The other day I received a response with a question about my post on inner peace, which appeared last week. Because that question is one I have heard or been asked several times in the past I thought I would just write a blog post about it. Because it is the sort of question that occurs somewhat frequently in one form or another I am posting it so that perhaps I can just post a link to the article next time it occurs. At any rate it is a good exercise for me to engage in and I ask your forgiveness if you think you need it.
Let me begin by saying that since this is my blog I am free to say what I want, and you the reader are free to disagree. Here I am going to exercise my prerogative of saying what I want. Please don’t take this as me being snarky or flip. I mean this sincerely. What I post on this blog is mainly about my personal experience of practicing the Lotus Sutra in the Nichiren Shu tradition. It is my experience, which I hope can be used to inspire others to enjoy this Buddhist way. Since it is based on my experiences and my understanding it will not be universally or even infallibly true. It will be simply what it is.
The question I was asked sort of boiled down to a statement about the perception that Nichiren Buddhism is all about striving and what I said about inner peace was somehow in opposition to both. It was not a criticism of my post but of the perception of Nichiren Buddhism. The statement was followed with a question about whether what I said from my personal belief or from a “more orthodox Nichiren belief?” Examples offered to demonstrate the contradiction were their view that Nichiren Buddhism is about “a practice of striving (chanting, for example) and a practice for attaining “outer peace” (social engagement, peace protests, etc.)” The quotations are indeed their actual words.
At this point I should say that I do not feel responsible for defending Nichiren Buddhism or the Lotus Sutra. I also am not responsible for any conclusions people formulate on their own and then hold up as a truth, either personal or universal. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, however they are acquired. Also I am not the final expert on all things Nichiren or Lotus Sutra. I am simply one person who tries to carry out the practice of the Lotus Sutra as taught by Nichiren.
So, first, as to the matter of striving, let me say all life is striving and all of living is striving. Simply put, the next breath you take will only be because at the base of your brain, the stem, a signal is being sent telling your lungs to breath. The muscles will exert an effort to cause your lungs to expand which in turn causes air to enter either your nose or your mouth; that is unless you are sitting there with a gaping hole in your chest.
If anyone thinks for even a moment that the Buddha did not strive, they are imagining a fairy tale Buddha, as real as every fairy tale. The Buddha was the Buddha because he strove. He stove to understand the way to eliminate the suffering of mankind. Once he became enlightened, he got up from the tree and strove tirelessly teaching his enlightenment. He stove endlessly until the day he died. To think otherwise, to think that Buddhism even exists today without striving or will continue to exist into the future without striving is to ignore the facts, the realities of Buddhism.
Inner peace and striving are not two contradictory states of being. The fault is that for us moderns we have come to think of striving as being an all out or nothing thing. Perhaps we might even confuse it with obsession and compulsion of acquiring things or of achieving success. The two are not the same; at least to me they are not.
Chanting Odaimoku is no more striving than sitting silently in meditation. Chanting Odaimoku is just another form of meditation and meditation is striving, to one degree or another. The trick is not to obsess or be compulsive. Either one done obsessively or compulsively is not practicing Buddhism. Bragging about how long one sits silently is no different than doing the same about chanting. Whether you sit or chant for 1 minute or for days is of no value to anyone not even yourself. The value is whatever value it had for you, not in the time it took. I have been practicing for over 40 years, and all I have to show is imperfection, so of what value is my 40 years to anyone.
Chanting or meditation can be a chore for anyone, it can also be equally liberating to anyone. So what is the difference? The only difference is the mind of the individual, and what limitations they are placing upon themselves; what hindrances are residing internally they are avoiding.
Buddhism is all about effort. It is Right Effort though. It is gentle, kind, consistent, middle way effort. Without any effort at all one would be left with almost none of the Eightfold Path which would shatter the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha exerted great, kind, loving, compassionate, selfless, unrelenting, effort so that we could become enlightened.
Ok, so now on to the “outer peace”. Some examples used were social engagement, peace protests, and “etc.”. I am not sure what is to be included in “etc.” hopefully it will be covered.
I would offer as a very pointed rebuttal the very example of the Buddha. The Buddha was very socially engaged. If he had not been we would not have Buddhism today. The difference perhaps is that the cause the Buddha involved himself in was the cause for all mankind to be able to eliminate suffering. Today others use Buddhism as a basis for their engagement in particular social causes such as world peace, or eliminating hunger, or struggling against social issues around homelessness, running hospice houses, or providing food to the hungry and on the list could go on.
