“Ben…Ben. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Luke Skywalker to his friend/mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (posthumously). After battling his sworn enemy and having his hand chopped off in a light saber fight by the second evilest dude in the galaxy, Darth Vader, the man Luke believes killed his father, Luke finds out from Vader himself that “Obi-Wan did not tell you everything. No. *I* am your father!” Not only that, Vader is cajoling Luke to join him in his evilness and Luke can feel his presence because of the special connection they both have as father and son through the “force”. Talk about internal personal conflict! And you thought you were having a bad day!

Over coming doubt is exactly what Nichiren’s letter, The Opening Of The Eyes, is about:
“And yet the people doubt me, and I too have doubts about myself. Why do the gods not assist me? Heavenly gods and other guardian deities made their vow before the Buddha. Even if the votary of the Lotus Sutra were an ape rather than a man, they should address him as the votary of the Lotus Sutra and rush forward to fulfill the vow they made before the Buddha. Does their failure to do so mean that I am in fact not a votary of the Lotus Sutra? This doubt lies at the heart of this piece I am writing. And because it is the most important concern of my entire life, I will raise it again and again here, and emphasize it more than ever, before I attempt to answer it.” WND, Vol.1, page 243. And he devotes the rest of this letter doing just that. He examines and argues the causes and effects of his actions, which are based on his interpretation of the Lotus Sutra: “Startled by these passages and it’s commentaries, I examined the entire body of sutras and the expositions and commentaries of the various teachers, and found that my doubts and suspicions melted away.” WND, Vol.1, page 264. This is the diligence I referred to earlier.
Nichiren points to a rite of passage that happens in the Lotus Sutra: “With one remark, in one moment, the Buddha wiped away his earlier pronouncements, saying, ‘I have not yet revealed the truth.’” WND, Vol.1, page 247. Shakyamuni taught for 40 years before he revealed this truth contained within the Lotus Sutra. Imagine being a disciple of his and for the last couple of decades you’ve been doing what he told you to do. And for arguments sake let’s say that he told you that in order to be happy, you’d need to stand on one foot. Imagine that you have become very good at this and the other disciples refer to you as the “go to guy” when it comes to understanding all the deeper nuances and insights of standing on one foot. There’s another disciple who does something else. He’s really good at skipping rope. There’s another one, a woman, a nun named Dorothy, who’s working on being reborn as a man, because women can’t become absolutely happy, attain enlightenment, only men. She’s the “go to gal” at this. So here you all are, diligently practicing what the Buddha told you to do for years and years and suddenly he says that that’s not the point. He also says that if people admire you for doing what he told you to do, they will go to avichi hell and it will be your fault. (Occasionally I get mail addressed to “Avichi Hell or Current Resident”. Which is the universe’s way of letting me know that changing my address isn’t changing my life. According to Buddhism, you can take it with you. But I digress and I happen to be the “go to guy” for that.) He says that you always had the potential for becoming absolutely happy and standing on one foot or skipping rope was just a way to help you realize it. As for becoming a man, well Dorothy, you can become absolutely happy just the way you are. You always could. So now how do you feel about the Buddha and what he’s telling you? A little confused? Doubtful? How about betrayed? Let’s face it you’ve really invested yourself into doing something for a long time. And why did you? Because of the trust you bequeathed to the Buddha. But this trust is also a trap because it is an attachment to what you think the Buddha is, not what the Buddha is in actuality.
To help you over come this doubt and feeling of betrayal, he throws a party, which really takes off and invites a bunch of other Buddhas from all over time and space, who all vouch for what the Buddha is now telling you. He also invites a gazillion other disciples, which shows you he’s been doing this a lot longer than you thought. He’s trying to tell you that it’s not about the teachings per say, but their intention. It’s not about him, the Buddha, but his intention as a Buddha, which is to help you become like him as quickly as possible. So don’t worship him, but appreciate his intention. Standing on one foot guy and Dorothy overcame their sense of betrayal and the doubt that they held about their own worth and became enlightened. Skipping rope guy was so good at skipping rope that he left the party early, and is teaching other people how to do it.
Addressing doubt is an act of courage and is an absolute necessity in any arena of human development. But overcoming doubt in the form of betrayal is much more difficult because some of the qualities contained within it are faith, trust and belief. These can only be offered from the betrayed, not the betrayer. It’s the quintessential element of the disciple picking the mentor. Endeavoring to understand this relationship and it’s dynamic is important to each individual’s happiness with regards to how they view life; one is a victim of it; another is an autonomous individual who takes responsibility for it and at the same time sees the symbiotic relationship that life depends upon.
I’m going to try a couple of examples which I hope can express this idea of overcoming doubt which comes in the form of betrayal. This is not an idea exclusive to Buddhism, but rather what has been referred to down through the ages as a coming of age, or a rite of passage. The first is from Robert Bly in his book Iron John. He addresses what must happen to each individual human in order to become a healthy productive person. He has been criticized by some for being too exclusive because he wrote this for men. I can appreciate, however, his elucidation on this topic, which has helped me personally come to see that this event is not gender specific, and very necessary.
