environment in which each person's unique qualities and talents can be fully realized.
In the early 1940s, when Japan was in the sway of totalitarian fascism, the founding president of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, criticized the prevailing official dogma of "self-abnegation for the public good" which was used to justify unquestioning sacrifice in support of the war effort. "Self-denial," he wrote, "is a lie. The true way is to seek happiness for both oneself and for all others." He declared that the organization would be dedicated to enabling individuals to develop their unique capacities as they contribute to the flourishing of human society.
Makiguchi also noted the irony that evil-minded people actually find it relatively easy to develop solidarity--united by a shared interest in material or political gain. People of goodwill, being more spiritually self-sufficient, he wrote, tend to overlook the importance of unity. History is filled with tragic examples in which the failure of people of goodwill to work together has effectively ceded the field to the forces of hatred and destruction. It is also clear that only a broad-based coming together of people committed to a more humane future will enable us to meet the challenges of the new century. The Buddhist ideal of "many in body, one in mind" offers a vision of the unity of diversity. It is the unity of autonomous individuals committed to the work of self-reformation, concern for others and faith in the possibilities of a better future.

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/buddhist-unity-itai-doshin.html

Buddhism and human dignity

"From the Buddhist perspective, given the mind-boggling number of life-forms that fill the universe, human life is a rare privilege with special responsibilities. Ultimately, the Buddhist understanding of human dignity is rooted in the idea that we are able to choose the path of self-perfection."
The global debate about human rights--taking place in venues from the halls of the United Nations to the street corners of impoverished communities--has brought to the fore many conflicting value systems and worldviews. Individualism vs. communalism. Modernity vs. tradition. East vs. West. North vs. South. Economic and social rights such as the right to employment and decent housing vs. the civil and political rights to free speech and expression.
In the end, however, all concepts of human rights--including those that do not necessarily use the language of "human rights"--have their basis in some understanding of human dignity. In other words, people merit decent treatment because they possess human dignity, some kind of inherent worth that is theirs by the simple fact of being human.
In some traditions, this dignity derives from God, in whose image humanity was created. In other traditions, the unique capacity to think and reason is said to be the source of human dignity. More and more, however, the idea of human dignity as the basis for rights and prerogatives over nonhuman nature is being supplanted by the idea of special human responsibilities--to exercise responsible stewardship in nature and to treat all life with respect.
How does Buddhism understand human dignity? From where does it spring? What supports and sustains it?
The starting point for Buddhism is the value and sanctity of life. For example, in one letter to a follower, Nichiren states that the value of a single day of life exceeds all other treasures. Buddhism further views each individual life as a manifestation of a universal life force.
As the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore put it, "The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers."
From the Buddhist perspective, given the mind-boggling number of life-forms that fill the universe, human life is a rare privilege with special responsibilities. As Nichiren, referring to a passage from the Nirvana Sutra, states: "It is rare to be born a human being. The number of those endowed with human life is as small as the amount of earth one can place on a fingernail."
What makes human life unique is the scale of our choice, the degree to which we are free to choose to act for good or evil, to help or to harm.
A recent book on the challenges of aging introduces the story of a young woman, married and with young children, who found herself suddenly in the position of having to care for her mother-in-law, bedridden following a stroke. At first the young woman could not understand why this had happened to her, why her already demanding life should be further burdened in this way. Through her Buddhist practice she was able to realize that she could, depending on how she chose to approach this situation, make of it an opportunity to create value. She was able to transform her initial feelings of resentment toward the older woman into a sense of appreciation.
Ultimately, the Buddhist understanding of human dignity is rooted in the idea that we are able to choose the path of self-perfection. We can, in other words, consistently make those difficult choices for creativity, growth and development. This state of self-perfection--a condition of fully developed courage, wisdom and compassion--is described as Buddhahood or enlightenment. The idea that all people--all life, in fact--have this potential is expressed by the concept, stressed particularly in the Mahayana tradition, that all living beings possess Buddha nature.
In concrete, practical terms, this comes down to the idea that everyone has a mission--a unique role that only she or he can play, a unique perspective to offer, a unique contribution to make. As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda recently wrote in a book for high school students, "Everyone has a mission. The universe does nothing without purpose. The fact that we exist means that we have purpose."
The older woman in the story likewise sought to find a way to use her severely limited capacities to contribute to the well-being of the household. Since she still had use of her hands, she took up knitting--partly as a form of therapy, partly to make useful things for the family. She also enjoyed keeping watch over the home when the others were away.
From the Buddhist perspective, we always have the option of choosing to create value from even the most difficult situation. Through such choices we can fulfill our unique purpose and mission in life, and in this way give fullest expression to the inherent treasure of our human dignity. There is perhaps no more solid foundation for human rights than a widespread awakening to the human dignity that resides in every one of us.

