Saturday, February 18, 2017

Nichiren Buddhism and Attachment

Needless to say, a life controlled by desires is miserable. In Buddhist scriptures, such a way of life is symbolized by “hungry demons” with giant heads and huge mouths, but narrow, constricted throats that make real satisfaction unattainable. The deliberate horror of these images grew from Shakyamuni Buddha’s sense of the

need to shock people from their attachment to things—including our physical existence—that will eventually change and be lost to us. Real happiness does not lie here, he sought to tell them.

The deeply ingrained tendencies of attachments and desire are often referred to as “earthly desires.” However, since they also include hatred, arrogance, distrust and fear, the translation “deluded impulses” may in some cases be more appropriate.

But can such desires and attachments really be eliminated? Attachments are, after all, natural human feelings, and desires are a vital and necessary aspect of life. The desire, for example, to protect oneself and one’s loved ones has been the inspiration for a wide range of advances—from the creation of supportive social groupings to the development of housing and heating. Likewise, the desire to understand humanity’s place in the cosmos has driven the development of philosophy, literature and religious thought. Desires are integral to who we are and who we seek to become.

In this sense, the elimination of all desire is neither possible nor, in fact, desirable. Were we to completely rid ourselves of desire, we would end up undermining our individual and collective will to live.
The teachings of Nichiren stress the transformation, rather than the elimination, of desire. Desires and attachments are seen as fueling the quest for enlightenment.
The teachings of Nichiren thus stress the transformation, rather than the elimination, of desire. Desires and attachments are seen as fueling the quest for enlightenment. As he wrote: “Now Nichiren and others who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo...burn the firewood of earthly desires and behold the fire of enlightened wisdom...”

In the same vein, the Universal Worthy Sutra states: “Even without extinguishing their earthly desires or denying the five desires, they can purify all of their senses and eradicate all of their misdeeds.”

Nichiren’s approach has the effect of popularizing, humanizing and democratizing Buddhism. In other words, by making the aspirations, dreams and frustrations of daily life the “fuel” for the process of enlightenment, Nichiren opens the path of Buddhist practice to those who had traditionally been excluded by the demands of a meditative withdrawal from the world—those, for example, who wish to continue playing an active role in the world.

It is thus not a coincidence that this attitude toward desires should be central to the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, with its emphasis on the role of lay practitioners. For people living in the midst of ever-changing, stressful realities, those challenges are a far more effective spur to committed Buddhist practice than an abstract goal of “enlightenment” through severing of all desires and attachments.

Overcoming problems, realizing long-cherished goals and dreams—this is the stuff of daily life from which we derive our sense of accomplishment and happiness. Nichiren Buddhism  emphasizes the importance not of severing our attachments, but of understanding and, ultimately, using them.

Buddhism divides the benefits of practice into the “conspicuous” and the “inconspicuous.” The new job, the conquest of illness, the successful marriage and so on are not separate from a deep, often painstaking process of self-reflection and inner-driven transformation. And the degree of motivation generated by desires can lend an intensity to our practice which ultimately reaps spiritual rewards. Bonno soku bodai—literally, “Earthly desires are enlightenment”—is a key tenet of Nichiren Buddhism.

Through our Buddhist practice, even the most mundane, deluded impulse can be transformed into something broader and more noble, and our desires quite naturally develop from self-focused ones to broader ones concerning our families, friends, communities and, ultimately, the whole world.

In this way, the nature of desire is steadily transformed—from material and physical desires to the more spiritually oriented desire to live the most fulfilling kind of life.

Nichiren Buddhist thought speaks to the existence of another kind of human desire, the basic desire, and  believes that it is the force that actively propels all other human desires in the direction of creativity. It is the source of all impelling energy inherent in life; it is also the longing to unite one’s life with the life of the universe and to draw vital energy from the universe.”

Attachment and the Lotus Sutra

I originally posted this in May 2012. Nichiren Buddhism is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism based on the teachings of the 13th Century Japanese priest Nichiren (1222-1282) and belongs to the schools of "Kamakura Buddhism".

Buddhism is a teaching of liberation, aimed at freeing people from the inevitable sufferings of life. To this end, early Buddhist teachings focused on the impermanence of all things. The Buddha realized that nothing in this world stays the same; everything is in a constant state of change. Pleasurable conditions, favorable circumstances, our relationships with those we hold dear, our health and well-being—any sense of comfort and security we derive from these things is continually

threatened by life’s flux and uncertainty, and ultimately by death, the most profound change of all.

The Buddha saw that people’s ignorance of the nature of change was the cause of suffering. We desire to hold on to what we value, and we suffer when life’s inevitable process of change separates us from those things. Liberation from suffering comes, he taught, when we are able to sever our attachments to the transient things of this world.

