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.
(Please note, I first published this post two years ago, but after coaching several people recently about family issues in the run-up to Christmas, decided to share it with you again…)
During the festive season, when you spend more time with close family, do you ever find yourself saying: “You’re really winding me up,”? or “She got on my nerves,”? or “They made me angry,”? Let’s explore whether that is really true. Or whether it means that you give all your power away so that other people or circumstances decide how happy you are. You may have spotted where I’m heading here and this post may help keep things more harmonious this Christmas…
Over 700 years ago, Nichiren Daishonin wrote: “One should become the master of his mind rather than let his mind master him.” This means we have the power to choose how we want to perceive and respond to a situation, rather than being tossed around by the ebb and flow of events. (That might of course include choosing to get angry or winding ourselves up, but the difference is, we know we have a choice.)
In modern psychology, this ability is often called ‘reframing’. As Auschwitz prisoner of war Victor Frankl famously wrote, in his book, ‘Man’s search for meaning’: “The one thing you cannot take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me.” Frankl’s situation was horrific – everything (seemingly) had been taken from him – family, friends, dignity, food, clothing and freedom. And yet he found the inner strength to master his mind when so many around him were losing theirs.
Nowadays though, our first instinct is often to change how we feel by shopping / drinking / comfort eating or other types of consumption. All of this contributes to extra global warming, by the way.
SGI’s second President Josei Toda without doubt developed an ability to change from the inside (much better for our beautiful planet…) describing Buddhahood in this way: “It is like lying on your back in a wide open space looking up at the sky with arms and legs outstretched. All that you wish for immediately appears. No matter how much you may give away, there is always more. It is never exhausted. Try and see if you can attain this state of life.”
Where was Toda when he experienced this state? On holiday? In a beautiful park in Tokyo? At the top of a Mount Fuji watching the sun edge below the horizon? None of the above. He was actually in solitary confinement in prison (for being a Buddhist).
All that you become begins in your mind
Buddhism says that all the situations in your life including (from a karmic perspective) what happens to you – all of your ‘be, do and have’ – begin in your mind, which is why it makes so much sense to ‘master your mind’. We can summarise ‘The Buddha Mind for dealing with challenges’ as follows:
I created this situation, therefore I can create the solution
Because life is precious, every ‘problem’ is a gift in disguise
Therefore when faced with obstacles, “the wise rejoice and the foolish retreat”
Any problem is your life asking to grow, say YES (instead of grumbling inside).
Here’s a great chance (yes, another one) to get over your ‘smaller self’
The lotus flower only grows in a muddy pond. Focus on the flower, not the mud.
How can I use this to fulfil my life purpose?
I will face whatever it takes to fulfil my personal mission in life
This low life state (angry, grumpy, blue, resentful, frustrated…) absolutely does contain latent Buddhahood
What is the ‘problem’ trying to stop me doing? Then Just Do It. Now. Darkness disappears when the sun of action shines
Suffering and problems are a fact of life, for you, me, saints and sages
Make your desire for Kosen Rufu (world peace) bigger, deeper and more sincere.
And if none of the above seem to be working, remember this famous quote from Nichiren Daishonin:
13. “And still I am not discouraged”.
To be strong is to master your mind
To master your mind is to instinctively and increasingly realise that all of the above is true. To constantly develop the strength to choose how you feel and develop a bigger all-embracing state of life whatever is happening to you. As Carl Jung wrote: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Daisaku Ikeda says: “True happiness is not the absence of suffering; you cannot have day after day of clear skies. True happiness lies in building a self that stands dignified and indomitable like a great palace – on all days, even when it is raining, snowing or stormy.”
So, see if you can chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo with this conviction: “I am not my past. I am not my psychometric profile. I am not the role I have played to survive so far. I am not the product of my childhood. I am not my job description. I am a Buddha. I am who I choose to become.”
Much more on all of this in my book, The Buddha in Me, The Buddha in You, available now for pre-order on Amazon UK.
Do you need to look good and be right all the time?Are you over-sensitive to rejection? Are you surviving instead of thriving? Do you find it difficult to say ‘sorry’, even when you know you are wrong? Do you get angry and defensive easily? Do you find you need a lot of praise and validation to feel less anxious? Will you do anything to avoid failure? Do you get jealous easily? I have certainly experienced all of the above during my 30 years of Buddhist practice. And yes, I have wondered if ‘my bum looks big in this?’ So if you are sometimes like this (most human beings are…), it might be time to move your ego out of the way and focus on your Big Beautiful Buddhahood instead.