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/buddhism-and-human-dignity.html

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Bodhisattva never disparaging

"Nichiren clarifies that respecting others, as exemplified by the actions of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, constitutes the essence of Buddhist practice and the correct way for human beings to behave. Such respect is not limited to a passive regard for others; it is a bold engagement of our humanity."
The human heart is capable of both great nobility and violent brutality. The ability to direct the orientation of our heart is one of the characteristics that distinguish us from other animals.
One sees examples of the noble possibilities of the human spirit in such everyday instances as the willingness of a parent to sacrifice personal comfort for the sake of a child, or in a sudden act of kindness between strangers: an unselfish impulse and effort for the happiness of others. Yet the same heart can seethe with the dark currents of rage, bigotry, resentment and self-deprecation. To understand the horrific extent of these impulses within us, one has only to examine the experiences of ordinary people caught up in the all-too-pervasive hell of war.
It is the simple orientation of our hearts that ultimately determines whether we create societies characterized by joy and dignity or crippled by conflict, fear and despair.
Buddhism analyzes the dual potentialities of life in the following way: it teaches that all people without exception possess an enlightened Buddha nature that gives rise to limitless positive potential and which can bring wonder to our experience of living. An equally fundamental reality in the life of each person, however, is delusion or ignorance, which gives rise to evil. It is delusion, in fact, that makes it difficult for people to acknowledge their own capacity for either profound virtue or evil.
How do we direct life toward its positive, value-creating potentials? This is a question that should be at the core of religion and ethics.
The Lotus Sutra, which Nichiren Buddhism regards as the teaching that encapsulates the essence of the Buddha's enlightenment, offers an apparently simple response. This is conveyed in the story of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging.
Never Disparaging (Jpn. Fukyo) is described as having lived in the remote past. It was his practice to bow in reverence to everyone he met and praise that person's inherent Buddha nature. This, however, only provoked violence and abuse in return. Never Disparaging's assertions no doubt challenged people's deeply held negative assumptions about the nature of life. Their reactions, however, never managed to upset his convictions. He would simply retreat to a safe distance and repeat his obeisance, honoring the potential for good within his persecutors. Over time, as a result of these actions, Never Disparaging's humanity comes to shine to the extent that those who had despised him are moved to become his disciples and thus enter the path of attaining Buddhahood themselves.
The sutra describes how, after relating this story, Shakyamuni Buddha reveals that Never Disparaging was he himself in a previous existence. There is a clear implication that his past-life behavior as Never Disparaging is the original cause for Shakyamuni's enlightenment.
Nichiren writes, "The heart of the Buddha's lifetime of teachings is the Lotus Sutra, and the heart of the practice of the Lotus Sutra is found in the 'Never Disparaging' chapter. What does Bodhisattva Never Disparaging's profound respect for people signify? The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being."
While Buddhism is often regarded as a very abstract philosophy, in practice, it is far from abstract. The Buddha nature is not described in theoretical terms but in the behavior of this humble bodhisattva. A Buddha is not an extraordinary being but a person who is deeply conscious of the positive potential within him-or herself and within all others, and who strives to help others bring forth this potential.
Nichiren clarifies that respecting others, as exemplified by the actions of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, constitutes the essence of Buddhist practice and the correct way for human beings to behave. Such respect is not limited to a passive regard for others; it is a bold engagement of our humanity.
While simple in its formulation, in practice such an attitude represents the most challenging path. The effort required, however, is precisely that fundamental energy that can bring about the positive transformation of society. As SGI President Ikeda writes, "The key to the flowering of humanity of which Buddhism speaks is steadfast belief in people's goodness and dedication to cultivating this goodness in oneself and others."

Source:  http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/bodhisattva-never-disparaging.html

