In the Lotus Sutra we are told not to mix our practice of the Lotus Sutra with other practices. This is an important admonition. But what does it mean in the context of our participation in society? What is the distinction between practicing, say “Zuiho Bini” (or adjusting to host cultures) and “mixing?” And what does it mean to practice the Lotus Sutra exclusively? These are ancient questions, and before Nichiren was ever born they had already perplexed generations of Central and East Asian Buddhists who tackled the Lotus Sutra . At the time of his existence the Tendai Sect had, for example, contenanced the mixing of the teachings of Shingon; (“Mantras and Mudras”; chants, objects of meditation, and hand positions) with Lotus Sutra teachings. Nichiren felt that by so doing they had suborned or even turned on their head those teachings. He advised “exclusive devotion” to chanting the title of the Sutra. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. He warned his disciples about mixing.

So how do we, who live in lands dominated by other religions. Most of us living in lands dominated by teachings mandating exclusive devotion to them, deal with our surroundings? How do we hold true to Buddhism while navigating Christian and Jewish, Moslem and Orthodox Buddhism, and the panoply of religious beliefs out there?

Well to do this starts with remembering 3 things.

One is that the Lotus Sutra is a “recursive” and comprehensive teaching. That is it is literally, figuratively, and actually superior to many of the religious teachings out there. Not because any single teaching is wiser than the other, but because the Lotus Sutra incorporates all wisdom into it’s very essence. Nichiren compared it to the ocean, which has the property of accepting all waters while remaining the same.

Second, the first premise here implies that the key to “not mixing” is to be continuously studying Nichiren, the Lotus Sutra, and making distinctions between what Buddhism is really about — what life is really about — and the various fantasies, teachings and “upayas” or “skillful words” used to describe life. That is it is we who must develop the wisdom to “accept the things that we can accept, and reject those that we cannot, and to know the difference.” Nichiren talked about this in a letter to one of his women disciples and converts. He explained this principle of Zuiho Bini as one that allows us to accept, even practice, teachings that are both wise, don’t hurt the essentials, and that don’t contradict those teachings.

On the other hand he extensively deconstructed esoteric Buddhism, while adopting some elements of it. This tells us that we should be extremely careful to focus on what the important messages are in Buddhism. This brings us to the third point. “Not mixing” really means not letting our focus dissolve or be waylaid from what is important. It really means that we should not lose your aspiration for enlightenment, or our hope that such enlightenment will encompass the entire world. We should keep our hearts focused on the sixteenth chapter, whatever else we may be doing in our dailly life.

Naturally there is a lot more to be explored here. I’m just introducing a theme I hope we’ll come back to again and again over the next years and that we can study together.