I have been reading online the expressions of outrage and despair coming from some in regard to the outcome of the elections. For now, I am not going to refrain from commenting on the election itself. Rather, I would like to address the despair by sharing the perspective I have been reflecting on over the past few days.
Lately I have been wrestling with Rissho Ankoku Ron and in order to understand parts of it, it has become necessary to gie myself a crash course in Confucianism. So I have been doing nothing but reading about and thinking about Confucianism for a couple of weeks now. In reading various translations of the Analects, Mencius, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean one thing has become apparent to me – Confucius and Mencius lived in a political and social climate the “sucked beyond the telling of it” (as Buffy once said about her life). There was actual anarchy and chaos, with the fuedal princes constantly fighting each other, the ministers fighting to control the princes, every clan and even every man (the women didn’t count at all) out for himself. People suffered in numbers that would still make the front page of the news even today. No one was interested in even paying lip service to good government. And despite all this, Confucius and Mencius never gave up but persisted in believing that people were perfectable, that Heaven had endowed people with a good nature, and that virtue would eventually triumph over selfishness and shortsightedness. Hundreds of years after their deaths China was united by the tyranical Shih-huang-ti who followed one of the most evil philophies the world has ever seen – Legalism. He and his men slaughtered and tortured any who stood in their way in order to unite China and bring an end to the fighting. They brooked no rivals and killed and banished all the Confucianists and burned all their books. But in the end, just as Confucius or Mencius would have predicted, this dynasty sowed the seeds of its own destruction and didn’t even last two decades. It was replaced by the Han dynasty. Under the Han, Confucianism became the ideology of the state and the classics that had been burned were more or less recovered. Civil service examinations were set up to create a meritocracy to replace the law of the fishes which had governed China until then (e.i. the biggest eats the smallest, might is right). So in the end, their efforts paid off even though they did not live to see it, and their optimism and emphasis on benevolence at least tempered those who ruled in the future even if their ideals were never fully realized. I think, like Confucius and Mencius, we should cultivate the same optimism and big picture outlook and never stop striving to create at least within ourselves and among our own friends and family a Way of living that will set a standard for the future – even if it means a lot of soul searching and reformation on our own part.
Here is a quote from the Analects that I find relevant here:
14.38 Zilu spent the night at Stone Gate. The morning gatekeeper asked him, “Where are you from?” “From the residence of Confucius,” replied Zilu. “Isn’t he the one who keeps trying although he knows that it is in vain?” asked the gatekeeper.
In the first episode of the fourth season of Angel, here is what Angel told his wayward son Conner: “Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It’s harsh and cruel. That’s why there’s us. Champions. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we’ve done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be.”
I think Confucius and Mencius would have approved of the vampire-with-a-soul’s words.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

This is in response to the ignoramus spamming various Nichiren newsgroups with out of context passages from the Pali Canon in his efforts to denigrate Mahayana Buddhism. Sorry if it sounds a little authoritarian, but I want to strongly make the point that when it comes to the Buddhist canon I am not a mere dabbler or armchair Buddhist whose closest proximity to the sutras is through some off hand comments in Tricycle. Anyway, on to my latest diatribe:
I’m a little tired of people either dismissing the Pali Canon as “Hinayana” or of using it to bash Mahayana Buddhism.
I have read English translations of the Pali sutras. In fact, I have read just about everything included in the Sutta-pitaka. Some many times over. I am still in the process of reading and commenting on them. And the Vinaya too for that matter (which I have also read more than once). I have even delved into classical commentaries and summaries of the Abhidharma. So I have a working familiarity with the Pali Canon that is rare even among Western Buddhists – excepting those who are actually scholars, translators or graduate students.
I have also read the major sutras of the Mahayana – some many times over. I have read the Flower Garland Sutra (twice now from front to back and I made coious notes), the Lotus Sutra many times over in various translations (and I made notes), the Large Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, the 8,000 Line Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, the Diamond Sutra and Heart Sutra (these many many times over), the Vimalakirti Sutra several times in various translations, the Queen Srimala Sutra, the Nirvana Sutra (and I made copious notes), the Surangama Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra, etc…
I have pondered these texts without stop since the mid-1980s. I have constantly been thinking about them, writing about them, obsessing about them. And one thing has become very clear to me – I do not see any fundamental conflicts between the worldviews or values of the Mahayana sutras and the Pali Canon. There are far more overlaps than contradictions. Even Theravadin scholar-monks like Walpola Rahula, Bhikkhu Bodhi, and Silak Sivaraksa have admited that there are many such points of overlap and agreement, and have even at times cited Mahayana sutras and teachers approvingly. The translator and teacher David Kalupahana has even put forward the claim that Mahayana teachers like Nagarjuna were even more faithful to the teachings found in the pre-Mahayana canon than even the 5th century Theravadin teacher Buddhaghosa whose commentaries have become authoritative in the Theravadin traditon. So I am not even the only one who sees the Mahayana and Pali Canon as overlapping and complimentary in many respects. This is not to say that there are not differences and even a few contraditions – but it is to say that those who actually take the time to study and ponder these things do not see them as fundamentally at odds.
Nichiren Buddhists should realize that if they want to approach the Buddha of history the Pali Canon is the closest one is going to get without moving into the realm of pure baseless speculation. Likewise, the Mahayana canon takes for granted the material in the Pali Canon and/or the Agamas. It takes these teachings as its jumping off point. The Mahayana, in other words, is the middle and not the beginning of a conversation about awakening that lasted for more than a thousand years in terms of the development of the canon. To cut off the Pali Canon or dismiss it as irrelevant is to deprive yourself of the root of that conversation and to abolish the context of what is said later in the Mahayana. To cut off the Mahayana is to cut off the full flowering of that conversation and not just the flower but even the seed of awakening itself (a point argued at length in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras). The Buddha of faith in his full glory is what the Mahayana sutras convey. Why deprive oneself of the wisdom, compassion, and beauty of that Buddha? So I for one believe that we should view the canon as a complimentary whole just as Chih-i and Miao-lo did.
When it comes to faith and practice, I certainly take my side with Nichiren – the seed and flower of the Dharma is in the five characters of Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo. But the fullest expression of the Dharma in terms of our understanding of its meaning and implications, helpful advice and guidance, the full vision of human development and spiritul maturity and the interrelated grandeur of the Dharma-realm requires an appreciation for the canon as a whole – at least on the part of those who take it upon themselves to teach the Dharma. On the part of those who wish to just practice it – my advice is to simply chant Odaimoku, support that practice with gongyo and other beneficial practices centered on the Lotus Sutra and realizing its spirit, and to respectfully listen to and consider ALL the Buddha’s teachers as shared by those of us who have taken the trouble to learn it so that it can be applied appropriately. And as for those who would use the canon in a divisive or dismissive way – they are slanderers and should be avoided as one avoids a river of molten lava.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

