Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fixing a Hole....

My favorite Beatles' song, when I'm pressed to choose one, is  "Fixing A Hole."

I don't know the full history or the inspiration behind the lyrics. But I've heard that Paul McCartney wrote these lyrics while he was fixing his leaking roof and it made him think about some of the more important things in life. 

I can see that - I often find myself "taking the time for a number of things that weren't important yesterday" - but are eternally important in the scheme of eternity.

We only have a short time in this life - it seems so wasteful to spend it in resentment, anger and fear.

The petty irritations that become repetitive patterns of thought that distract us from what really matters - these can be some of our biggest enemies.

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in 
And stops my mind from wandering 
Where it will go
I'm filling the cracks that ran through the door 
And kept my mind from wandering 
Where it will go
And it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong I'm right
Where I belong
I'm right Where I belong.
See the people standing there who disagree and never win
And wonder why they don't get in my door
I'm painting my room in the colourful way
And when my mind is wandering 
There I will go
And it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong I'm right
Where I belong I'm right 
Where I belong.
Silly people run around they worry me
And never ask me why they don't get past my door
I'm taking the time for a number of things
That weren't important yesterday 
And I still go
I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering 
Where it will go
- John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Do You Believe What You Believe?

"Truth is not a belief to be adopted, but a reality to be accepted”

One of the systemic problems that I continue to have with most religions and belief systems is that generally they require some acceptance of fundamental beliefs that so often cannot be verified or proven with direct experience.

This no longer seems to be a valid model for navigating the ways of the universe. I admit that there are many things that I do not know or even have the capacity to understand - but I cannot “stake my life” on what I cannot prove to be true, or in a worst case, what I cannot see as having had a good effect on the world around me over time.

Christianity is one of those that I’ve tried to embrace with great earnestness - but I am continually faced with the dark reality of so much hypocritical, despicable, and shameful behavior from a representative number of the “faithful” leadership that it tells me, in actual fact, that many of the leaders and authority figures REALLY do not believe what they claim to believe. If they, who claim to have the evidence, deny the truth - then what persuades me to believe it?

In every religion there is hypocrisy - which does not mean that the religion is invalid, but it does mean that it is not having any effect on those who claim to be “practicing” it.

Nichiren Buddhism is no exception. The SGI has some skeletons deep in its closet. Which is why I practice independently.

I do not proclaim Nichiren Buddhism as the ONLY way to salvation, or enlightenment. I do not even claim that it is the ultimate truth. I can only say, that practicing it, from my experience, helps me to remember that there is a greater purpose to all of life and it helps me focus on the ultimate truth - which I can’t say is something I really understand, but it is something that I know deep inside because I somehow KNOW that I will recognize it when I see it!!

Belief in the Dharma is not belief in the personality of the Buddha - but rather the confidence in the practical aspects of what he taught from experience. His enlightenment, although romanticized and mythologized over 2500 years, was actually quite ordinary in the sense that he realized something that actually should be quite obvious:
  • all life is connected 
  • nothing is permanent 
  • suffering comes from expecting things to be different than they actually are 
  • learning to live compassionately with and through things as they are is the key to happiness. 
This morning, I read this from the Lotus Sutra:

“I give light to the world.
I am honored by countless multitudes,
For whom I teach
The signs of the true nature of things.
You should know, Shariputra,
I originally took a vow,
Wanting to enable all living beings to be equal to me,
Without any distinctions.
In accord with this vow of long ago
Everything is now fulfilled,
For I transform all living beings
And lead them all into the Buddha way.”
- The Lotus Sutra, Gene Reeves Translation, pg. 89 

The Buddha teaches “the signs of the true nature of reality” - he points to it but does claim to be outside of it like a God, and he claims no supremacy, for his vow was to “enable all living beings to be equal to me.” Thus his enlightenment did not make him superhuman - it made him realize the fullness of his humanity.

