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Practicing Buddhism in a War Zone

The World of Buddhahood -
The best of the best of the best, SIR!!

 

Since this chapter is about the World of Buddhahood, you’re probably expecting an explanation of the World of Buddhahood. The problem is that even though there are many similarities among people as they exhibit this World, descriptions of the subjective reality of what’s happening vary widely. The truth is that a lot happens. What one person focuses on may be completely different than what another person focuses on. And what you focus on one moment, and see as a “benefit” from chanting, may be different than what you will see as the “benefit” of chanting as soon as 15 minutes later. Usually, what you felt you needed to change about yourself is what you are going to see as either having changed or not having changed. If you feel stressed, you may, after chanting, say that chanting relaxes you. And, paradoxically, if you feel tired and burned out, you may, after chanting, say that chanting revives you and gives you energy. Did chanting have different results in each case? No. They were the same results both times, but your focus changes.

With that understanding, I’ve created a list of various things I’ve noticed happen when people chant. Here they are:

· You see yourself becoming happier.

· You notice things in your environment more.

· You pay more attention to others around you and what they are thinking and feeling.

· You find yourself embracing and reaching out to other people.

· You feel a much deeper sense of empathy and concern about the sufferings of others, even people you don’t know.

· You see situations from a different perspective, as an extension of yourself, and your actions now support them.

· You regularly see even mundane things from a much broader perspective than the vast majority of people: That of the whole universe or of an unlimited span of time.

· You take more pleasure in everything you do.

· You enjoy your life more.

· You inspire others with wondrous new realizations.

· You attract people to you for unknown reasons.

· You approach new challenges that you would have never dreamed of tackling before (and sometimes old challenges) with fresh determination and vigor.

There are thousands more benefits that come from chanting, but I can’t list them all here. I’m sure that as you chant, you’ll notice tons of changes in yourself that aren’t listed above. Really, you can’t describe Buddhahood with a list. The list is a list of results of becoming a Buddha. It isn’t a description of Buddhahood. The best way to explain what it’s like to become a Buddha is to say that becoming a Buddha is becoming a new version of you. Now that we have a description out of the way, we can get on with the important part of the article – how to become a Buddha.

The goal in Buddhism is to make enlightenment one’s central life tendency. I mentioned before that a person’s ability to make a certain World their central life tendency is the result of causes that they have made in the past. Some people spend their entire lives striving to break free from a central life tendency of Hell. For one to raise their central life tendency at all takes tremendous effort, struggle, wisdom and good fortune. Therefore, for a person to raise their central life tendency to that of enlightenment is an incredible struggle.

Within each of the Ten Worlds is the potential for each of the other nine. This is referred to as the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds. What it means in practical terms is that the potential for Buddhahood exists within each of the other Worlds. You don’t have to scratch and claw your way up through each and every one of the Worlds to reach the highest or tenth World of Buddhahood. As you become aware of your life’s tendency to cycle among the lower six Worlds, you can develop a seeking mind to escape from them.

Even if your Central Life Tendency is that of Hell, as you chant Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, you will easily and quickly escape the sufferings of Hell and find within yourself a renewed hope for your own and others’ future. If you fail to chant Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, though, you can never understand or experience the World of Buddhahood in your own life. Chanting is not an intellectualization of Buddha wisdom, such as reading passages from a wise man. Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is not a phrase about Buddha wisdom; Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is Buddha wisdom. Chanting is a direct connection to your Buddhahood, whereas pontificating or studying about Buddhism is not. As Shakyamuni Buddha said, “The true entity of all phenomena can only be understood and shared between Buddhas.” (Shakyamuni, Lotus Sutra, p.24) Therefore, the only way to do more than intellectualize the concept of the World of Buddhahood is to start chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo now and reveal the condition of Buddhahood within.

The accomplishment of enlightenment, or in other words, making the World of Buddhahood your life’s central tendency, requires Buddhist practice and involves both the World of Buddhahood and the World of Bodhisattva. As we have stated before, the moment you chant Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, your life is in the World of Buddhahood. The moment you stop, your life returns to one of the other nine Worlds, which is a process dependent upon your karma. Here an analogy may help you to understand the process of enlightenment. Suppose your life is a piece of steel and chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is like a magnet. The instant the steel (your life) touches the magnet (your chanting), it takes on magnetic properties. While actually physically in contact with the magnet, the steel itself is magnetized. When you release the steel from the magnet, the steel’s magnetic properties go away. But repeatedly rubbing the steel against the magnet causes the steel to retain the magnetic properties even after it is removed from contact with the magnet.

Chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, alone, can temporarily lift your life condition to that of the World of Buddhahood. But remember we want to make the World of Buddhahood our Life’s Central Tendency, right? In order to do that there is no other means than to activate the World of Bodhisattva to strengthen and lengthen our time spent in the World of Buddhahood. The practice of chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo along with true, selfless caring for another person, causes Buddhahood to last longer and positively influences the target of our caring.

When you chant for the first time, the condition of Buddhahood may still be weak, just as the magnetic properties within the piece of steel are weak after just touching the magnet. Therefore, you may not be able to recognize the effect of Buddhahood. However, the more time you spend chanting, the more consistently you chant every day, and the more determinedly you chant, the more you will see the various aspects of enlightenment emerging from your life.

As you challenge yourself to chant Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo lots, say an hour per day, the discipline alone will create some positive changes in your life. But don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s just discipline alone that creates the benefits of Buddhist practice. You are, without even knowing it, doing battle with yourself as you chant. You are using the World of Buddhahood to challenge that pesky Central Life Tendency World you’ve been stuck in for so long. As you pry and strain to loosen yourself from the grasp of a life of frustration and suffering, it becomes clearer, day by day, that this is what your life was “meant to do” – you are meant to be a Buddha.

There really is something that develops in a person becoming a Buddha that is quite different. A strength and confidence seems to naturally flow from you. No matter the circumstances, as a person on the path to Buddhahood, you now are an actor as opposed to being just a reactor. People no longer ignore you. People are more inclined to either really like or really dislike you. You are no longer part of their suffering club. The camaraderie of misery no longer is the tie that binds relationships. You have to make uncomfortable choices that you’ve never had to deal with in the past. And it feels good; really good to have freedom at last.

In the midst of this new paradigm of action as a Buddha, you come face to face with so many new challenges. But each new challenge feels almost reassuring in the way that it’s so relevant, so involving in the process you want for your life’s journey. The boredom of routine, of being trapped in the desperate cycles, naturally and gently falls away as new possibilities present themselves to you and come clearly into focus every day. Not surprisingly, each possibility involves someone other than you.

Just as you’re coming to grips with the thought that those around you now appear to like or dislike you more than ever before, you become aware that you can’t ignore them the way you used to. Relationships have changed. They have changed because you have changed. Your disciplined chanting of an hour per day has done something completely counterintuitive …it has given you freedom to make choices that affect you and all the people around you. Your focus is different. Your primary challenges are not about what to do because of what someone else did. Your life has always had some power to affect those around you…you just weren’t aware of it because your life condition was so weak. You’ve spent years being discouraged and made unhealthy by your long stay in the Six Lower Worlds; you never noticed it’s affect before. Now you feel strong. In just a short period of time your life condition has risen like the phoenix. But as you look around from your lofty life condition, you recall all too vividly the resentment you have for those who have been influencing, even controlling, your life up until now. It may take a while to come to grips with your own resentment. There’s no need to feel guilty about it. Sooner or later, as you continue to chant, you’ll come to an understanding that all those around you who have dragged you down before now need you…and you need them.

Why do you need them? Because deep down you do care that they are so miserable and are suffering. And helping them is central to your personal development. Your life condition of the World of Buddhahood becomes more and more obvious to you while you’re chanting. But it also becomes more and more obvious to you that it doesn’t last the way it seemed to last when you first started chanting.

If you’ve been chanting for several months or years, you may have lost your passion. Your journeys to the World of Buddhahood may quickly lapse into the World of Learning or World of Realization the instant you’ve stopped chanting. It may become really difficult to chant with anything resembling passion anymore.

The resistance of significant antagonists can bring out something in you that without them you have no chance to develop. Resistance from others can reignite the flame of passion in your practice and in your life that has faded with time and isolation. Opposition from others helps us to concentrate when we chant, gives us a reason to develop ourselves, and gives us something to chant about, study about, and think about. When opposed, we’re sharp and ready. When unopposed, we become lazy and stagnate. In Buddhism, there are no real enemies other than the ones within. Hostility from others only furthers our resolve to propagate Buddhism, become a better person, and become a Buddha. Since your enemies are really your biggest allies for your own development, how can you not feel a debt of gratitude toward them? When you recognize yourself at a plateau in your practice, realize that now is the time to retake the oath of a Buddha.

The oath of Buddhas is to make all others equal to themselves. It’s what a Buddha does, by definition. You see, overcoming suffering cannot be limited to just a Buddha. Seeing suffering people all around you causes you to suffer. If the definition of a Buddha is one who has overcome all sufferings…especially those of the all-inclusive categories Shakyamuni illuminated: the four sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death…then one who suffers on account of the suffering people around them has not completed the transformation to that of a Buddha.

