A House on Fire

by Stephen L. Klick | 20,465 words

From Stephen L. Klick: "There is no safety in the threefold world; it is like a burning house, replete with a multitude of sufferings, truly to be feared…"...

Chapter 6 - Questions From The Biona Sangha

[Some of the Questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.]

Question: You stated in one of your books that chanting the mantra “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” is meditation training for your mind. I do not understand how this is possible.

Answer: Meditation is a technique that causes the student to focus the mind on an object that to the student seems virtuous. Whether you are using your meditation to investigate the nature of an object or you are holding the mental vision of the object firmly in your mind the principle remains the same. When we sit in front of the Gohonzon our mind is totally focused and filled with the Mandala, therefore we enter the state of Samadhi. [See “Dream World”]

Question: What can you tell me about the future Buddha, Maitreya?

Answer: This is a subject that seems to interest every Buddhist student at some time. The best text that I"ve seen (present in my personal library, entitled, “Maitreya, The Future Buddha”) was translated from Sanskrit. It is a short work, which opens with Shariputra asking Shakyamuni about the future Buddha. Shakyamuni responds by first describing the future world Maitreya will enter.

The Buddha explains that the ocean will “lose much of its water” and there will be “much less of it than now.” This will cause land bridges to appear, which will connect the continents. There will have been considerable erosion so that in comparison, the world will appear quite flat.

The world will have “innumerable inhabitants” and Kosen Rufu will have been established because there will be no crime or evil and all people “will take pleasure in doing good.”

The Earth will be truly beautiful and food will be produced without effort. Human beings will be born physically perfect, their bodies will be “very large” and they will have incredible physical strength. Only three kinds of “illness” will remain; people will still need to consume food, they will still have to “relieve their bowels” and they will eventually have to grow old. However, human life will be considerably lengthened because women in that time will not marry until they are five hundred years old.

When all of this has occurred, a great world leader will emerge and “he will make the Dharma prevail.” This leader will be raised to his station because of his meritorious deeds and his spiritual advisor will practice correct morality. This advisor will have a beautiful wife who also practices pure, correct morality. After all of these things have come to pass Maitreya will leave the Tushita Heaven and be re born into the womb of this woman.

This document asserts that all Buddhas have similar birth patterns for his mother will carry Maitreya for ten months and then give birth in a grove while standing upright. The newborn Buddha will not exit the birth cannel, but like Shakyamuni “emerge” from the right side of his mother. He will announce, “This is my last birth.”

Maitreya"s father will see the thirty two marks on his son and know that he will either become a “universal monarch” or a supreme Buddha. However, as Maitreya ages the Dharma will become his only interest and he will go into the homeless life with a retinue of eighty four thousand people. He will teach his followers Mantras and then become enlightened on the very first day of homeless life.

Then the Buddha Maitreya will explain to his followers that because Shakyamuni put you onto the path to enlightenment you have “arrived here to hear my teaching.”

Shakra (King of the gods), Mara (the evil one), Brahma and all the gods, men, Gandharvas, Yakshas, Rakshasas and Dragons will all praise the Buddha Maitreya and begin to lead a holy life.

The Buddha will teach for sixty four thousand years and then enter Nirvana. His true Dharma will endure for ten thousand years. The document ends by telling the reader to take faith in the Buddha Shakyamuni, “for then you will see Maitreya.”

Question: I"m very interested in the historical reasons, both your own and those of Nichiren Buddhists in general, for giving preference to chanting over sitting, walking, or quiet meditation techniques. Is it simply a question of taste or did Nichiren recognize the profound power of sound and therefore recommend it? And is it then, a Japanese or Chinese tradition?

