Since there is no God in Buddhism, we cannot be said to be all God’s children. Instead, we are all children of the stars, of the universe. Our lives are one with the great life of the universe – what we see and what we don’t see. Much like people, stars also go through the cycle of birth and death. As they age and begin to die, stars like our sun cast off a shell of glowing gas forming intricate patterns in the night sky. These stellar fireworks form shapes similar to pinwheels, butterflies, spheres, balloons, lawn sprinklers, goblets and even rocket engine exhaust! NASA states in a 1997 press release that “…these outbursts provide a way for heavier elements – predominantly carbon – cooked in the star’s core, to be ejected into interstellar space as raw material for successive generations of stars, planets, and potentially, life.”
SGI President Ikeda states, “…matter that is scattered throughout the universe as a result of the death of a star will be used in the birth of new stars and in the bodies of biological organisms. The atoms making up our bodies, too, were once shining as part of a star somewhere.”
The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra: A Discussion Vol V p 17 2003 Soka Gakkai World Tribune Press
I read a New York Times article last week titled “Stalking the Shadow Universe” by Dennis Overbye. The accompanying video fascinated me because the video depiction of the universe closely resembled a computer generated image of a human brain I had seen in the February 2014 issue of National Geographic. In Overbye’s video, the image of the universe at :35 and also toward the end of the video, around minute 2:05, are similar to the brain images in the article “Secrets of the Brain,” on page 28 of the February 2014 issue of National Geographic.
What’s even more interesting is David Constantine’s brief article in the New York Times from August 15, 2006. The article “Science Illustrated,” compares two pictures, one of a mouse brain, and one a simulated image of the universe. They bear a striking resemblance.
Scientists are looking for patterns and order in the approximately 100,000 miles of nerve fibers that make up the human brain, and they are also attempting to understand the structure of the energy that makes up the universe. We truly are children of the stars.
Last year I bought a notecard with a drawing I liked at a bookstore in Sunnyvale, California. The inside is blank, but the picture on the front of the card shows five animals sitting atop a multi-colored, patchwork carpet with tassels at each of the four corners. The animals and the carpet are flying high above the mountains and city lights below, while a starry night sky and a yellow, crescent moon are visible behind them. The drawing is a reproduction of a water-color painting titled “Magic Carpet,” by Anna Shuttlewood.
I liked the painting because it provided me with inspiration for a new children’s story. Three of the animals look like they might be wolves, and I’ve always loved wolves. There is also a small, brown hedgehog sitting near one corner of the carpet next to an even smaller white mouse. What fun they must be having! Imagine the possibilities this painting provides for story ideas!
I also have a few other children’s stories in various stages of development. Over twenty years ago, I started writing a story titled, Caleb – The Vegetarian Dragon. This story is almost finished – the ending just needs a little work. The funny thing about the Caleb story is when I first sat down to write it, I wasn’t envisioning a story about a vegetarian dragon – or any type of dragon. My very first story inspiration came from a Charles Schultz Peanuts cartoon. The cartoon shows Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse typing away on an old-fashioned typewriter. He starts his novel with the words, “It was a dark and stormy night,” yet he never seems to write any more than those first seven words. Anyway, those were the first words I wrote down on paper when I first started writing all those years ago, and now of course they are long gone – replaced by a story about a vegetarian dragon.
I have a few other story ideas – a children’s series inspired by my dog Savannah, and a story titled The Pillow Thief, inspired by my husband John. I haven’t finished these either. One of these days I will publish all of my children’s stories, but until then, I remain inspired!
My mom sent me a package in the mail yesterday with a notecard and a soft, cottony navy blue scarf. The billowy scarf was a souvenir from Jackson Hole, and the notecard had a picture of a cowgirl reading a bedtime story to a grizzly bear. My mom sent me a different cowgirl-themed notecard last week, but I really liked this particular painting and the caption below. The artist is Donna Howell Sickles and the captions are written by Peg Streep.
When I was eight or nine, I decided I wanted to be a cowgirl when I grew up. I didn’t want to have kids, and I wanted to live in Wyoming (or somewhere out West) spending my days on the back of a horse rounding up cattle and sleeping under the starry skies at night. I even had a black t-shirt my parents bought me in Jackson Hole with white lettering on the front that read: “I want to be a cowboy.” I did want to be a cowboy – at least for a few years when I was young.
