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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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The Buddha beats the Blues… overcoming depression

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Five years ago, I decided to chant about the fact that I’ve always tended to wake up in a grumpy, grouchy mood. It was a fairly casual decision born of curiosity and no little guilt that my ‘low life-state’ often had a negative impact on people around me.

depression

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The Catholic Church, the BBC and the new Pope – a Buddhist view

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The appointment last week of a new pope has made me think and chant lots about my Catholic upbringing. And it has stirred in me a mix of emotions. At first I felt really angry that my favourite BBC radio station (5 Live) dropped all their other news and sports stories to broadcast almost non-stop speculation for 45 minutes about what colour puff of smoke would emerge from the Vatican (who, it has to be said, do theatre incredibly well.)

Pope Francis

The reporter’s tone was one of excitement and hushed reverence, of the sort we normally hear during coverage of a British royal wedding. I felt this was inappropriate, for an organisation whose treatment of women, homosexuals and sexually abused children leaves a lot to be desired. And also because I reckon only 20,000 of the programme’s 1 million UK listeners actually attend Catholic mass on a Sunday. I argued that there were probably more ex-Catholics than practising Catholics listening to the broadcast. I shared this view on a BBC blog, but it was deleted by the BBC for being too provocative. It was then allowed to appear after all when I emailed them to appeal against their censorship.

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The six types of Love: Physical, Sexual, Emotional, Intellectual, Practical and Spiritual

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[8 mins to read]

After my recent Valentine’s Day post (‘The Buddha in the Bedroom’) I received quite a few messages and questions about Love and relationships. One of the most common issues was around couples ‘growing apart’. So I want to address these questions here and write about six different types of Love. For the Nichiren Buddhists reading this, please note that I am writing today wearing my ‘Life Coach Hat’ rather than as a Buddhist quoting from the Gosho or citing guidance about meeting a Kosen Rufu partner.

6 types of love

My experience of coaching people to make big decisions about their love life is that the question: “How do you want to love and be loved?” is one of the most powerful ones I can ask. It can produce tears, joy, gratitude, relief or doubt in equal measure, depending on who I am talking to and how much they are able to give and receive the kind of love they most value. Often it can produce quite a long silence, because people haven’t stopped to think about it before.

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“Why me?” A Buddhist view on the purpose of suffering

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Clients in difficult situations sometimes say to me: “Why me?” Or “What did I do to deserve this?” Or “Why does this keep happening in my life?” This is a very natural but ultimately futile question. Our karma is so profound over this and many previous lifetimes that it is impossible to work out what causes you have made in the past that are producing today’s effects in your life. And as I was taught when I trained as a coach, ‘Why?’ is a negative, backward-looking question. Much healthier, say the coaching textbooks, to “look at the hows of the solution in the present rather than the whys of the problem in the past.” But there is a third approach that combines the best of the first two because Nichiren Buddhism reveals that it is healthier to look at ‘Why me?’ as a positive, forward-looking question.

Why me

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Reasons to be hopeful – with help from Buddhism, Angelina Jolie and Mariane Pearl

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You may have seen the film, A Mighty Heartstarring Angelina Jolie. In this movie the Hollywood star plays the role of SGI Buddhist Mariane Pearl (right in the pic) who faced the deepest despair when in 2002 her journalist husband Danny was kidnapped and then beheaded by Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan.

jolie + Pearl [2]

At the time Mariane was heavily pregnant with their only child. A Mighty Heart pays tribute to her husband. Mariane poignantly describes how, after news arrived of Danny’s decapitation, she resolves nevertheless to move forwards with hope:

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The Buddha in the bedroom – 10 ways to create a great loving relationship

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[Takes 7 mins to read]

With Valentine’s Day celebrated on 14 Feb in many countries across the world, here’s a Buddhist perspective on Love. Firstly, Nichiren Daishonin did not set any moral rules about anything in life so there are no ‘do’s and don’ts’ at all about things like sex before marriage, contraception, fidelity, sexual orientation or divorce.

love 2

Perhaps the other big difference from the traditional romantic Western view is that real Love in Buddhism is not about walking ‘into the sunset’ with ‘The Man/Woman’ of your dreams; even though a whole advertising industry has developed over decades to make us believe that meeting ‘The One’ is the answer to all our problems.