Buddhism doesn’t make me right by any means, and it does not require that I declare it as immaculate truth - rather it encourages me to question myself constantly. Do I believe what I believe? Buddhism is about applying the experience that you have to gain natural wisdom that you may otherwise overlook.
  • Belief without thought or reason is dangerous. 
  • Belief can separate us from reality. 
  • Beliefs divide us. 
  • Beliefs unite us against others who do not believe as we do. 
  • Belief is never a substitute for knowing. 
  • Creeds are often based on beliefs that we only hope are true. 
  • Belief does not change reality - reality always is - belief changes. 
  • Belief changes - Truth does not. 
  • Truth can be believed - but Truth should never divide. 
  • Truth is not a possession - it’s the practice of constantly seeking.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Compassionate Reason

"Reason is nothing less 
than the guardian of love” 

Sam Harris

This weekend I started reading a book that I've had on my "to be read" list for sometime. "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris. 

When I called myself an Evangelical Christian I would shy away from anything by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchins, and any other author that was classified, in Christian circles as part of the "New Atheist" movement.

That decision, as I look back on it, reflected a weak faith, rather than a dislike of the authors and their works.

So far I've read just a few chapters of Harris' book and already I can share many of the same opinions that he has on the subject of religion. Here are a few quotes:

“Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence what so ever.”
“It is time we admitted, from kings and presidents on down, that there is no evidence that any of our books was authored by the Creator of the universe. The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand-strewn men and women who thought the earth was flat and for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology. To rely on such a document as the basis for our worldview-however heroic the efforts of redactors- is to repudiate two thousand years of civilizing insights that the human mind has only just begun to inscribe upon itself through secular politics and scientific culture. We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.

“It is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window.”

There are many more quote-worthy passages in the book. There are also sections of the book that delve into the historical record of various religions and the accounts are horrific and basically distasteful - not in how they're recorded, but in the facts of what despicable acts some religious leaders and believers have perpetrated upon other people in the name of their religion.

Sam Harris makes a strong case for modifying beliefs with logic and reason.
“It is time we recognized that the only thing that permits human beings to collaborate with one another in a truly open-minded way is their willingness to have their beliefs modified by new facts.”
Nichiren Buddhism has its beliefs and traditions - but practitioners are encouraged to seek proof in the practice; to seek tangible results and benefits. Emotional energy is to be applied to action and not to establishing theories that try to explain the unlikely or improbable.

I must admit that some of Nichiren's writings, coming from a medieval environment, are full of superstitious ideas and I have to reject these. Ideas that faith controls the weather, or that there are demons that control reality. I see no evidence of this reality - so I don't accept it.

The bottom lines of Buddhist beliefs - Compassion, Mindful living, Transformation of Character - these are the important things that reason justifies.

I have not lost reason - I guess that's why I'm no longer an Evangelical Christian, it was hard for me to remain a believer when I subjected my beliefs to reason and logical facts.

I don't condemn Christianity - I just cannot hold those beliefs without reason anymore.
"Reason is nothing less than the guardian of love” - Sam Harris

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fearless Faith

Having a consistent spiritual practice is extremely difficult when, as an independent practitioner, you have to be the sole provider of inspiration to keep to it.

Nichiren Daishonin

My practice of Nichiren Buddhism sometimes feels strange and impractical. How can chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo change the experience of reality? Am I just waiting my time?

This is where the principle of having fearless faith comes in. I need to see beyond the emotional judgement and doubt. Chanting is not magic, but rather the physical expression of the changeless nature of reality. Like mindful meditation, practicing Daimoku (chanting), is not something that is designed to satisfy questions about life. But rather it is to connect with the deepest experience of our true nature.
The Buddha said that his experience of reality came from a plane of enlightenment; a plane of consciousness that we ALL possess, behind the clouded vision of fear, doubt, and delusion. Transcending the self-imposed boundaries of our everyday consciousness takes an everyday practice. For a Nichiren Buddhist, this daily practice is a simple one. 15 minutes of chanting verses from the Lotus Sutra and its sacred title (Daimoku) as a meditation that exposes the Buddha-hood that we inherently possess.

I'm in the second day of a 35 day focused practice, based on the book Lotus Sutra Practice Guide By Ryusho Jeffus. It's a back to basics guide to gaining an understanding of the Lotus Sutra and its superlative value as the ultimate teaching of the Buddha.