Answer: Every School of Buddhism that I"ve encountered uses some kind of chanting technique. The following quotations appeared in chapter thirteen of my last book, “Dream World:” “All Schools of Buddhism chant because the practice is so beneficial. Lama Yeshe, one of my favorite Tibetan teachers, wrote: “Mantra recitation makes the mind focus single pointedly, thereby counteracting scattering and other distractions.” (“The Tantric Path of Purification” p. 12) The Venerable Ajahn Sanong Katapunyo, an excellent Theravadin Teacher wrote: “When we have real understanding, we will be confident about chanting and worshipping the triple Gem, which makes our body, speech and mind peaceful.” (From “Oneness”)” During the early years of his ministry Nichiren did teach a form of quiet sitting meditation but he then discovered that it was unnecessary and so eliminated the practice. It takes years to have realizations when practicing quiet sitting and then you must have the time and proper environment. In the latter day of the Law it is the layperson who disseminates these Teachings so the practice we use must be easy to teach, simple to use and, most importantly, it must be efficacious. When the Nichiren movement was small other Schools had very little to say about the form our practice takes, however, when the Kosen Rufu movement began at the end of the second World War we suddenly became the largest Buddhist group in the world and other teachers began pointing out our numerous "errors." However, the writings of these various Schools reveal a different attitude: Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo, for example, wrote “Actually, any path that leads to the abandonment of defilement and to the release from suffering is right. The value of medicine lies in its ability to cure disease; the value of a method of practice lies in its ability to get rid of defilement. As far as I can see, there is nothing wrong with any method that has been found to work.” (“Frames Of Reference”)

Question: Local leaders have told me that the students who practice Nichiren Daishonin"s Buddhism should not study “The Lotus Sutra” until they adequately understand the Gosho and can read the sutra from the perspective of Nichiren"s teaching. Do you agree?

Answer: This is an attitude that seems prevalent in Great Britain. I remember reading a similar statement in “A Time To Chant,” which perhaps not surprisingly, was written in the United Kingdom. To me, this seems inverted and goes a long way toward explaining some of the peculiar ideas that young Nichiren students hold. In one of his most important writings, “The Opening Of The Eyes” Nichiren wrote: “There are three types of doctrines that are to be studied. They are Confucianism, Brahmanism, and Buddhism.” Later, in the same work, he also states: “Nevertheless, all the sutras preceding “The Lotus Sutra” also represent the true words of the Buddha.” In Part two of this major writing Nichiren stated: “It does not do to hate others. If one has eyes, one should examine the sutra texts and compare one"s behavior with them.” In another of his major works, “The True Object Of Worship,” Nichiren wrote: “All the teachings Shakyamuni expounded—all the eight volumes and twenty eight chapters of “The Lotus Sutra,” the first four flavors of teachings that preceded the sutra and “The Nirvana Sutra” that came after the Lotus—make an unbroken series of teachings like one perfect sutra.” Finally in the Gosho entitled “The Tripitaka Master Shan Wu Wei” Nichiren wrote: “Persons of wisdom should of course devote themselves to the study of all the eighty thousand doctrines of Buddhism, and should become familiar with all the twelve divisions of the scriptures.”

Question: What does rokusoku mean?

Answer: The literal translation is “six and equality.” According to T"ien T"ai these are the six stages of practice for Bodhisattvas who are practicing “The Lotus Sutra.” [1] Ri soku: having the potential for Buddhahood but not yet being aware of it. T"ien T"ai wrote: “"Whether or not they are awakened to it, all living beings have the nature of enlightenment within themselves, as they are part of the spiritual reality as it is." [2] Myoji soku: hearing the truth and understanding that the student does have the potential to attain Enlightenment. T"ien T"ai stated: “"When one hears of the Bodhi of the One Reality, and one penetrates and reaches a thorough understanding of the names and terms, one recognizes that all things everywhere are the Buddha"s Enlightenment." [3] Kangyo soku: seeing the truth within and having no internal contradiction between the perception and the action of the practitioner. According to the writings of T"ien T"ai: “Without having penetrated and reached the meaning of the words, how can there be Bodhi? It is necessary to observe the mind clearly and thoroughly. Insight and the principle must correspond, practice must be the same as speech, and speech must be the same as practice. When the mind and the mouth correspond, there is the Bodhi that is the Practice of Observation." [4] Soji soku: the stage of outwardly resembling a Buddha. T"ien T"ai stated: “There is no contradiction between ones spiritual life and one"s worldly livelihood to sustain oneself, and one"s thoughts and speculations about Bodhi are as previously taught in the Sutra." [5] Bunshin soku: A partial awakening to the truth. T"ien T"ai wrote: “In opening up the precious treasury of the Dharma and revealing the absolute spiritual reality as it is, the darkness of ignorance is weakened and wisdom turns ever deeper." [6] Kukyo soku: the level of ultimate enlightenment. According to the writings of T"ien T"ai: “"In one turn, the Universal Awakening becomes the Wonderful Awakening. The light of wisdom becomes totally full and cannot be made fuller. Only the Buddha is able to penetrate this."

