Back to Nichiren Buddhism (again)

If it were up to me, I wouldn’t go back into Nichiren practice. Of course, circumstances beyond my control have pushed me back into it. It’s almost the same as before in which I was working full time, for the same job. The two differences between then and now is that I meditate and have some form of exercise.

Yet here I am, back to practicing Nichiren Buddhism because there is no other practice I can do. Maybe I can find a better alternative but that will take time and research, so I am stuck for now and have to make the best of it until I return to Zen.

The hardest part about doing Nichiren Buddhism and its liturgy is that I don’t really see the use for it. Plus, at least according to the Soka Gakkai, it doesn’t work anyways unless I believe in the power of the liturgy.

You may not believe in the concept of Buddha-nature or in the teachings of the Buddha, but at least meditation will help calm your mind and give you insight in your thinking. That’s why the Hindus meditated before the Siddhartha Gautama and Mahavira (the founder of Jainism) was born and why Chinese Daoists picked it up from the Indians. That’s also why a lot of mental health professionals have been studying the effects of meditation for decades.

You don’t need to believe that exercise can help lose weight or build muscle. If you just do it, as a sneaker corporation used to say, you will achieve that weight loss and muscle formation whether you believe in it or not.

If the Nichiren liturgy doesn’t work without my belief, as most Soka Gakkai practitioners preach, what’s the point in my sitting down and chanting the titles of the Lotus Sutra over and over again?

That’s one mental obstacle.

However, the one belief I have with the Nichiren practice is that it will make my life worse. It will bring about a lot of calamities and disasters no matter what kind of attitude I have towards the practice.

If anything, I can’t remember a time when the practice ever helped me or that my prayers have been answered. On the other hand, I can remember too many times when my life gets worse whenever I start practicing regularly.

The reason behind this phenomena, according to Nichiren Buddhists, is that I am absolving all my bad karma from eons before. Since I was possibly a jerk back in 1126 AD, 23 BC, 56703 BC and so on, I would undergo all these hardships so that I can have a clean slate karmically speaking.

Is that true, though? Well, there is no science that proves a thing called “karma” exists so of course this is a religious matter.

But here is the problem I have with this concept, in which I have written before, bad karma is best dealt with wisdom. If one doesn’t have the wisdom, and we all don’t know everything, there is a chance one can create more bad karma.

In the post I linked above, I used the example of Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies. I will reiterate using a more common example.

One day when Jeff was working at the factory, his supervisor comes up and starts berating him. What does Jeff do?

If Jeff doesn’t have enough wisdom he could take his anger out on his coworkers. He might take it out on his wife and kids. He might start arguing with his boss. Of course if he does that, he would lose friends, his family, his job, and maybe even get arrested and lose his liberty.

This is an example of how bad karma causes more bad karma.

If Jeff has wisdom maybe he would have talked to his boss in a civil manner about how to improve his performance. Maybe Jeff would have channeled his anger out on a kickboxing workout. Maybe Jeff would use his anger to motivate him to look for a better job or education. Jeff could have also used this as an opportunity to improve working conditions in the factory.

Whatever Jeff chooses, his life will improve for the better. Remember, though, the main reason why his life would improve is because he had the wisdom to deal with his bad karma. In this case, his bad karma is his boss yelling at him.

So what about me? Here I am “attracting” all my bad karma just because I decided to start practicing Nichiren Buddhism again. Since I don’t have the infinite wisdom to deal with all of that bad karma, what can I do so that I don’t create ore bad karma out of the pile I already have?

Most Nichiren Buddhists like to use the phrase, “Faith, Practice, and Study”. What I should study, as a Nichiren Buddhist, would be the Lotus Sutra and the Nichiren’s letters to his followers. I like the Lotus Sutra but it is turgid. The first chapter itself is about a big meeting with Buddha who was about to give his final sermon and the entire chapter is a HUGE list of who was attending. It’s like how there is a section in the Bible over who begat who. Nichiren’s letters are also turgid, and there are some good philosophical points to study, but I find them mostly reprehensible. I don’t share in his hatred of other Buddhists and I also find him to be quite arrogant. Many SGI practitioners would study the writings of Daisaku Ikeda, the current head of the organization. He does write some good things, but all-in-all I feel it’s mostly fluff. Just like Nichiren, I also think Ikeda cares too much about his self-aggrandizement. A lot of the songs that people sing in the SGI, for example, are all about praising Daisaku Ikeda (and sometimes his wife).

