I first started chanting (the core practise of Nichiren Buddhism) in 1986 (aged 22), as a desperate attempt to relieve the sense of deep seemingly unchangeable unhappiness that I felt in my life at that time. My practise was then to chant for 10 minutes in the morning and for 10 minutes evening, sometimes to a blank wall and sometimes to a candle.
I was attracted by the positive, authentic and freely expressive nature of the other people practising, the invitation to ‘chant for whatever my heart’s true desire’ without judgement, that it was Japanese and the form of the practise as well as its accessories (bell, altar, beads etc) seemed very cool. Added to that, it was very, very fashionable with many groovy, famous and ‘successful’ people surrounding me in my local Buddhist group in Chelsea, London.
I have continued, deepened and broadened my practise consistently since that time 29 years ago which has developed a long way from the days of just relief from unhappiness with cool people and ‘accessories’ and now includes study and encouraging and supporting others as well as morning and evening chanting.
Because my Buddhist practise is so ingrained and integrated into my life, it is quite hard to distinguish specific examples of specific Buddhist principles that are most helpful. I find that, as time passes, more of what I do and how I live is based on all the principles that I have studied and practise. However, below are three of the Buddhist principles that I find useful in understanding life and in taking actions that are in the direction towards the happiness of myself and others:
Literally ‘the oneness of self and environment’.
This principle is very useful in understanding that we all are 100% responsible for the quality of our experience of life
“At the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment. According to Buddhism, everything around us, including work and family relationships, is the reflection of our inner lives. Everything is perceived through the self and alters according to the individual’s inner state of life. Thus, if we change ourselves, our circumstances will inevitably change also.”
That there is ‘no separation between ourselves and the environment’ means that I must have within me everything I need to be happy- to reveal my ‘true self’, the expression of my limitlessly positive and creative aspect (termed in Buddhism as ‘Buddhahood’), without requiring anything or anyone that is outside myself to bestow it upon me. The daily practise is the fundamental means by which I effect the transformation of the tendencies and habits (that some refer to as ‘karma’) which obstruct and distort my natural, innate state of Buddhahood.
In work as a teacher of acting, for example, this means that I take full responsibility for my experience as a teacher – rather than ‘blame’ students and, at the same time, give my students full responsibility for their experience. I also have the faith that all my students have the capacity to reveal and express their greatest selves and work with them to transform the obstacles that can get in the way of this.
Literally ‘three thousand realms in a single moment of life’.
This principle teaches us that anything is possible, that, based on the ‘causes’ I am making right now (either positive or negative) anything and everything can change from this moment forward, that I am the author of my own future, not a victim of the past.
Buddhist practice enables us to draw on inexhaustible inner reserves of courage, hope and resilience to surmount challenges and expand our lives and to help others do the same. “Buddhahood” describes this dynamic, compassionate life condition, and a Buddha is someone who has firmly established this condition as their predominant reality.¨
In both work and in all other areas of my life, I find the understanding and practise of this principle liberating. Rather than hold on to the past or believe that I have no power to influence the future, it encourages me to be fully present in the present moment and, if I want to change something, to understand that the seed for that change is in the present moment that change is dependent on what I do right now, and that the results will exist from this moment, whether not they are manifested or I perceive them yet, rather than at some distant point in the future. It is also a source of limitless optimism – no matter how dark the situation or overwhelming the challenge may seem, it can always be transformed, right now, from this moment forward. Without doubt.
Literally ‘lotus flower’.
The lotus flower produces its seed and blossom at the same time. This symbolises the universal law of cause and effect whereby the ‘effects’ of any ‘causes’ I make exists, however latently, in the same moment that I make a cause through my action.
The lotus also requires a muddy pond in which to grow. This represents the ‘muddy pond’ of my daily life challenges that serve as the fuel for my transformation and growth so that, rather than resent difficulties, I welcome them.
Specifically, the fact that the lotus flower already contains seeds when it opens symbolizes the principle of the simultaneity of cause and effect, the idea that causes we make are engraved in the deepest, most essential realms of life, and on this plane we immediately experience the effects of our thoughts, words and deeds. In terms of Buddhist practice this means that “Anyone who practices this Law will obtain both the cause and effect of Buddhahood simultaneously.” The fact that the lotus flower sends forth pure white blossoms from roots sunk deep in muddy water expresses the idea that our highest nature is brought forth through committed engagement with the often difficult or disagreeable realities of life and society.¨
So, ‘fine words, but how do I actually ¨do¨ any of that?’ I hear you say. Well, you can try it right now. Ask yourself ‘is what I am doing right now, in this moment, making the cause that will lead myself and others toward becoming happy or toward becoming unhappy?’.
Not sure of the answer? This is where an effective meditation practise, appropriate to the time we live in, will help you. You can try this right now, too (or as soon as circumstances allow): eyes open, facing a wall or wherever has least distraction for you, focussing on a fixed point, repeat ¨Nam Myoho Renge Kyo¨ out loud see http://bit.ly/NMRKpronouncing for help with pronunciation). Be aware of having an erect posture, breathing fully, deeply and naturally as you repeat the phrase. Be aware of allowing the throat to relax and release so that you are not ‘holding on’, forcing or constricting the sound. Simply allowing the true sound of your voice to resonate from you. Sit in which ever way is most comfortable for you – kneeling, crosslegged or in a chair. Do this for at least 10 minutes in the morning and for 10 minutes in the evening. for 30 days. Chant from the basis of your true, honest heart’s desire, moment to moment. And prepare to be amazed at the results!
Often as part of my working process, particularly when devising, we will start with chanting meditation. On the retreats that I facilitate we also start each day with optional chanting meditation practise. You do not need to ‘be a buddhist’ to participate in the meditation- the benefit of the practise is the same.
Lawrence practises Nichiren Buddhism as a member of SGI-UK with co-responsibility for supporting other members in his local area. The views expressed above are his own and do not represent SGI-UK.
For more information about buddhism and to find out about local meetings visit: http://www.sgi-uk.org/