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Tribute to Nelson Mandela (extracts from essay by Daisaku Ikeda)

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A victory of hope over despair, of shared humanity over hatred, and of justice over inequality… these are my thoughts reflecting on the legacy of Nelson Mandela, who passed away this evening. My admiration for Mandela comes mostly from reading essays by Daisaku Ikeda, leader of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement that I belong to.

Mandela heard about Ikeda’s humanistic writings while in prison and after his release requested a meeting with him during a visit to Japan. Here are some extracts from an essay written by Daisaku Ikeda, reflecting on the two dialogues he had with South Africa’s first black President:

Nelson Mandela & Daisaku Ikeda

“There is something very special about Nelson Mandela’s smile. It is honest and pure, full of gentle composure. There isn’t a single line on his face that would suggest anything cold and harsh. And yet it embodies the conviction and strength of character of a man who has led his people to freedom. It is a smile like the purest gold, from which all impurities have been burned and driven in the furnace of great suffering.

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Conflict resolution and the Buddha in you

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In my Buddhist practice I have often discovered (always with some reluctance) that, deep down I share the same pain or suffering as the people I consider to be the most awkward / difficult / annoying. This suffering can manifest as shared laziness, prejudice, anxiety, resentment or any number of other very human flaws. Having chanted many times about this, here is how I think it works. As well as our innate wisdom, courage and compassion, we all hold some pain and vulnerability in our hearts. From a Buddhist perspective, we bring much of this with us as ‘karma’ from our previous lifetimes. Rather than face our pain with courage to find out what lessons it may hold for us, our first instinct is usually to cover it in a layer of self-protection. Men are especially good at this.

Shared humanity

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Nam Myoho Renge Kyo – because it takes prayer to transform a heart

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I meet loads of people who say that if they had any religion at all, it would be Buddhism. That they love the ‘positive thinking’ aspects of the teaching, the idea that we are simultaneously free and responsible, the way it is extremely strict yet has no rules, the emphasis on being the change you want to see in the world, its idealistic pragmatism… and so on. But what some of them struggle with is the idea of chanting the mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

They might be quite happy to read blogs like this, or even do affirmations into a mirror, but to actually chant, out loud? And in Sanskrit and classical Chinese rather than English (or your own mother tongue…) ? For two years after meeting this practice in 1983, I was definitely one of these people. As William Woollard says in his excellent book, The Reluctant Buddhist: “Scepticism is a tough and resourceful fighter. It doesn’t give in easily and it is very accustomed to putting together bitter rearguard actions.”

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is like the roar of a Lion

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is like the roar of a Lion

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Lose the labels that limit you

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As I wrote in my last post, Nichiren Buddhism teaches that each of us has innate brilliance. And I often tell delegates on my training courses that we are all magnificent works in progress. When we deeply respect others, we get this point and are able to see their potential, (even though right now they may be manifesting more of their dark side than their brightness.) This approach makes for more harmonious families at home, more productive departments at work, more forgiving friendships in the pub and better football teams on a Saturday morning.

As Daisaku Ikeda explains: “We are unlimited beings. Our struggle to surmount our obstacles and sufferings and fulfil our dreams is always finally the struggle to overcome the limitations we have accepted within our own heart.”

Pic by Melson Diniz, SGI Brazil

Photo: Melson Diniz, SGI Brazil

The problem is that we’re hardwired to stereotype and label people, including ourselves. “He’s a complete jerk.” “She’s a total angel.” “They’re utter idiots.” Perhaps this sort of stereotyping served us well in our prehistoric days, when survival depended on deciding very quickly that a sabre-toothed tiger was always bad news, with no shades of grey… But in the modern age, when we use negative labels to describe people we’ve argued with, we prolong the rift and block the seeds of hope from which forgiveness and progress can bloom. (See a previous post called ‘The two words to ban from all your arguments.

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Everyone’s a Buddha…

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… Yep, that includes you, your best mate, your lover, your beautiful kids, your gorgeous grandma and your favourite teacher from school. But you knew that already, right? The thing is, it also includes the colleague who bitches about you, the friend who betrayed you, the lover who stopped loving you, the driver who cut you up at a roundabout, the father who judged you, the boss who sacked you and that irritating kid down the road who you feel like strangling sometimes! Although this may be hard to believe, Nichiren was adamant that everyone has Buddha-potential: “All of the people of the ten worlds can attain Buddhahood. We can comprehend this when we remember that fire can be produced by a stone taken from the bottom of a river, and a candle can light up a place that has been dark for billions of years.”

Miso Soup

Miso Soup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Do you suffer from jealousy and comparing yourself to other people? Here’s how to stop :-)

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Recently several of my clients have shared with me that they feel jealous and/or that they find themselves comparing their lives unfavourably to the lives of others.

Paul Cezanne

Paul Cezanne

But when we compare ourselves to others, we are ignoring our own uniqueness, as Daisaku Ikeda reveals when explaining one of Nichiren’s famous writings: “Cherries are cherries. Peaches are peaches. A cherry could never become a peach. It wouldn’t be necessary. Even if it did, it wouldn’t be happy. We should live in a way that is true to ourselves. We could not become someone else, even if we wanted to. Our lives are precious and irreplaceable.”