Monday, 13 October 2014

Bodhisattva

"Buddhism asserts that the path of the bodhisattva is not an otherworldly undertaking for people with unique gifts of compassion or wisdom. Rather, the life-condition of bodhisattva is inherent in the lives of ordinary men and women, and the purpose of Buddhist practice is to strengthen that state until compassion becomes the basis of all our actions."
A bodhisattva is literally a living being (sattva) who aspires to enlightenment (bodhi) and carries out altruistic practices. The bodhisattva ideal is central to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition as the individual who seeks enlightenment both for him- or herself and for others. Compassion, an empathetic sharing of the sufferings of others, is the bodhisattva's greatest characteristic. It is shown in the following incident from the Vimalakirti Sutra which concerns a prominent lay follower of the Buddha who had fallen ill. When questioned about his illness, Vimalakirti replied, "Because the beings are ill, the bodhisattva is ill. The sickness of the bodhisattva arises from his great compassion."
It is held that the bodhisattva makes four vows expressing a determination to work for the happiness of others: "However innumerable sentient beings are, I vow to save them; however inexhaustible the passions are, I vow to master them; however limitless the teachings are, I vow to study them; however infinite the Buddha-truth is, I vow to attain it."
The vows, each of which commits the bodhisattva to the open-ended pursuit of a continually receding goal, may seem daunting. Buddhism asserts, however, that the path of the bodhisattva is not an otherworldly undertaking for people with unique gifts of compassion or wisdom. Rather, the life-condition of bodhisattva is inherent in the lives of ordinary men and women, and the purpose of Buddhist practice is to strengthen that state until compassion becomes the basis of all our actions.
In addition to compassion, the vows reflect the bodhisattva's commitment to self-mastery, to study and learning, to the attainment of wisdom. None of these, however, is pursued in a vacuum, merely to improve or adorn the self; at the base of all these efforts is always the determination to remove the sufferings of others, and to replace them with joy.
For the followers of Nichiren Buddhism, bodhisattva practice is subsumed in the twin, mutually reinforcing aspects of "practice for oneself and others." The core of practicing for oneself is the recitation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo (the "daimoku" of the Lotus Sutra) along with key passages from the sutra. The purpose of this practice is to revolutionize one's inner life, to develop the qualities of the Buddha: courage, wisdom, compassion and abundant vitality or life-force.
While many people may at first be inspired to practice Buddhism by the desire for personal happiness, to overcome illness or some other seemingly insurmountable challenge, as their life-state expands, they naturally develop a deeper concern for the happiness of others. Perceiving the interconnectedness of all beings, they take compassionate action, including sharing with others the insights of Buddhism, so they may also tap into the same rich inner resources that lie within their lives.
Bodhisattvas are thus naturally engaged in society, actively struggling both to change themselves and make the world a better, more humane place for all people. This explains why members of the SGI strive to be valuable participants in society, and to contribute as much as possible to their family, workplace and community.

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/bodhisattva.html

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Attachments and liberation

"It is impossible to live in the world without attachments, or indeed to eradicate them. Our affections for others, the desire to succeed in our endeavors, our interests and passions, our love of life itself--all of these are attachments and potential sources of disappointment or suffering, but they are the substance of our humanity and the elements of engaged and fulfilled lives."
Buddhism is a teaching of liberation, aimed at freeing people from the inevitable sufferings of life. To this end, early Buddhist teachings focused on the impermanence of all things. The Buddha realized that nothing in this world stays the same; everything is in a constant state of change. Pleasurable conditions, favorable circumstances, our relationships with those we hold dear, our health and well-being--any sense of comfort and security we derive from these things is continually threatened by life's flux and uncertainty, and ultimately by death, the most profound change of all.
The Buddha saw that people's ignorance of the nature of change was the cause of suffering. We desire to hold on to what we value, and we suffer when life's inevitable process of change separates us from those things. Liberation from suffering comes, he taught, when we are able to sever our attachments to the transient things of this world.
Buddhist practice, in this perspective, is oriented away from the world: life is suffering, the world is a place of uncertainty; liberation lies in freeing oneself from attachment to worldly things and concerns, attaining a transcendent enlightenment.
The Lotus Sutra, upon which Nichiren Buddhism is based, is revolutionary in that it reverses this orientation, overturning the basic premises of the Buddha's earlier teachings and focusing people's attention instead on the infinite possibilities of life and the joy of living in the world.
Where other teachings had regarded enlightenment, or the final liberation of Buddhahood, as a goal to be attained at some future point in time, in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra each person is inherently and originally a Buddha. Through Buddhist practice we develop our enlightened qualities and exercise them in the world here and now for the sake of others and for the purpose of positively transforming society. The true nature of our lives at this moment is one of expansive freedom and possibility.
This dramatic reorientation effected by the Lotus Sutra is distilled in the key and seemingly paradoxical concepts of Nichiren Buddhism that "earthly desires are enlightenment" and "the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana." The image of the pure lotus flower blossoming in the muddy swamp is a metaphor that encapsulates this perspective--freedom, liberation, enlightenment are forged and expressed in the very midst of the murky swamp of life with its problems, pains and contradictions.
It is impossible to live in the world without attachments, or indeed to eradicate them. Our affections for others, the desire to succeed in our endeavors, our interests and passions, our love of life itself--all of these are attachments and potential sources of disappointment or suffering, but they are the substance of our humanity and the elements of engaged and fulfilled lives.
The challenge is not to rid oneself of attachments but, in the words of Nichiren, to become enlightened concerning them. The teachings of Nichiren thus stress the transformation, rather than the elimination, of desire. Desires and attachments fuel the quest for enlightenment. As he wrote: "Now Nichiren and others who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo . . . burn the firewood of earthly desires and behold the fire of enlightened wisdom..."
In their proper perspective--when we can see them clearly and master them rather than being mastered by them--desires and attachments enable us to lead interesting and significant lives. As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says, "Our Buddhist practice enables us to discern their true nature and utilize them as the driving force to become happy."
It is our small ego, our "lesser self," that makes us slaves to our desires and causes us to suffer. Buddhist practice enables us to break out of the shell of our lesser self and awaken to the "greater self" of our inherent Buddha nature.
This expanded sense of self is based on a clear awareness of the interconnected fabric of life which we are part of and which sustains us. When awakened to the reality of our relatedness to all life, we can overcome the fear of change and experience the deeper continuities beyond and beneath the ceaseless flow of change.
The basic character of our greater self is compassion. Ultimate freedom is experienced when we develop the ability to channel the full energy of our attachments into compassionate concern and action on behalf of others.

