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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It’s that annual celebration–picnics, trips to the beach, parades and fireworks. So long ago, 238 years, that the concept is difficult to grasp. Independence from colonial rule. Today the focus is either on enjoying the holiday or making political points about the significance of it all in relation to modern government in America. In the sixties and seventies, radicals spouted slogans like, “Power to the People,” in response to what they saw as political repression and talked of “come the revolution.” Today it’s the right wing Patriot Movement that threatens to take up arms to protect their liberties against government repression. Neither made or makes much sense. America still has more opportunities, more freedom and more liberty than almost any other nation (not to say that I am aware of any that has more, just trying not to overstate my case). Ironically, it’s those celebrations that are most indicative of this truth. While a burger, a beer and a hot dog may not have much to do directly with patriotic observation of the independence our forefathers fought for, the fact that we can freely indulge in them comes as result. But what of human revolution?
“A great revolution of character in just a single person will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will cause a change in the destiny of all humankind.” Daisaku Ikeda
The fight for independence from colonial rule is long over in America. The political points that ideologues attempt to make using the words and principles of the Declaration of Independence ring hollow to my ears. The true revolution for America today is human revolution. The change in character that comes from accepting responsibility for one’s own happiness, one’s own successes in achieving goals–unimpeded by the real and the not so real constraints one faces–not from a repressive government, employer, neighbor, or significant other but from those imposed by oneself. Now is the time to engage in that revolution and to celebrate it.
Shameless self-promotion: you can download Waiting for Westmoreland as an epub now for $8.99. Go here if you have an iPad, etc. with which to view it and are so inclined. If you don’t know about WFW, hit the last item in the links to your right.
Also, belatedly, if you had a comment that was trashed erroneously (i.e., you are not a spammer) try submitting it again and I will review what comes in for integrity. I had to do a lot of bulk deletions to clean up this blog.
A two-fer: a physical tuneup and more importantly, a spiritual tuneup. On April 29th I started having pains in my upper right abdomen. Because I knew I could get test results quicker at the emergency room, I went there the next day when the pain increased. I expected it might be something like gallstones, since I had already had the appendix out many years ago. Blood tests, ultrasound and a CT scan showed no gallstones or gall bladder irritation. Instead, I had something I never heard of–an omental infarction. The omentum is this fatty layer that hangs down like an apron over the intestines. The guy at the emergency room consulted an on-call surgeon, who said I should be admitted to the hospital. I came into the emergency room at 9:30 in the morning; 12 hours later I was on my way to the hospital, 20 minutes away. Not until the next morning did I find out what this was all about. The surgeon said this corner (?) of the omentum may have experienced some kind of twisting. Tissue death–and pain, followed. He put me on IV antibiotics and periodically pushed on the area to be sure where the pain was. Four days later, with the pain going away and no uptick in the white count, I went home. Still, I had concerns. A puffy arm from where the IV fluids had leaked. Worries over what this all meant. Nonetheless, I took it as a message from the universe that now was the time to finally begin that diet and exercise program that would achieve my weight loss/fitness goals. How would I survive to enjoy my retirement years in that New Mexico dream home otherwise? So I began walking, cut back on the food and have lost 16 pounds already. The spiritual tuneup was another matter.
Awaiting a rescan on May 17th, I daily freaked out. Going to the Gohonzon with daimoku I thought the worst as my stomach turned somersaults. The mind/body connection is amazing; more later. I reread SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s lecture on “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life.” I reread portions of The Buddha in Your Mirror. I reread portions of Mike Lisagor’s book, Romancing the Buddha. Most importantly, I had a long-time SGI friend come and chant daimoku with me. On the 16th, while chanting, I prayed for some word or concept that would refresh and reassure me. Soon thereafter I recalled the postcard I received from my sponsor on the occasion of receiving my Gohonzon almost 32 years ago. On it was a quote from Nichiren’s writing, “Letter to Niike.” It reads: “The journey from Kamakura to Kyoto takes 12 days. If you journey for 11 but stop on the 12th, how can you view the moon over the capital?” That did the trick. It takes as long as it takes. I got the scan on Sunday, confident that my prayers of complete recovery would be confirmed–and confident that I would use this experience to encourage others to remain steadfast in their faith. The surgeon confirmed on Monday that the omentum was healing nicely and no further follow-up or action on his part would be necessary. On Tuesday, the stomach that had been turning somersaults was now calm; a convincing demonstration of how the mind affects the body.
I must add that I have been somewhat lazy about completing my goals of reading the Gosho (the collected writings of Nichiren Daishonin) and the Human Revolution (Daisaku Ikeda’s history of the movement of the Buddhist lay organization in widely propagating Buddhism) cover to cover. Moreover, I have relaxing a bit much from encouraging fellow members. So I am now back on the front lines, assuming the responsibility of a district leader having resigned from a chapter leader position almost 7 years ago. I feel reborn, refreshed, revitalized. If this were Christmas day and the Cratchits lived nearby, I certainly would buy them a goose.