By ‘ego’ I mean our smaller self, our unenlightened self, the self that is dominated by fear and anxiety and lashes out in anger.The self that may have helped you survive difficult childhood experiences, adding layers of protection to shield you from further pain. This ego has a positive intention (protection and survival), but if it dominates your life, it will slowly stifle your heart and strangle your soul.
Actor and SGI Buddhist James DuMont now has over 100 film & TV credits to his name. They include Ugly Betty, Dallas Buyers Club, House, The West Wing, Oceans 13, War of the Worlds, Seabiscuit and Catch Me If You Can. He has played opposite the likes of Colin Farrell, Al Pacino, Jared Leto, Tom Hanks, Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates. His next movie – Jurassic World – opens today, Friday 12 June.
What I love about James’s résumé is that he has slowly, surely and steadily built a successful Hollywood career through his repeated efforts. In fact to land those 100 parts, he has had to do more than 3,000 auditions! And this reminds him of a famous Buddhist quote: “From the indigo, an even deeper blue.” This means that, if one dyes something repeatedly in indigo, it becomes even bluer than the indigo leaf itself. In this interview, James shared with me how his strong Buddhist practice sustains him through the ups and downs of life.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome through the practice?
My father and his father made huge, detrimental mistakes that destroyed their families and the damage took years and generations to heal and in some cases those issues have been the greatest obstacles I have faced as father and husband. Issues of infidelity, financial mistakes and more importantly issues of being present and available to set an example. This has also been my biggest benefit. I am present for my son and daughter, as best I can. I am working to be a better man, father, husband and son than the men in my family before me. In essence I am redefining the truest meaning of fatherhood in my family and all the responsibility that comes with that. This is not an easy task or mission, but it is mine.
What’s your favourite Buddhist quote and why?
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says: “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation, and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.” And another favourite quote (author unknown): “Two things define you, your patience when you have nothing and your attitude when you have everything”. I have never forgotten where I have come from and this practice allows me to have gratitude and to treat others as I would want to be treated.
Your new movie is Jurassic World, are there any Nichiren Buddhist themes in it?
The most obvious one is “the person & the environment are one!” If our hearts and minds are pure, then so is the environment. There is also the theme of ‘those who do not stop evil are supporting and encouraging it.’ Also part of the inherent nature of dinosaurs was to kill, but unlike the dinosaurs, we have the Gohonzon, which gives us a tool to access our Buddhahood and transform ourselves and our inherent nature.
Why do you think Nichiren Buddhism attracts so many actors and artists?
This practice gives you the strength, power and hope to fundamentally transform your own human journey while on this earth. As an actor/artist I can have a deep and profound effect on the planet, if I just dig deep into my own humanity and then bring that to light by unearthing human behaviour in all its beauty, pain, joy and sorrow. That is my mission while I am here. I audition more than 300 times a year, and in a good year I will only succeed with ten of those 300 attempts to share myself and skills. I can’t imagine having to deal with that without this practice. It gives me a sword to wield through all these setbacks and come away from them feeling happiness, joy and hope. I hope my life and human revolution will encourage people to stand up and fight even harder!
Tell us more about how you handle rejection as an actor?
I cannot stress enough the resilience this practice gives you and how necessary this is for my life and career. Also sometimes you may ‘step in some dog shit’ in life and it takes a while to get rid of the smell from your shoes or even from your mind. You smell it, others do or even if they don’t, you think they do. You have to shed that mindset and make greater causes in order to counter the temporary nature of ‘having shit on your shoes’. I share that analogy a great deal to encourage actors going through serious dry spells of work.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Trust yourself more, be better to yourself and do this chanting thing that’s been put right in front of you!
this is just to let you know that six years after starting to write my book on Buddhism and personal development, I have signed a deal with Rider Books, the ‘mind body spirit’ arm of Penguin Random House. I want to thank all of you, my big-hearted readers, for your support, encouragement, comments and questions. To thank you for your generous spirit in reaching out to create a dialogue with me. As I am a completely unknown author (compared to Penguin Random House’s other writers such as The Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Russell Brand…) the only way to get a big publisher’s attention was to create a successful blog and Facebook page with thousands of engaged readers.
So I couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you so much!It has been my lifelong dream to become an author and I also landed my absolute first choice of publisher because Rider’s other Buddhist writers include Eddy Canfor-Dumas (The Buddha, Geoff and Me) and Richard Causton (The Buddha in Daily Life). So, it’s safe to say that Rider ‘get’ Nichiren Buddhism! The title of my book will be The Buddha in Me, the Buddha in You – handbook for a human revolutionand it will be out in the UK in Spring 2016, with other countries to follow.