In other words you’re better off being the best cherry you can be rather than wishing you had been born a peach. (Or having facelifts until you look like a peach…)

 

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Book review: Buddhaland Brooklyn

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What do you get when you parachute a stiff, introverted Japanese monk into the melting pot of a raucous and dysfunctional New York Buddhist community? The delightful tale that is Buddhaland Brooklyn. The Publishers – Alma Books – asked me to review this novel by Richard C. Morais and I am truly delighted that they did.

B Brooklyn book cover

The book is written in the first person by Reverend Seido Oda who leaves behind a tragic childhood and a peaceful temple in the remote mountains of Japan to find his patience and beliefs sorely tested by a motley crew of lay American Buddhists.

Although Morais insists his novel ‘should in no way be considered a work depicting a particular school of Buddhism’ there are so many gosho quotes, allusions to the Treasure Tower and references to the Lotus Sutra that I am sure the story has been inspired by Nichiren Buddhism more than by any other school.

Oda’s initial impressions of Brooklyn’s lay believers are that they lack the intelligence to practise Buddhism correctly and that their prayers are ‘barbaric, rushed and sloppy.’ His first response is an ultimately doomed attempt to ‘maintain the proper hierarchy and authority of the priesthood.’

There are hilarious moments throughout, such as his shock at meeting a ‘militant American lesbian’ and his clumsy attempts to handle the amorous advances of one of his flock. Reverend Oda comes to New York to teach the believers how to behave but ends up learning more from them than they do from him, likening his transformation to tectonic plates that ‘began to subtly shift and lurch without my realizing it.’

Although Brooklyn’s Buddhists gradually breach his defences with their criticisms of his over-formality, Oda is also a man whose prejudices are pierced from the inside by his own vulnerabilities, as his Buddhahood begins to bloom and he comes to terms with the tragedy that deeply marked his childhood. He defeats his ego to appreciate the many qualities of Brooklyn’s Buddhists and the whole book was a beautiful reminder to me that the lotus flower only grows in a muddy pond, that there should be no middle-man or guru between you and your Buddhahood and that, as Nichiren wrote, it is the heart that is most important.

Richard C. Morais

It takes a deft touch to craft a book that is by turns melancholic (depression is a recurring theme), farcical (there are some almost ‘Clouseau-esque mishap’ moments) and poetic (check out the haikus…) but the author achieves exactly that. Given the theme of the book, I was reminded more than once of another excellent Buddhist-inspired novel, The Buddha, Geoff and Me by Eddy Canfor-Dumas, while Morais’ prose also has shades of Kazuo Ishiguro, Paulo Coelho and even Marcel Proust.

Many times as I turned the pages of this exquisite novel, one of my favourite quotes from Daisaku Ikeda came to mind: ‘Your home is where your loved ones live. Your home is the place where you work together with your fellow human beings to build a paradise, a realm of peace and prosperity for all. When we are asked where our home is, we can answer: “My home is the world. Everywhere in the world where my fellow human beings live, all of it, is my home”.’ 

Photo finish… Can your images help me spread the light of Nichiren Buddhism?

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Greetings all Spoon fans,

Would you like to share your photos, drawings and pictures with the hundreds of people worldwide who follow this blog? If so, I would love to use them on here with some encouraging, inspirational Buddhist quotes. As you can see, my favourite personal development authors use pictures very powerfully. To take part, just email buddhistpics@mail.com 

People created to be lovedI am looking for images that would help me illustrate thoughts like these:

  • “We are all magnificent works in progress.”
  • “I am not my past. I am not my psychometric profile. I am not the role I have played to survive so far. I am not the product of my childhood. I am a Buddha. I am who I choose to become.”
  • “Wisdom without action produces only regrets. And action without wisdom does pretty much the same.”
  • “We do not suffer because life is difficult, we suffer because we expect it to be easy.”

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“Suffering and joy are facts of life…”

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Here is one of Nichiren’s most famous quotes about the Buddhist approach to dealing with problems: “Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life and continue chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, no matter what happens.”

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A great palace (pic by Tiffany Wright)

I have known Buddhists who base their whole lives just on these 32 words, re-reading them whenever the going gets rough. Or when it gets smooth. Or anything in between. Or for no reason at all. But how many of us get this advice completely back to front?

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Buddha on the Ball… 7 life lessons to encourage the youth of today (on and off the football pitch)

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Last week I had the good fortune to be training some teenagers from Southend in Essex, one of my favourite seaside towns. All of them had been excluded from mainstream schools and/or came from disadvantaged backgrounds. Luckily there are two people who believe in their potential, their teacher Rachael O’Brien and Stuart Long (of South Essex Homes), who have set up a Football Club for them, with funds they have fought long and hard to obtain. More info on Southend ATF (Achievement Through Football) here: http://achievementthroughfootball.org/ 

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We had two marvellous days together, a mix of football plus the mindset and happiness stuff I teach on The Winning Edge personal development programme. This wonderful experience proved that with some warm but strict encouragement plus a more positive way of looking at themselves and the world, even kids who’ve had the toughest starts in life can discover a spark of hope, an inner resilience and a new sense of purpose. More about these lovely kids and their dreams at the end of this post.

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