When the Bodhisattvas from beneath the ground make their appearance as told in Chapter 15 of the Lotus Sutra one of the first things they do is to greet the Buddha, enquire about his well-being, and ask how the teachings he is engaged in our progressing. This is in marked contrast to how others had approached the Buddha, those Bodhisattvas in the provisional part of the Lotus Sutra, Bodhisattvas in preceding chapters, where people asked the Buddha for a personal prediction of future enlightenment. Those Bodhisattvas asked the Buddha for something for their personal benefit as opposed to the Bodhisattvas from Underground who came asking for nothing but instead promising to do something.
“In the presence of the great multitude, they joined their hands together towards Sakyamuni Buddha, looked up at him and inquired after him saying: ‘World-Honored One! Are you in good health? Are you peaceful or not? Are the living beings, whom you are to save, ready to receive your teachings or not? Do they fatigue you?'” Lotus Sutra Chapter V
Frequently when people begin to practice Buddhism they find themselves in remote or somewhat isolated circumstances. In fact the odds are that most people who want to practice Buddhism and who don’t live in a fairly large city will find themselves probably isolated.
Numerous times I have been contacted by different individuals who find themselves in such a situation. I find that generally they fall into one of two different categories. Those who practice as Bodhisattvas from underground and those who practice as those Bodhisattvas who are not. Those who are not are generally the ones who when they find out that there is no Nichiren Shu temple or priest who either lives in their area or who can’t travel there very frequently either do not respond back or throw up their hands and either give up or complain. Their thinking is “what will Buddhism do for me” or “what will minister X do for me” or “what will Nichiren Shu do for me”. It generally doesn’t extend beyond their personal needs and almost never to understanding what a Bodhisattva from beneath the ground would do.
Then there are others who when they are made aware of the limitations of an organization will make extra effort to practice in their area connecting when they can and staying in touch all the while working to establish a sangha or practice group close to them.
In Chapter 15 it clearly outlines the different kinds of these Bodhisattvas, describing their associations saying some come with a large multitude all the way down to those who come as single individuals. “The Bodhisattvas who preferred a solitary live came alone”. What this tells us is that if you believe you are a Bodhisattva from Underground and if you are practicing alone then it must be because either you prefer it that way, you vowed to practice that way, or you have not yet developed your capacity to attract others to Buddhism and join with you.
If we consider how other religions have spread and propagated we see time and time again how from the efforts of single, isolated, and remotely located individuals congregations have sprung up. Why is it that Buddhists will complain about such circumstances and then do nothing.
If we believe in the Lotus Sutra, and if we have begun to internalize the teachings contained within, and if we wish to practice in accord with the time and the teaching then we need to take personal responsibility for our situations. If we are alone then it means we either chose that way or else we have not really begun to understand that as a Bodhisattva from Underground it is our pledge to spread the Dharma to others.
Remember the Bodhisattvas from Underground did not beseech the Buddha to give them anything, they vowed to do something for the Buddha and the Dharma. It is our personal choice which way we choose to practice, are we provisional Bodhisattvas or Bodhisattvas from Underground?
Is it easy to practice alone or in isolation? Certainly it isn’t, and that is why most ministers are willing to work with and help people to the best of their ability given the limited resources available. Yet it also takes a commitment on the part of the person to make the effort to change the situation they practice in themselves and not expect someone else to do it for them.
Remember it says in the Lotus Sutra:
“These Bodhisattvas have great powers, virtues and energy…
They are good at answering difficult questions. They are fearless and patient. They are handsome, powerful and virtuous. They are praised by the Buddhas of the worlds of the ten quarters. They expound the Dharma clearly.” Lotus Sutra Chapter XV
Do not be discouraged, though your circumstances may seem less than favorable, for without fail you can change them. This is actually true for any circumstance we find ourselves in, but more about that in a future posting. For now remember if where you are practicing isn’t the Buddha Land then the Buddha must not be there, Become a Buddha yourself and your land will become the Buddha Land!