I have realised recently that whatever topic my different (and lovely) clients want to be coached on (e.g. relationships, career choices, addictions, assertiveness, leadership skills etc…) the one thing they all really want to feel is that their lives are authentic. They often realise, usually after one or two sessions, that the real reason they’re unhappy – for example in a job or relationship or town – is because they find it hard to express their true feelings. When that happens, life quickly begins to feel empty or meaningless. Or the discomfort may manifest as restlessness (what am I here for?) or anxiety (will I ever make anything of myself?) or a sudden loss of ‘mojo’, or anger (caused by cognitive dissonance.)
Put the word ‘Happiness’ into Google and it churns out an eye-popping 49,600,000 results. In 0.22 seconds. That made me smile. Type the same word into Amazon and it suggests no less than 35,793 books you could read. As a human race, we are fascinated by it. But what exactly is it? Look up ‘happiness’ and the definitions tend to include phrases like ‘sense of well-being’, ‘flourishing’, and ‘quality of life’.
Anyway I hope that some days you feel so bouncy and excited just to be alive that random strangers come up to you in the street, squeeze your (possibly) chubby cheeks and declare: “Wow, you are bursting with joy and scrumptiousness, thank you for being in the world.” Admittedly this doesn’t happen too often in my bit of Leicestershire. Yet.
Happiness is of course the purpose of Buddhist practice and in a way the whole of this blog is trying to define it and inspire more people to discover it. And after 29 years of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and 9 years as a Life Coach, I thought it might be time to sit down with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit and attempt to pin down this nebulous concept. So… here is my little list, happiness is:
To write a book about the most profound philosophy on the planet is difficult. To write a novel based on Nichiren Buddhism is even harder. But Eddy Canfor-Dumas achieved this in 2005 with The Buddha, Geoff and Me, and has done it again with Bodhisattva Blues the delightful and much anticipated sequel to ‘Geoff’. One man’s search for meaning in a world of confusion and uncertainty, ‘BB’ is a thoroughly absorbing read, not least because when we catch up with our hero Ed, he has long since abandoned his Buddhist practice and is stuck in a rut – no career, no love life and no cash.
Plunged unwittingly into a world of street crime and dodgy property deals, Ed finds himself dusting down his beads and reluctantly picking up his Nichiren Buddhist practice to guide him through a series of dramas, dilemmas and big decisions.
The death this week of Robin Williams has put depression back in the headlines. The media coverage is welcome because by talking openly about mental health challenges we can create some good from a desperately tragic suicide. The rhetoric around a previously taboo topic has been changing rapidly in recent years, thanks in part to the courageous candour of celebrities such as Stephen Fry, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alastair Campbell, Leon McKenzie, Graeme Fowler, Ruby Wax and of course, Robin Williams himself.
As a result, the ‘pull yourself together’ school of encouragement has mostly disappeared into the shadows, along with the ‘stiff upper lip’ brigade. Even the ‘what did he have to be depressed about?’ gang have been mercifully quiet. This more open and enlightened mindset now views depression as a recognised illness, which, like cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure, needs proper treatment.
But as I chant about Robin Williams’ suicide, I find myself wondering if ‘illness’ is always the most useful way to look at clinical depression. I ask myself whether Nichiren Buddhism, with its rich insights into the workings of the human mind, can bring a different perspective to the topic. And I think the answers are No and Yes. Let me explain…
The easy answer to this question is that in Buddhism the concept of God simply does not appear at all. After all, the historical Buddha, Siddharta Gautama, was born 500 years before Jesus. So if you had asked him, “does God exist?” he would probably have said, “Who?” But for people brought up in Judaeo-Christian cultures over the last few decades, it is a valid question. It is one that I grappled with myself 30 years ago, on my journey towards Nichiren Buddhism and away from my devout Catholic upbringing.
At first sight, the two philosophies seemed poles apart. ‘God’ was ‘somewhere out there’ whereas Buddhahood was in me. Christian prayer was about asking for salvation from an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent Father. Whereas Buddhist chanting was about deciding and determining to be happy, all by yourself. Christianity had taught me that man was essentially flawed and needed forgiving, whereas Buddhism promised that we are essentially brilliant and just needed polishing (lots of polishing, as it turns out…). This all led to some overly spiky debates with sincere Christians.
With my superficial understanding of Nichiren’s teachings, Buddhism probably appealed to a more selfish and self-centred part of me. Especially as there were no concepts of sin, of guilt, or of what I saw as stifling obedience to an external power. Instead Buddhism seemed to promise freedom, individuality and self-expression.