by Stephen L. Klick | 37,321 words
These are the Dharma lectures from the early years of the Buddhist Information ministry. The writing style is not as developed as it would later become but the content is wonderful because it is Dharma. Many of these lectures bring back fond memories of the very early days when we were not quite sure of the direction we would take. We often spent f...
Today I would like to talk to you about suffering. The four noble truths promise us an end to suffering, right here—now—in this lifetime. There are very practical methods anyone can learn to end suffering, and they work. Please do not take my word for this, find out for yourself. First, you must be practicing correctly, as the Buddha taught. In this period of the Law, Chant “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,” learn the Gongyo ceremony and do these practices daily. (For more information see “Stop Suffering: A Buddhist Guide To Happiness”)
Practicing every day is important but if you do not study as well then your growth will be stunted. You will be guilty of one of the fourteen slanders (shallow understanding) and this is not a good cause to make if your goal is to stop suffering for yourself and others. T’ien T’ai, the Buddha of the Middle Period of the Law, wrote; “If [the student] is one-sided in the cultivation of practice and merit and thus neglects the study of wisdom, this results in delusion.”
If practice and study are not applied equally what you are perfecting is deviation. Deviation will never lead to enlightenment; it will however lead you inevitably to misery, hardship, suffering, and pain. We need to develop Buddhist faith, which is never a blind kind of trust. Buddhist Faith is based on years of testing the teachings of the Buddha and realizing that they work because they are based on the reality of the one great Law that runs everything in the universe. We call this Law ‘mystic’ because it is the universe and all life comes from it.
Mr. Ikeda, a wonderful Buddhist scholar, and writer stated “It is the sharp sword of the mystic law, and the great power of faith that enable us to completely sever the chains of suffering.” Everyone has problems; the details merely change from person to person. But, these details really make up a small amount of the suffering in your life. Most of the suffering you will endure is common human suffering that can be eliminated with simple Buddhist training.
What is this training? It comes in four parts:
Our teacher said, “Learn first about Death, than about other things.” Now, why would he say that? Well, death is a topic that most people avoid because it makes them deeply uncomfortable. That uncomfortable feeling means that you have not understood death yet.
Mr. Ikeda has stated, “Death will come to each of us some day. We can die having fought for our beliefs and convictions, or we can die having failed to do so. Since the reality of death is the same in either case, isn’t it far better that we set out on our journey towards the next existence in high spirits and with a smile on our faces—knowing that everything we did, we did the very best we could, thrilling with the sense “That was truly an interesting life?”
Every teacher’s works that I’ve studied talks about the inevitability of death. Nichiren wrote, “How long can we expect to live on as we have, from yesterday to today, and from last year to this year? We may look over our past and count how many years we have accumulated, but who can for certain number him self among the living for another day or even an hour?
Yet, though one may know the moment of his death is already at hand, he clings to his arrogance and prejudice, his worldly fame and profit, and fails to devote himself to chanting the mystic law. Such an attitude is futile beyond description.” Shakyamuni, the Buddha of the First Period of the Law said, “As a cow herd with his staff gathers his cows into the stable, so do age and death gather the life of a man.” So death will inevitably come—the only thing keeping you alive now is the beating of your heart, and the simple in and out of your breath. This could stop at any time—it does not matter how old or young you are.
I am not telling you anything new here am I? Why do western people fear death so much? The answer is simple ignorance, and this kind of fear is a terrible burden to people and the sad part is that this suffering is unnecessary. If you do not have a realization on death, make this a priority. Sit in front of the Gohonzon and make a determination to have this realization, don’t suffer needlessly.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Why? Because the way you die will determine what happens to you next. Once you are in Ku, the life condition you will experience will be the one you manifest most of the time you are alive. If you spend most of your time in the higher worlds, then you will experience great bliss that will seem far too brief. If you live and constantly manifest a hellish life condition then you will experience suffering for what seems to be a long time.