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/attachments-and-liberation.html 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

How to Chant | Resource Center | Soka Gakkai International (SGI)

How to Chant | Resource Center | Soka Gakkai International (SGI)

Practise: an introduction

People beginning to practice Nichiren Buddhism generally start by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo (also known as "daimoku") for a few minutes, morning and evening if possible.

Buddhism is practical, and beginners are often encouraged to try chanting for a certain period of time, to get a feel for the practice and see what changes they notice, such as increased hope or energy, or improved relations with others. It is helpful to have support from a friend, or a local SGI group, in order to find answers to questions that arise.
How long to chant for is a matter of personal choice. When people first start to practice often they begin by chanting for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. The most important thing is to try to make this a regular part of one's daily routine, if possible, morning and evening. Continuing is a constant challenge but one that reaps positive rewards. Often when facing obstacles, people will chant in a fully focused way in order to see themselves and their situation clearly.
Chanting has been likened to charging a battery, so the more highly charged it is, the more energy one has to expend. It is important to remember however that chanting is not magic. It fills us with hope, strength and energy so that we can take the right action to resolve our problems. It is natural to chant for people we know who are suffering from illness or other problems in life.

Study and SGI meetings
Daily study is also vital to getting the most out of one's Buddhist practice. The study material available on this website provides a good beginning. People starting to practice are encouraged to join local SGI meetings in order to ask questions and receive support and encouragement from others who have more experience of applying Buddhism to the challenges of daily life.
The SGI Directory provides lists of national level websites from which local contacts can be established, as well as a list of SGI centers around the world which can be visited.

SGI President Daisaku Ikeda on chanting daimoku
"Being human, it's quite natural for our minds to wander, for all sorts of thoughts and memories to surface. [. . .] There is no set form or pattern for how we should pray. Buddhism emphasizes being natural. Therefore, simply chant earnestly without pretense or artifice, just as you are. In time, as your faith develops, you'll naturally find it easier to focus your mind when you chant.
"It's natural for prayers to center on your own desires and dreams. [. . .] By chanting very naturally, without affectation or reservation, for what you seek most of all, you'll gradually come to develop a higher and more expansive life-condition. Of course, it's perfectly fine as well to chant with the resolve to become a bigger-hearted person or for the welfare of your friends and for kosen-rufu-the happiness and flourishing of all humankind."

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/practice-an-introduction.html

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Brief history of SGI

History of Buddhism
Buddhism originates from the message of Shakyamuni, also known as Gautama or Siddhartha, who lived in the Indian subcontinent around 2,500 years ago. Born as a prince, Shakyamuni left his life of luxury on a spiritual quest to understand the four sufferings of life: birth, sickness, aging and death. Eventually he awoke to the true nature of life and became known as the Buddha or "awakened one."
His teachings were later compiled into sutras, and numerous schools of Buddhism sprang up as the teachings spread from India after his death. The Buddhist tradition embraced by SGI members is based on Mahayana Buddhism, the tradition which spread northwards through China and Korea to Japan.
Nichiren, a 13th-century Japanese priest, researched all available Buddhist texts and asserted that the Lotus Sutra encapsulates the heart of Buddhist teachings. This sutra reveals that a universal principle known as the "Buddha nature" is inherent in all life. Nichiren established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to bring forth this potential, which enables each individual to overcome life's inevitable challenges and develop a life of wisdom, courage and compassion.