Buddhist practice, in this perspective, is oriented away from the world: life is suffering, the world is a place of uncertainty; liberation lies in freeing oneself from attachment to worldly things and concerns, attaining a transcendent enlightenment.

The Lotus Sutra, is revolutionary in that it reverses this orientation, overturning the basic premises of the Buddha’s earlier teachings and focusing people’s attention instead on the infinite possibilities of life and the joy of living in the world.

Where other teachings had regarded enlightenment, or the final liberation of Buddhahood, as a goal to be attained at some future point in time, in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra each person is inherently and originally a Buddha. Through Buddhist practice we develop our enlightened qualities and exercise them in the world here and now for the sake of others and for the purpose of positively transforming society. The true nature of our lives at this moment is one of expansive freedom and possibility.

This dramatic reorientation effected by the Lotus Sutra is distilled in the key and seemingly paradoxical concepts of Nichiren Buddhism that “earthly desires are enlightenment” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.” The image of the pure lotus flower blossoming in the muddy swamp is a metaphor that encapsulates this perspective—freedom, liberation, enlightenment are forged and expressed in the very midst of the murky swamp of life with its problems, pains and contradictions.

It is impossible to live in the world without attachments, or indeed to eradicate them. Our affections for others, the desire to succeed in our endeavors, our interests and passions, our love of life itself—all of these are attachments and potential sources of disappointment or suffering, but they are the substance of our humanity and the elements of engaged and fulfilled lives.

The challenge is not to rid oneself of attachments but, in the words of Nichiren, to become enlightened concerning them. The teachings of Nichiren thus stress the transformation, rather than the elimination, of desire. Desires and attachments fuel the quest for enlightenment. As he wrote: “Now Nichiren and others who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo . . . burn the firewood of earthly desires and behold the fire of enlightened wisdom...”

In their proper perspective—when we can see them clearly and master them rather than being mastered by them—desires and attachments enable us to lead interesting and significant lives. Our Buddhist practice enables us to discern their true nature and utilize them as the driving force to become happy.”

It is our small ego, our “lesser self,” that makes us slaves to our desires and causes us to suffer. Buddhist practice enables us to break out of the shell of our lesser self and awaken to the “greater self” of our inherent Buddha nature.

This expanded sense of self is based on a clear awareness of the interconnected fabric of life which we are part of and which sustains us. When awakened to the reality of our relatedness to all

life, we can overcome the fear of change and experience the deeper continuities beyond and beneath the ceaseless flow of change.

The basic character of our greater self is compassion. Ultimate freedom is experienced when we develop the ability to channel the full energy of our attachments into compassionate concern and action on behalf of others.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Moment in Love. How to Live in a Relentlessly Impermanent World. #3

Before we can live a life centered in the present, we have to let go of the past. Easier said than done, right? I can only tell you how I go about staying in the moment and what works for me. It requires the acquisition of wisdom and a lot of determination. I have to do it even when I don't want to. When I can live in the present moment, I am happy. I am very well acquainted with the fact that pain resides in the past and fear resides in the future. Truly the only place I can be comfortable is in the present moment.

Letting go of the past does not mean forgetting the past - it means letting go of the emotional baggage that we have accumulated in our many experiences. It seems like our minds have been conditioned to think and act in a certain way, hanging on to everything emotion (especially unpleasant ones) and we bring all of it into our lives everyday. It is
as if we recreate the past in the present moment.

For instance, if we had a relationship several years ago that ended sadly and we still feel the pain when that person comes to mind, maybe great pain, we can ask ourselves why we feel so much emotion over something that does not exist anymore. How can we feel so bad today over something is totally gone? I think the reason is that we are recreating the past in the present. Its not what happened in the past that is the source of the problem, its what's happening in the present.  Dragging the past into the present and reliving it as if it were real is a very bad habit. It will flavor our minds with sadness and it will make it very hard to do anything truly new, truly fresh and it will cast a shadow over our joy.

I have heard people say, and I have said it myself, that when you suffer a painful loss you never get over it completely. Today I find this idea horrifying. If it is true that you never completely get over losses, then life will always be filled with pain piled upon pain. By the end of our lives, we will be very, very sad.