Question: All of this effort directed at helping people train themselves to practice morality seems to be wasted effort. If we had stricter laws and harsher penalties criminals would not be so anxious to commit crimes. Is this not self evident?

Answer: Morality implies having a choice. When morality is excessively legislated and enforced there is no choice and so there can be no morality.

Question: My husband used to be my lover as well. This is no longer the case. Is there something wrong with American men?

Answer: Men often become bored after several years of marriage and the wives inevitably blame their husbands for waning desire in the marital bed but the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of both partners. Nobody eats the same meal everyday for five or six years; it would become impossible to work up enthusiasm for your dinner if you know it will be the very same thing over again. I do not believe the nationality of your husband has much to do with this situation; rather, it seems to me to be a lack of imagination on the part of both partners.

Question: Why did Shakyamuni feel the need to call forth the Bodhisattvas of the Earth? Was there something lacking in the disciples already present at the teaching?

Answer: Nichiren says that in all the sutras, before “The Lotus,” and in the first half of “The Lotus Sutra” itself, the Buddha invariably depicted himself as having attained enlightenment for the first time in this world. “The difference” he says “is like that between a one hundred year old man and a one year old baby. The disciples of these two teachings are also as different as fire is from water, to say nothing of the difference between their lands.”

Question: We are told to love all beings as we do our own mother or father but what if we have terrible parents? My family loves one another the same way that Iraq loves Israel! Shouldn"t I try to do better then that and what can I do to assure myself of better family circumstances in the future?

Answer: You have failed to analyze your situation thoroughly. Your parents could not have been that bad because you survived childhood. Your father and mother gave you life, made certain that you had sufficient food and arranged for you to have a proper education. They took you to the doctor when you were sick, bought the medicine you needed to recover your health and made certain that you took it correctly. Even if they did nothing else for you, this is still an amazing gift.

Question: I overheard you tell another student that they must "master" various sutras. How do you master a sutra?

Answer: When you understand a text well enough to help someone else who wishes to learn it"s meaning then you have mastered that particular sutra. People often seem to feel that they should have a title or position from some organization before they help other beings in need but this is wrong. If the Buddha had waited for some recognized religious group to grant him the authority to help others no one would have been helped at all. In the latter day of the law it is the layperson that is responsible for disseminating these Teachings. I call your attention to the Gosho entitled “The Teaching, Capacity, Time and Country” where Nichiren writes, “During the Former period of the Law, one should cast aside those who break the precepts or who have no precepts at all, giving alms only to those who uphold the precepts. During the Middle Day of the Law, one should cast aside those without precepts and give alms only to those who break them. And during the Latter Day of the Law, one should give alms to those without precepts (laypersons) treating them in the same way as if they were the Buddha.”

Question: I have read “Inside The Lotus Sutra” so I know that you consider this to be the most important Mahayana Teaching given by the Buddha. What would you say is the most important Theravada Sutra in the Pali Canon?