Again, what’s a guy like me supposed to do when facing bad karma without the wisdom in doing so? Here’s the only way I know how.

Epictetus has once said, “Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.”

Bruce Lee has once said, “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

To me, that’s basically it for the most part. Just do the liturgy practice, prepare for the dooky to hit the fan, and keep myself calm when it happens.

There are two other approaches I want to write soon enough.

7 thoughts on “Back to Nichiren Buddhism (again)

  1. Soka Gakkai teaches something different than Nichiren did (not to mention the Lotus Sutra), if it says you have to believe in it for it to “work” (whatever that means).

    I had some of the same problems with Nichiren’s writings as you did when I first started reading them (although I’ve come to appreciate what you describe as “turgid”). It helps to not attempt to shoehorn our 21st century sensibilities onto the things he says, but to try to understand them in context of the place, time and culture in which he wrote them.

    His incendiary tone doesn’t strike me the way it used to. In many ways, I understand it more the older I get and the more infuriatingly dreadful things I see happening in the world.

    I also think it helps immensely to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the Tendai Buddhist teachings that Nichiren takes for granted. Nichiren considered himself part of a lineage that includes Nagarjuna, Zhiyi, and Dengyo. Studying them is helpful, too.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi, thanks for the comment. I would like to reply to your points in return.

      When I was in the SGI, everyone talked about needing to have faith in the practice whether in sermons or in casual conversation. There was a time when leaders would tell us that we need more faith in the teachings if we want to benefit from them. In my mind, if we don’t have faith in the teachings, why the hell do we voluntarily sit our asses down to do gongyo twice a day or even attend the meetings and services?

      What does work mean? I guess the best way to express this is whether or not the practice and the liturgy has an effect. This could mean getting our prayers answered and attaining our desires or (especially in my case) acquiring more insight. To me, I have a hard time believing in both. I usually acquire my desires through action and more insight through meditation and reading. Why sit down and chant when I could read a book, meditate, or work on my own goals? Outside of breathing out CO2, what effect does practicing the liturgy have in our lives? That’s another reason why I hardly practice Nichiren Buddhism.

      I also do appreciate the need to understand the context in what Nichiren was writing his letters at the time. For one thing, why did he write so damn much? For most of his life he was out in the middle of nowhere with too much time on his hands. That being said, he was a human being with human failings as well as his merits. One of the reasons why I personally don’t like his writing because I find it too wordy. Some people are into that and I am not one of them. It’s almost like the literary debate between that of Mark Twain and James Fenimore Cooper or Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.

      Of course, he wrote his letters during times of great upheaval, and he did think the world was going to end soon, so it does explain a lot of the vitriol in his works. At the same, though, as he was human being I think it is also best to learn from his mistakes.

      Growing up in a Hindu family, I also have been exposed to something similar to mappo or the Age of Dharma Decline. In Hinduism, it’s called Kali Yuga. The sages of old talk about how everything is going to get worse as time passes on. I don’t really agree with that. I consider all of that talk institutionalized juvenoia. Yes, some things get worse on one end, yet things get better on the other. Funny enough, Hindu sages talk about the destruction of the caste system as one example of things getting worse. To me, that’s something worth celebrating.

      I also agree that it is good to study Tiantai, Zhiyi, et. al. However, I have been having a hard time accessing and finding their writings. If you can point me in the right direction, I would be very thankful.

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  2. Wow, a wonderful Jeff and how he deals with his life’s difficulties. Such a wonderful example of Buddha’s thoughts. Wish I know more about Buddhism. Bought a book about it but only read 20% of it. LOL.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Nichiren was mostly concerned with the happenings of a time period that was quite tumultuous in Japanese history. With that in mind, I keep in mind that it is a product of his time and lean on some study of Japanese history as well.

    Modern sects, outside of SGI, most of them, do not take his political stuff all too seriously because it is outdated. One sect I like, embraces all sects of Buddhism which is what I do.

    However, I am pretty non-denominational in the Nichiren Buddhism I do. I don’t practice daily, it’s hard for me where I am at in life. But the quality of my life tends to improve when I do practice.

    Liked by 1 person

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