These kinds of efforts are not unique to Nichiren Buddhists, nor are they unique to Buddhism. As Buddhists we do not have a monopoly on social engagement, though I do feel we should be examples, especially if no one else is.
To not be socially engaged is to me to be less than human. If you look at the four lower worlds, they are all in a way sub human. They do not call upon the person to consider anyone other than self. The difference between the world of hunger and bodhisattva is that when sitting at the banquet table with a six foot fork the bodhisattva uses his fork to feed someone else and the person in hunger struggles to find a way to maneuver the six foot utensil into their own mouth.
One of the characteristics of the realm of humanity is the ability to consider others. If for a moment someone thinks that Buddhism is about living in the four lower worlds to the exclusion of the others, then they ignore the very reason Siddhartha gave up his worldly possessions, practiced austerities, gave up the selfish practice of austerities, ate porridge, sat under the tree battled Mara, and then got up from the tree and gave his life away selflessly to teach what he had attained. If the Buddha had never gotten up from the tree and stayed true to his original idea of sharing his enlightenment, the way to overcome suffering, we would not have the luxury of any kind of Buddhist practice, either silent meditation or chanting.
Now, on to chanting. I won’t belabor this because there is nothing new or unique about chanting. Chanting is practically if not absolutely a universal practice. I am not sure there has ever been a spiritual practice that at one point did not engage in chanting of some form or another. Even the military uses chanting and has since time beginning. Silent sitting, or what some people think is the only real form of mediation, has also been used probably in all spiritual practices. Buddhism is not unique in the value it places on any form of meditation.
What is probably unique, is that we moderns with our ever so clever, and arrogant minds waste our time debating what is the “best” or the “correct” way and so forth. We create a silly, no foolish, false dichotomy where one is and one is not, and pity the fool that chooses the one we do not think is the absolute one.
Simply stated chanting is meditation. And both are possible to do and be of no value to the doer. You can waste as much time doing both or you can benefit, is up to the operator. The error is not in the operating system it is in the user.
I think I am almost done here so if I still have your attention bear with me tad bit longer.
Regarding inner peace and outer peace. It has been my observation that if you don’t have inner peace you really don’t have outer peace. Yes I suppose a person could fake it but in the end I think the truth would be revealed. Fundamentally would you have outer peace if you had no inner peace? You might have an illusion of peace, but that is all it would be an illusion.
Ok, this one last thing. Nichiren Buddhism is not such an aberration, as people would sometimes like to make it. Most of the time these kinds of assertions that somehow Nichiren Buddhism is some weird offshoot of Buddhism is more a round about way of trying to assert some superiority. In other words if they make one thing out to be inferior then they have crated a solid, in their mind solid, ground upon which to base their superior attitude.
There really isn’t much about Nichiren that can’t be found in others throughout the history of Buddhism. Nichiren taught his understanding of the Lotus Sutra. He did what he thought was best to enable common people to attain enlightenment by making it accessible and easy enough to practice. Yes he was socially engaged. There are many contemporary Buddhist leaders who are equally socially engaged maybe even more so, asserting even political power. No one, or not many, criticize them for being political and yet Nichiren, because he criticized the government of his time, is some how worth finding flaws and pointing them out.
Nichiren Buddhism is very much like any other Buddhism, the only real difference is we uphold the Lotus Sutra. Other Buddhist follow other sutras, or in the case of Chan Buddhism, no sutras. There are some American versions of Buddhism that have decided to abandon certain practices that have been a part of Buddhism and continue to be a part of Buddhism. In a way they might be the aberration, I’ll leave that to each person.
I think fundamentally the problem is not the divisions of Buddhism but the ease with which we moderns can slide in to superior/inferior thought patterns. We moderns are such an arrogant bunch that we all too easily get on high horses and look down our noses at others. It really is a case of animality to the extreme. Animality is not the practice of Buddhism any more than the hunger I mentioned several hundred words ago.
If I were to boil all this down it would be simply that it is not accurate to think that in any way Nichiren Buddhism is not about inner peace. Nor is it accurate to think Buddhism does not include striving. The trick for each of us is, as I also said several hundred words ago, finding a true middle path.
Thanks for hanging around to the end. I have no prize to give to you, so if you were expecting one I can only ask, how does it feel to expect? Seriously, I hope you did not take offense at anything I have written. I only hope it is somehow a bit ‘enlightening’.