Living with them

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Frequently in life we find ourselves living or working or engaging in commerce with people who don’t believe, think, or act like us; and it can be most frustrating.  In almost all things the thing we find most uncomfortable is to be exposed to people different from ourselves.  We find comfort in sameness and likeness.

As Buddhist, or any other minority belief, it can be especially challenging when faced with very dogmatic and strident believers of another religion and even more so if they are family.  I have on more than one occasion been asked by a practitioner how they should go about practicing and believing when all of their family does not agree and in some cases are intolerant of anything other than the family tradition.

Generally speaking my advice is given on a case by case basis but I was struck the other day by something I recalled that St. Francis had said when giving advice to his Lesser Brothers on how to live with what where then called Saracens, or Arabs and non-Christians.

“Let any brother who desires go among the Saracens and other non-believers.  They can live spiritually among the Saracens and non-believers in two ways.  One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake, and to simply acknowledge that they [the friars] are Christians.  The other way is to announce the Word of God…For love of him, they must make themselves vulnerable to their enemies.” Reluctant Saint; the Life of Francis Assisi by Donald Spoto

Bears getting along

Bears getting along. (photo taken traveling to Hokkaido Japan)

Notice in his instruction he says “not to engage in arguments”.  I think this is a very important point to keep in mind.

Sometimes arguing can be the least effective way to influence someone to your way of belief. And frequently we are most persuasive when we are actually living our belief silently by example.  We think that making ‘noise’ so to speak is louder than ‘silence’ and yet it is ‘silence’ that is more hearable than ‘noise’.

In the Lotus Sutra the Buddha advises us as follows:

“When you see anyone who does not receive this sutra by faith, you should show him some other profound teaching of mine, teach him, benefit him, and cause him to rejoice.  When you do all this you will be able to repay the favors given to you by the Buddhas.” Lotus Sutra Chapter XXII

“I am always thinking: ‘How shall I cause all living beings to enter into the unsurpassed Way and quickly become Buddhas?'” Lotus Sutra Chapter XVI

“Medicine-King! How should the good men or women who live after my extinction expound this Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma to the four kinds of devotees when they wish to?  They should enter the room of the Tathagata, wear the robe of the Tathagata, sit upon the seat of the Tathagata, and then expound this sutra…To enter the room of the Tathagata means to have great compassion towards all living beings.  To wear the robe of the Tathagata means to be gentle and patient.” Lotus Sutra Chapter X

What we are instructed by the Buddha to have is compassion towards any and all beings.  We must develop those traits first in order to really genuinely be able to lead anyone to the Buddha path.  If we are compassionate then we will be gentle towards them, understanding their lives and respecting all others. If we respect others then we value them and that means we also respect and value their differences.

Next we must be patient in all things, especially when interacting with other people.  Just as St. Francis says not to argue, we too should not argue.  If the strength of our faith and practice lies in argument then we have a very weak foundation.  For if we are truly resolute in our faith then we can be expansive enough to include respect, tolerance and patience.  When we view life from the Buddhist perspective we have an infinite amount of time, life after life.

We must also remember that many paths lead to the one objective of Enlightenment and the attainment of Buddhahood.  If folks can not accept our belief but can respect us in our belief then they have made wonderful causes for the future.  If however people do not respect us in our belief then we have actually given them every reason to not believe as we do, why should they.

The Buddha instructs us to show them this or show them another thing.  Emerson said something to the effect that what is most important is not what religion we belong to but to encourage the religiousness in each of us to work towards eliminating suffering.  There are many ways to alleviate suffering, and the most effective way to continue suffering is if we are too hung up on ‘converting’.

Let us, together, walk along our paths.  If you should decide that you wish to go along my path then together we can encourage each other?  On the other hand should you choose to follow another, the how can I encourage you along your way?

From the perspective of the Lotus Sutra we all are Buddhas and whether a person realizes it in this lifetime or another that potential will be manifest.  Let us have tolerance, compassion, and patience toward one another.  There should be no problem living, working, or interacting with others.

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Bodhisattvas From Underground

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

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.

tree bark.jpeg

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!