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.
Tomorrow (or today – depending on your timezone…) is the anniversary of the founding in 1253 of Nichiren Buddhism. 28 April is the date 762 years ago when Nichiren Daishonin first chanted the mantra Nam-myoho-renge-kyo – the name he gave to the Mystic Law – the creative force and the rhythm of cause and effect that flows through Life itself. So I would like to offer some personal reflections, after 30 years of chanting this mantra. To ponder why it was that in 13th century Japan, the son of a lowly fisherman dedicated his life (and was prepared to lose his life) so that all humanity for millennia to come could tap into this prayer, whose power he compared to the ‘roar of a lion’.
[Note: if you would like to read a literal translation of what Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means (and find out why it may even anticipate the latest discoveries of quantum physics…) please visit this page on my blog. If you want to hear the sound of chanting, check out this Youtube video by my fellow blogger, a magnificent Buddha called Robbie Lockie.]
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:
The answer to this question, when people first start chanting the mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, is, very often, ‘not a lot’ or maybe even ‘nothing’. Because the truth is, you don’t need to adopt any new beliefs or lifestyle to give Nichiren Buddhism a go. Most people come to the practice looking to change a situation in their life and are encouraged to give try it out for 100 days or so and see what happens.
Others stumble across Buddhism because they want to make the world a more joyful, peaceful and fairer place, but don’t quite know where to start… Others (like me) start chanting to prove that it does not work… Incidentally I don’t think many people start chanting just because of a book or a blog like this, it nearly always begins from a heart to heart connection with someone they trust who’s already practising Buddhism.
What is the fundamental purpose of winning in our lives? Of course it is partly to achieve our own goals, overcome our limitations and become happier. But I feel that the biggest impact when we win is that we encourage others who are struggling. If we win today in our lives, if we defeat our darkness, our lesser self and our illusions, then people on the verge of victory will have a final breakthrough, people who are fighting will keep going, people who have given up will find the strength to start again and people who have never fought will discover the spark of hope. This is what happens when the Buddha in Me meets the Buddha in You.
Of course personal development books are full of wonderful examples of determined people who never gave up. For example, Thomas Edison’s 10,000 attempts to create a light bulb and James Dyson’s 5,127 failures before his bagless vacuum cleaner worked. And I was inspired to hear a speech by former Team GB rower Steve Williams OBE, winner of two Olympic gold medals, who quoted the words of his coach Jurgen Grobler before the Athens 2004 final: “It will get so dark and hurt so much that you will cry out for your mother and your father, but you will win on the last stroke.” (And they did, by 0.08 of a second.) I love this image and often quote these words to my clients when they feel like giving up on their goals. And when I have a setback or failure myself, the first question I ask when I look in the mirror is: “How badly did you really really want it?”
And what are your goals for this coming year? Does the very question make you want to sigh with resignation? Or does it excite and inspire you? Are you carrying on your shoulders the weight of previous failures? Or are you determined to achieve even more in 2014 than you ever did before?
My focus on goals improved dramatically when I first went on The Winning Edge personal development course where the inspirational trainer (Richard Jackson MBE) pointed out that in the average lifetime of 76 years, you only get 28,000 days. Twenty-eight thousand. How many do you have left? What will you do with them? Do the maths folks. Then decide.
In Nichiren Buddhism, we are encouraged to set determinations every year, to replace vague yearnings with concrete goals, to achieve benefits (both tangible and intangible), to discover and fulfill our missions and to carry out our human revolution. How lucky are we to get this sort of life training?
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.