Soka Gakkai International
The Soka Gakkai (literally, "Society for the Creation of Value") was founded in 1930 by educator and author Tsunesaburo Makiguchi as a group of reformist educators. Makiguchi drew inspiration from Nichiren Buddhism to develop the organization into a broader-based movement focused on the propagation of Buddhism as a means to enable people to tap their inner potential and ultimately reform Japanese society. Facing oppression from the Japanese militarist government, Makiguchi and his closest follower Josei Toda were arrested and imprisoned in 1943 as "thought criminals"; Makiguchi died in prison in 1944.
After his release, Toda promoted an active, socially engaged form of Buddhism as a means of self-empowerment--a way to overcome obstacles in life and tap inner hope, confidence, courage and wisdom. He used the term "Human Revolution" to express the central idea of Nichiren Buddhism, that all people are capable of attaining enlightenment in this lifetime.
Toda was succeeded as president in 1960 by Daisaku Ikeda, who further developed the Soka Gakkai as a movement of empowered, socially engaged Buddhists. Soka Gakkai International (SGI) was founded on January 26, 1975, as a worldwide network of Buddhists dedicated to a common vision of a better world through the empowerment of the individual and the promotion of peace, culture and education. Under Ikeda's leadership, the SGI has developed into one of the largest Buddhist movements in the world, fostering and promoting grassroots activities in areas such as nuclear abolition, human rights and education for sustainable living. It currently consists of 90 independent affiliated SGI organizations and has 12 million members in 192 countries and territories worldwide.

Source http://www.sgi.org/resource-center/introductory-materials/brief-history-of-sgi.html


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

How to Chant

Treasuring diversity

"'The Buddha's teaching begins with the recognition of human diversity. The humanism of the Lotus Sutra comes down to the tenet of treasuring the individual.' In Nichiren Buddhism, enlightenment is not a matter of changing ourselves into something which we are not. Rather, it is a matter of bringing forth those positive qualities we already possess."
The question of how we are to live in a diverse world has perhaps never been more pressing than now. If humanity is to survive, it is imperative that we find a way to accommodate worldviews and value systems different from our own. The alternatives of either isolated withdrawal into our separate spheres or a uniform set of values imposed by economic and technological forces can hardly be termed viable. Increased contact and interaction among the world's diverse cultural traditions seems inevitable.
How can we learn not to be threatened by difference? How can we learn to communicate successfully with those whose vision and understanding of the world differ from ours? Diversity can either spark conflict and violence or mutual creativity and progress. How can we assure that the latter is the case?
In this connection Daisaku Ikeda has written, "The Buddha's teaching begins with the recognition of human diversity.... The humanism of the Lotus Sutra comes down to the tenet of treasuring the individual."
According to Buddhism, each individual is a unique manifestation of the ultimate truth. Because each of us manifests this truth in the form of our particular, individual character, each of us is a precious and indeed indispensable aspect of the living cosmos.
In his writings, Nichiren uses the metaphor of different flowering trees--cherry, plum, etc.--to express this principle. Each blossoms in its unique way, with its own special character. Together, they create a brilliant seasonal portrait of vitality and beauty. Nichiren describes this as each "manifesting its true nature" (Jpn jitai kensho).
In Nichiren Buddhism, enlightenment is not a matter of changing ourselves into something which we are not. Rather, it is a matter of bringing forth those positive qualities we already possess. More precisely, it is developing the wisdom and vitality to ensure that the unique characteristics that form our personality serve to create value (happiness) for ourselves and for others. The quality of impatience, for example, can either be a source of irritation and friction or a driving force for prompt and effective action.
The key here is the belief that each person is a unique manifestation of a universal life force. As such, each person is seen to possess infinite possibility and inherent, inviolable dignity and worth. Yet, compared with the supreme, universal treasure of life we all share, distinctions of gender, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, etc., are of only limited significance. As this understanding takes root, we can learn to overcome excessive attachment to differences and related feelings of aversion or fear.
Just as each individual has a unique character, a unique experience of life, each culture can be understood as a manifestation of cosmic creativity and wisdom. In the same way that Buddhism rejects any hierarchical ranking of individual humans, it adopts an attitude of fundamental respect toward all cultures and traditions.
The principle of adapting the precepts to the locality (Jpn zuiho bini) reflects this. The practitioners of Buddhism are encouraged to take a flexible, open approach to the cultural context in which they find themselves. Thus, as they uphold the Buddhist principles of respecting the inherent dignity and sanctity of human life, they follow local customs and practices except when they are directly contrary to those core principles.
Accordingly, SGI organizations worldwide work to develop the kinds of activities that will be most appropriate to their cultural setting and will make the most lasting contribution to their respective societies.
The original purpose of Buddhism is to awaken people to the infinite value of their own lives and, by extension, the lives of others. Ultimately, our ability to respond creatively to diversity hinges on our ability to develop a palpable sense of the preciousness of life itself, and of each individual expression of life.

