Tag Archives: Buddhism

Optimism

Over the past year, we’ve had much political commentary on Views from Eagle Peak. Some of it has been rather polemical. Some, seriously satirical. Some, more observational and some intentionally humorous in an effort to lighten the mood of those afflicted by our current situation. The objective is to create and retain a sense of optimism. We’ll skip the clichés that describe that in contemporary America and perhaps around the world.

As a Buddhist, I don’t shun observations about what I see as the reality of politics in America. With regard to optimism, a phrase from the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin you may have seen here before, reads:

“When great evil occurs, great good follows.”

It’s not a foregone conclusion that such should happen, but rather it is through the efforts of practitioners that it will. Thus, Nichiren goes on to say in this short missive (possibly an excerpt; the date and recipient are unknown):

“What could any of you have to lament? Even if you are not the Venerable Mahakashyapa, you should all perform a dance. Even if you are not Shariputra, you should leap up and dance. When Bodhisattva Superior Practices emerged from the earth, did he not emerge dancing?”

Hardly seems pessimistic, does it? But, have any of you felt like dancing amidst the chaos created by America’s White House occupant? Probably not, I suspect. Yet I find Nichiren’s words both convincing and encouraging that wonderful things will happen in time. This despite the evils of America’s so-called President. I am confident that the country and the world will not only survive but can thrive. But let’s be clear, it will take effort on the part of many. Consider what Daisaku Ikeda, president of the international Buddhist organization says about Buddhist optimism, in Buddhism Day by Day.

“Buddhist optimism is not the escapist optimism of those who throw up their hands and say, ‘Somehow or other things will work out.’ Rather it means clearly recognizing evil as evil and suffering as suffering and resolutely fighting to overcome it. It means believing in one’s ability and strength to struggle against any evil or any obstacle. It is to possess a fighting optimism.”

Whether you practice or believe in Buddhism as I do, the explanation and admonition of Daisaku Ikeda is valid for anyone. Pollyanna’s need not apply. Only those willing to work for the results they hope for will validate optimism.

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Acknowledgements: See attributions for block quotes

A Milestone–40 Years of Buddhist Practice

The tagline of Views from Eagle Peak is “Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions.” That’s something that takes wisdom, which is something that comes from time and faith. Faith in something that works. Eagle Peak is an allegorical reference to a place where the Buddha lives and practices. In one sense it’s an actual place. More generally, anywhere one practices Buddhism is Eagle Peak. A place where one can see how and why things are the way they are. Cause and effect.

Today is the 40th anniversary of my commitment to practicing Buddhism. Looking for hope, a methodology and  a means to achieve my goals and dreams. I needed to overcome indecision and procrastination. Almost without noticing it, I did. All a part of what Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Daisaku Ikeda calls “human revolution.” An inner transformation of character. One that enabled me to overcome so much and achieve so much.  I could go on for many pages describing the good fortune and joy this practice has brought me,  but I won’t. Instead, here’s a short list.

  • I am in a happy and successful marriage, now in its 36th year, after two failed ones. In so doing, my wife and I overcame the death threat of her father, who after just a couple years welcomed me into his home and later said, “just call me Dad.”
  • After a year in Vietnam which began ten years before I encountered Buddhism, my illusions were shattered about America’s virtues and my innocence was lost. My faith and practice couldn’t bring back the innocence but it gave me the means to make the world a better place by making myself a better person.
  • From a lazy person contemptuous of authority—something three years in the Army fostered, I became a trusted employee at a local government agency. Upon my retirement, the agency director (a retired full colonel from the US Army) said this, “Whenever I wanted something done right and on time, I gave it to John.”
  • Nearly ten years ago, I recounted the experiences which led me to Buddhism and the benefits that resulted from that human revolution in a memoir, Waiting for Westmoreland.
  • Now, I am finally on the way to writing fiction, my goal from childhood. A short story collection, The Fountain, went on sale July 10th on Amazon.
  • We live in a dream house, high atop a hill in southwestern New Mexico. A house I designed on a computer. A far cry from the home I grew up in, foreclosed on when I was 11. My mother could not pay the mortgage after my father died four years before. She died five years later.
  • From the poverty of my youth, my wife and I have taken many wonderful vacations with two children—now grown and on their own. We continue to travel, now more often on our own. In the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, this financial security is called, “treasures of the storehouse.”
  • We have had a few health problems now and then, but by and large we are not inconvenienced greatly by them and have overcome them. Similarly, in our Buddhist faith, this is called “treasures of the body.”
  • Of the three treasures, “treasures of the heart” are the most valuable or important. These too, we have in abundance. The certainty that we can achieve anything, that we can overcome any adversity. That our happiness is absolute—not relative, like winning the lottery, a wonderful car or a wonderful home that could be destroyed by fire or flood.

