Oh, I’m sorry; that’s the Dalai Lama. It’s just that the Washington Post has had at least one item (often two or more) about his visit to the DC area for at least the past week. No need to be snarky or whiny here; he is doubtless a well-spoken exponent of peace and understanding. He is revered both as a political leader (most Americans love championing the underdog; as the exiled leader of the theocratic Tibet he qualifies) and as a charismatically hipper version of the familiar Buddhist monks. So what is it then, that I am trying to say here? That news reports might mislead the uninitiated or uninformed into thinking that the Dalai Lama’s significance in the world of Buddhism is greater than it is or that Tibetan Buddhism is a dominant form of Buddhism.
The fact is that Daisaku Ikeda, leader of the Nichiren-Buddhist international lay organization, the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), has received over 200 honorary degrees from prestigious universities throughout the world. The SGI has members in more than 190 countries and is the largest Buddhist organization in both Japan and the United States. Its membership is exceedingly diverse (not just intellectuals, Hollywood celebrities, New Age types, etc.) racially, ethnically, educationally, economically, and otherwise. This certainly cannot be said of most Western religions and not even of other Eastern religions, including Tibetan Buddhism. Why is this so? It is because the practice of Nichiren Buddhism can be easily learned by anyone, creates value for everyone and provides a plausible hope of peace and happiness for the entire world. Don’t take my word for it; look at the 20-minute video on the SGI website.
Usually, I suspect, most people associate new technology with decreasing pollution; that is not necessarily the case. Old technology–thousands of years technology, such as the rake, creates no air pollution, unlike gasoline powered leaf blowers. The rake is also quiet, making little or no noise beyond a soothing susurration as the leaves brush against each other and the grass. The leaf blower, of course, roars like a horrible hive of very angry bees–virtually stinging the ears and obliterating all hope of contemplation or concentration. In little more time (if more at all) it took two men to push leaves across a neighbor’s lawn today, they easily could have pulled the leaves into a pile with wide-swath rakes.
October 18th marks 27 happy years of marriage for me. It easily might not have been, had my father-in-law carried out his reported threat to kill his daughter and I were we to marry. He didn’t of course. Did he really mean it? I don’t know, but Juanita thought him capable of it. We had no choice but to take him at his word; it would have been foolish to do otherwise. As it turned out, his threat and our response to it was what secured our future happiness. What greater motivation to practice your religion seriously than a bona fide fear of imminent death? Consequently, we accepted the challenge of overcoming his animosity and prayed daily for his happiness. As a result, he did in fact become happy. For more details, read my book, Waiting for Westmoreland. Despite the title, it is not primarily a book about Vietnam or life in the military–although those certainly are important parts of the memoir.
It’s been years, many years, since I last marched in protest of anything. Then it was the Cambodian incursion of May, 1972. Two and one-half years of protesting hadn’t brought an end to the war. Campaigning for McGovern didn’t work either. It only ended when Dick Nixon and Henry Kissinger decided it was time. Several more years passed before I realized that politics and protest didn’t change much of anything. What brings about change is inner reformation, that kills the will to kill. An inner reformation that entails becoming a more humane person, a person that values not only the lives of people who look like oneself, speak like oneself, pray or have beliefs like oneself. If I were to march in protest now, it wouldn’t just be in Lafayette Square or Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House–assuming one could actually do that without being subject to arrest by the Secret Service or being run off by the President’s goons as has happened at various locations where W travels. No, today I would march in front of the State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security.
It’s time for Blackwater’s contract to come to an end. Maybe they haven’t really been guilty of all the allegedly unnecessary shootings in Iraq. I have worked for a government agency; I know the press can and does make mistakes. But when U.S. Army personnel say that the rear windows of civilian vehicles leaving the scene of a gun battle were shot out but not the front windows, something is wrong. When military personnel say they can’t find shell casings from insurgents but only shell casings from Blackwater weapons, something is wrong. One isolated incident, two isolated incidents, three or four could perhaps be aberrations. But the reports keep coming. Where there is smoke, there is generally fire. When it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.
I have not met anyone face to face who is employed by Blackwater, so I can’t pretend to know for certain what is in their hearts or their minds. Yet I can’t help but suspect, given the images of the personnel in news reports and the comments from a wide range of American civilian and military personnel in a position to know, that there is a swagger and an attitude that comes from having powerful weapons and no effective constraint on how or when they are used. The hypervigilance, the shoot first ask questions later behavior happens to many people facing death at the hands of unknown combatants. The defensiveness comes through loud and clear from the spokespersons, on up to the founder and CEO of the company. The bottom line is, the people who work there are mercenaries. Their job, if necessary, is to shoot to kill to protect the clients they guard. The problem is, like pit bulls and other guard dogs, when employed too long in such an occupation–without adequate control, supervision and retraining, such people can become as dangerous as the people they are supposed to protect others from. They lose their humanity.
Is there such a thing as luck? A blues song recorded long ago and covered again and again says, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.” People go to casinos across America and play the lotteries hoping for that big strike. Some do it for entertainment but more probably hope that luck will bring them fortune. Sadly, it is often those who can least afford to lose who blow the most money.
Adrian Savage has an excellent post about luck on Lifehack. Once again, it is interesting to find congruence with Buddhist principles of cause and effect, even when they are not denominated as such. The Savage post doesn’t deal with gambling per se but discusses other perspectives about people attributing their circumstances to bad luck. He dismisses such thoughts, suggesting that people realize that they can and should simply take control of their own lives. He concludes that “your luck … is pretty much what you choose it to be.”