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/treasuring-diversity.html

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Nichiren and the Great Mongol Invasion, 1958

Wisdom

"When wisdom is functioning in our life, it has the effect of enabling us to overcome the ingrained perspectives of our habitual thinking and arrive at a fresh and holistic view of a given situation. We are able to make a broad assessment of the facts, perceive the essence of an issue and steer a sure course toward happiness. Wisdom dispels our delusions of separateness and awakens in us a sense of empathetic equality with all living things."
A Buddha is characterized as a person of profound wisdom. The idea of wisdom is core to Buddhism. But wisdom can be a vague and elusive concept, hard to define and harder to find. How does one become wise? Is wisdom something that we can actively develop, or must we merely wait to grow wiser as we grow older? Perhaps it is because wisdom is such an indistinct concept that it has lost value as a relevant ideal in modern society, which has instead come to place great store in information and the attainment of knowledge.
Josei Toda, second president of the Soka Gakkai, characterized the confusion between knowledge and wisdom as one of the major failings of modern society.
His critique is starkly demonstrated in the astonishing progress of technology in the last century. While scientific and technological development has shown only a mixed record of alleviating human suffering, it has triumphed remarkably in its ability and efficiency in unleashing death and destruction.
Toda likened the relationship between knowledge and wisdom to that between a pump and water. A pump that does not bring forth water (knowledge without wisdom) is of little use.
This is not to deny the importance of knowledge. But knowledge can be utilized to generate both extreme destructiveness and profound good.
Wisdom is that which directs knowledge toward good--toward the creation of value.
Buddhist teachings, such as the concept of the five kinds of wisdom, describe and analyze in detail the dynamics of wisdom and how it manifests at different levels of our consciousness.
When wisdom is functioning in our life, it has the effect of enabling us to overcome the ingrained perspectives of our habitual thinking and arrive at a fresh and holistic view of a given situation. We are able to make a broad assessment of the facts, perceive the essence of an issue and steer a sure course toward happiness.
Buddhism also likens wisdom to a clear mirror that perfectly reflects reality as it is. What is reflected in this mirror of wisdom is the interrelatedness and interdependence of our life with all other life. This wisdom dispels our delusions of separateness and awakens in us a sense of empathetic equality with all living things.
The term "Buddha" describes a person who freely manifests this inherent wisdom. And what causes this wisdom to well forth in our lives is compassion.
Buddhism sees the universe, and life itself, as an embodiment of compassion--the interweaving of the "threads" of interdependent phenomena, giving rise to and nurturing life in all its wonderful and varied manifestations.
It teaches that the purpose of human life is to be an active participant in the compassionate workings of the universe, enriching and enhancing life's creative dynamism.
Therefore, it is when we act with compassion that our life is brought into accord with the universal life force and we manifest our inherent wisdom. The action of encouraging and sharing hope with others awakens us to a larger, freer identity beyond the narrow confines of our ego. Wisdom and compassion are thus inseparable.
Central to Buddhist practice is self-mastery, the effort to "become the master of one's mind." This idea implies that the more profoundly we strive to develop an altruistic spirit, the more the wisdom of the Buddha is aroused within us and the more powerfully we can, in turn, direct all things--our knowledge, our talents and the unique particularities of our character--to the end of creating happiness for ourselves and others.
Speaking at Tribhuvan University in Nepal in 1995, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda commented, "To be master of one's mind means to cultivate the wisdom that resides in the inner recesses of our lives, and which wells forth in inexhaustible profusion only when we are moved by a compassionate determination to serve humankind, to serve people."
If human history is to change and be redirected from division and conflict toward peace and an underlying ethic of respect for the sanctity of all life, it is human beings themselves who must change. The Buddhist understanding of compassionate wisdom can serve as a powerful basis for such a transformation.