One doesn’t need to practice Buddhism to be successful in life—to have a happy marriage or a good job. One doesn’t need to practice Buddhism to be financially secure or able to overcome illness. But it certainly helps immeasurably. If it didn’t, if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t still be doing it 40 years later. I would be happy to share more of my own experiences with you about this practice or refer you to sources of information about it—should you be interested.  But today’s post is not a paean to draw you in, it’s a commemoration of my personal anniversary.

One more important note: the path to becoming a Buddha, an enlightened human being, runs through the world of the Bodhisattva. In other words, the practice of Buddhism entails practicing for others as well as oneself. It’s not a greedy, self-realizing endeavor that you keep to yourself. Oh no, it’s a practice that involves helping others find happiness, hope, courage and more through the compassion of a Bodhisattva. An essential element of the beneficial results I’ve obtained over my 40 years of practice stems from that commitment.

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Moving Forward in Trying Political Times

Even as President-Elect, Donald Trump has no hesitation in making policy pronouncements (via tweet, which his team must interpret and translate) as if he were already in the White House. Today came his tweet that the US must expand its nuclear arsenal.  In response to a question by a radio host, he added that if it’s an arms race, we’ll win.  For 40 years each American President has worked to reduce the US stockpile of weapons in conjunction with other countries. In a tweet, Trump cavalierly appears to abandon that perspective.

Eagle Peak Quarterly cover for December 2016In the December 2016 Eagle Peak Quarterly, we featured an excellent piece by retired diplomat Bob Tansey. In it, he expounded on the words of Nichiren Daishonin, 13th century Buddhist. To read the entire piece, please go here.

Nichiren states, “If you care anything about your personal security, you should first of all pray for order and tranquility throughout the four quarters of the land, should you not?”

That certainly seems like an appropriate response to Trump’s most recent unthinking outburst. Here’s a little more from Tansey’s article:

In his 1260 treatise, written in the form of a dialogue between a host and a guest, Nichiren recounts the many disasters confronting medieval Japan, such as famine, internal strife and foreign invasion. . . . He also brings up the challenge of “reforming the tenets in our hearts.” That means to examine our basic beliefs (which are mixed with emotion as well) and seek to perceive our own enlightened potential and perspective—strengths arguably much in need at this moment in our own United States of America.

Reflecting on these two key phrases from Nichiren’s rather lengthy treatise led me back to an earlier writing of his, “On Attaining Buddhahood in this Lifetime.”  From all of Shakyamuni’s teachings and all that flowed from over those two thousand years, Nichiren adopted the tradition of the Lotus Sutra. I’ve been practicing Buddhism for going on five decades but am not a Buddhist scholar. Nonetheless, I like to say that to me “On Attaining Buddhahood…” (which is notably brief) summarizes the key principles of the Lotus Sutra:

  •  The idea that everyone has the potential to reveal their inherent “Buddha Nature,” which seems to me to be a statement of ultimate equality. Nichiren Buddhism sees the Buddha nature as the inherent potential within each human being to attain Buddhahood, the state of enlightenment and the goal of Buddhist practice. It’s also the tenth or highest of the “Ten Worlds” (states or conditions of existence).

  • Interconnectedness, aka “dependent origination,” i.e. though we may believe we’re separate from others our lives and fortunes are intertwined. “On Attaining Buddhahood…” states in part, “It is called the Mystic Law because it reveals the principle of the mutually inclusive relationship of a single moment of life and all phenomena.”

  • Causality, i.e. ultimately what we think, say and do is determinative rather than external factors. Nichiren states, “Whether you chant the Buddha’s name, recite the sutra, or merely offer flowers and incense, all your virtuous acts will implant benefit and good fortune in your life.” He urged his followers to strive with this conviction, while fully cognizant that the society of his time was besieged by seemingly overwhelming negative forces. Nonetheless, he constantly emphasized the power of a single individual and of individuals working together to make a difference.

Bob spent decades around the world–China, Israel, Central America, Africa and more countries in Asia. He speaks five languages. Since retiring from the Foreign Service he has been working at high level position within the Nature Conservancy. So what is he doing to move forward? He’s working to create a community association in the multiracial neighborhood where he lives in Washington, DC.

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Seasons Greetings, AKA Happy Holidays

In Glacier Bay

Happy Holidays to all—whether you celebrate a secular or non-secular occasion this time of year with family, friends or fellow believers of your faith. For some it’s a time of hope and renewal. For others it’s a trying time given personal setbacks, memories of lost loved ones or even political turmoil. For myself, my circle of family and friends, it’s a little bit of each. While we had no personal setbacks this year, we empathize with those who did.

