……and read two small passages, both written by Buddhists, one of which quotes one of “The Buddha’s” last works, the Lotus Sutra.
What struck me, was that sometimes, this Buddhism that I do can get a bit confusing, and then suddenly – suddenly someone says something that brings everything right back sharply into focus.
And it all becomes clear, again. It’s just so simple, really.
Daisaku Ikeda Says:
Many religions have demanded blind faith, taking away people’s independence. President Makiguchi opposed such enslavement. What he called for instead was solidarity of awakened common people. To achieve this, he proposed a self-reliant way of life in which we advance on the path of our choice with a firm, independent character. He also stressed a contributive way of life in which we set our fundamental goal in life toward the realization of happiness for ourselves and others, casting aside arrogance and self-satisfaction to respect and benefit others. – For Today and Tomorrow.
Nichiren Daishonin Says:
Becoming a Buddha is nothing extraordinary. If you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with your whole heart, you will naturally become endowed with the Buddha’s thirty-two features and eighty characteristics. As the sutra says, “hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us,” you can readily become as noble a Buddha as Shakyamuni – Letter to Niike
Both these men are quoting or expressing a fundamental principle of my Buddhism, first expounded by the Buddha, Shakyamuni, many centuries before the Christian era, which is that all people are equal and that all can be as equally enlightened as himself…
Shakyamuni Buddha Says:
(speaking to Shariputra, one of his disciples and trusted friends) ….you should know that at the start I took a vow hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us, and what I long ago hoped for has now been fulfilled… see THE BUDDHA NATURE IS INHERENT IN ALL PEOPLE for a fuller explanation.
I’m often struck when reading the papers or news, to see the coroner’s verdict on someone’s death as:
Ending his own life “while the balance of his mind was disturbed”
Dennis and Flora Milner said they wanted to decide when to die
Well they have to say something, it’s their job, but the phrase is very peculiar. It is also very common, over 110k webpages!
Take this couple, the Milners, who were found dead in their home on the 1st November, 2009. They look quite jolly, don’t they. Would you say that the balance of their mind is disturbed?
Current UK law says that it’s OK to end your own life, but illegal to help anyone do it. I’ve emphasised the word “current”, because not that long ago, when the spoken language of the people of Britain would be comprehensible to us here today, it was actually a capital offence to commit suicide! In other words, if you failed to kill yourself, the State would that ensure you got your wish, by hanging you. This all came from the Catholic and then later Protestant religions’ view of life and the hereafter.
This shows that the view of suicide is highly flexible!
A common view, is as I stated at the top; that someone has a mental problem. This is a tautology, of course. (Statement: ‘All people who attempt suicide are mentally ill.’ Question: ‘How do you know they are mentally ill?’ Answer: ‘Because only mentally ill persons would try to commit suicide.’) But more to the point, what is the mind?
People have struggled since the dawn of self-comprehension about “the mind”. Descartes said “I think therefore I am” which is as good as anything.
Nichiren, the Buddhist monk has said many things, usually by quoting other previous Buddhist scholars and the like, and with an alarming number of references to the concept of “mind“, “self” and “existence“. For instance, quoting Dengyo he states,
“The two phases of life and death are the wonderful workings of one mind. The two ways of existence and non-existence are the true functions of an inherently enlightened mind.” – Nichiren, The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life
Which is all fine and dandy if you’re not depressed, isn’t it? If you are feeling down, it’s as dust to the wind, isn’t it?
But the truth of what Nichiren is saying is that it encapsulates one’s concept of “self”, regardless of whether you are up or down with your life.
And surely, by knowing oneself, even if you are suicidal, then your mind is never disturbed because at that point you have a very clear idea of “self”?
There are various forms of suicide, neatly classified on this Wikipedia entry. What is clear to me, is that there are, in essence, only two types of suicide, and they both to varying degrees are to do with a lack of value to life, not a disrespect of it.
Respect is a concept based in honour and subservience.