Faith that isn't constantly challenged and renewed can die.

Fear is the killer of faith and love. Being afraid of testing faith is to be imprisoned by fear.

As someone who's known about Nichiren Buddhism for over ten years I thought I'd find this book to be a little simplistic. But, I'm finding that it is helping me see the gem that's sown into my old coat that I'd been unaware of, or forgotten.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

On Propaganda

 read this today and was so moved I have to re-post it to help spread the message contained in this wonderful essay by Daisaku Ikeda.


"Much of the information that floods our world has been selected and tailored to fit preconceived notions and stereotypes.

It is vital that we each ask ourselves some important questions.

For example:

Do I accept without question the images provided to me?
Do I believe unconfirmed reports without first examining them?
Have I unwittingly allowed myself to become prejudiced?
Do I really have a grasp of the facts of the matter?
Have I confirmed things for myself?
Have I gone to the scene?
Have I met the people involved?
Have I listened to what they have to say?
Am I being swayed by malicious rumors?

I believe that this kind of “inner dialogue” is crucial. This is because people who are aware that they may harbor unconscious prejudices can converse with people of other cultures more easily than those who are convinced that they have no prejudices.

If we think about it, people are not born Turks or Americans. They are not born Palestinians or Jews. These are merely labels.

Each of us is born as a precious entity of life, as a human being. Our mothers didn’t give birth to us thinking, “I’m giving birth to a Japanese” or “I’m giving birth to an Arab.” Their only thought was “May this new life be healthy and grow!”

In any country, a rose is a rose, a violet is a violet, people are people—though they may be called by different names.

Perhaps the clouds and winds high above the blue waters of the Bosporus are whispering among themselves as they gaze down upon humanity: “Wake up! There is no such thing as Americans, no such thing as Iraqis. There is only this boy, this life, called Bob, who happens to live in America; there is only this boy, this life, Mohammed, who happens to live in Iraq. Both are children of Earth. Wake up from this foolishness, this cruel habit of passing hatred and resentment on to the next generation.”

We need to awaken to a common consciousness of being all inhabitants of Earth. This consciousness is not to be found in some distant place. It will not be found on a computer screen. It lies in our hearts, in our ability to share the pain of our fellow human beings. It is the spirit that calls on us:

“As long as you are suffering, whoever you are and whatever your suffering may be, I suffer also.” 

- Daisaku Ikeda

For More Information see:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dharma in the City

"The waters ripple
Tickled by the summer breeze 
Chasing rings of joy"

We moved back to Chicago in the Autumn of 2012, chiefly to be closer to our first Granddaughter, born in August of the same year. 

Although my wife and I have lived and worked in various cities in the U.S. and for eight years in London - Chicago has always been our cultural home.

Prior to 2012 we had lived a mostly suburban lifestyle - but since we were teenagers, the city has always drawn us. It was really the realization of a deeply held goal, when we finally planted roots in the city two years ago.

Working from home I have the advantage of not having to wrestle with the daily commute that can be a big negative for living in a city. However, the temptation in the summer time is to want to be out and about in the city because it becomes "alive" during the spring, summer and autumn seasons. Winter is a different story!!!

So, this time of year I take my laptop on the road and work from various coffee shops and bakeries throughout the neighborhood and city. I get to observe life in the city in a unique way.


Summer brings out the truly diverse nature of Chicago - because tourists appear and the city becomes a microcosm of the world - sometimes in Chicago, you can feel that you are in a city that could be anywhere in the world.

Chicago is a very large city - but most of the time I can enjoy solitude (the good kind) - being in a crowd but not feeling overwhelmed by them. People keep to themselves in Chicago, but this doesn't mean that they're unfriendly, quite the opposite....when you speak to a person in Chicago they very often will engage in conversation with no strings attached. You can go on your way and the value of the encounter brings no further expectation. That is one of the things that I find attractive about cities - anonymity is possible without loneliness.

Obviously there are some negative things about Chicago - homelessness is a huge problem - and I am often challenged to find ways to help without seeming disingenuous or condescending. Often this is is simply giving them money or buying them a meal or a few groceries if appropriate. Kindness, in my experience, is never resented, and helps more than might be realized.