Most years, including this one, there is conflict in locations around the world. Yet hope remains in the hearts of people with faith in a religion or in humanity itself. The Buddhist scholar, philosopher and peace builder Daisaku Ikeda says this:

Peace and culture are one. A genuinely cultured nation is a peaceful nation and vice versa. When conflicts multiply, culture wanes and nations fall into a hellish existence. The history of the human race is a contrast between culture and barbarity. Only culture is a force strong enough to put an end to conflict and lead humanity in the direction of peace.

I hope you will have a safe and joyous encounters this season. Share in a peaceful culture in whatever way best suits you. Triumph over any challenges or obstacles to happy holidays.

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Kill the Will to Kill

Two black men killed by police officers within 24 hours. Five police officers killed in Dallas and seven wounded shortly thereafter in apparent retaliation. The problem of “us and them;” the dehumanization of others who we view as less than us or our enemies. They disrespect, disregard or devalue our lives so we will do the same. There is another way.

“It is enough,” said Shakyamuni (also known as Siddhartha Gautama–the historical Buddha), “to kill the will to kill.”

His words came as a response to this question: “We are told that life is precious. And yet all people live by killing and eating other living beings. Which living beings may we kill and which living beings must we not kill?”

In his 1991 lecture on The Age of “Soft Power” and Inner-Motivated Philosophy, delivered at Harvard University, SGI leader Daisaku Ikeda said this about Shakyamuni’s words:

Shakyamuni’s response is neither evasion nor deception. . . . He is telling us that, in seeking the kind of harmonious relationship expressed in the idea of respect for the sanctity of life, we must not limit ourselves to the phenomenal level where conflict and hostility undeniably exist–the conflict, in this case, of which living beings it is acceptable to kill and which not. We must seek it on a deeper level–a level where it is truly possible to “kill the will to kill.” Read more here.

Ironically, it was just six months before Ikeda’s lecture that Rodney King was severely beaten by Los Angeles Police (who were later acquitted on state charges of assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force but two of whom were found guilty of federal civil rights violations). The acquittal of the officers of state charges led to riots in Los Angeles in which 55 people died and 2,000 were injured. During the riots, King said, “can’t we just get along.” 

Dehumanization and the Us vs. Them dichotomy inevitably leads to the arguments and counterarguments between Black Lives Matter proponents and law and order proponents who deny that there’s a problem or the scope of it. Few, if any, are in possession of 100% truth nor are few 100% wrong. They just have an understandable but often less than helpful perspective. Here’s another excerpt from Ikeda’s Harvard Lecture, the second paragraph excerpted is the lead-in to the quote above explaining Shakyamuni’s response:

One of the most important Buddhist concepts, dependent origination holds that all beings and phenomena exist or occur in relation to other beings or phenomena. Everything is linked in an intricate web of causation and connection and nothing–whether in the realm of human affairs or of natural phenomena–can exist or occur solely of its own accord.

. . . .

As I mentioned in discussing encounters between different cultures, not all relationships are amicable. The reality of opposing interests and even hostility must be acknowledged. What can be done to encourage and promote harmonious relations?

In Ikeda’s first quote above, I intentionally left out his second sentence, in which he observes that Shakyamuni’s response is based on the concept of dependent origination. We are all, like it or not, interconnected. We are all human, living on this earth at the same time. When we interact we can choose to find hate others or blame them for our misfortune. Or we can choose a different view. In over 35 years of marriage between myself, a white male, and a black female, we have traveled through most of the 50 states in America, to Canada and to Japan. We can count on the fingers of one hand the times that we have perceived any overt or perceptible discrimination against us by people of any other race. Why? Because we don’t regard others that way AND because we overcame opposition to our marriage from her father.

So, it is enough to kill the will to kill. But it is even better not to hate at all.

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Cutting Off the Chain of Hate–Martin Luther King’s Words, Timely as Ever

The shootings at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina by a young man intent on fomenting a race war. Other churches burned across the South. Homophobes incensed at the notion of same sex marriage vow resistance to the Supreme Court decision. Donald Trump calls Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. Yes hate is abundant still in America. Pronouncements by all the courts in the land, all the legislation passed to prohibit hate-based actions will not alter the hearts and minds of people.  In a recent piece on Brain Pickings, the blog site of Maria Popova, can be found this quote from MLK:

“Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.”

bookcover of "A Testament of Hope"
Cover of “A Testament of Hope”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cut off the chain of hate–a simple enough concept, yet seemingly so difficult. It begins with an identification, a categorization, of others as different. It proceeds with the notion that the other has less value, deserves less respect–may even be less than human. Finally, responsibility for one’s own problems are the result of them. They have taken the jobs. Got the school slots you or your kids should have. Taken the money you should have received from your employer or from the government in the form of assistance. They have introduced drugs, depravity and other awful things into the community. They despoil  neighborhoods, disrupt institutions like marriage and generally ruin America as we know it.