Value is a concept that is transferable across many human activities and we all have a good idea of it’s meaning that is far removed from any concept of society, duty, kinship and a host of other things based around law and natural justice.
The first is when one perceives no value in one’s own life.
Here, I’m separating life and existence into two different things, much as all the world’s major religions do. (Most religions, in one way or another, have at their core the premise that when you die, in the physical sense, that you “go” somewhere else afterwards). In such a case, a person may be fed up with their lot and end it all for one of the reasons that Wikipedia lists. For example, men with families like myself, when getting their pension statement will jokingly say amongst themselves that “I’m worth more dead than alive!”. The truth is that this is a truly valid reason that many suicides will use and is a far closer statement of the reality of many in the Western World’s lives than they care to admit.
The second is when a person sees no value in other’s lives.
In each of these cases, the potential for that person’s own death is there precisely because they set aside for an undefined period, any value of the person’s life they are going to kill, even though there’s a good chance they too will die.
By doing this they wrap up my first reason within the second. It’s impossible not to!
Of course, they justify their reasons under the flags of patriotism or peace and the promise or expectation of a “better life” either elsewhere for themselves or their families or country.
Nationalism and native land
But what is the point of committing suicide for a country or a belief system like a religion? These are temporary constructs of our human minds. As Nichiren said;
There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds. – On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime – The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Volume 1, page 4
It is like the case of a person who in a dream sees himself performing various good and evil actions. After he wakes up and considers the matter, he realizes that it was all a dream produced by his own mind. This mind of his corresponds to the single principle of the essential nature of phenomena, the true aspect of reality, while the good and evil that appeared in the dream correspond to enlightenment and delusion. – The Entity of the Mystic Law – WND1, page 418
So what we have is our own mind.
Who is to say whether it’s mad or bad?
Who is to say that life itself is a true reality, because every single thing we see with our eyes and perceive with our other senses, is actually processed information by, and a product of, our own mind!
This last is pure physics and logic. We live, and see things just like TV. A TV picture is just dots on a screen. Our mind converts them into news, trees, people, porn. But there’s nothing there, only dots.
Similarly with Great Art. It’s just paint splodges. It’s our mind that makes the Mona Lisa enigmatic – not even Leonardo’s – it’s our own mind that does it!!!. Just like the expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
Life and Love
So who can put any suicide under any form of disdain? Who can dare compare the suicide of a soldier (usually dressed up as medals and bravery, and they are brave, make no mistake) dying for his or her concept of patriotism with the suicide of a spurned lover, dying for their own concept of life and duty?
It takes just as much bravery for a young girl to walk into a market place and blow herself up as it does for a soldier to run across open ground through a field of enfilading machine gun fire.
And it takes the same bravery for a spurned or deceived lover to end their life when they’ve been through all the options in their own mind, using all the logic at their disposal and deduced that a new, different life for themselves in the next existence is a better option than the current life, especially if, as I said earlier, they consider the value of their life to be greater when they are dead!
To go through all these acts of certain death takes the same amount of courage from everybody, in that I see no distinction.
You may pile up dung and call it sandalwood, but when you burn it, it will give off only the odour of dung. You may pile up a lot of great lies and call them the teachings of the Buddha, but they will never be anything but a gateway to the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering.
Similarly to the previous post, What is Health?, Daisaku Ikeda’s words last week encapsulated individual, respectful, freedom perfectly, and warns against the abuses of power that can so easily lead to doom and painful sufferings for people. Eternal vigilance coupled to openness and discussion is the only way!
Shakabuku – to spread knowledge of the Lotus Sutra and it’s respectful way to live.
“The heart of shakubuku is compassion; it is also the spirit to refute error because of the suffering it causes–a spirit that transforms our compassion into the courage to fight against that which is wrong.”
