Lotus Blossom in McClelland Art Gallery – contrasts to the large sculptures…
With it’s dramatically sombre title, “The Importance of the Moment of Death“, Nichiren tells us exactly what’s on his mind. The text of the letter shows that it was sent to an unknown person to read to the lay nun Myōhō. Presumably she was unable to read… Whatever, Nichiren knew several lay nuns called Myoho and this one’s a widow.
We know he despised the “Pure Land” and other teachings and espoused the Lotus Sutra as being the final version of a lifetime’s work and thought by Shakyamuni, who most know as the Buddha. His outspokenness brought him many enemies in feudal Japan.
He was drawing to the end of his life, being 56, with 4 years to go. In this piece he states exactly what he thought – and did! The sheer poetry when he talks about the transient nature of life, is like majestic magic.
Looking back, I have been studying the Buddha’s teachings since I was a boy. And I found myself thinking, “The life of a human being is fleeting. The exhaled breath never waits for the inhaled one. Even dew before the wind is hardly a sufficient metaphor. It is the way of the world that whether one is wise or foolish, old or young, one never knows what will happen to one from one moment to the next. Therefore I should first of all learn about death, and then about other things.”
So I gathered and considered the sacred teachings of Shakyamuni’s entire lifetime, as well as the writings and commentaries of scholars and teachers.
Which is what Nichiren really did. From a young boy he sought the true nature of existence. And using the metaphors that without white there can be no black, and without life there can be no death, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo was the fruit of his lifetime’s studies.
Nichiren explicitly says (above) that it was from looking at dead people at such an early age that he commenced his life’s work and started studying Buddhism! What a fantastic thing from such a gloomy beginning!
Nichiren encourages the lay nun Myoho that her recently deceased husband is okay.
He also says that she will be (and is currently), okay.
The persistent care and trouble that Nichiren takes over ordinary people is noteworthy; he continually encourages, when things are just pottering on as well as when people are at their darkest hour and are troubled.
How does he say these things? Here?
The key passage for me is here:
One who upholds the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra transforms the black lacquer of the evil deeds of a lifetime, and of countless kalpas of lifetimes in the past, into the great merit of good deeds. All the more so is this true of one’s good roots from the beginningless past, which all take on a golden hue.
And when your deceased husband chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo at the end on his deathbed, the evil deeds of a lifetime, and from the beginningless past, changed into the seeds of Buddhahood. This is what is meant by the teachings called “earthly desires are enlightenment,” “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana,” and “attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form.”
And because you are the beloved wife of such a man, the teaching of women attaining Buddhahood without doubt also applies to you.
The image is that of a huge dying star, the Carina Nebula which is likely to cataclysmically pop. From its remains, new stars will be made, which is the whole point of it all. Nichiren then goes on to finish saying,
…if this were to be a lie, Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and all the Buddhas of the ten directions, who are Shakyamuni’s emanations, would be liars, great liars, evildoers, and those who deceive all living beings and cause them to fall into hell (…) It would not be Nichiren’s lie; rather it would be the lie of all the Buddhas in the ten directions and three existences.
But consider: How could such a thing ever be?
I will explain this matter in detail when we meet.
I would love to had been at that meeting!
And in Another Letter to the Lay Nun Myoho…
Three years later in another letter to the nun, Nichiren again encourages the nun. Her loneliness has increased as she is shunned by her family – all for chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
In fact in this letter, we get a clue to Nichiren’s realisation that Buddhahood applies to everyone. He paraphrases Shakyamuni’s disillusionment with the women of his time and at the same time praises the lay nun Myoho, when he says,
I have received your gift of a light summer robe. You have been left behind by your deceased husband in a woman’s situation, and are separated from your relatives, too. You hear nothing from your one or two daughters, who are not to be relied on. Moreover, you are a woman who is hated by others because of this teaching. You are just like Bodhisattva Never Disparaging.
I had therefore thought that, though women would tarnish their names and throw away their lives on meaningless paths, they were weak at following the path to Buddhahood. But now you, born a woman in the evil world of the latter age, while being reviled, struck, and persecuted by the barbaric inhabitants of this island country who are unaware of these things, have endured and are propagating the Lotus Sutra.
She must have been a tough one. She chanted the daimoku, probably just like in this YouTube video.
Nichiren does not explicitly say, to my eyes, what “The Importance of the Moment of Death” is. But his meaning is clear.
The importance of the moment of death is to be chanting The Daimoku of The Lotus Sutra, even if it’s only in your head.
I did this when I had an operation a few years ago, just as I was going under the anaesthetic. Of course I woke up later (like dah…), but my faith was paramount in my thoughts as I drifted off, though weirdly, I almost forgot….. Here’s how.