This summer, violence has been an issue in many neighborhoods. A lot of it related to gangs and drugs - unfortunately it's often the innocent that suffer most; those that get caught in the "crossfire" or shot "by mistake" in a gang exchange. From a Buddhist perspective, violence, poverty and homelessness are fruits of the causes that go back well into the past, the cycle of anger, greed and foolishness that creates division and inequality. We can't fix the past, but we can work together to generate causes that will strengthen the positive forces of life going forward. This thought offers a nice transition to the point of this posting.


The practice of Buddhism offers a lot to city life. This is particularly true with Nichiren Buddhism, which emphasizes the humanistic aspects of practice. Individual transformation that adds value to society. Each of our individual actions creates causes that benefit all people. In a city environment the impact of compassionate action can often have very quick effect on the nature of a community.

Buddhism is traditionally thought to be a monastic religion. But with the emphasis on the transformation of each individual that Nichiren's reformations brought to the world - Nichiren Buddhism perhaps offers a truly new approach to religion for the 21st century. This subject is addressed extremely well in Clark Strand's excellent book: "Waking the Buddha," it's a quick read and raises some fascinating insights into the nature of SGI's approach to Nichiren Buddhism and religion in general. Like me, Clark has his feet planted both in and outside of SGI, thus when he speaks about their approach he does it from an objective perspective. The idea of a humanistic religion that focuses on dialogue and personal transformation is past due.

Ultimately the approach that SGI takes towards Buddhism could be taken with any religion or system of thought. The concept of overcoming suffering through self-determined practice and open-minded dialogue based on compassionate understanding, is adaptable and non-dogmatic.

This summer is turning out to be a great season. My Buddhist practice is helping me stay focused on the value of life and helping me to share that value with others when I can. I am very grateful for this Buddhism.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Faith and Belief

I was thinking about belief this morning. How different it is from faith - but so many confuse the two words. You can believe something, but having faith in it is not the same thing.

Christians speak of having faith in Christ, and, or, God. But if their faith was really based on what they believe about God they would not fear death, or any other tragedy, because they would believe that God is the ultimate authority in all aspects of our lives. If he is not - then he is not the God they claim to believe in.

It is almost impossible to place faith on beliefs - faith can really only be in things that we experience as true. Experiences are much more reliable than superstitions or traditions. There are people and saints who have experienced an encounter with the real presence of Jesus, but I'm not one of them - so on this issue I can only truly stand as as someone who "tries" to believe that Jesus is or was real, unfortunately, the result is a vague and elusive faith that is, quite frankly, built on sand.

Buddhist dharma does not require belief in a physical author - the dharma is observable as being true, and there need not be a central ego personality that is worshipped. Buddha is more the way-shower that we can emulate - and not an "unreachable" deity. The pure humanity of Buddha is the advantage of Buddhism. Of course, over the years, certain Buddhist sects have attributed divinity to the Buddha that he never claimed for himself.

Jesus arguably did claim divinity for himself - but in the sense of oneness of spirit; perhaps intent, with the spirit of God. Jesus did quote Psalm 82:6 that affirms that "we are all gods." (see John 10:34) - so perhaps Jesus was a "son of God" in the same way that we are all inherently "sons of God." Thus, the divinity that he claimed is that which we all have within us when we realize our full potential as human beings - or, reveal our Buddha nature.

Chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo - doesn't require faith beyond the proof of the results of the practice. Many practitioners have conducted 90 day experiments in achieving results from chanting Daimoku, and often report remarkable results in gaining insight or wisdom into handling life situations or obstacles. I don't understand how it works, but the effect of focused chanting has a direct impact on the level of internal wisdom that we are able to access. 

"When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are not petitioning or beseeching an external being to act in our favor. Rather, we are repeatedly sending out an expression of our determined intention as we bring forth from within ourselves our highest life potential. Our elevated life-state, in turn, elicits the environment's—indeed the entire universe's—support for our aims, and causes to arise within us the wisdom to take the best course of action for achieving the objective of our chanting."
- From SGI "Frequently Asked Questions"