I couldn’t agree more. However, I would add to the discussion that effects of negative karma, could readily be perceived as bad luck–when in fact, of course, they are a consequence of bad causes made at a prior time. Making good causes now will create better effects in the future, that will not necessarily eradicate karma (luck, very loosely speaking) or effects from past causes. To really change that negative karma entails a Buddhist practice for oneself and others–chanting the words Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and explaining the reality of this teaching to others.
Yes, that’s right; you are a Buddha. Maybe you’re used to hearing, “you the man.” Well, this is like that, only it’s better. We all have a Buddha nature. In some of us it is more encrusted with mean and nasty stuff. Some of us just have trouble expressing it. One day, some time ago now, my lovely wife Juanita remarked, “I can’t find the words in my mind.” I put a note in an Outlook folder, thinking I might use this some day–so here it is. I can’t always find the words in my mind either, which is why I didn’t post anything yesterday. I couldn’t let another day go by without saying something, even if it doesn’t seem as though many people are reading what I am posting. Anyway, the point about being the Buddha in reality and not just in potential lies in exerting yourself to practice and study Buddhism both for yourself and for others. What, you are not a Buddhist? Then why are you still reading this? If you want to be genuinely happy, in control of your own destiny, then you need to at least consider what it means to practice Buddhism. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the basic practice. The purpose is to fuse your life with the mystic law, elevating your life condition and enabling your Buddha nature to emerge. Find out more at SGI, SGI-USA, or other links you will find on Eagle Peak Press.
Two years ago today, she passed away. Perhaps an unlikely bodhisattva, Jackie brought joy to everyone she met. Bounding down the hall at Hayfield Animal Hospital, enthusiastically wiggling her nubby tail in anticipation of visiting one doctor or veterinary technician or another–so unlike the other pets quivering frantic and fear struck in the waiting room.
She came from the animal shelter, abandoned by her former owner. Nine-year-old Jennifer wanted a dog. Reluctantly we agreed. On a test walk, Jackie flopped on her back to expose a belly for rubbing. We took this to mean that she liked and trusted us. Actually, that was her personality–loving and friendly to everyone. Still, as a 75-pound Giant Schnauzer, she was a fierce watchdog behind the family door–barking furiously at a knock until certain of who was on the other side.
Jackie turned out to be my dog–or more accurately, I turned out to be her person. She adopted me. She did gongyo with mom and I every morning and night. If I were a little late, she reminded me that I needed to conduct the Buddhist ceremony.
She had been with us for ten years when cancer struck. She went quickly, without complaint or obvious pain. We took a trip to the mountains of West Virginia her last week of life. She scampered carefree and happy 60 yards ahead of us on the wooded trails, looking back for us to catch up. On the way home she couldn’t keep food or water down. At the hospital, she still wagged her stubby tail in friendly greeting to the staff, but the next morning we had to let her go, after doing gongyo and chanting with her one last time in the family room of the hospital. In the “Treasure of a Filial Child,” Nichiren Daishonin says, “When the fox of Mount Shita encountered the Buddha’s teachings, he grew dissatisfied with life, longed for death, and was reborn as the god Shakra.” WND, p. 1041. I cannot say if that will be Jackie’s destiny in her next life; but at least a human, I am sure.
A letter in the Washington Post today, “And This Is the Thanks I Get” gave notice that the writer is “out of the wallet finding business.” She recited three instances in which she received only a token thank you at best, despite taking pains to ensure a lost wallet found its way back to its rightful owner. It is human nature to expect appreciation from those we confer a benefit upon, especially when there was no obligation to do so on our part and the benefit is significant for the other. No doubt in recognition of this nature, the admonition “virtue is its own reward” can be found in the writings of Cicero and Ovid, on through English and American writers and no doubt many religious texts. Buddhism has a slightly different take than this commonly accepted view.
Daisaku Ikeda points out in Buddhism Day by Day: Wisdom for Modern Life, that “Inconspicuous virtue brings conspicuous reward. From the perspective of Buddhism, we never fail to receive the effects of actions, whether good or bad …” In other words, doing good deeds creates good karma or making good causes creates good effects. Significantly, the effect is simultaneously inscribed in one’s life at the same moment as the cause. As is the case with many phenomena, the effects however are not necessarily immediately manifest. So, in practical terms, while it may appear that virtue has gone unrewarded, the reward may simply be delayed. There is no point then in feeling resentment at ingratitude–you will get whatever reward you deserve just not from the ingrate. The ingrate has his own less positive result coming, for the lack of appreciation shown.
Looking at a face, what do you see? The beauty of symmetry, research says, biases our opinions toward others. Those who more closely approximate perfection receive more assistance, more rewards, better treatment and so on. The farther from perfection, the less likely is one to receive promotions, raises, the winning votes in an election and so on. Strangely though, doesn’t it seem that those same beautiful people, if they misbehave in some way–quickly become the object of schadenfreude? It is as if while we reward their appearance, we envy them and happily revel in their fall from the pedestals on which put them. In Buddhism, appearance is one of ten factors that are an operational or functional part, if you will, of the workings of karma.
Like anyone else, I too am struck by the face of beauty. Yet I am often, not always, able to see beyond the superficial to the genuine appearance that lies beneath. Bodhisattva Never Despising, an allegorical character in the Lotus Sutra, was said to walk about bowing to everyone he met, saying he could not despise them for they would eventually attain Buddhahood. The people, in turn, would strike him with sticks or stones. The worth of individual human beings is always there, beneath the skin. The eyes, some say, are the windows of the soul. Whether by looking into the eyes, listening closely to the voice or following the subtle movements of one facial feature or another, I can see the inner beauty, the Buddha, the transcendent worth, the valuable contribution an individual is making to human existence. It takes no special talent or effort, just a shift in perception that comes with the practice of Buddhism.