I recommend to everyone who can, read the actual story as it will be much better than my
quick synopsis of the Iron John tale:
In a kingdom there is a forest and in it a place where no hunter has ever returned. The king declares it off limits. But eventually someone returns who tells of a large hairy wild man living at the bottom of a lake. He’s captured and put into a cage from which no one may let him out under penalty of death. The king’s son is playing with a golden ball when it rolls into the cage. (Yeah, the same golden ball the frog saved from the well for the petulant princess in that other story.) The prince asks the wild man if he can have his ball back. The wild man says he can if the prince lets him out. The prince says he can’t. But he comes back and asks for his ball twice more, and the third time (that’s three) he agrees to let him out. The wild man tells the prince he can find the key under his mother’s pillow. (Paging Dr. Freud.) He releases the wild man, who reveals his name to be Iron John (or Iron Hans, depending on the translation). The prince fears he will be killed for setting Iron John free, so Iron John agrees to take the prince with him into the forest.
As it turns out, Iron John is a powerful being and has many treasures he guards. He sets a task for the prince to watch over his well, but warns him not to let anything touch it or fall in. The prince obeys at first, but begins to gaze at his own reflection in the water becoming distracted, and as his hair drops into it, it all turns to gold. Disappointed in the boy’s failure, Iron John sends him away to experience poverty and struggle, but also tells the prince that if he ever needs anything, simply to call the name of Iron John three times. (That’s three.)
The prince travels to a distant land and lands a job at a castle. Not a bad place to start. Since he is ashamed of his golden hair, he refuses to remove his cap before the king. As this is mistaken for arrogance, he is sent to assist the gardener. By accident, the king’s daughter has seen the prince’s golden hair when he finally took off his hat on a hot day. She is intrigued. Hey, who wouldn’t be? He has golden hair.
War comes to the kingdom and the prince calls upon Iron John who changes his lame horse who has only three good legs (that’s three) into an armored, fire-breathing steed, and gives him a legion of iron warriors to fight alongside him. The prince successfully defends his new homeland, but returns all that he borrowed to Iron John before returning to his former position.
In celebration, the king announces a banquet and offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to any one of the knights who can catch a golden apple that will be thrown into their midst. The king hopes that the mysterious knight who saved the kingdom will show himself for such a prize. So does the princess who secretly believes it to be the seemingly arrogant boy with the golden hair.
Again the prince asks Iron John for help, and again Iron John disguises the prince as the mysterious knight. Though the prince catches the golden apple and escapes, and does so again on two more occasions (that’s three), he is eventually found out. All ends well. The prince is returned to his former station, marries the princess, and is happily reunited with his parents. Iron John too, comes to the wedding, but now without the hair and wildness that made him frightening. He reveals he was under enchantment until he found someone worthy and pure of heart to set him free. As an act of gratitude Iron John bequeaths to the prince and his bride all his wealth. The End.
The reason I keep pointing to the number three is that it seems to be a special number in fairy tales, Buddhism, and everything else that is part of the human condition. After WWI and WWII there were unknown soldiers who had died in battle. Whoever got first pick for their tomb of the unknown always picked the third in line. Check yourself out when picking straws or anything else.
There is an even more blatant tale of betrayal from those grim Grimm Brothers: Hansel and Gretel. Because there isn’t enough to eat, their father, a woodcutter, is convinced by a mean stepmother (is there any other kind?) to dump the children out in the woods. They handle themselves pretty well and overcome, abandonment, a witch who wants to eat them, and the betrayal of their father. The resolution is swift as they and their father are joyous in the reconciliation, now rich with the defeated witch’s booty, and the evil stepmother has conveniently died. (Check for ax marks.)
Both stories contain all of the essential elements that Joseph Campbell illuminates in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, which is the template for the archetype hero and the bases for the Star Wars movies. The hero is called to an adventure by some incident in which he must cross a threshold of no return. Along the way he meets enablers who teach him and give him tools or knowledge of powers he has yet to develop. And there is always a moment of betrayal he must overcome about his own worth in which he has the choice to bring what he has learned back for the benefit the society or not.
Luke Skywalker overcame his dark side, which was manifested by his discovered betrayal; his doubts about where he came from, what he was supposed to accomplish, and what he was to become. He had mentors and a tool to help develop his powers. In the process he not only saved the galactic community from external evil, but his father as well, from his own internal fundamental darkness. (Extra points for waiting this long to put that phrase in.) Here we see in the hero story what Mr. Ikeda previously referred to as an active life; developing the self-awareness of choice and having the external circumstances respond in kind.
As we sit in front of Nichiren’s Gohonzon, opening it’s eyes and our own, we go through a re-enactment of the hero’s journey on a daily bases. Everyday we must face ourselves and prove our own necessary worth by overcoming our doubts about who we really are. And to return to Carl Sagan’s original comment, the results must not only be able to cross the barriers of culture, but validity must apply to all and be held to an empirical scrutiny too tangible to ignore. The search for truth is an act of courage on a cosmic scale. Thus we become the heroes of the story of our own life.