“Hypocrisy is the exact opposite of compassion–specifically, the hypocrisy of knowing when wrong is being committed in the realm of Buddhism but doing nothing to address it. If such hypocrisy prevails, lies and pretence will become the norm and no one will speak the truth. This will ultimately lead to the spiritual and moral decay of society. Without a sound spiritual underpinning like that provided by a humanistic religion, the fabric of society will crumble. If erroneous teachings spread and seek to enslave then exploit people, they will exert a harmful and poisonous effect on people’s hearts and minds. That is why the Daishonin stresses the importance of steadfastly and resolutely battling the ‘enemies of the Lotus Sutra.'”
“At first only Nichiren chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but then two, three, and a hundred followed, chanting and teaching others.” – The True Aspect of All Phenomena – The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol.1, page 385
Each one of the fuzzy white bits in the photo above is a galaxy containing billions of stars and thus many, many life-forms, all at various stages of evolution. This statement is derived from the work of thousands of intellectuals using the powers of observation and deduction available to us all.
Journey's End (Doctor Who)
Tonight there was a show highlighting bits of the top BBC show, Doctor Who.
It was a reminder, for me, of the most cataclysmic scene, from the final (proper) episode called Journey’s End, where “The Doctor” has to wipe the mind of Donna, his companion, to save herself from going mad. (this was because she’d inherited his Time-Lord powers in the picture here, which are too much for a human).
Flowers For Algernon (S.F. Masterworks) (Paperback )by Daniel Keyes
This scene I can fully empathise with because of my own experience of an under-active thyroid gland which removed my powers of intellect and concentration, and almost removed my concept of “self”, before I was diagnosed. At the time, when I was recovering, I called it my “Flowers for Algernon” experience.
“Flowers for Algernon” is an all-time great science fiction story. Charlie Gordon, the story-telling diarist, like Donna Noble in Doctor Who, and like myself earlier, we were all crushingly aware of the powers we once had, but now were losing, visibly.
In many respects, it’s much worse than death. People sometimes worry about death and try not to think about it, hoping it will go away. Myself, I’ve always pondered it, sometimes to gloomy distraction. It’s like the great unknown.
Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death.
With this, I fully agree, and can thus explain away my gloomy dallyings with the words of one of the greatest thinkers of all time.
Nichiren, the Buddhist monk of a later age said;
Life at each moment permeates the entire realm of phenomena and is revealed in all phenomena. To be awakened to this principle is itself the mutually inclusive relationship of life at each moment and all phenomena. – WND page 3, On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime
I think that with this in mind, for my next existence I’ll go somewhere different to this Earth….
Since I’ve been born I’ve always felt ‘old’, as if I’m returning here to ‘fix’ something, a devoir-faire.
Maybe I’ll be in these red centres of creation, a truly glorious image emphasising the hydrogen clouds.
"Mountains of Creation" by Spitzer. These towering pillars of cool gas and dust are illuminated at their tips with light from warm, embryonic stars. The pillars in the Spitzer image are part of a region called W5, in the Cassiopeia constellation 7,000 light-years away and 50 light-years across. In the image, hundreds of forming stars (white/yellow) can seen for the first time inside the central pillar, and dozens inside the tall pillar to the left.
It’s truly a great privilege to be able to go out on an evening and stare at our night sky and the Milky Way, pondering on the gems that must exist, both in front of our eyes and those ones hidden by vast distance.
Our Milky Way by Spitzer Telescope - click for source page with VERY high resolution pictures!
Exploring the Simultaneous Nature of Cause & Effect
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Finale, Episode – “All Good Things…”
"The Trial Never Ends": Q and Captain Jean-Luc Picard discuss the collapse of the anti-time eruption.
I’ve just watched the double episode finale to the TNG Picard series just after the cyclists finished their ascent of Mont Ventoux in this years Tour de France. It was “All Good Things…”(see link, link & link for full episode info)
In a nutshell, Picard, by the absolute faith that his crew have in him, across three different life-times, undoes a space-time anomaly of their own creation which saves life on Earth…
What I saw was a fine dramatic representation of the Buddhist principle of karma transcending time and space, and the principle that karma (all that we and our lives are) can be changed both backwards and forwards in time; The simultaneity of cause and effect!