Buddha's teachings on impermanence and subtle impermanence contain a powerful method to counteract the habit of hanging on to past pain. Habits can be changed - we can replace pain from the past with a day by day happiness in each moment. Again, easier said than done. I have all of the societal thoughts and training most Americans grow up believing about loss and pain. Its takes concerted effort and a lot of time to change these habits. But its so worth it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Moment in Love. How to Live in a Relentlessly Impermanent World #2

I hate everything today. I'm in the past I'm in the future I'm feeling like shit.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Moment in Love - How to Live in a Relentlessly Impermanent World. #1

These clouds on this windy day, remind me how beautiful
(and sometimes fleeting) a moment can be. - R.M.
Anyone who reads my blog knows that I'm a lesbian working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, that I believe the Buddhist path is the right path for my life and that I believe in God, a power greater than myself that knows my name and loves me. I struggle with impermanence, living in the moment and with loneliness. When I am diligently staying connected to God and living my path the three things I worry with the most fade into the background and I experience a freedom that is truly wonderful. I have recently learned that impermanence and living in the moment are intimately connected and vital to each other. Living in the present moment, this instant here and now, is a way to survive and thrive in what seems to be a relentlessly uncertain world.

Having said all of that, I had a love affair that has ended but it changed me and propelled me forward in my understanding of impermanence, living in the moment and loneliness. My top three. I learned incredible things about what exists in the moment when I stop and pay attention. The moment contains more life, more dimensions, more feeling and emotion, more possibilities than I ever knew about. The wide and abundant life currently existing in the moment all around us truly amazing. This is a very large statement I am about to make - I think all of life, more life than I ever knew existed and access to new levels of experience are contained in the moment. If I am reliving the past or tripping into the future, this new illuminated knowledge is not available to me.

Impermanence is a fact of life. Everyone dies, everything changes, nothing stays the same, at this writing I am not the same person who woke up this morning and this is my truth. Everything is continually flowing and changing. How are we to cope with this? Is there a way to feel anchored in anything or do we have to always be floating or floundering? I think one answer to living in an impermanent world is simply living in the moment. The simplest answer is usually the right one. Where am I right now? What is happening in this exact moment? Where are my feet? Do I want to just float along letting things happen to me or do I want to stay awake and be a part of something much larger?

This intro is short, but it took me all afternoon to write. I'm going to take a nap and pick this up tomorrow.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Living in the Moment

Mindfulness can be seen as the practice of “being in the moment” – but what does this actually mean? Does it mean that if we’re mindful we should never think about the past or the future, never try to plan or to reflect on our past experience?

Being in the moment means being mindfully aware of what is going on right here and now, in our experience, and this includes any thinking we do about the past or future. Much of the time our experience does not have a quality of  mindfulness. A lot of the time we are like robots, automatically living out habitual patterns of self-pity or anger, future-tripping or fear, etc. These habitual tendencies take us over and run our lives, and we aren't able to stand back and decide whether this is what we actually want to be doing. It's shocking when we realize just how habitual and automatic our lives are and when we realize how much robotic  thinking leads to emotional pain -- suffering.

When we’re in this robotic state, we’re not mindfully aware of what’s going on. We may know on some level that we’re in fear, but we probably don’t realize that we have the option not to be afraid. We fantasize without any discernment of whether what we’re thinking about is making us happy or unhappy. In fact, a lot of the time when we are letting our unexamined, automatic thoughts dominate our minds, we are not making ourselves or anyone else happy – usually its the opposite.

Being in the moment is another way of saying that we are aware of what is. When we aren't in the moment, we're re-living the past or tripping into the future. We might be dwelling on the past – brooding about some past hurt. Or we may be fantasizing about a future were we have won the lottery and are living in some imaginary paradise, or daydreaming about being in the perfect career. Often these fantasized pasts and futures are not even real possibilities but simply fantasies of how things might be or of how we would have liked them to be. As with all unmindful activity, we have no idea this fantasizing is pointless. All it does is reinforce unhelpful emotions that can never truly enhance our lives.

There are ways of mindfully thinking about the past or future. Being in the moment does not mean that we are stuck in the moment. We can mindfully and creatively call to mind past events, or imagine what might happen in the future. We can think about the past and think about how we might have acted differently, or wonder why something happened the way it did. We can think about possible futures, and of how the actions that we commit now will make those futures more or less likely. When we are thinking about the past or future while being in the moment, we are conscious that we are reflecting and we’re not lost in thought. We don’t confuse fantasy with reality. We don’t stray from thinking about the past in order to construct imaginary pasts in which we said or did the right thing. We think about the future, but rather than it being idle daydreaming we’re thinking about the consequences of our actions or maybe thinking about where we want to go in life.

Sometimes mindful daydreaming can be creative. It can be wonderful to relax the reins of consciousness and give the creative unconscious mind the opportunity to express itself. But it’s generally far more useful to have a part of our conscious mind standing by, watching for any sign that the unconscious creative expressions turning into repetitive and reactive expressions of old and unhelpful emotional patterns. The conscious mind can intervene at such moments with a light touch, a gentle redirection of our thoughts so that we stay in the present and be aware, mindful, and creative.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

I Visited Christianity and Return to Buddhism, My Entire Experience Explained in A Zen Koan - Is That So?

Is That So?  