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/wisdom.html

Interconnectedness


"When we realize the extent of the myriad interconnections which link us to all other life, we realize that our existence only becomes meaningful through interaction with, and in relation to, others."
Buddhism teaches that all life is interrelated. Through the concept of "dependent origination," it holds that nothing exists in isolation, independent of other life. The Japanese term for dependent origination is engi, literally "arising in relation." In other words, all beings and phenomena exist or occur only because of their relationship with other beings or phenomena. Everything in the world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions. Nothing can exist in absolute independence of other things or arise of its own accord.
Shakyamuni used the image of two bundles of reeds leaning against each other to explain this deep interconnectedness. He described how the two bundles of reeds can remain standing as long as they lean against each other. In the same way, because this exists, that exists, and because that exists, this exists. If one of the two bundles is removed, then the other will fall. Similarly, without this existence, that cannot exist, and without that existence, this cannot exist.
More specifically, Buddhism teaches that our lives are constantly developing in a dynamic way, in a synergy of the internal causes within our own life (our personality, experiences, outlook on life and so on) and the external conditions and relations around us. Each individual existence contributes to creating the environment which sustains all other existences. All things, mutually supportive and related, form a living cosmos, a single living whole.
When we realize the extent of the myriad interconnections which link us to all other life, we realize that our existence only becomes meaningful through interaction with, and in relation to, others. By engaging ourselves with others, our identity is developed, established and enhanced. We then understand that it is impossible to build our own happiness on the unhappiness of others. We also see that our constructive actions affect the world around us. And, as Nichiren wrote, "If you light a lamp for another, your own way will be lit."
There is an intimate mutual interconnection in the web of nature, in the relationship between humankind and its environment--and also between the individual and society, parents and children, husband and wife.
If as individuals we can embrace the view that "because of that, this exists," or, in other words, "because of that person, I can develop," then we need never experience pointless conflicts in human relations. In the case of a young married woman, for instance, her present existence is in relation to her husband and mother-in-law, regardless of what sort of people they may be. Someone who realizes this can turn everything, both good and bad, into an impetus for personal growth.
Buddhism teaches that we "choose" the family and circumstances into which we are born in order to learn and grow and to be able to fulfill our unique role and respective mission in life.
On a deeper level, we are connected and related not just to those physically close to us, but to every living being. If we can realize this, feelings of loneliness and isolation, which cause so much suffering, begin to vanish, as we realize that we are part of a dynamic, mutually interconnected whole.
As Daisaku Ikeda has written, an understanding of the interconnectedness of all life can lead to a more peaceful world:
"We're all human beings who, through some mystic bond, were born to share the same limited life span on this planet, a small green oasis in the vast universe. Why do we quarrel and victimize one another? If we could all keep the image of the vast heavens in mind, I believe that it would go a long way toward resolving conflicts and disputes. If our eyes are fixed on eternity, we come to realize that the conflicts of our little egos are really sad and unimportant."

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/interconnectedness.html

Creating value

"We can create value at each moment through our responses to our environment. Depending on our determination and direction, the value created from any given situation can be positive or negative, minimal or infinitely great."
The idea of value creation was central to the philosophy of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944), the founding president of the Soka Gakkai; the name of the organization in fact means "society for the creation of value." Makiguchi's profoundly humanist outlook--focused on human happiness, responsibility and empowerment--lives on in the global Buddhist humanism of the SGI today.
The terms value and value creation may invite confusion, especially with the idea of "values" in the sense of a moral standard. Value indicates that which is important to people, those things and conditions that enhance the experience of living. As the term is used in the SGI, value points to the positive aspects of reality that are brought forth or generated when we creatively engage with the challenges of daily life.
Value is not something that exists outside us, as something to be discovered; nor is it a preexisting set of criteria against which behavior is judged. We can create value at each moment through our responses to our environment. Depending on our determination and direction, the value created from any given situation can be positive or negative, minimal or infinitely great.
Even what may seem at first sight to be an intensely negative situation--a difficult relationship, financial woes or poor health--can serve as an opportunity for the creation of positive value. A lifelong commitment to justice, for example, may arise from an early experience of having been wronged.
Buddhist practice enhances our ability to see those possibilities, as well as the vitality, wisdom and persistence to realize them. Because we live our lives within networks of interrelatedness and interdependence, the positive value we create for ourselves is communicated and shared with others. Thus, what started out as the inner determination of one individual to transform their circumstances can encourage, inspire and create lasting value within society.
This same progression--from the inner life of the individual to the larger human community--is seen in Makiguchi's ordering of what he saw as the essential categories of value: beauty, gain and good. Beauty indicates esthetic value, the positive sensory response evoked by that which we recognize as "beautiful." Gain is what we find rewarding, in the broadest, most holistic sense; it includes but is not limited to the material conditions that make life more convenient and comfortable. Good is that which enhances and extends the well-being of an entire human community, making it a better and more just place for people to live.
Even prior to his conversion to Nichiren Buddhism in 1928, Makiguchi believed that the authentic purpose of life was happiness. As his practice and study of Buddhism deepened, Makiguchi began using the expression "the life of Great Good" to indicate a way of life dedicated to the highest value: the well-being of all humankind. This may be understood as a 20th-century reformulation of the age-old Buddhist ideal of the compassionate way of the bodhisattva.
It is also important to note that, unlike some of his contemporaries, Makiguchi rejected the idea that "the sacred" could be a form of value unto itself, and he asserted that human happiness was the authentic measure of religion. As he wrote: "Other than freeing people and the world from suffering, what meaning could there be for the existence of religion in society? Isn't freeing people from suffering the value of gain? Isn't freeing the world from suffering the moral value of good?"
The philosophy of value creation is thus a call to action--as we are, where we are--in the cause of human happiness. It is from the effort to orient our hearts toward a sublime objective that we gain the wisdom and energy to shape reality, at each moment, in the most value-creating ways. As SGI President Ikeda states: "The key to leading a fulfilled life, free of regrets, is to dedicate ourselves to a cause, a goal that is larger than us."

