Changing Karma – A Nichiren Buddhist Perspective

I’m still not sure what is happening with the people who are following me around everywhere I go. I’m hoping they don’t join me on my next trip to visit my family in Colorado! I’ve set a new goal to chant 3 hours each day until they are gone, although I don’t always reach this goal. Yesterday I only chanted for 2 1/2 hours instead of 3, but today I think I will reach my goal. I started my own chanting (daimoku) campaign for this nightmare to end during the summer of 2010, so it’s been almost 5 years! I still struggle with a lot of negativity, and it isn’t always easy to stay positive. I find myself constantly questioning other people’s behavior. Why did he do that? Why did she say this? Why didn’t this person respond to my email? Why didn’t that person return my phone call? Why don’t these people leave me alone? Why would anyone ever do what these people have done? Why won’t anyone talk to me about it? There are many unanswered questions. I’ve been chanting for answers as well as for a resolution to this problem, yet it seems nothing is clear or easily understood.

In Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, we do not blame our circumstances on others. We take responsibility and change ourselves first. This is a constant struggle for me. The behavior of the insane people following me around has little, if anything to do with me personally. It certainly isn’t due to anything I ever said or did (with the possible exception of a former employer I worked for in Washington, DC for approximately 2-3 months in 2000). From a Buddhist perspective, my circumstances are due to my karma – the effects of my thoughts, words and actions (although probably not in this lifetime).

A quote from SGI President Ikeda reads:

You must never slacken in your efforts to build new lives for yourselves. Creativeness means pushing open the heavy door to life. This is not an easy struggle. Indeed, it may be the hardest task in the world. For opening the door to your own life is more difficult than opening the doors to the mysteries of the universe.

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This is very true. It is very difficult to look for the answers, the strength, and the courage within. Every day I feel I am making the effort to draw forth more strength and courage to deal with these challenges. I once heard an SGI leader state that “changing our karma” (changing our lives) is similar to drawing forth water from a deep well. We just have to keep lowering the bucket down and pulling the water back up, time and time again, until we reach a solution. In other words, we must never give up.

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Are Intelligent and Powerful Women a Threat?

2,500 years ago in India, the Buddha taught that women, in addition to men, had the capacity for enlightenment. Over 700 years ago in 13th century Japan, Nichiren Daishonin taught that both men and women are equally deserving of respect. Today in the U.S., many feminists strive to create a society where women are treated as equals alongside men. My question is this: Are intelligent and powerful women perceived as a threat?

I believe the answer to this question is yes. Perhaps not in all situations, nor by all people (men specifically), but in many cases, a well-educated, intelligent woman can pose a threat to the status quo (i.e. the patriarchy). In my opinion, the majority of white males in our society (both in politics and in civil society) assume that women not only listen to what they say, but also believe what they say. White men also tend to assume that they are always correct in their thinking.

If a woman has a fact to share, an opinion to make, an idea to suggest, or anything to say, she is often disregarded, belittled, or ignored. Obviously, this does not happen to all women all of the time. However, the fact that women’s voices are routinely silenced (including my own), is a very real concern. It has been a very real concern for me over the past thirteen years, as I was repeatedly ignored by everyone I approached regarding the issue involving the people stalking, harassing and threatening me. I’ve often felt as if I was the threat (hence the need to silence me), rather than the people who were actually committing the crimes.

Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for attending school and promoting girls’ education, is an extreme example of a woman who was perceived as a threat by the patriarchy (the Taliban). I’m excited to be more active in the area of women’s rights and I’d like to help other women make their voices heard.

Buddhism & Women’s Empowerment

One of the most powerful, yet most challenging concepts taught in Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is the idea that each individual must take responsibility not only for their own happiness, but for their own life. It is human nature to look outside ourselves for the solution to our problems, the answer to our suffering, or the source of our happiness. This is incorrect. We must look within for the answers we seek.

Learning how to take responsibility for our own lives, particularly our own happiness (i.e. not allowing anything or anyone to be the source of our happiness) is empowering, particularly for women. When we take more responsibility, we have more power and more control over our destiny. For example, many women (especially young women) tend to believe that they need a boyfriend (or husband/partner) to feel complete. For others, it might be a job or career. It’s easy to let our external circumstances dictate how we feel about ourselves, and determine our happiness or unhappiness in life.

The great thing about this Buddhism is we are taught that our happiness does not depend on our external life circumstances. The challenge is learning how to bring forth happiness from within. I’ve struggled for years with a severe psychiatric diagnosis I didn’t believe, in addition to the people who were (and still are) persecuting, threatening me and harassing me for no reason. I’ve always thought, If these people would just go away and leave me alone, I’ll be happy. If I let my happiness depend on these malicious external circumstances, I would still be waiting!

Instead, I turned to my Buddhist practice and many other activities for support, and learned that I can still enjoy my life in spite of whatever might be going on around me. I chant at least one hour a day, I visit and encourage my Buddhist friends, I keep up my writing, I talk to my parents once or twice a week, I find new dishes to cook, I play soccer on the weekends, I have a wonderful husband whom I love very much, I exercise regularly, I give myself pep talks to stay positive, and I spend a lot of time with my dog, Savannah.

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These might seem like little things, but it’s a good idea to have a variety of activities to turn to so I don’t get down. Nowadays, I have more of a tendency to get angry than depressed, so I also make an effort to refocus my thoughts when it seems like I’m dwelling too much on something that has upset me. I also found a great quote by SGI President Ikeda’s wife, SGI Honorary Women’s Leader Kaneko Ikeda:

A woman’s victory in life, which flows into the lives of her entire family, relatives and descendants, like the power of the sun, can impart benefit and good fortune to every person with whom she has developed a bond in this lifetime.

– January 2005 Living Buddhism p. 11

Buddhism and Women’s Equality

Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai International both teach about women’s equality and women’s enlightenment. When the Buddha first started to spread his teachings approximately 2,500 years ago across the Indian subcontinent, his message corresponded with the pre-existing cultural traditions of the time – particularly in regard to women.

Shakyamuni Buddha taught over a period of many years (starting in his thirties), but his early teachings or sutras, specifically stated that women could not attain enlightenment – this status was reserved exclusively for men. The Flower Garland Sutra states, “Women are messengers of hell who can destroy the seeds of Buddhahood.” At that time women were also expected to abide by the “Three Obediences,” which state: “when young, a woman must submit to her parents; when an adult, she must submit to her husband; and in old age she must submit to her son.” These accorded with the prevailing cultural traditions of the time.

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The SGI and Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism consider the Lotus Sutra to be the Buddha’s highest teaching. Shakyamuni preached the Lotus Sutra as his complete and whole teaching. He emphasized that everything he had taught prior to the Lotus Sutra was merely an “expedient means” leading up to the highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra. In the Lotus Sutra, a specific example is given of a woman (girl) attaining enlightenment, and the Buddha’s disciples are encouraged to believe in her ability to attain enlightenment.

Nichiren Daishonin, the 13th century Japanese priest who thoroughly studied the Buddha’s teachings and scriptures, also emphasized this point, realizing that Shakyamuni intended to make the attainment of enlightenment a possibility for all people, without distinction based on gender, race, social standing or education. This was a radical teaching for the time, both during the Buddha’s time in India, and during Nichiren Daishonin’s time in Japan. The equality of men and women is still a radical teaching even today in some parts of the world.