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How to choose the best mentor for your life – 10 top tips

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How can we become happy in life and carry on growing?  One of the best ways is to choose an inspirational mentor. Here are 10 tips on how to choose a great mentor, based on my experience of both business and Buddhism. Choose someone who:

Toda & Ikeda

1. has been and remains a brilliant pupil / follower himself
2. sees your brilliance when you cannot find it any more
3. has strong enough self-esteem and humility to celebrate your successes rather than feel threatened by them
4. will stretch you to your limits (and beyond) while supporting you to the max
5. will hold you accountable when you can’t quite find the courage or honesty to do so

 [pic shows SGI’s Daisaku Ikeda with his late mentor Josei Toda]

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7 ways to make the most of your problems – Buddha style

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John Delnevo cropped

22 years ago when I first went to a senior Buddhist to ask for advice, I said to him: “I have a very big problem,” and he, the late John Delnevo of SGI UK (pictured), replied with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye: “Congratulations.” I thought he must have misheard me so I repeated that I really was struggling with something (can’t remember what but it would’ve felt massive at the time – money / job / girlfriend / studies… or possibly all four…)

Again he smiled broadly and said, “that’s great news, well done!” Seeing my perplexed face, he made seven points over the next hour’s conversation that have stayed with me ever since:

  1. Happiness is not the absence of problems
  2. Problems are a fact of life “suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy” – this is what Nichiren Daishonin taught
  3. The problem is never the problem, it’s the life state from which you approach the problem that’s the problem
  4. The lotus flower of enlightenment only grows in the muddy pond of daily life – your challenge is a sign that your life is asking to grow. So, are you going to say Yes or No?
  5. You’ve made the cause / karma for this situation (otherwise it couldn’t happen), so therefore you (and only you) have the power to change it. (This is the principle of personal responsibility behind the name ‘Thanking the Spoon’)
  6. Any problem is a gift in disguise – it might be very heavily disguised sometimes, but it’s a gift all the same
  7. When you change for the better, the world around you does too, as surely as a shadow follows a body, that’s how, one by one, we create world peace.

‘John D’, as we called him, was an incredibly wise, strict and compassionate man and it is hard in a list of 7 points to convey the warm encouragement that always shone from his life, earning the trust of people all around him. In fact it has taken me 21 years to really understand with my whole life what he said to me on that day in 1991. And some days I still forget.

The advice he gave was born of his own heartfelt personal struggles or ‘human revolution’ as we say in Buddhism, he lived what he taught, it was never about theory with John D.  And looking back I realise he treated me with the deepest appreciation, seeing past my whingeing self-centredness and talking to the person I might one day become.  I believe this is the mark of a great mentor.

So, as this wise man repeated at the end of our little chat: “You have a problem? Congratulations…”

Davidx

PS.  When I began writing this post, I didn’t intend it to become a tribute to John Delnevo, it was just going to be a list of 7 hopefully helpful points. Now I realise that it is the profound human connection that counted even more than what he actually said.   ‘John D’, you rocked. Still in my daimoku. Thank you.

The Undefeated Mind – a great new book about resilience…

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… which, says the author encourages: “us to stop hoping for easy lives and instead to focus on finding the inner strength we need to enjoy the difficult lives we all have.” Wise counsel, don’t you think?  If you read nothing else from this book, read the 10 brilliant chapter titles listed below, even without the other 277 pages, the Contents page is very powerful…Image

The book’s author is my fellow SGI Nichiren Buddhist Alex Lickerman, MD. He is an assistant Vice President at Chicago University with student counselling a major part of his role. ‘The Undefeated Mind’ is a book about resilience and about cultivating joy no matter what is happening in our lives.

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