You can accomplish the feat of challenging the suffering of all the people around you by sincerely caring and chanting and communicating to them the very real hope that lies dormant in their lives. Doing this will relieve your own suffering on behalf of them. There will always be some who will not listen…at least not right away. But there will also always be some who are deeply impacted by your words and by your sincere and passionate caring. No one, though, will escape unscathed from their encounter with you – IF you’re sincere and truly care about their happiness. It may be next week, next month, next year, or maybe even longer, but sooner or later people find themselves in circumstances that reawaken the hope-filled words you’ve spoken to them about their Buddha Nature within.

Yet we refrain from expressing our concern for other’s happiness and for the development of their lives because we fear rejection. Fear blocks compassion. Compassion can only blossom when we are inwardly strong, emotionally, when we have confidence in our Buddha Nature.

When we see ourselves become fearful of others’ opinions, so much so that it stops us from communicating sincerely with them, we can prod ourselves onward to develop compassion by developing our inner strength.

Reasoning is not our enemy here. We can ask ourselves why we care so much about the possibility that others will totally reject our sincere concerns. We can understand that we have allowed others to control our lives by fearing their rejection. We can reason with ourselves that from our own personal experience we have never made significant gains in our relationships without accepting risks – without “putting ourselves out there.” Most importantly – and you’d be surprised how frequently this is overlooked by Buddhists – we can chant Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to strengthen our lives and to bring out our Buddha wisdom.

But it doesn’t stop with chanting; it starts with it. Practicing compassion is important in order to develop compassion and to develop your Buddhahood. Empathy is the first step to committed, life-changing, World of Bodhisattva compassion. Can you put yourself in another’s place? Can you imagine how their troubles feel? This takes sincerity, but it’s not all that difficult to do. You see, it doesn’t have to be everyone around you that is the target of your compassion. Eventually, perhaps, it will be. But for now target a person, an animal, any life you really care about already. Chant for them. Communicate with them. Practice selflessness by focusing, even for a moment of the time you spend chanting, on alleviating their sufferings. Chant with your whole heart for them.

Practicing compassion changes the way you practice Buddhism. It changes the way you deal with others. If you keep doing it, the inevitable results will be repeated interactions with people where you challenge their long-held superstitions and false beliefs that caused them to suffer and look outside themselves for the answers in the first place. The results of this kind of practice will be a strengthening of your life condition, your Buddha compassion and your Buddha wisdom.

So why do I feel the need to try to encourage this if it’s so simple and results in such wonderful outcomes? Because when you try it, you’ll find out just how hard it is to do. There are many things that block your development: fears, insecurities, mistakes, and failures. As you challenge yourself to practice compassion, you will find that each specific block is right there facing you. Your practice of Buddhism becomes self-directed at this point. There is no need for anyone to tell you what to do anymore. No mentors or teachers are needed now. Your blocks to compassion become your road map. You are the only one who knows how to do this, specifically as it relates to your own life. This is what practicing Buddhism is all about.

You can do this in a crowd, I suppose, as in chanting with large groups of people. But from my own experience I’ve found that progress happens most often when I’m chanting alone or with my wife. I can recall, though, times when dealing with groups of people at Buddhist meetings that I chanted sincerely to help even one other person see a glimmer of their life’s potential through practicing Buddhism. At such times I’ve actually astounded myself at the encouraging words that came tumbling out of my mouth. It was like another person was inside of me doing the talking. It was encouraging and it felt really, really good. But you won’t always have others around you. You will always have yourself. And others can and often do distract or become excuses for the derailment of your life condition development. Bottom line: practice compassion alone or with others, but practice it.

The World of Buddhahood and the World of Bodhisattva work together to create the enlightened Buddha that is dormant inside of each of us. As I’ve said before, they are symbiotic Worlds. The World of Buddhahood is strengthened and lengthened in your life in direct proportion to the efforts and sincerity you put out in practicing Buddhism in the World of Bodhisattva. Buddhahood doesn’t just happen by thinking about it. It doesn’t just happen by believing the right things. It doesn’t just happen because you belong to the right Buddhist group or temple. A Buddha must take action to challenge their karma in the Lower Worlds and establish their Central Life Tendency in the World of Buddhahood. Challenge takes much courage, but even a moment’s efforts to challenge your life’s weaknesses results in immediate and wonderful changes in your life. It’s no wonder people have historically looked at Buddhas as supernatural or magical beings. The changes you experience as you begin to exhibit the World of Buddhahood – lengthened and strengthened by the World of Bodhisattva – are astounding. It does seem magical when you practice Buddhism this way. These two Worlds, working together in your life, are the most powerful and dynamic forces for change imaginable.