I was completely empty of thoughts, or a bit shocked, as they prepared my hand for the drugs, maybe my face showed trepidation or something to the anaesthetist, but she said “most people try to think happy thoughts or faces at this time” – it was then that I remembered I’d previously promised myself many times to chant as I went under…. so I did… and just in time.
Clifford to Clarence Worley – Click image for Quote
I have a set drill in my head now that should I feel I’m a goner, to chant, even if it’s just inside my mind.
Is this mad? Not for me.
Will I forget again?
Who can tell? But though I quoted this at the top from Nichiren, I’ll repeat it again here…
It is the way of the world that whether one is wise or foolish, old or young, one never knows what will happen to one from one moment to the next.
My Web Host Penalised Me Yet Helped Speed Up My Site
shared web hosting
This site used to be hosted on Site5, in Texas. I had a shared web host account, about the cheapest there is on Site5 though by no means the cheapest around (I’ve had experience of really cheap hosts….). It worked alright, site management was good. Then, I got hit by spammers. Twice. Big time.
Each time, this slowed the site down, made life hell for other shared accounts, especially when I introduced WordPress plugins to counter this.
Naturally, Site5 advised me to stop the hits or they’d pull my account (they’d already temporarily disabled it). They advised me to cut the plugins, using GoDaddy’s plugin testing tool, WordPress Plugin Performance Profiler (P3). So I did this, and after some trial and error, got the running processes down. Of course, I lost a bit of neat functionality.
Apart from internal WordPress testing, it pays to test your site as if you are someone else somewhere else. Pingdom have a set of tools that does just this, testing from various global locations and I can recommend it.
I used an iterative approach, testing various combinations of plugins and systems to end up as being in the top 8% sites for speed in the world! Not bad for free is all I can say! You’ll see in the screenshot above, that 92% of websites are slower than mine…. So is it really free? Here goes…..
WordPress (which this site uses) is built by the Automattic team and naturally have expanded over time. I’ve used their plugins for many years, Akismet from the off, which is a comment spam blocking system. Latterly, they came out with Jetpack, where they say,
Supercharge your WordPress site with powerful features previously only available to WordPress.com users.
Jetpack is a WordPress plugin that supercharges your self-hosted WordPress site with the awesome cloud power of WordPress.com.
P3 Selected Output
This is all well and good, except when I tested it using the P3 plugin profiler, Jetpack was the biggest drag on everything! The worst part of it, was that actually, I was only using a small part of its features and it was still the biggest suck on performance.
I didn’t use Carousel for photos since I had an old solution, NextGen Gallery, that I’m loathe to change.
The comments system mucked up all other comment plugins, grabbing all for itself (a bit like Microsoft here!)
I used the stats, and that was about all, yet they were very slow and not that informative, actually.
Nearly all the other stuff I looked at, tried and ditched for similar reasons.
So much for the awesome cloud power. On top of this, you’re now supposed to pay for parts of Automattic’s offerings, like Akismet, the comment spam blocker while a major offering of theirs was actually slowing my site right up!
What Did I do?
Well not initially, actually, though the heavy-handed Site5 approach got my ire a bit I must admit. I did do loads of tests with a host of caching, anti-spam and page load improvement plugins first…
I now use Vidahost in the UK. The site is faster to manage (along with my others) since the servers are in the UK with me, and it’s cheaper, providing almost the same functionality and tools as Site 5. I took the opportunity to clean out a few dead files in the process, but essentially, all was moved, database and files. The lot. Just twiddled config.php and the .htaccess file a bit.
I did worry that my American visitors, who are actually in the majority, would suffer slower speed and thus I’d get hit in Google rankings, but hey, wait for later…!
I got it all working and as part of the whole “thinking” process since the very first warnings from Site 5, I’d been looking for better things.
Looking at Things Closely
I like Related Posts. Related Posts plugins do just that. I love the idea of pulling out meta-data relevant stuff from a website. Site 5 had said, as have others on the web, that this sort of plugin makes big hits on a site. Some of them really do! I use YARPP, with a limited subset of features enabled which cuts down processing.
I also like Andrew Ozz’s Shutter Reloaded which shows images nicely. I also like his post editor, TinyMCE Advanced, it being the best of many I’ve tested over the years.
I like NextGEN Gallery having used it since before WordPress got all image fancy. I haven’t got time to fiddle with thousands of photos now…
I’d like some statistics within WordPress.
I’m not that interested, any-more (though I was) in Social Networking sharing features. Truth be told, if someone wants to share, they will.