That sounds bad enough but Buddhist scholar Daisaku Ikeda adds, “The state of mind with which we meet our death will greatly influence the course of our lives over eternity.” OH BOY, no pressure there right? What he is telling us is that if you die screaming in some cancer ward you will NOT experience bliss in Ku, and when you are reborn the karmic seeds activated may be bad and you will have an awful rebirth. It is not the cancer that is the problem. I have seen Buddhists die of cancer and it was very beautiful and peaceful. It is critical that we die well and to do that we must practice, of course, but we must also have a realization on death so that we have no fear.
Transmigration, or rebirth, is one of the oldest human beliefs and yet three fourths of the modern populations of the world still believe it. Radically different peoples in very different social environments have discovered this concept again and again. I believe that this is the case because it is true and universal truths have a way of cropping up wherever people seek truth.
It is important, in our quest for truth, that we chant everyday to develop our Buddha Wisdom. We need that wisdom to lead a good life but we also need Buddha wisdom for the moment of our death. If we have developed that wisdom with study and practice then it will manifest when we die. We ought to be experts at the art of death because we have so much practice!
If we have developed a state of Buddha hood this knowledge and the causes we’ve made will ensure that we die well. In the book “For Today and Tomorrow” we find, “Ultimately, people only die as they have lived. One who has faith in the mystic law will not die an unhappy death.” Mr. Toda once wrote, “The last years of your life are the most important. If you are happy during the last years of your life, then your life has been a happy one. Buddhism guarantees that those who practice will approach death in a state of supreme happiness.”
Focusing all of your efforts on one life is very foolish for this life will soon be over. All the fame and glory, the huge piles of money you have stored in bank vaults, all of the people who love you will be left behind when you leave. You come into this world naked and alone and you leave pretty much the same way. The only thing that you take with you is your mental development. Not preparing for your future lives is like going to a university for eight years but never picking a major. You simply drift through and are not prepared or qualified for anything. It is a dreadful waste of time and mind.
The second part this training is mindfulness. Live in the present moment should become a motto you remember until this training is part of your mental makeup. So much of our suffering is unnecessary. Whatever happened in the past is over and you cannot change it. When your mind wanders into the past gently guide it back to the ‘now’ of reality.
Shakyamuni said, “People who are vigilant do not die; people who are negligent are already as if dead.” If your mind spends most of it’s time elsewhere, then you might as well be dead, because you are missing out on your own life. The same is true of the future. Yes, plan for your future but do not obsess over this stuff! Don’t worry about things that haven’t happened, it is just unneeded suffering.
The benefits you gain from keeping ‘your mind in the now’ are many. You will suffer less and every aspect of your life and spiritual practice will improve as you learn to ‘Pay Attention’ to the details of your own life. Nichiren wrote, “The inseparability of mind and body is called the supreme philosophy.”
Josei Toda, second President of the Soka Gakkai stated in his book, “Lectures on the Sutra”; “The perfect oneness of body and mind is what Buddhism calls “Shikishin Funi”. One’s body and mind should always be in perfect harmony.”
The third part of this training is to develop compassion not just for others but for your self as well. In the book “Faith Into Action” we find, “It is important for each person to embark on a journey in search of truth. The truth however, actually lies in our compassionate actions to assist the weak or those enduring hardships and suffering. It is not to be found in highbrow intellectual knowledge.”
Knowledge by itself can lead to haughty behavior because knowledge without compassion is cold and sterile. A person who has knowledge without compassion is someone who spends their time in the worlds of Learning and Realization. These kinds of people look down on everyone else and are putting themselves onto the path that leads to a hellish future.
There are many reasons to develop compassion. For example, we all think of the Buddha with gratitude, and we should because he gave us the teachings. None of us would be practicing or developing correct wisdom if he hadn’t. Nichiren wrote, “Shakyamuni is the father and mother of all persons in the Saha World.” He also said, “Shakyamuni is the original teacher for all persons in the Saha World.”
So gratitude to the Buddha is proper behavior but we forget about all the people around us. We could not possibly attain enlightenment without the beings in our environment. How could you develop patience, tolerance, or compassion if you are all alone? And yes, you need to have compassion for yourself; being too hard on yourself is just a different form of suffering, it is not profitable! But compassion just for yourself isn’t all that good for you is it?
