… Yep, that includes you, your best mate, your lover, your beautiful kids, your gorgeous grandma and your favourite teacher from school. But you knew that already, right? The thing is, it also includes the colleague who bitches about you, the friend who betrayed you, the lover who stopped loving you, the driver who cut you up at a roundabout, the father who judged you, the boss who sacked you and that irritating kid down the road who you feel like strangling sometimes! Although this may be hard to believe, Nichiren was adamant that everyone has Buddha-potential: “All of the people of the ten worlds can attain Buddhahood. We can comprehend this when we remember that fire can be produced by a stone taken from the bottom of a river, and a candle can light up a place that has been dark for billions of years.”
Of course our deeply ingrained tendency is to label people as ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’. But all of us are capable of evil and of good. A ‘cruel murderer’ can come home and show compassion to his children, a ‘kind nurse’ can come home from work and be aggressive to her family. As Nichiren says: “Even a heartless villain loves his wife and children. He too has a portion of the bodhisattva world within him.”
So, what is Buddhahood anyway? In Nichiren Buddhism it is absolutely not some superhuman or divine or blissed-out state, but something very real and practical that is attainable by all of us, in this lifetime. It is the respect and the warmth in your heart. It includes profound feelings of joy, wisdom, courage, compassion, gratitude and optimism that produce a sparkle in your eye and a dance in your smile and both of these and more besides in other people too. It is also a titanium-strong determination to fight for the absolute happiness of everyone else. In short Buddhahood is the deepest wish held in your heart and the reservoir of all that is best in you.
Of course, the qualities of Buddhahood are more manifest in some people than others, but the big and bold claim made by Nichiren based on his reading of the Lotus Sutra was that everyone has Buddhahood somewhere deep inside, in a latent state, just waiting to be tapped. And as someone once said to me: “if you cannot see another’s greatness, you are looking at your own limitations.”
Positive Psychology is 700 years old
I recently heard a brilliant talk by Professor Lou Marinoff, author of the brilliant ‘Plato not Prozac’ who reminded me that our well-developed ‘diagnostic’ left brains tend to ask the question “What’s wrong with me?” whereas the positive psychology approach made famous by the likes of Martin Seligman in the late 1990s is to ask “What’s right with me?” This is the question that Buddhists focus on when they chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, the mantra that means (amongst other things) “I’m a Buddha, you’re a Buddha.” As Marinoff also said: “Everybody is important, everybody can make a difference.”
Personal development gurus have been saying this kind of stuff only for the last 40 years, so you can imagine that this was a revolutionary teaching in feudalistic thirteenth century Japan where any spirit of equality had long since disappeared and corrupt priests acted as intermediaries between ordinary people and the ‘divine’. So it looks to me like ‘positive psychology’ is actually 700 years old (3,000 years if you go back to when the Lotus Sutra was first taught by Shakyamuni) and that thanks to luminaries such as Martin Seligman, Daisaku Ikeda and Lou Marinoff it is making a welcome comeback just when the world needs it most.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure
You may know this extract from a beautiful poem by Marianne Williamson. It was read at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as President and reminds me to connect with my latent Buddhahood:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond
measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most
frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
If you have a habit of being hard on yourself, read this poem. Read it often. Read it every day if you have to.
And here’s some famous guidance from a Soka Gakkai leader called Dr. Tetsugai Obo, it really captures the everyday joy of a Buddha:
First you have to decide: ‘A great Buddha is reading this.’ Making this decision requires courage. This is what we call the courage of faith. When you go to bed, think: ‘A great Buddha is going to sleep now.’ In the morning, as you wake up, no matter how you feel, think: ‘A great Buddha is waking up.’ When you change clothes, when going to the bathroom, when washing your face, and making miso soup, think: ‘This miso soup is made by a great Buddha. This is a great bowl of miso soup.’
My favourite words in this quote? ‘No matter how you feel’. If you are giving your or someone else a hard time (or even if you’re not), remind yourself, no matter how you feel that you are a great Buddha. And so are they. Do it often. Do it every day. Do it now in fact. You can do it through positive affirmations in your own language, or to find out how to chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, check out this video.
Until next time, great Buddhas, no matter how you feel…