Well! While all fine and dandy as a piece of fiction, how can I say that this is what it’s really like?
Nichiren Daishonin, the 12th century Japanese Buddhist monk, in a letter to the grandmother of Jibu-bo Nichii, one of his disciples, tried to explain a bit of the history behind a ceremony for the dead to her. (A Buddhist service held for the repose of the dead. Such ceremonies were conducted annually, usually on the fifteenth day of the seventh month.) In it, he says, almost a conclusion to his explanation,
The Venerable Maudgalyayana put his faith in the Lotus Sutra, which is the greatest good there is, and thus not only did he himself attain Buddhahood, but his father and mother did so as well. And, amazing as it may seem, all the fathers and mothers of the preceding sevengenerations and the seven generations that followed, indeed, of countless lifetimes before and after, were able to become Buddhas. In addition, all their sons, their wives or husbands, their retainers, supporters, and countless other persons not only were enabled to escape from the three evil paths, but all attained the first stage of security and then Buddhahood, the stage of perfect enlightenment. – On Offerings for Deceased Ancestors, WND, p820
I’ve highlighted the crushing significance that summarises the whole letter, both in it’s literal summary and as it’s sense and meaning. Nichiren is saying that we can affect the past from now, as well as the future. Like Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek episode, the past, present and future are as one, overlapped, affecting each other in a miraculous way.
It’s as if the arrow of time , something everyone experiences in their daily lives, does not exist.
Maudgalyayana gets killed
Of course, faith is behind all of this; but if we accept both tales at face value there is much to commend it and the value system for life that they support. Here’s how it panned out for Maudgalyayana….
He was a disciple of Shakyamuni, (the person we call “The Buddha”, idolised in many lands). Maudgalyayana was supposed to have supernatural powers, such as mind-reading, out-of-the-body experiences and walking through walls. He also brought bad karma upon himself by killing his parents which led to his death at the hands of bandits. To change his karma, he studied the Lotus Sutra, so that later, when he met the bandits he ignored his powers and did not defend himself.
Harry Patch fought at the Battle of Passchendaele in World War I
Shakyamuni said that even supernatural powers are of no use to avoid one’s karma, especially when it is so heavy… That’s what was said and believed at the time.
But is it true? Is any of this possible?
I believe it is so. We can change the past as well as future. Harry Patch who died today aged 111, recalled shooting a German in the leg so as not to kill him (see here), just after seeing a young man die. He said,
“I fell in a trench. There was a fella there. He must have been about our age. He was ripped shoulder to waist with shrapnel. I held his hand for the last 60 seconds of his life. He only said one word: ‘Mother’. I didn’t see her, but she was there. No doubt about it. He passed from this life into the next, and it felt as if I was in God’s presence. I’ve never got over it. You never forget it. Never.”
When they reached the enemy’s second line four Germans stood up, and one ran forward pointing his bayonet at Patch who, with only three rounds left in his revolver, wondered what to do. He then deliberately fired at the man above the ankle and above the knee….”You’ve got a memory. You’ve got a brain about the size of a tea cup. I’ve got a memory that goes back for 80 or 90 years and I think that memory goes on with you when you die. And that’s my opinion. Death is not the end.”
Experiences like this can be rationalised into the mere electrical workings of the brain. But in a way, Patch’s actions shaped the rest of his life. He didn’t die early, and maybe had the well-known “survivor’s guilt” for not doing so. But like the fictional Jean Luc, he has communicated across the ages and affected people because of it. Without being a Buddhist, his actions have nevertheless been Buddhist.
The follow up to the quote above (from a BBC documentary), is that his three chums were blown to bits 6 weeks later. His not un-natural words were;
“If I had met that German soldier after my three mates had been killed, I’d have no trouble at all in killing him”….
The thing is, he didn’t. The order of events was different and as in the Star Trek story, who’s to tell what’s what?