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/creating-value.html

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Compassion: solidarity of the heart

"Compassion is often thought of as akin to pity, but whereas pity may be condescending, compassion springs from a sense of the equality and interconnectedness of life. Genuine compassion is about empowering others, helping them unlock strength and courage from within their lives in order to overcome their problems."
The most basic wish of all people is to live happily. Yet human society is shaped by forces that work powerfully against this basic desire: from pervasive violence, to wanton environmental destruction, to the exploitation that structures such deep inequalities between people.
Buddhism sheds light on the inner dynamics of human life that lead us to create such an undesirable reality. One of the most pernicious and powerful desires inherent in human life, according to Buddhist thought, is the desire for power over others, the urge to subjugate other people to our will. In this condition, the ego finds its most unrestrained and destructive expression, regarding others simply as a means to satisfy its selfish objectives.
Buddhism symbolically personifies this exploitative, authoritarian impulse as the Devil King of the Sixth Heaven. Its imprint is evident everywhere in our world. Recognizing the rampancy of this impulse, Nichiren, the 13th-century founder of the Buddhism practiced by the SGI, described the world as the domain of the devil king, and all people as being under the rule of this devil.
But if human nature is the cause of our most dire global problems, it is also the source of the fundamental solution. The countervailing force to the destructive aspect to human nature and the suffering it engenders is compassion. Compassion, a sense of solidarity with others--with all life--arising from a wish for mutual happiness and growth, is the heart and origin of Buddhism.
In the original Sanskrit Buddhist texts, the concept of compassion is described by the words maitri and anukampa. Maitri indicates a sense of fellowship with others; anukampa describes a deep empathy that arises in the encounter with suffering and which gives rise to action. Buddhist compassion could be succinctly described then as the desire to relieve suffering and to give joy.
Compassion is often thought of as akin to pity, but whereas pity may be condescending, compassion springs from a sense of the equality and interconnectedness of life. Compassion is rooted in respect for the inherent dignity of life--our own and others'--and a desire to see that dignity triumph. As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda writes, "True Buddhist compassion has nothing to do with sentimentality or mere pity. This is because sentimentality or mere pity cannot help the other person achieve victory in life; it cannot truly relieve suffering and impart joy."
Because genuine compassion is about empowering others, helping them unlock strength and courage from within their lives in order to overcome their problems, it may sometimes appear stern or contradictory. For example, although resolving a difficult situation for someone may seem compassionate, if this ends up making them weaker and less self-reliant, this will not contribute to their actual happiness in life. The essence of compassion is empowerment.
The effort to offer others effective encouragement for their specific circumstances is what gives rise to wisdom. Compassion and wisdom are thus closely related. Furthermore, even small acts of kindness require a degree of courage.
Nichiren established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a practical means for people to bring forth the strength and rich potential of their humanity and live with confidence and joy. Sharing this practice with others is therefore the most essential act of compassion for practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism.
The transformation of society can only occur through a transformation of people's hearts. A life based on compassion means a staunch belief in the unrealized potential of others and ourselves. It is easy to give up on ourselves and others in the face of our failure and foolishness; such loss of faith in humanity is characteristic of our troubled world today. To continue to believe in and encourage the innate goodness and potential of our own and others' lives is the core of the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism. It is also the bedrock of a firm optimism upon which all people can base their actions to bring about positive change in our world.

Source: http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/compassion-solidarity-of-the-heart.html

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Human revolution

The core philosophy of the SGI can be summed up in the concept of "human revolution."
This is the idea that the self-motivated inner change of even a single individual positively affects the larger web of life. A person previously overwhelmed by their suffering can manifest the strength and wisdom to solve their own problems, change the dynamics of their relationships and take compassionate action to help others.
"Human revolution" is a term originally used by Josei Toda, second president of the Soka Gakkai, to describe the process by which individuals gradually expand their lives by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, conquering negative and destructive tendencies and making the state of Buddhahood their dominant life-condition.
It is this vibrant process of self-reformation--from fear to confidence, from destruction to creativity, from hatred to compassion--and the resultant rejuvenation of human society that forms the essence of Buddhism in the SGI. The inner transformation achieved by each individual will cause changes in that individual's environment, and as the impact of these changes spreads like the ripples of water on the surface of a pond, more and more people will be affected. A change in one person affects others not only in logical ways but through the fact that all our lives are interconnected at the deepest level. It is through this process that the truly "revolutionary" aim of a peaceful world can be achieved.
As Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International, has written: "A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind."

Source: http://www.sgi.org/resource-center/introductory-materials/human-revolution.html