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Practicing Buddhism in a War Zone

Using Buddhist Philosophical Tools

 

Everyone typically looks at life from the surface standpoint. They see superficial cause and effect and think that's all there is to life. But Buddhism reveals a hidden, deeper level of life and of cause and effect. And it is this, deepest level of life that we must deal with if we are to make fundamental changes to our life.

In the last chapter we hopefully decided that we would challenge ourselves to become Buddhas in this lifetime. In this chapter we will learn some of the philosophical tools that we can utilize to accomplish this daunting task. Let me remind the reader, though, that this is not about intellectualism. What we're about to discuss can only truly be understood by someone on a mission, a mission to use Buddhist theory; A mission to become a Buddha.

Buddhist theory, unused, is by definition Buddhist theory misunderstood. So even if you "know" these theories, until you challenge yourself with at least a 90-day chanting challenge, you will not know the real meaning of them. And this goes for all of us…even we who have been acquainted with Buddhism for years. Without efforts to dig deep, using our chanting and determination to overcome all suffering as motivation, we will not really understand these seemingly simple concepts either. To coin a phrase from Richard Dawkins book "The Blind Watchmaker" we must now put on our intellectual running shoes. We may appreciate the theories without such efforts, but we'll never truly understand.

 


How to See Your Own Life


When we change our karma, meaning the cumulative cause and effect of life, at the deepest levels of our individual life, the effects of those changes "bubble up" to the visible surface level of our perception and of our environment. In other words, the changes happen at the subconscious level where they are unseen, but eventually work their way up to our conscious and visible level. Our visible level of perception about who we are and how we are is therefore insufficient for us to use in understanding our own lives correctly. To make any sense of this, we will first have to introduce the concept of Life Condition into the discussion.

Life Condition is perhaps the most useful way ever devised to look at our moment-to-moment life, and do so in the clearest, truest and deepest way. Yet Life Condition is an elusive reality. Up to this very moment you may have seen yourself as being 'one way'; as in 'I'm generally a happy person.' Or 'My whole life just sucks!' Or some other characterization of how you 'are'. Yet with just a bit of reflection you'll recognize that some days you wake up, and for no apparent reason, you seem happier, more alert, more in control of yourself, and other days - well, not so much so.

Other, more troubling scenarios might be the observations of those with life-threatening diseases, for which no known cure has yet been found. Clinical observations comparing the progression of such diseases in different individuals have shown stark contrasts. Some, with a low life condition and weak will to live, succumb to a physical state within their body that in others, with a strong life condition, merely precede years of fulfilling life or even remission of the disease. It has already been proven to many clinicians that an assertive or even aggressive life condition in a patient yields a marked difference in their recovery. (There may even be some truth to the adage "only the good die young" - it all depends on how you translate "good." My great grandmother, for instance, was known to be so mean and contemptuous to everyone, including her closest family members, that when she was given only weeks to live they all just knew that the doctors didn't know what they were talking about - she would live for years more. And, of course, they were right. She lived years longer. Maybe there should be a corollary adage: "too mean to die.")

Do you get a feel for the concept of life condition now? Hopefully you do. But Buddhism isn't just about observation of others' lives, nor about being mean. Buddhism takes the concept of life condition and goes beyond the static concept into a utilitarian one.
A concept devised by the Chinese philosopher T'ien T'ai (considered by many to also be a Buddha) elucidates the principle of the ever-changing Life Condition. He, basing his conclusions on Shakyamuni Buddha's Lotus Sutra, came up with a concept loosely interpreted as Life Condition, the Life Moment, and the Mutual Possession of the Ten Worlds. (For those of you who speak Japanese it's called ichinen sanzen.) It is a concept that is crucial to one's understanding of Buddhism and of one's own life. If you don't understand the concept of Life Condition, it's going to be very hard to understand what an enlightened Life Condition - one with no suffering, full of hope and passion - is; and that, after all, is what the practice of Buddhism is all about.

In order to have any grasp of what Life Condition is, you must first understand the relationship of time to life. This is termed the Life Moment. Each moment has, so to speak, all the potential of the future and all the history of the past, within it. That is to say, each moment is the cause for an infinite line or path of causation, and it is also the effect of an infinite history of cause and effect that has already taken place. Both past and future are thereby "contained" within the present moment. Another way of putting it is that you only have the present moment; there is no "real" past or "real" future.