Remember that Shakyamuni spent much of his teaching career telling his ‘voice hearer’ students that they could not attain enlightenment because they were self centered, and not repaying the debts they owed to all beings. So compassion for your self is important but it is even more important to have compassion for others to balance this out. Another reason that we should want to benefit all sentient beings is that we owe them a great debt, first, just for being around us, as I said, and second because all beings have been our parents at some point in time.
Nichiren writes, “Among living beings there are both men and women and these men and women were all our parents at some point in our past existences.” Nichiren also states that the reason ‘voice hearers’ could not attain enlightenment was their lack of desire to recognize this debt. Their blind selfishness kept them from seeing things the way they really are. This is one of the reasons you need to develop an understanding on the subject of emptiness.
All people and things are empty because all of them are dependent on causes. There is no difference between you and other beings. All beings want happiness and do not want suffering, just like you. Realizing, and I mean realizing, not reading, or hearing, or even believing, but realizing this is an important step in your spiritual progress. Of course, it is easy to say these things, but it is much more difficult to put into practice.
We’ll sit here and say “the Buddha says ‘Let us not hate those who hate us! Let us live free from hatred while dwelling among men who hate!” That’s Great! But when you leave here it is only a matter of time before somebody is going to be nasty to you, maybe very nasty to you! Then what do you do? For some of you this isn’t that big of a deal, somebody being unpleasant means being told you’re fat, or that your dress is ugly, or some other piece of minor unpleasantness, but some of the people we study with are in jails, prisons or mental institutions. ‘Nasty’ can turn into ‘Life-Threatening’ very quickly in those Environments. Can you live in peace while surrounded by hate? Can you practice non-violence in a place filled with it?
Yes, you can, especially when you understand cause and effect. But lets not misunderstand each other, we are not talking about some soft, gooey feeling where you walk around thinking of pink clouds, and telling yourself that you love everybody, that there is no problem and everything is just fine! Everything may not be fine! There are people that you like and there are people who are just background for our lives, you see them but never meet or talk to them. There are also people you cannot stand. That is the normal condition that we all start from and it is a good enough place to begin.
You don’t have to try to convince yourself to view the world through “rose colored glasses.” No matter what is going on in your head, it doesn’t have to come out of your mouth or show in your actions. Practice keeping quiet when someone is trying to hurt you; learn not to put bad things back into your environment. While doing this you should be practicing. Daily Gongyo, chanting and study will purify your life and raise your life condition so that this kind of stuff does not continually occur in your environment and in your mind.
As your practice grows you will become more skillful at handling these negative emotions but you will always have the ten worlds, so you must always stay alert and always continue to practice. Spend time alone thinking about the kind of person you are and also what kind of person you would like to be.
The Buddha wrote: “There are three types of individuals to be found in this world. Which Three? An individual like an inscription in rock, an individual like an inscription in soil, and an individual like an inscription in water.
“And how is an individual like an inscription on rock? There is the case where a certain individual is often angered, and his anger stays with him a long time. Just as an inscription like an inscription in rock is not quickly effaced by wind or water and lasts a long time, in the same way an individual is often angered, and his anger stays with him a long time. This is called an individual like an inscription on rock.
“And how is an individual like an inscription in soil? There is the case where a certain individual is often angered, but his anger doesn’t stay with him for a long time. Just as an inscription in soil is quickly effaced by wind and water and doesn’t last a long time, in the same way an individual is often angered, but his anger doesn’t stay with him for a long time. This is called an individual like an inscription in soil
“ And how is an individual like an inscription in water? There is the case where a certain individual—when spoken to roughly, spoken to harshly, spoken to in an unpleasing way—is nevertheless congenial, companionable, and courteous. Just as an inscription in water disappears immediately, and doesn’t last a long time, in the same way a certain individual—when spoken to roughly, spoken to harshly, spoken to in an unpleasing way—is nevertheless congenial, companionable, and courteous. This is called an individual like an inscription in water.”