This article is about practicing Buddhism in a war zone. It may seem to some that it is impossible, or at the very least ironic, that I would be trying to teach people about Buddhist compassion who are involved in a situation and an environment where there are people trying to kill them and where they are often asked to carry out missions knowing that they will have to kill another person. It has been said that Buddhism is the true Great Equalizer though. I believe this wholeheartedly. Examined carefully, everyone is exposed to conflict of some sort or another. And from the standpoint of cause and effect, there is no one who is not, at the very least, complicit in the crime of inflicting pain or death on others. For example, I’m a taxpayer who thereby helps to fund the war in Iraq (however unwillingly). There are also many indirect causes that I make every day that result in a negative effect to another, even though that is not my intent. Those in a war zone have the very same access to internal change that I do. And internal change always shows up externally as well. No one lives in a vacuum. Everything we think, do or say affects others in some way. The power generated by the internal change of a person attaining Buddhahood is greater than anyone can measure. And the circumstances in which that change happens are unimportant to the process. In fact, if history is any indication, it is more likely that a person will create dynamic change – will attain Buddhahood – in the midst of conflict and turmoil than in a peaceful and comfortable place in their life.

So is it unreasonable to think that a person in a uniform with a gun in their hands can practice Buddhism? Absolutely not! Appearances are often deceiving. The situation does not make the man (or woman). And the positive ramifications from even one person trying to do this are astronomical. But I’ll guess that very few readers are really convinced yet.

Here’s a test you can do to prove to yourself the nature, the difficulty and the amount of time required to engage in a selfless Buddhist practice. It will show you what it feels like to do this in your present circumstances. It will help you face your own excuses for not challenging yourself. It will help you see that this practice really and truly is not hampered in any way by the circumstances of the practitioner of Buddhism.

Chant Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo while thinking of nothing other than the happiness of one other person. Picture them in your mind’s eye. Empathize with their suffering. Visualize their face becoming happy. See how long you can chant before your mind switches back to yourself. If you’re honest with yourself while doing this, it’s unlikely that you will be able to manage more than a minute or two. Five minutes of compassionate focus is an extremely long time. And I don’t mean doing mental gymnastics while chanting. I’m not talking about chanting while thinking “If this person becomes happier then I’ll be happier not having them so miserable around me.” That’s just about you. It’s not really chanting for them. Chanting for someone with pure caring and sincerity means wracking your brain as you chant to try to find how to make them happy. It means wishing that they would immediately become happy without them giving you credit for it or even knowing what you’re doing. I’ll be willing to bet that people in life threatening circumstances are more capable of this kind of compassionate chanting than people who are not.

If you’re one of those rare individuals who find it easy to chant for others, I’ll be willing to bet that you find it difficult to chant for your own happiness. This is why I said that practicing compassion is a road map for your practice. If you can’t sincerely chant for your own happiness – if, perhaps, you feel stabbing pangs of guilt over self indulgent thought – you need to focus on re-establishing the worth of your own life. Without a high level of self-esteem, some would even say a level bordering on arrogance, you can have little impact on the world around you. You must develop respect for all life, including you own, and realize that life, at its deepest level, is one. There is no separation of life. For you to neglect your own life is called self-slander and is very serious in terms of negative cause and effect.

But if you are able to chant for others and for yourself – for the development of your own Buddhahood, then it’s time you expanded your caring for others further and deeper than it is right now. There is no ultimate amount of caring. There is no limit to the impact you can make through your focus of chanting and developing your Buddhahood. If you are self-satisfied with where you are in your life I would say you lack both sincerity and true compassion. You also lack a seeking mind. A seeking mind is a requisite for Buddhahood. Until every last bit of suffering has been eliminated, there is no time to indulge in complacency. A single person’s transformation to a Buddha can impact and change the whole world or even the universe. The practice takes but a second and it takes an entire lifetime.

The more sincerity you can pour into a single moment of your practice of Buddhism the more extreme the results. An atomic bomb’s explosive power is developed at a level that’s so small it’s invisible to the naked eye. A human who transforms themselves into a Buddha does so unnoticed by others. It’s only through their actions derived from gut-wrenching caring that it is accomplished. This is not a calm, sleepy process. It happens during conflict and anguish. It’s meditation for the real world problems that mankind faces. What goes on in your life when you chant for the enlightenment of others and yourself is unstoppable. No prison can stop it. No threats can stop it. Absolutely nothing can. The process only gathers power as it encounters external resistance.

I’m not encouraging that we should all take up guns so that we can practice Buddhism in a war zone. I’m just saying that this practice is all about practicing caring — for others and for self. And it involves practicing caring and selflessness while living in the midst of a battle for self preservation. The battle for self preservation rages on everywhere. No one practices Buddhism who is not in some kind of a war zone.

 


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