So before we get into describing the present moment's general descriptions known as the Ten Worlds, let's take a moment to reflect on the fact that we don't really comprehend all of the potentials of each and every moment of our life. We all look with disdain at our present moments and think: "There's not much potential for change or for creating good in this present moment." We misunderstand our own life's potential. It's no wonder, then, that we do not live up to our life's full potential. We're always waiting for a "future moment" to deal with changing our lives. Seeing our own nature through the Ten Worlds gives us a handle on what our life is really like and what we need to do to develop it.

People who believe they already understand what their life is really like underestimate the influence of their life's past causes. Most of our present moment choices are actually predominantly made as invisibly influenced effects of past cumulative choices. So just understanding our own Ten Worlds, the Life Moment, and the concept of Life Condition does not change us, but it does give us a look at how we can go about changing ourselves, by ourselves. And that's how change, if it is to occur, will ever occur: By us more deeply understanding our own cause and effect relationships and taking the kind of actions in the present moment that transcend the influences of our past causes.


The Ten Worlds

The Ten Worlds are not physical places, but are nonetheless real. They are momentary states of life that each person can exhibit at any given time. The first six are ones in which most people live all of the time. They are commonly known as the "Six Lower Worlds." Each of us has a "Central Life Tendency" associated with one of them. That is, there is a particular Life Condition that you will always tend to go back to whenever there is a lack of internal or external stimuli to activate a different one. Keep this in mind. There will be a test on it later. Or rather, there will continually be tests on your Central Life Tendency as you learn more about it and begin the challenge of changing it. And you will be the one conducting these tests and measuring your grade against the scale of Buddhahood. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.

So then, to describe the Ten Worlds, they are:

Hell. This state of life is characterized by a feeling of hopelessness, sadness, fear, depression, lack of confidence, tiredness, the sense that nothing will change for the better and that there is nothing anyone can or will do to change it. And these feelings are not necessarily limited to people in desperate situations. People in the midst of "the good life" can become hopeless and depressed, even dwelling on or committing suicide…the ultimate expression of the World of Hell.

Hunger. This is an overwhelming feeling of desire. It could be a desire for food, but usually denotes a "need" for some external stimulus that the person in this World thinks will result in their happiness. Examples of things that a person might Hunger for are sex, companionship of a loved one, money, cars, houses, an addictive craving for drugs or alcohol to relieve your pain, and the list goes on and on. In the moment you are in the World of Hunger, you are, so to speak, a slave to your desires. Everyone alive experiences this World, just as they experience all of the other Six Lower Worlds, from time to time.
It has been said that desire is the root of suffering. Yet desire is necessary for life to be sustained. The World of Hunger, like the other nine Worlds of the Ten Worlds, has the potential of all the others within it (hence, the term Mutual Possession of the Ten Worlds). So the World of Hunger looks different on different people who have a different Central Life Tendency. It even looks different at different times to you. But let's go on.

Animality. A person in this World behaves like an animal in that they prey on those whom they perceive to be weaker than them and cower before those whom they perceive to be more powerful than them. Work environments are perhaps the most common places where behaviors arising from this World occur. And the military might just be the easiest work environment in which to see it. A person in this World may pretend to willingly do everything that their boss tells them and to respect their boss's authority. Then, when the opportunity arises, they wind up treating their own subordinates in a high-handed or authoritarian manner. Another description of Animality is contained in the common phrase "the law of the jungle." The struggle for power becomes all consuming and fear of others with more power than you debilitates you for the moment when you are in this World or Life Condition. In the Life Moment when you are in the World of Animality you perceive life in terms of nothing but power. "Who is more powerful? How do I become more powerful? Do others recognize my power? What do I need to do to express and sustain my power?" These are some of the thoughts of a person in this World.

Anger. The World of Anger is perhaps the most deceptively named of the Ten Worlds. The reason it's deceptive is that many have mastered an ability to have a smile on their face while in it. It is a condition of egotism and self-righteousness. Like Animality, it's a condition that is focused on power. Wars start from the collective Life Condition of a nation centered in the World of Anger. Dogmatism about religion, politics, relationships, etc. comes from this Life Condition. All others are to believe you simply because of who you are (your status and previous accomplishments) not because what you are saying now is necessarily reasonable or correct. The most familiar example of this world might be parental anger over the failure of a child to blindly obey an unreasonable demand. The parent becomes enraged that their authority is being challenged. They then lash out, yell, hit, or in other inappropriate ways, threaten others into obeying. If they still cannot force others to become subservient, they become embarrassed and humiliated over the incident. This humiliation may fuel further acts of Anger.

