In my Buddhist practice I have often discovered (always with some reluctance) that, deep down I share the same pain or suffering as the people I consider to be the most awkward / difficult / annoying. This suffering can manifest as shared laziness, prejudice, anxiety, resentment or any number of other very human flaws. Having chanted many times about this, here is how I think it works. As well as our innate wisdom, courage and compassion, we all hold some pain and vulnerability in our hearts. From a Buddhist perspective, we bring much of this with us as ‘karma’ from our previous lifetimes. Rather than face our pain with courage to find out what lessons it may hold for us, our first instinct is usually to cover it in a layer of self-protection. Men are especially good at this.
I’m sure this made a lot of sense in our caveman days and perhaps we’re still running our brains on ‘Neanderthal software’… anyway, on top of the self-protection, we add more layers – of ego and anger. We often top it off with a veneer of arrogance. This is how we go out into the world, where, just for good measure, we can further screen off our pain with alcohol and drugs. Unsurprisingly, we then hurt other people around us. And so we perpetuate the cycle of pain. On a global level, this manifests as war. There has to be another way. There is.
To succeed as a human race, we must change first where we are. Change ourselves. Transform our own darkness and personal sufferings. We must stop engaging in the fruitless and futile effort to change other people. In Buddhism, this is called ‘shouting at the shadow’. This is why I do not think there is much value in going on an anti-war march if you’ve refused to speak to your mother / sister / son / neighbour for ten years. And as Gandhi pointed out, to change the world (‘shadow’) around us, the only way is to ‘be the change you want to see.’
That may all sound very lovely, but how do we actually do that? I have found that by sincerely chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo to expand my life, I can quite quickly come to see the people I find annoying as gifts for my human revolution. My starting point for this blog was a famous Buddhist quote by first Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda: “When we are upset, it’s easy to blame others. However, the true cause of our feelings is within us. For example, imagine yourself as a glass of water. Now, imagine past negative experiences as sediment at the bottom of your glass. Next, think of others as spoons. When one stirs, the sediment clouds your water. It may appear that the spoon caused the water to cloud – but if there were no sediment, the water would remain clear no matter what. The key, then, is to identify our sediment and actively work to remove it.”
So, next time you clash with someone, remember that when the ego succeeds, humanity fails. And remember that you have a choice. To blame and fight. Or to take responsibility and face up to your own ‘sediment’. To resent and insult, or to ‘Thank the Spoon’. When my Buddha-state is to the fore, I can say with some joy to the people I clash with: “Warm greetings fellow Spoon / Buddha, let’s fight our negativity together! Let’s both win by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, the mantra of our shared Buddhahood. Together let us transform our poison into medicine!” I have found that this approach is even more powerful than forgiveness.
Daisaku Ikeda writes beautifully about our shared humanity: “Your home is where your loved ones live. Your home is the place where you work together with your fellow human beings to build a paradise, a realm of peace and prosperity for all. When we are asked where our home is, we can answer: ‘My home is the world. Everywhere in the world where my fellow human beings live, all of it is my home’.”
When I first began my Buddhist adventure in 1986, I was taught that it was important to chant for ‘self and others.’ But personally I find this term is, in itself, divisive. ‘Self. And others.’ For actually, we are One. It is only our ego that separates us. So now I chant every day for Life itself to be fulfilled. This energy that flows through the people we love, the people we don’t yet know and yes, even the people we hate. This eternal ‘One Life’, this cosmic heartbeat that expresses itself as you and as me and as seven billion other people on our beautiful planet. This ‘One Life’ that Nichiren Daishonin called Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.