Answer: Actually, there are a number of them that are important to me: “Maha Sunnata Sutta,” “Cula Sunnata Sutta,” “Jinna Sutta,” “Mogharaja Manava Puccha,” “Udayi Sutta,” “Sigala Sutta,” “Sabbasava Sutta,” “Sallatha Sutta,” “Cunda Sutta,” “Sunna Sutta,” “Paccaya Sutta,” “Dhamma Niyama Sutta,” “Pabhassara Sutta,” “Avalambana Sutta,” "Mata Sutta," “Ananda Sutta,” the “Salha Sutta, along with the “Kalama Sutta,” and the “Metta Sutta.” This list is hardly complete but these texts are all available in the BIONA Sutra section of our library and I have found them helpful to my understanding and practice. Any Sutra or Sutta that helps you attain a higher level of realization is important. I have absolutely no doubt that other Buddhist students would have many different titles on their list but that is why Shakyamuni taught in the manner that he did. When I first began to practice the “Sabbasava Sutta” (“All the Fermentations” or “All the Taints” in English) was the most important Sutta to me because it reached me on a level that other teachings had not yet reached.

Question: I am still pretty new to the Buddhist faith; I have read that I should study the Gosho every day but I don"t understand a lot of it and it bores me. I already agree that “The Lotus Sutra” was the Buddhas highest teaching and that seems to be all that Nichiren talks about. What could I read and study instead, or is my attitude wrong?

Answer: Please don"t let this trouble your mind so much because you are hardly alone! I had much the same experience when I first started studying the Gosho. First of all, you are probably trying to read some of the more difficult texts too soon. Most of the people Nichiren wrote his advanced texts to were raised in the Buddhist faith and had a fairly extensive Dharma education so they had a better level of understanding then you do right now. However, not all of Nichiren"s writings are difficult to comprehend. I would suggest that the best thing for you to do is to continue your Dharma education. As your knowledge grows you will also be “polishing the mirror of your mind” with daily practice, which will allow your Buddha wisdom to naturally flower and then you will "suddenly" discover that Nichiren is no longer talking over your head. Before returning to any systematic study of the Gosho spend time becoming familiar with the following texts: “The Heart Sutra,” “The Diamond Sutra,” “The Vimalakirti Sutra,” “The Shurangama Sutra,” “The Lankavatara Sutra,” and “The Threefold Lotus Sutra.” All of these works can be found in the BIONA library along with commentaries to help you understand them.

Question: How many Dharma teachers can I have?

Answer: There is no limit to the number of secondary teachers a student can learn from or receive benefit from. However, in the latter day of the Law the Gohonzon serves as a primary Teacher for all beings that seek wisdom and the peace of Enlightenment. Once you begin to practice in front of this mandala your questions will be answered in the very next Dharma text, lecture, or book that you pick up to study.

Question: At the beginning of many of the sutras I have read, a monk, before asking the Buddha his intended question will arrange his robe over one shoulder. Why do they do that?

Answer: Originally, this was done in Royal Courts as a sign of respect and to show that the person asking the question did not have a weapon in his hand.

Question: I have just discovered that my Dharma teacher has several bad habits and cannot be worthy of being anyone"s instructor! I am supposed to see my teacher as a holy Buddha and this person clearly is not even close to being enlightened! I"ve heard good things about your website, can I study with BIONA?

Answer: You are welcome to study with us as long as you find it beneficial. However, it might be best for you to reconsider your attitude toward your former teacher. Perhaps, for the time being, you can keep him as a secondary instructor while you think about things. Ask yourself about the quality of the teaching you have received, try not to focus on what you perceive to be the faults of the individual. Even if you decide to follow another teacher you owe your original teacher a debt that is difficult to repay, so remember to think of him as an Enlightened Buddha. For your own sake please keep in mind that it is best to only say good things about him or to remain silent.

Question: How exactly does one practice the Lotus Sutra? The word practice seems to be used in lots of different ways. In your opinion what exactly is it?

