Do you ever reach a point in your life or your Buddhist practice where nothing seems to make sense any more? When you feel you’ve made all the right causes to change a situation, but the benefit still doesn’t appear? Or when your faith, practice and study have seemed so strong and complete, and yet a cherished dream lies in tatters at your feet? Or when, out of the blue, you are floored by a serious problem with your health, work, finances or a close relationship? You may even find yourself remonstrating with the Gohonzon, saying, “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?!”
Too weird to be true?
If this is you at the moment (sometimes it is me…), give yourself a big pat on the back and say: “Congratulations to me! I did it! I kept my promise!” And then remind yourself that, as taught in The Lotus Sutra, you made a vow as a Bodhisattva of the Earth to ‘voluntarily assume the appropriate karma’ in order to teach others about Buddhism. But why on earth would you make such a vow? Why would you choose to be born in difficult circumstances, why would you go looking for such deep suffering? It just seems too weird and extraordinary! After all, there are no mentions of masochism in Nichiren Buddhism :-)! Of course, Nichiren actually taught that we made this vow so that we could, through our struggles, develop the wisdom, courage and compassion to move other people’s hearts. So that they too will feel inspired to discover and reveal the joy and dignity in the depths of their own lives.
Of course, believing this is a huge ask! The whole ‘Ceremony in the Air’ story taught by Shakyamuni in the Lotus Sutra can seem like too much of a fairytale to be true! We struggle to conceive that we attained Buddhahood aeons of lifetimes ago and that then, in order to reveal the power of the Mystic Law, we volunteered to be born in the current age ‘emerging from the Earth’, and dancing joyfully with huge karmic sufferings. It is not something that our logical and sometimes shallow minds can easily grasp. So we have to ‘go deeper’ in our prayer. Even then, it sometimes seems too far-fetched to believe that the key to discovering your True Self might lie in this fantastic story. As the wonderfully wise SGI Europe Director Kazuo Fujii recently said, during a lecture I was privileged to hear (and with his shoulders jumping up and down with his usual irrepressible joy), “It’s even more amazing than Harry Potter!”
Toda recalls his Vow in prison
Even SGI’s second President Josei Toda seems to have struggled to grasp the truth of the Lotus Sutra. And it was only once he found himself in prison (1943-45) for refusing to renounce his faith, that he attained enlightenment, that he awakened to his mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth. As SGI leader Takanori Endo explains: “He would walk about in his solitary cell saying to himself, ‘I have to know! I simply must understand!”
When I first read these words a couple of months ago, they took my breath away. To realise that Toda himself had to grapple in the very core of his life with the truth of the Lotus Sutra in order to make sense of his solitary confinement, maltreatment and malnutrition was incredibly reassuring. But thanks to his indestructible seeking spirit, he had an experience while chanting daimoku in his prison cell, of recalling his own enlightenment at the Ceremony in the Air. In effect, he was remembering his eternal Bodhisattva Vow and it is only because of his Vow that the Soka Gakkai has flourished since the end of World War II, spreading a precious message of Buddhist humanism never taught before.
A Bodhisattva loves being alive
So, what are the benefits of living your life as a Bodhisattva of the Earth? There are loads! A Bodhisattva of the Earth:
- loves being alive,
- sees their darkest karma not as a punishment for past deeds but as the source of the deepest joy,
- looks forward to leaping out of bed every day,
- faces every problem from the point of victory, knowing they have already won,
- sees a new problem in their life and says: “Ah yes, I remember asking for you! Welcome! Thank you for coming!”,
- lives a life where hope oozes from their every pore,
- exuberantly makes the impossible possible,
- resents and begrudges nothing and nobody,
- lives their life dancing with joy, instead of plodding on fatalistically,
- supports and encourages their fellow Bodhisattvas when they are struggling in the ‘muddy pond’ of daily life, reminding them of their shared vow to transform the spirit of the age.
See if you can chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo with this spirit! I promise you it will take your practice and happiness into a totally different dimension. It is the fastest way to ‘cast off the transient and reveal the true’ you. Remembering that you emerged from the Earth dancing joyfully (rather than kicking and screaming…) can totally transform your perspective on life. For example, as a ‘common mortal’ you may see a huge setback in your life as a crushing blow. But as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, you are filled with the joy of knowing it is a promise kept. Or your tears of self-pity may become tears of compassion for all the people you don’t yet know but who share a similar karma to you.
I would go as far as to say that all suffering comes from the self-slander of believing you are not a Bodhisattva of the Earth. And that your deepest pain comes not from what happens to you, but from resisting or begrudging your mission to transform it. Your Bodhisattva Vow to lead others to enlightenment.
As Daisaku Ikeda writes: “There simply are no Buddhas who spend all their time sitting in meditation. Buddhas are Buddhas precisely because they continually ponder and take action to help others resolve their worries.”
A dear long-standing friend of mine (whom I will call ‘Mr.G.’) emailed me today a week after we discussed these matters. Subject line: ‘A promise kept’. Body of message: “I have just been diagnosed with bowel cancer and secondary cancer of the liver. But I know this is an opportunity to deepen my faith to another level, changing the impossible to possible, and to create an even more amazing life.”
Now that’s what I call the Bodhisattva spirit… And Mr.G, Cherished Buddha, we are all with you, fighting by your side.
Love and Light,
Bodhisattva Dave x