Planck’s Constant and Entanglement
J B S Haldane: My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.
It’s been said that if Planck’s Constant were slightly different – or maybe not so constant – then we ourselves might have the supernatural powers to be able to walk through walls like Maudgalyayana. In fact, the physics says that this must be so! The natural repulsions of atoms would be different and matter could diffuse through matter with less interaction (or be totally inert depending which way it went).
F. W. Dyson, A. S. Eddington, and C. Davidson, "A Determination of the Deflection of Light by the Sun's Gravitational Field, from Observations Made at the Total Eclipse of May 29, 1919"
Surely this is a definition of supernatural?
Entanglement is another “spooky” quantum property. Einstein did not like this because of the “simultaneity” which went plain against his experimentally provable Relativity theory (Edington proved this because light bends near large masses). But it exists and experiments have now been done that confirm (at least so far) simultaneous action at a distance. (see Was Einstein Wrong?: A Quantum Threat to Special Relativity). So experiments prove both instantaneous action at a distance and space-time bending….
Surely, this also is a definition of supernatural?
“My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we cansuppose.” – JBS Haldane
…although a better version, attributed to Edington goes,
“Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”
Nichiren, in his explanatory letter to the grandmother of Jibu-bo Nichii, follows the passage above with a quote from the Lotus Sutra saying,
Therefore, it is said in the third volume of the Lotus Sutra, “We beg that the merit gained through these gifts may be spread far and wide to everyone, so that we and other living beings all together may attain the Buddha way.”
This is also similar to a further sentence which I say twice every day,
But those who practise meritorious ways, who are gentle, peaceful, honest and upright, all of them will see me here in person, preaching the Law. At times for this multitude I describe the Buddha’s life span as immeasurable…
When Patch first spoke about WW1 he said, “For eighty years I’ve never watched a war film, I never spoke of it, not to my wife. For six years, I’ve been here [in the nursing home]. Six years it’s been nothing but World War One. As I say, World War One is history, it isn’t news. Forget it.”
He obviously hated everything about WW1. But for his last 11 years, after living a life of gentle merit, he finally spoke and told his tale. Like the Venerable Maudgalyayana who changed his karma, bathed in the ‘queerness’ of the universe, Patch changed his by finally telling his story after sowing the seeds so long ago. He’s made sure people don’t forget it. The Star Trek episode “All Good Things…” touched on this also. Where the past meets the present, which meets the future.
when you are happy, you should remember that your happiness in this life is nothing but a dream within a dream
It’s as if there is a common strand of semi-known knowledge across all of humanity that just needs to be awakened.
Sometimes it’s story-tellers,
Sometimes it’s traumatised soldiers,
Sometimes it’s scientists searching for truth…?
We all know it, we all know how to behave. But we forget.
A Dream within a Dream
I suppose that all sentient beings are questing for “truth”.
Sometimes we need some proof, like the scientist.
Sometimes we need emotional trauma, like Harry Patch.
Sometimes though, the truth is self-evident, and is a belief, derived from universal truths beyond time and space, elucidated by an enlightened one and transmitted as a belief system and a way of life.
This later one we call Buddhism.
As Nichiren said, a dream within a dream…. the proof for this truth lies within the words and actions of ordinary people searching for this truth….
When the world makes you feel downcast, you should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, remembering that, although the sufferings of this life are painful, those in the next life could be much worse. And when you are happy, you should remember that your happiness in this life is nothing but a dream within a dream, and that the only true happiness is that found in the pure land of Eagle Peak, and with that thought in mind, chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. – The Fourteen Slanders, WND, p760
The inter-connectness of all things is how The Buddha described it. His last words have various translations into English, but they all convey the same meaning that the universe is transient and an exhortation to do one’s best!
“Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!” – link
“All created things are impermanent. Strive on with diligence.” – link
“Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation. Do your best.” – link
“Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.” – link
See Harry Patch’s death today in my previous post here.
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