Answer: The obvious answer is steady Dharma practice in front of the Gohonzon as well as constant daily study but you already know this much, Charley. There are different approaches to the practice of “The Lotus Sutra,” which one you do very much depends on who you are and the karmic connections that you have formed in the past. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches “The Lotus Sutra” in a manner very different from the method expounded by the Tendai School, and both of these approaches radically differ from the method Nichiren recommended. Is one of these approaches better then another? The answer to that question really depends on who you are; I cannot find it in my heart to tell sincere students who do other practices that what they are doing is wrong or somehow evil. My Teacher wrote: “…I believe that the devotees and followers of the various provisional sutras such as the Kegon, Kammuryoju, and Dainichi Sutras will undoubtedly be protected by the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and heavenly beings of the respective sutras that they uphold.” (“The Opening Of The Eyes” Part Two) Although you now consider yourself a Tibetan Buddhist you obviously have a connection to the people at BIONA or you would not have joined our electronic Sangha and remained in the community. No matter what you decide to do in the future you have chanted Nam Myoho Renge Kyo with true sincerity, thus planting a seed for the future that will bring you great benefit. I never worry about any student once they have taken this step because I know that their future is assured.

Since you ask for my opinion, to practice “The Lotus Sutra” means: [1] to comprehend and live by the four Noble Truths and to end mental suffering by following the path taught to us by the Buddha. (See “The Phantom City,” chapter seven: “Here is suffering, here is the origin of suffering, here is the annihilation of suffering, here is the path to the annihilation of suffering.” “Then he expounded the Law of the twelve linked chain of causation: …suffering and anguish will be wiped out.”) (See Chapter three, “Simile and Parable:” “As to the cause of suffering, it has its roots in greed and desire. If greed and desire are wiped out it will have no place to dwell. To wipe out all suffering—this is called the third rule.”) [2] to realize the emptiness of all phenomena: (See Chapter fourteen, “Peaceful practices:” “Next, the bodhisattva should view all phenomena as empty, that being their true entity.”) [3] to realize the such ness of life (See chapter sixteen, “The Life Span Of The Thus Come One” “The Thus Come One perceives the true aspect of the threefold world exactly as it is. There is no ebb and flow of birth and death, and there is no existing in this world and later entering extinction. It is neither substantial nor empty, neither consistent nor diverse. Nor is it what those who dwell in the threefold world perceive it to be. All such things the Thus Come One sees clearly and without error.”) [4] to awaken to our true identity: (See chapter three, “Simile And Parable:” “I tell you, Shariputra, you and the others are all my children, and I am a father to you.” Also, from the earlier in the same chapter, “Today at last I understand that truly I am the Buddhas son, born from the Buddha"s mouth, born through conversion to the Law, gaining my share of the Buddha"s Law!”)

Finally, [5] to develop love and compassion for all sentient beings: (See Chapter sixteen, “The Life Span Of The Thus Come One:” “At all times I think to myself: how can I cause living beings to gain entry to the unsurpassed way and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?”)

Question: Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic religion and started what came to be called the Protestant Reformation. In the same manner, isn"t the Buddhist Religion an offshoot of Hinduism?

Answer: No, Hinduism is a modern religion with roots in the ancient past. The Hindu faith cannot be compared to any other religion in the world. It"s history and development is truly unique. Recent polls suggest that at least eighty percent of India"s population considers themselves to be Hindu. However, while this means that there are approximately seven hundred million Hindu practitioners in India the historical record clearly demonstrates that before the nineteenth century what we now call the Hindu faith simply did not exist. Hinduism is actually a loose confederation of various belief systems; it is not in any sense an integrated religion. There is no single founding personage, no single text to serve as a doctrinal reference and no hierarchy to settle questions of what is or is not considered “proper” Hinduism. On the hand, some Brahmanical texts now considered Hindu date back to at least 1100 B. C. E. The Hindu practitioners that I have met are delightful people and every single one of them embraces Buddhists as co religionists, considering us to be a small branch of their own faith. Of course, we do share some similar beliefs, re birth and karma being the most important of the shared doctrines.