Love in Buddhism


It has always struck me since my Catholic high school days that early Christians (really the Greeks in general) had different words for different kinds of love – a word for erotic love, a word for love of family, a word for love between friends, and then agape - unconditional love. There was no one ambiguous word for “love” that was employed to mean anything from greedy desire for a hamburger, to naked lust, to feelings of cameraderie, to simply liking a person, to sublime self-sacrificing atlruism. Our English word “love” has become next to useless because of how it has been overlain with all kinds of irrational and even degrading meanings.
I think that is why many Buddhists have really started to carefully investigating and cultivating the Buddhist words – metta (loving-kindness), karuna (compasion), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upeksha) because the meaning of these includes warmth and feeling but is not narrow or irrational or materialistic. And instead of just being an emotion we may or may not feel, these four brahmaviharas (divine abidings) are states that we can actually cultivate.
It is also noteworthy to me that all four of them are about loving-kindness and that loving-kindness is a general wish for the well-being, happiness, security and ultimately enlightenment of others. Compassion is when loving-kindness encounters those who are suffering. Sympathetic joy is when it encounters those who have reaped the rewards of good causes or, even better, have attained a degree of liberation and insight. Equanimity is the ability to have an stance of loving-kindness towards all in all circumstances. And just as Jesus said, “love others as you love yourself” the cultivation of these four boundless states of mind begins with directing the well-wishing, compassion, joy in honestly gained success, and equanimity towards oneself – and after that radiates that feeling or well-wishing in all directions. Furthermore these states lead to and/or are generated from an insight into the interdependently transformative nature of all beings and all that is.
Another great thing about the teachings relating to loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity is that they identify the near and far enemies of each. The far enemies are the opposites – so hatred, cruelty, envy, and bias would be far enemies of each of the above qualities. But the near enemies are the counterfeits, and so the teachings warn us not to get confused. Don’t mistake sentimental attachment for loving-kindness, or over-identifying with the pain or successes of others to the point where you are just living your life through others or losing your perspective, or mistaking indfifference for equanimity. And again, to idenfity the difference requires wisdom and so wisdom leads to the four divine abodes and also is generated by our working on them.
But here we come back to Nichiren Buddhism. Nichiren said that for ordinary beings in the latter age it is extraordinarily difficult for us to cultivate all the virtues and merits that Buddhists cultivated in the past. Rather, we should concentrate on wisdom, and since we have no wisdom we should replace wisdom with faith in the Wonderful Dharma. Faith, means trust and confidence. The Wonderful Dharma is the true nature of ourselves and of all reality. It is the Wonderful Dharma taught in the Lotus Sutra that points out our universal buddha-nature and the compassionate presence of buddhahood in our lives. Our faith gives us access to this. It means that in chanting Odaimoku we can look forward to our minds coming to dwell in the four divine abodes as one aspect of the many virtues and qualities of buddhahood which our faith and practice of Odaimoku can help bring about.
But there is also this – we can chant till we are blue in the face to get a job or to meet the perfect person, or to get a raise or find the perfect home. But once we have made that ultimate root cause, we must go out and send in resumes, or attend social gatherings, or improve our work, or go check out the houses on the market. There must be follow-through with faith in the power of the Odaimoku. In the same way, we must chant to bring forth such beautiful states of mind as the four divine abodes. And then when we are out in the world we should be more self-aware and look for opportunities to approach ourselves, our family and friends, strangers, and even enemies in a new way. We must be self-aware and make the effort. Otherwise, we are merely praising the Lotus Sutra with our lips but then slandering it in our hearts and in our actions by dualistically thinking that the Odaimoku will do the work so that we don’t have to. The power to bring forth the beautiful states of mind described in the four divine abodes comes from the Odaimoku – the seed of buddhahood that they are aspects of. But in turn, we must do our best to glorify the Odaimoku and all life be being loving, compassionate, joyful, and ful of a peace that picks no sides and has no boundaries.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,
P.S. I want to thank Brian, and Byrd and others for comments posted on a discussion list prompted all this to come out. I have been thinking about these things for several years now since taking a year long seminar on them with Dharmajim and also in preparation for the four day retreat I held in Denmark last August that had these as the theme.