The Zen Master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life. A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near by. Suddenly, without any warning signs, her parents discovered she was with child.This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment she at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parent went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say. After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him. He took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else he needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market. The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length and to get the child back.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: "Is that so?"

My thinking behind using this koan to explain my whole Christianity experience is pretty simple. The Christians I met are sure their belief is the only right one, that everyone should believe what they believe and act & think like they do. There is no room for doubt. They seem to accept everything their pastor says as solid, indisputable truth and do no investigation on their own. Most of them have not studied the Bible and could not answer the simplest question. So when they told me homosexuality is a sin I knew they didn't know why they thought that, they couldn't tell me where to find it in the Bible and did not want to look any deeper. My response to them: Is That So?

I don't think they will ever hear the truth or come to me and say they were wrong. Fortunately, I don't need them to.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Eightfold Path: A Secular View of Right Understanding

The path of awakening begins with a step the Buddha called right understanding. Right understanding has two parts. To start with, it asks a question of our hearts. What do we really value, what do we really care about in this life? Our lives are quite short. Our childhood goes by very quickly, then adolescence and adult life go by. We can be complacent and let our lives disappear in a dream, or we can become aware. In the beginning of practice we must ask what is most important to us. When we’re ready to die, what will we want to have done? What will we care about most? At the time of death, people who have tried to live consciously ask only one or two questions about their life: Did I learn to live wisely? Did I love well? We can begin by asking them now.

This is the beginning of right understanding: looking at our lives, seeing that they are impermanent and fleeting, and taking into account what matters to us most deeply. In the same way, we can look at the world around us, where there is a tremendous amount of suffering, war, poverty, and disease. What does the world need to foster a safe and compassionate existence for all? Human suffering and hardship cannot be alleviated just by a simple change of government or a new monetary policy, although these things may help.

On the deepest level, problems such as war and starvation are not solved by economics and politics alone. Their source is prejudice and fear in the human heart— and their solution also lies in the human heart. What the world needs most is people who are less bound by prejudice. It needs more love, more generosity, more mercy, more openness. The root of human problems is not a lack of resources but comes from the misunderstanding, fear, and separateness that can be found in the hearts of people.

Right understanding starts by acknowledging the suffering and difficulties in the world around us as well as in our own lives. Then it asks us to touch what we really value inside, to find what we really care about, and to use that as the basis of our spiritual practice. When we see that things are not quite right in the world and in ourselves, we also become aware of another possibility, of the potential for us to open to greater loving-kindness and a deep intuitive wisdom. From our heart comes inspiration for the spiritual journey. For some of us this will come as a sense of the great possibility of living in an awake and free way.

Others of us are brought to practice as a way to come to terms with the power of suffering in our life. Some are inspired to seek understanding through a practice of discovery and inquiry, while some intuitively sense a connection with the divine or are inspired to practice as a way to open the heart more fully. Whatever brings us to spiritual practice can become a flame in our heart that guides and protects us and brings us to true understanding.

Right understanding also requires from us a recognition and understanding of the law of karma. Karma is not just a mystical idea about something esoteric like past lives in Tibet. The term karma refers to the law of cause and effect. It means that what we do and how we act create our future experiences. If we are angry at many people, we start to live in a climate of hate. People will get angry at us in return. If we cultivate love, it returns to us. It’s simply how the law works in our lives.

Someone asked a vipassana teacher, Ruth Dennison, if she could explain karma very simply. She said, ‘‘Sure. Karma means you don’t get away with nothing!’’ Whatever we do, however we act, creates how we become, how we will be, and how the world will be around us.

To understand karma is wonderful because within this law there are possibilities of changing the direction of our lives. We can actually train ourselves and transform the climate in which we live. We can practice being more loving, more aware, more conscious, or whatever we want. We can practice in retreats or while driving or in the supermarket checkout line. If we practice kindness, then spontaneously we start to experience more and more kindness within us and from the world around us.

There’s a story of the Sufi figure Mullah Nasruddin, who is both a fool and a wise man. He was out one day in his garden sprinkling breadcrumbs around the flowerbeds. A neighbor came by and asked,

‘‘Mullah, why are you doing that?’’

Nasruddin answered, ‘‘Oh, I do it to keep the tigers away.’’

The neighbor said, ‘‘But there aren’t any tigers within thousands of miles of here.’’

Nasruddin replied, ‘‘Effective, isn’t it?’’

Spiritual practice is not a mindless repetition of ritual or prayer. It works through consciously realizing the law of cause and effect and aligning our lives to it. Perhaps we can sense the potential of awakening in ourselves, but we must also see that it doesn’t happen by itself. There are laws that we can follow to actualize this potential. How we act, how we relate to ourselves, to our bodies, to the people around us, to our work, creates the kind of world we live in, creates our very freedom or suffering