These four lower Worlds, or Life Conditions, are known as the Four Evil Paths. They are called this because they tend to lead individuals down to the lowest condition - the World of Hell.

Those in the World of Hunger, for example, after they have exhausted their efforts to obtain what they desire and cannot do so, quickly plunge into the condition of Hell or hopelessness. This is especially true if they believe that their desire is the only means of attaining happiness for themselves. As for being in the condition of Animality, you also begin to feel helpless and hopeless unless you have found a way to become the "top dog" in what you consider to be the most important aspects of your daily life. Then you become entrenched in the World of Anger, thinking yourself superior to all others and forcing your will on everyone around you. At that point, your unrelenting and egotistical attitude will be met by those with more power. Or you may be faced by those who can clearly point out your errors and cause others, from whom you obtained your power of Anger in the first place, to lose respect and quit following you. Rich people who flaunt their wealth, such as newly rich athletes for example, begin to feel so powerful that they actually become outraged when some authorities point out that they cannot break the laws about their use of drugs or other things 'no matter who they think they are.' So much for the Four Evil Paths. Now on to the fifth World.

Tranquility (also called Humanity). This is another World that is somewhat difficult to describe. This state is often mistaken for enlightenment, even by some contemporary Buddhists. It is a condition where you can use rational judgment. You can carry on conversations and have dialogues without becoming distraught about concerns for your own life or the lives of others. This condition is actually the goal of many people. This is what they strive for. They believe that if they could just become tranquil, then they wouldn't need anything else in their lives.

One of the problems with this World is that while in it, you really can't accomplish much of anything at all with your life. Desire causes people to take action, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad and, most often, somewhere in between. When people are in the World of Tranquility, they are momentarily absent from desire. This can be a good thing, and usually feels good to the person experiencing it. However, desire goes beyond selfishness sometimes and extends to helping others. For instance, one might feel a desire to stop animal abuse. In the World of Tranquility however, such a desire would be absent. So it becomes difficult to get much accomplished while in Tranquility, either for oneself or for others.

So much effort is put forth to avoid emotionalism or passion that, despite what you would think at first view, this World is actually exhausting in that it is impossible to remain in it without just shutting out the realities of your life and the lives of others. And shutting out reality doesn't really help at all. In fact, efforts to remain in this world most often lead a person straight to the World of Anger, characterized by an element of smugness over having escaped sufferings that others around them still endure. (Ever have someone shout at you, "Look, I just don't care! Leave me alone!"?) In this way, the person in the World of Tranquility, now Anger, falls prey to the same cycle of the Four Evil Paths described earlier. Or, at another extreme of the World of Tranquility, one may develop the hollow, emptiness of a catatonic-like state of life. While this temporarily relieves suffering, it does not allow joy. Absence of suffering is not joy, as we shall see with the next World.

Rapture. The condition of Rapture, as the name implies, is one of elation or ecstasy. It can be the result of a positive outcome within the World of Hunger. Obtaining what you wanted brings about a feeling of elation that consumes you for the moment. A main negative characteristic of this condition is that, while enjoyable, it is short lived. And because it is short lived, it tends to plunge your life condition deeply into the Worlds of Hell or Hunger in the instant it is over. Soon, there is a tendency for one in the World of Rapture to instantly start "looking over their shoulder" in anticipation of the fall from this condition of relative happiness. Experience has taught that it is short lived, yet they know of no other experience of happiness in their lives than when they are experiencing this Life Condition or World. They can't even conceive of pleasure that is more durable and enjoyable than the pleasures of the World of Rapture. They have no experience with much of anything outside of these Six Lower Worlds.