I’ve read a lot on image improvements. I’ve always shrunk images manually before uploading using the excellent IrfanView application. But during this enforced research, other things like sprites and delayed image loading popped into the equation.
So I like certain plugins or functionality. I try and use the one that works best for me. Too many plugins make a big hit on the server and thus website loading.
A way round this is caching. e.g. If a post is created and has related posts clagged on the bottom using YARPP, then the post is cached and YARRP is only running once. How and where the caching is done is the crux of the issue…
Site 5 suggested W3 Total Cache as a better alternative to Wp Super Cache, which I’ve used for years. Naturally, I’ve tested this and my conclusion was that it could be fast, and it was fast for a while, but over time on each of my sites I got issues around lock-ups and the huge and complex caching system around files, databases and sprites. This list is long.
I’ve also tested various database query caching plugins likewise over the years. W3 Total Cache incorporates this method too, but ultimately, it made too much work for not a lot of difference IMHO, since I’m lazy.
However, it did point me to one thing! CloudFlare.
Ah. The power of the cloud is back!
Not only that – it works!
You re-direct your DNS at your domain registrar (joker.com in my case) to CloudFlare’s DNS servers, set up the site malware protection level you want – then after a few hours your whole site is cached and protected. Best of all, it’s free for a little site like this!
In fact, using CloudFlare speeded everything up even before I got caching going again…
Further Plugin Work
Now, I went back to Wp Super Cache from Doncha and it all works fine. Site speed good. I then ditched Jetpack after testing it again. It really does interfere with all comment plugins, and I really like this comment one as do people who comment here:
U Extended Comment
It works great and does everything I want. So Jetpack, it’s bye bye. Take all your fancy commenting system, your stats, your social media and fancy image handling.
But What About Comment Spam?
Stop Spammer Results2
Stop Spammer Results1
I’ve found the best solution is a plugin called Stop Spammer Registrations Plugin. It needed a bit of fine tuning and a re-activation of Akismet to whip out a few wisps of spammer, but it works and seems to trap and report more spammers than ever Akismet did alone. Akismet, by itself, does the commenting bit in tandem with the plugin, rather well.
Unfortunately, during testing, a few unwanted visitors managed to register on the website. They can’t do real harm since I use the lowest role level at registration time. So I re-enabled SABRE and since then, no more unwanted visitors. I’ve tested SABRE as a visitor and the settings I’ve chosen are just about right – I’ve had issues with it previously when it blocked registration! But reducing the feature set and re-uploading a clean plugin fixes that.
CloudFlare and the CDN Issue
I toyed around getting a CDN to host images. But they (can) cost and anyway, I’ve gone off Amazon and others because of their anti-Wikileaks actions plus they don’t pay UK tax…
Delayed Image Loading
However, in the course of my reading, I found that images can be loaded just as the page comes into view, which speeds up page loading, and as a consequence the perceived nippiness of a site. The plugin BJ Lazy Load does this for me and works brilliantly. Check this last post about Australia which has a lot of medium sized images to see them pop into view!
Well, Jetpack is gone. I won’t be using it unless some serious improvements are made, it being the prime reason for the server load that brought me to this position in the first place. As soon as I disabled it (and simultaneously blocked all comments to the site, which isn’t the best thing, this being a blog after all), all server loads went away.
I now use SlimStat and it works very well. I’ve tried many over time, including Google’s analysis tools, my webhost’s stats tools, Wassup and more, but for now, this is it.
My site works pretty fast and is pretty protected from the bad guys. I actually still use more plugins than what is usually recommended – 50 is a huge lot according to web gurus and sages. Currently there are 31 in active operation with 8 inactivated. I love trying new ones, it’s like that, that’s just the way it is.
The delayed image loading is particularly apparent on a post with a lot of images, say this recent one. The post loads fast and you see the first images load, and as you scroll down you’ll see other images appear with a slight delay.
All the other stuff is incremental improvement, with the biggest, by far, being the free CloudFlare service which I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s a no-brainer, go and do it?
My Full List?
These are the plugins currently running that help my site work. Many are for security, which demonstrates the state of play versus the bad internet guys full well.
I was fishing around the inter-web-tubes today and came across an old show detailing the swearing and start of punk, and more. A good listen and viewing, watching ourselves get older and older…. The guy at 1:11 is Tony Bulley, who led us (as the band Crawling Chaos) in a roundabout way into the welcoming (surely shome mishtake) arms of Tony Wilson and Factory Records.
Was it a good thing? Who knows? Could we have done better? Probably. But it is what it is, it is.
It appears that finally, after much hesitation, the world is going to be able to enjoy the later works of Crawling Chaos which Jeff insisted should be called “Spookhoose“. These were recorded in the last half of the 80’s.
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