Question: Ive got a pretty hot question, of the aforementioned metaphysical type, for you, which came out of my morning meditation. I am generating "Tranquil abiding" and concentrating on Compassion as my object of meditation. I contemplate the worlds suffering, and incidentally get a birds eye view of the six lower realms, e.g. hospitals, prisons, war zones, etc., then bring my concentration to a still point on my compassion. However, my sense of the hopelessness of the plights of these lives can easily overwhelm me. I have a terrible sense of their being left behind and their undesirable state of unconscious incompetence concerning how to even begin to assuage their misery. How can Samsara be finally extinguished? And how can I, we, hope to save them? I just get this awe inspiring sense of millions and billions of untrained ignorant minds out there.

Answer: You cannot help anyone who does not choose to accept your help. If an individual is not willing to acknowledge that he has a problem then how can you help him solve it? The good news is that samsara on this planet will be eliminated eventually. The day will arrive when every human on this planet will be interested in spiritual growth and development, which means that the planet “Earth” will become a Buddhist Pure Land. Your assessment of the number of untrained minds is doubtless accurate but your focus should be on the people who want to help themselves now. If we do this then the future will be in good hands.

Question: How can one get the balance right between sorting out oneself, the mind and all it"s bad habits and going for refuge on behalf of all sentient beings? At what point is one ready to teach others given there is so much work still to do on oneself?

Answer: If we had to wait until we had attained self perfection then very little Dharma would ever be taught. Teaching others is an important part of practicing, you will learn a great deal from helping others and as your compassion grows you will discover that you are not able to sit back and simply watch other people suffer when you might help them with a few well chosen words.

Question: Isn"t the emptiness of all phenomena a Mahayana concept? I seem to recall that Nargarjuna invented the idea in the second century C.E.?

Answer: You have not yet read enough Suttas: The “Maha Sunnata Sutta” states: “However, Ananda, there is this abiding discovered by the Tathagata: to enter and abide in void ness (emptiness) internally by giving no attention to all signs.” From the same text we find the following: “Therefore, Ananda, if a Bhikkhu should wish: "may I enter upon and abide in void ness internally, he should steady his mind internally, quiet it, bring it to singleness, and concentrate it.” “Then he gives attention to void ness internally. While he is giving attention to void ness internally, his mind does not enter into void ness internally or acquire confidence, steadiness, and decision.” “He gives attention to void ness externally…he gives attention to void ness internally and externally…he gives attention to imperturbability.” The “Mogharaja Manava Puccha” reads thus: “"Look upon the world as empty, Mogharaja, ever mindful; uprooting the view of self you may thus be one who overcomes death. So regarding the world one is not seen by the King of Death." The “Cula Sunnata Sutta” states: “Then in the evening, Ven. Ananda, coming out of seclusion, approached the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down, sat down to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One: "On one occasion, when the Blessed One was staying among the Sakyans in a Sakyan town named Nagaraka, there -- face to face with the Blessed One -- I heard and learned this: I now often remain in an attitude of emptiness. Did I hear that correctly, learn it correctly, attend to it correctly, remember it correctly?"… "Therefore, Ananda, you should train yourselves: We will enter and remain in the emptiness that is pure, superior, and unsurpassed." These teachings are freely available in the Sutra section of the BIONA library.

Question: Since the Buddha has predicted that our planet will eventually become a Pure Land anyway why is it necessary for me to practice correct morality?

Answer: The Venerable Yin shun once stated: “Trying to establish everlasting peace for humankind while going against normal virtuous conduct is like trying to find fish by climbing up a tree.” (“The Way To Buddhahood” P. 92) My Teacher wrote: “Neither the Pure Land nor hell exists outside oneself; both lie within one"s own heart. Awakened to this one is called a Buddha; deluded about it, one is called an ordinary person.” (“Hell Is the Land of Tranquil Light”) Obviously the “Pure Land” of the Buddhas exists within the hearts and minds of those people that follow the Middle Path, if you do not study and practice on a daily basis then your feet are not firmly on this path and your morality will be that of an ordinary worldly person. Under those circumstances you cannot help yourself, let alone be of real service to others.

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