Most people tend to cycle through these Six Lower Worlds over and over again without any hope of breaking free from them. For instance, the person in a war zone may hunger to return home to the relative Tranquility and peace of their hometown or perhaps they Hunger for the affection of the ones they love. While these desires drive them, they can think of nothing else and they can actually become consumed by their World of Hunger. When they do finally reach their goal and leave the war zone for their desired environment, they at first live in the World of Rapture. To whatever degree of Hunger they exhibited, their Condition of Rapture now seems to correspond in intensity. But Rapture, as we have discussed, is short-lived, and the glow of the changed environment soon fades. The same problems they had before they were in the war zone seem to now start up to a greater degree than they ever did before. Believing now that there is no escape from this new-found suffering that seems frustratingly based in the sufferings they had left behind for the war zone, the person then will fall into the World of Hell or back into Hunger for some other circumstance they think will bring them happiness. Or perhaps they'll center their lives on the World of Anger or Animality, focusing on those around them, now that they're 'back home,' who fail to appreciate or support them after they've been through the intensity and struggles of war. This can even result in domestic violence or criminal social violence that puts the person in jail or to death as a result of their hopeless suffering - ironically, upon leaving the environment of the war zone. Or if the hungry-to-escape-the-war-zone-person does get a good new job and honor and reward for their efforts during the war, such praise will generally lead them to center on Anger and self-indulgent egoism. From the World of Anger they continue cycling through the Six Lower Worlds.

If the person, prior to leaving the war zone, is in the World of Hunger, but not so overcome with desire to leave as in the previous examples, they can expect less dramatic suffering upon the fulfillment of this desire. Yet the karma, the causes that led them to be there in the first place, is always with them. A constant desire for Tranquility now can insidiously overtake the person without them consciously being aware of it. Hunger for Tranquility seems to be the main thing that causes this person to take any action at all. And during those moments when they reach Tranquility, either through shutting out anyone and everyone around themselves, or through, perhaps, the use of drugs, they sooner or later then sink into the hopelessness of the World of Hell.

These are hypothetical examples of the constant cycle of the Six Lower Worlds that occurs in all people. People make choices and make causes based on the Life Condition they're in at the moment. We tend to believe we're in charge of making our life choices, but in fact, our Life Condition is the greatest influence over our choices. We are slaves to our own Life Condition and the cyclical nature of the Six Lower Worlds.

If one simply observes either their own life or the lives of those around them with these characterizations of Life Condition in mind, they will certainly see the trap of the Six Lower Worlds. Not a pleasant cycle at all, is it? It's no wonder Shakyamuni sought out an end to sufferings that we humans endure.

Now as you look around yourself with an understanding of the Six Lower Worlds, it's important to reflect on the original intent of Buddhism. Buddhism exists only to relieve suffering. Outside rules and precepts don't work to change which of the Six Lower Worlds you are in at any given moment. And good deeds don't necessarily carry you on the path to Buddhahood any more than killing, stealing, or any other negative deeds necessarily prevent you from successfully pursuing the path to Buddhahood. Eliminating suffering then, is something that is done on a much deeper plane than any "good deeds" you can perform within these Lower Six Worlds.

The things that work to eliminate your suffering and the suffering of those around you will become clearer as we discuss the next four Worlds. These Lower Six Worlds we've just discussed are painfully familiar to all of us. While the next Worlds are more pleasant to discuss, they're far more difficult to really understand.

[Author's note:]
Buddhism requires a strong sense of responsibility, self discipline and a seeking mind. But know this, you will never have to become subservient to a mentor or follow monastic rules in order to break the cycle of the Six Lower Worlds and become a Buddha. Your self-disciplined practice of Buddhism, chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo every single day, will provide a clear understanding of how to focus your efforts. Your seeking mind will then direct you in the most appropriate way toward becoming a Buddha, being in control of your life, and accepting total responsibility for your life.

From now on, as a Buddhist, the only rules you must never break: Self-responsibility for developing the compassion and wisdom of the Buddha within; Responsibility for breaking the chains of your karma that keep you trapped in the suffering cycle of the Six Lower Worlds; Responsibility to start chanting and keep chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to reach your destination. These are summed up as one rule: Do whatever it takes to become a Buddha.

I warmly and wholeheartedly encourage you to start this amazing journey right now. Trust me on this: you won't miss being trapped in your life's suffering. Fight against your own karma with chanting. Can you do an hour per day before you read the next chapter? Each and every effort to do so will bring you that much closer to becoming a Buddha.


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