Popova notes that:

“Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used Christian social ethics and the New Testament concept of “love” heavily in his writings and speeches, he was as influenced by Eastern spiritual traditions, Gandhi’s political writings, Buddhism’s notion of the interconnectedness of all beings, and Ancient Greek philosophy. His enduring ethos, at its core, is nonreligious — rather, it champions a set of moral, spiritual, and civic responsibilities that fortify our humanity, individually and collectively.”

As a Buddhist myself, I can attest to the principle of the interconnectedness, the interdependence of all. We live in a physical, as well as a social environment. That social environment in fact is a reflection of our inner selves. View others with disdain or worse yet, hatred, and the consequences are entirely predictable. Buddhism at it’s core is a humanistic religion–not one based on commandments not far removed from the court decisions and the legislation modeled on them which fail to alter human misbehavior. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging is an allegorical character whose humanistic behavior centered on bowing to all he met while praising them as Buddhas, needing only to awaken and assuring them that he could never despise them.

As a consequence, people hit him with sticks or threw stones at him. Compare what happened to Gandhi, King and countless others. Popova goes on to describe at some length, the six pillars of nonviolent resistance set forth in King’s essay, before addressing the ancient Greek principle of Agape. I mention it here to connect it to the perspective of the Bodhisattva noted above. Here is the quote  from King that Popova includes in her piece:

“Agape means understanding, redeeming good will for all men. It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object… Agape is disinterested love. It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is an entirely “neighbor-regarding concern for others,” which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friends and enemy; it is directed toward both. If one loves an individual merely on account of his friendliness, he loves him for the sake of the benefits to be gained from the friendship, rather than for the friend’s own sake. Consequently, the best way to assure oneself that love is disinterested is to have love for the enemy-neighbor from whom you can expect no good in return, but only hostility and persecution.”

Whether the love of agape, the humanism of Buddhism or some other perspective, the essential task is to stop blaming others–stop making others them, and stop hating them.

 

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November Eagle Peak Quarterly is Here

 

November 2014 Eagle Peak Quarterly cover

Check it out, the all new Eagle Peak Quarterly is now up. Beginning today, see these items:

  • An experience by long-time member Keith Robinson chronicling his introduction to Buddhism and the peace initiatives of SGI leader Daisaku Ikeda, culminating in a happy and fortunate life for Keith and his family
  • The conclusion of  the three-part series on Buddhism and Pragmatism, pointing out the significant correlations between what some people may view as a Japanese religion and an American philosophical system
  • An excerpt from Waiting for Westmoreland, John Maberry’s memoir, not previously up on the internet
  • A blurb about the the accomplishments of The Carter Center, one of the web links on Eagle Peak Press
  • A video introduction by jazz great Wayne Shorter to the Power of Women exhibit featured at the September,  2011 Montreux  Jazz Festival
  • A preview of a coming series on writing which will begin in February, 2015.

ISIS or ISIL–It’s Their Actions That Make Them Unfit to Live Among Other Humans

People and groups that purport to know God’s will and attempt to force their supposed understanding are at best offensive. When they couple it with savage cruelty, again, in supposed concert with their interpretation of how God wishes them to establish His will, they become pathological lunatics. ISIS could as well be an acronym for Irrational Sadistic Islamic (self-identified) Savages. If they were an actual state, they would be chargeable with war crimes. As it is, they are simply organized, serial sociopaths. Continue reading ISIS or ISIL–It’s Their Actions That Make Them Unfit to Live Among Other Humans

New Edition of Eagle Peak Quarterly

 

August 2014 Eagle Peak Quarterly cover

It’s here; it’s now–the August 1, 2014 edition of Eagle Peak Quarterly. In this issue:

  • An interview with Susan Zipp, involved with a whole host of NGOs working on UN related issues.
  • Another clip from Herbie Hancock’s Harvard lecture on Buddhism and Creativity. This is about the distinction between wisdom and knowledge.
  • Part 2 of the series on Buddhism and Pragmatism–this one is about the beginnings of Pragmatism
  • An illustrated poem–Parks
  • A short bit of prose destined to be part of a future story or perhaps a novel–“The Dragon and the Butterfly.”

 

Eagle Peak Quarterly Coming May 1

Coming soon to a browser near you, Eagle Peak Quarterly. Here’s a sneak peak with an excerpt from an article that will be featured on Eagle Peak Press, beginning on May 1:

lotus_for_sneakpeak Pragmatism cover for sneakpeak

 

Buddhism and Pragmatism

Buddhism is a 2,500 plus year old religion that began in India. Pragmatism is a philosophical system that began in America in the late 19th century. Surprisingly enough, they have some core elements in common and an interesting relationship. Why should you care? If you search for the adjective “pragmatic,” you will get a definition describing a realistic or practical approach to ideas rather than a theoretical one. In other words, real world results or common sense. Continue reading Eagle Peak Quarterly Coming May 1