Phantom City is an op-ed column of our journey. We’ll explore the mind, the heart, the universe, and the angst and joys of samsara in an honest, compelling way. Some of you may remember me from the BuddhaJones website. It was my first experience as an e-columnist. It’s a pleasure to be back.
Why Phantom City? Chapter seven of the Lotus Sutra describes the parable of a wise and fearless leader blazing the way forward for a multitude of aspirants. They follow a steep and treacherous path toward the far off goal of enlightenment. Weary from their difficult, dangerous sojourn, they become disheartened and want to turn back. The wise leader knows their trepidations and conjures up a magnificent phantom city to refresh his followers. Once rested, he banishes the vivid hallucination he had conjured and points the way to the true goal of Buddhahood and planetary peace, not much further ahead. I’m proud to be a scribe for my fellow travelers. There are volumes to write.


For those who don’t know me, I’m the author of Modern Buddhist Healing, the e-novel Mokuren, and few other pieces of literary tripe. From the Chicago area, my spiritual background includes a traditional Lutheran upbringing and obvious rebellion. I’ve been a Nichiren Buddhist for 30 some years. Prior to Buddhism, there was a five-year period in the late 60s-early 70s, where I cut my mystical teeth on yoga, the occult, and acid. That path led me to the yellow brick road.
Currently, I have a new book on healing and visualization, due to be released in September 2005. I also have a website now that features original articles on healing and visualization at www.spiritwell.net in case you or a loved one needs practical help and inspiration for a health problem. It’s my offering to you, my fellow travelers.
Many years ago I promised the universe that if I survived cancer that I’d share my experience far and wide for the sake of living beings. I’ve kept that promise and my life flourishes. Recently, the fleeting aspect of our existence has hit home by the untimely passing of several good friends. Sometimes the severe realities we face as human beings can be vexing and baffling. My prayers sought understanding of the unknowable. As if in answer, the mysterious nature of life and death was illustrated to me by a simple act of nature, just prior to writing this blog. Let me explain.
Walking outside the other morning, I saw a large cicada on a wooden bench. It looked dead so I picked it up by the wing to get a better look at it. The cicada began to flap its wings and buzz. Since it was still alive and frightened I threw it high in the air so it could fly away. That’s when a sparrow zoomed down, grabbed it in mid-air, then ate it for breakfast. At that moment I realized that the Phantom City is more than a parable about attaining the final goal through the Lotus Sutra. It’s also a metaphor for our perception of life and death. Some people need to believe in heaven or ending the cycle of rebirth. The life stream is continuous. There is no extinction. Nirvana is an eternal, singular moment here and beyond space-time. We are the wheel. We are Buddha. Many thanks to the cicada and sparrow.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be writing about the human condition, the gamut of Buddhist cosmology, science, and our sacred mythologies. You’ll see little or nothing about the politics of Buddhism here because to me, sectarian self-righteousness is a negative energy that drains one’s good fortune and makes us looks like idiots to the rest of the Buddhist community. The whole mess reminds me of a lyric by John Lennon in his song Revolution: “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone, anyhow.”
This ought to be a great adventure.
Charles Atkins