In Buddhist terminology, the realm of nirvana is called "the opposite shore." The opposite shore is enlightenment, a state of mind in which one is free and autonomous and has transcended all suffering and delusion. It is, in other words, the realm of the Buddha. In contrast, the world of delusion in which we live - the world of ignorant, ordinary human beings who are confused and shaken by the changes in their lives - is called "this shore."
The great purpose of Buddhism is to ferry all people from this shore, the world of delusion, to the opposite shore, the realm of nirvana. We tend to think of the two shores as absolutely separate, divided as if by a river. But both are part of earthly existence and thus are joined. Likewise, delusion and enlightenment are indivisible. They are like nested concave and convex forms. If we look at delusion from another angle, it is a manifestation of the desire for salvation and enlightenment.
The greater our delusion, the stronger our desire for enlightenment and salvation. The worse our delusion, the more depressed we are. But without delusion, the wish for salvation and enlightenment would not arise. People are deluded precisely because they have the ability to solve all sorts of problems; and for the same reason, they have the power to rid themselves of delusion.
We can see that delusion and enlightenment, just like this shore and the opposite shore, make up a whole. When we awaken to this, we also realize that we are all essentially saved already. For Buddhists, it is daily religious practice that carries us from one shore to the other. But rather than say that our practice ferries us across, it is perhaps more accurate to say that it awakens us naturally to our true selves.
For those with faith in the Lotus Sutra, chanting the name of the sutra is a declaration of their commitment to absolute truth. It is a commitment quite unrelated to intellectual accomplishments. It expresses an awakening to our true selves and to the reality of our already having been saved. In our daily practice we move step by step through repeated cycles of delusion and enlightenment toward fulfillment of the Buddha's original vow that everyone will attain buddhahood.
Unfortunately, once people begin to suffer they see only one aspect of reality. For example, if your child is sick, that is all you think about, and it is hard to remain calm. You feel depressed and you cannot see things from any other perspective. But if you just step back from your problems and try to be objective, you will see that your child is not the only one suffering an illness. The child will recover more quickly if you enjoy peace of mind. You can keep your head in times of trouble by looking at the situation from many perspectives and realizing that many other people have troubles, too.
The disciple Devadatta rebelled against Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, and even tried to kill him; yet Shakyamuni praised Devadatta as a good friend. Devadatta's acts were wicked, but Shakyamuni taught that if we rise above our hatred of evil and consider it objectively, we will realize how important it is to walk the correct path. If we interpret Devadatta's behavior correctly, it can be a lesson leading to further spiritual growth.
A knife can be used to kill or to perform surgery, that is, for evil or for good. The mind is equally adaptable. We can think wicked thoughts leading to wicked deeds, or good thoughts leading to good deeds.
The world is filled with suffering. In its midst, we must look for meaning in everything and learn from every experience. We must ask ourselves what the Buddha is trying to show us. It is this desire to learn that marks the boundary between enlightenment and delusion.
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The British historian Arnold Toynbee said that history is a series of challenges and responses. Improving ourselves through exhortation, encouragement, and competition with our fellows is important in making life meaningful. Taking another person's example as a challenge, responding to another's challenge, makes us want to improve ourselves. In all things, it is the repeated cycle of challenge and response that is the cause of progress and development.
Yasuhiro Yamashita broke many records as a judo champion. He often said he welcomed challengers but hoped to keep winning as long as he could. If he were easily defeated, he said, challengers would hardly need to improve themselves. It was that spirit that made him a record breaker, with 203 consecutive wins, and inspired younger athletes in their training.
Engaging in competition should not mean hating your opponents and wanting to destroy them. Rivalry in the best sense means wholehearted effort to equal your opponents and then surpass them. In the traditional martial arts of Japan, training and tournaments have always been important for the way that they encourage continuous effort at self-improvement. Victory or defeat in a match is considered just one event in a long process, not the goal of training.
To develop your potential fully, you need a rival you can train yourself to surpass. When you are satisfied with yourself and have no higher expectations or goals, you stop improving. Some people, of course, give little thought to having a rival, preferring to work quietly and diligently on their own, away from others' gaze. There are indeed many different ways of living, but what is important in all cases is doing your best in whatever you undertake.
People also have many different ways of choosing rivals. A rival does not have to be a living person. Some read biographies of famous people, are moved by their example, and make these people their ideal. For Buddhists, the Buddha is our rival in the true sense of the word. The ultimate aim of our practice is to emulate the Buddha.
The thirteenth-century Japanese Zen priest Dogen said that daily practice itself is enlightenment. He taught that practice and enlightenment are the same thing, that our daily practice, just as it is, is the Buddha's practice.
We should think of everything we do as part of the bodhisattva practice, as the Buddha's practice, and proceed along the Way, taking care to make our practice rich in meaning so that our inner enlightenment is constantly increased.
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Masahiro Mori, a robotics engineer and general director of the Mukta Research Institute in Tokyo, claims that there are two ways of thinking, the "stock" method and the "flow" method. The stock method of thought holds that experiences are to be saved up and accumulated. Once you have seen or heard something, you know it and there is no need to repeat the learning experience a second or third time. The flow method of thought, in contrast, values the process of arriving at a particular conclusion. Though you may not be able to accomplish a particular thing at present, you will be able to in the future, and it is the process of arriving at that accomplishment that is most valuable.
The stock method is used by people who think a single viewing of an educational film is enough. People who employ the flow method, however, are willing to see such a film again and again, looking for something new in it each time and deepening their understanding of it. Mori relates his own experience of seeing a film on one research project over 160 times and discovering something new in it on each viewing. He suggests that the stock method of thought was predominant in the past but that the flow method is now coming to the fore.
Religious teachings are meant to be understood through the flow method of thought. With repetition, difficult teachings gradually take root in our minds and we begin to understand them. The most valuable aspect of Buddhism is daily religious practice bringing us closer to fulfillment of the Buddha's original vow. For members of the organization to which I belong, this might mean being thankful for birth as a human being and grasping the true purpose of life while engaging in morning and evening devotions, while taking part in hoza, or counseling sessions with fellow believers, or while sharing the teachings with nonbelievers and guiding them to the faith.
In our organization, we hear the complaint that the same things are always said in counseling sessions with fellow believers and in sermons. Our religious leaders may be partly to blame, but at the same time it is important for those who would progress spiritually to try to discover something new in what they are hearing, even though they may be hearing it for the second or third time.
In the chapter "Ten Merits" of the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, the work that introduces the Lotus Sutra, it is written: "This sutra . . . stays at the place where all the bodhisattvas practice." The true value of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra is revealed only by practice.
I think we have all had the experience of finding that we did not actually understand a teaching we had thought we understood after one hearing or reading. Each time this happens, we discover what we misunderstood. We realize we must hear or read the teaching a second time, or as many times as necessary until we think we understand. As long as we have this attitude, even after a hundred hearings or readings we will find something new, become aware of something previously unnoticed.
We would do well to avoid the stock method of thinking, which disdains repetition. Instead, as with the flow method of thinking, we should value the learning process and not waste repeated opportunities. Only with such unceasing effort will our daily religious practice be filled with gratitude, purpose, and vigor.