Take some time and honestly decide which of these three ‘types’ you are. As a former ‘rock’, I can tell you that being ‘an inscription in water’ is so much easier in the long run, it is so much less stress. But you should not let yourself fall into the trap of thinking bad things and then believing that it is all right because you don’t act on these evil thoughts. It is not all right to have evil thoughts! Mental thoughts are behind every act of speech and action, so you do not want your head filled with poison.
That is also easy to say, but how do we manage it? First of all, again, this practice of chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” will dramatically change your life condition if you actually do the practice! You don’t have to practice for long periods of time but it should be every day. Make a water offering every morning; before you do anything else, spend time in front of the Gohonzon. When you have free time, turn to the Gohonzon. At night, before you go to sleep, practice again in front of the Mandala. In good times, remember to express gratitude for the benefits we have received. This is very important!
I don’t have to remind you to take your problems to the Gohonzon; we’ve all got that figured out! However, when we express gratitude it shows that we’re paying attention and that we understand how much out lives have been improved. It never hurts to say “thank you.”
Finally, we turn to the sutras for some practical advice. This is found in the sutra “All the fermentations,” or “All The Taints” which is found in “The Middle Length Discourses of The Buddha” from the Pali Canon. [A free copy of this Sutra will be sent to you upon request.] Here the Buddha teaches a method for controlling your mind. The negativities that we all have are called ‘taints’, or ‘fermentations.’ In this sutra, to end these mental negativities you must know and see what is appropriate and what is not.
Let us take as an example an eighteen-year-old male whose mind is filled with lust. Now, this is not unusual because his body is producing more hormones then at any other time in his life. But this male wants to practice Buddhism. If he does not guard his mind, lust will come back intensified and, now, other things that he had never thought before will be added as he puts more energy into this kind of thinking. If we picture his mind as being like a white sheet of paper, this lustful thought will grow, and each time he has these thoughts, he makes a blacker mark in the same place. Pretty soon he has this deep black groove and his mind returns to it over and over. It is a habit.
Now if he guards his mind then the additional lustful thoughts would never be added. The mind is steered away from habit energy (in this case lust) and the habit is broken. The mind stops churning out lustful thoughts and the suffering is eliminated.
Kosen Rufu begins with you. If we really want to end unnecessary suffering and benefit all of the beings around us then we must lead the way. To do this we must show people why they should learn this practice and then persevere no matter what happens to them! We can do this by leading successful, happy lives and helping other people to do the same.
We have talked today about ending suffering. The four-step method taught by the Buddha is— Coming to understand death, practicing mindfulness and staying in the present moment, developing compassion (for yourself and for others) and realizing emptiness.
It is nice that we do this; it is good for us to hear the dharma. This dharma is true now, and it will always be true, that is why it is dharma. The Buddha teaches, “Whether or not a Buddha is present this dharma exists, waiting to be realized.” A teacher can only point out the path—you must decide if you will follow it.
To hear these teachings and believe in them is not enough, you must take action. You must clean up your own mess because you are responsible. Now is the time for you to build on the good things already present in your mind. You have many good qualities or you wouldn’t be practicing Dharma or encountering the Buddhas teachings. Chant “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” every day to change the poison of your mental negativities into medicine that will cure you and all beings everywhere. (All of the sutras quoted are available in text form, if you would like to read them for yourself. “The Lekha Sutra,” “All The Taints,” and “The Discourse on the Orderliness of the Dharma” will be mailed to you upon request.)
I would like to thank you for spending time with us today. I would also like to say that Buddhist Information of America operates twenty-four hours every day of the year. There is never any charge for any service from Buddhist Information. There is a huge library of material available, so please use it to study and improve your lives and the lives of the beings around you.
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Let’s take a moment to dedicate the merit for what we’ve done here today, so, may all beings find peace and happiness, may all beings find the path that leads directly to Nirvana, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may all beings benefit.
Thank you very much.