What I like about this artist and these notecards are the captions, and how Donna Howell Sickles and Peg Streep incorporate myth and spirituality from other cultures, in addition to that of the American West. The caption on the back of this card explains the meaning of the artwork.
Stretched out under a starry sky with the fish above her, symbolizing the feminine, the cowgirl reads from the bear’s book of wisdom with its paw print on the cover. The bear is a guardian animal of healing and the maternal but its outstretched claws remind us that it is fierce and wild too. Lying on the checkerboard blanket – an emblem of balance – the cowgirl learns there is a place in life for both strength and softness of heart.
– Peg Streep
At first glance I thought the cowgirl was lying in bed in her room reading a story to the grizzly bear. I thought the fish was a picture hanging on her bedroom wall. Yet Peg Streep’s caption reads: “Stretched out under a starry sky…” When I looked at the card again, I saw how the cowgirl was lying on a blanket under a starry sky with a grizzly bear and a dog, or possibly a wolf, as companions. I had no idea a fish symbolized the feminine.
What struck me the most was the way every element fit together. The cowgirl is reading from the bear’s book of wisdom, and while the grizzly is fierce and wild, it also protects her. “The cowgirl learns there is a place in life for both strength and softness of heart.” This is so true, and not just for cowgirls! It is true for girls and women everywhere. We must be strong enough to fight for justice, have compassion toward those who are suffering, and the wisdom to know good from evil.
I used to think it was important to be ‘nice’ to everyone. I could not have been more wrong. Being nice is not the same as having compassion and it doesn’t help us fight injustice. Just as the checkerboard blanket is “an emblem of balance,” I have had to find a balance between kindness and courage, between strength and softness of heart.
I remember lying in bed awake in the middle of the night when I was still in elementary school. I couldn’t fall asleep, and I kept thinking to myself, Why me? Why me? This was so many years ago I don’t remember why I was thinking that particular question to myself, over and over again, but I still have the memory. I’ve read in a Buddhist teaching that people are the consciousness of the universe. I wonder if this is true?
I’m sure the question, Why me? occurs to many people when they are faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle in their lives. The challenge for us is to discover the answer. It all comes down to our own unique mission in life. As SGI President Daisaku states:
Without having cried, you cannot genuinely laugh; without having suffered, you cannot savor real joy. I’m sure there are times when, in the midst of some difficulty, you think, “Why me?” But that in fact is your chance to fulfill the mission you have chosen. The deeper your suffering, the greater your mission.
– The New Human Revolution, vol. 17, p. 83
For us, as Nichiren Buddhists (and for everyone who choses to believe so), we are all born with a mission that only we can fulfill – a mission that we chose. Our problems and sufferings help us to discover what our unique mission is, a mission that we might never have understood without our life’s challenges. When I think of my own experiences over the past several years, with the mafia and the nameless, faceless voices, I haven’t always recognized that these challenges were mine to conquer, and mine alone. I’ve often waited and hoped for someone or some group of people to come along and put an end to things, and while this seems reasonable given the circumstances, it isn’t the right attitude. We must never rely on others to solve our problems for us.
For me, I’ve had to become a much stronger person in order to stand up for myself and for what I believe in. The constant and continuous stalking, mocking, harassment and insults never fails to get on my nerves, to say the least. Yet over the years, I’ve developed many creative, healthy, and positive methods to keep my mind off what I hear and what I know is going on. This is one of my biggest benefits of challenging my circumstances, rather than giving up.
My husband and I work out every chance we get, I’ve become a much better writer and have self-published my first memoir. I’ve taken wonderful pictures of all the wildlife I see along the bay, I’ve joined a women’s soccer league and have met some great women – the list goes on. I’ve also developed closer relationships with my family members, and have become more self-confident and courageous.
All these great things in my life never would have happened if I hadn’t had such a difficult time with these insane people over the years. Personally, I believe there is a much more profound reason for my circumstances, but I hesitate to speculate on it at this particular point in time. That is part of Buddhist wisdom. Nothing is coincidence, and everything happens for a reason.
In a society that emphasizes status, power, wealth and material possessions above all else, Buddhism and Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism in particular, place special importance on the “treasures of the heart.” The Three Kinds of Treasure is a letter written by Nichiren Daishonin to his samurai disciple, Shijo Kingo advising him with some difficulties the samurai had been having with his lord. Nichiren Daishonin advises Shijo Kingo to remember what is most important in life:
More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all.
In this writing, “treasures in a storehouse” refer to material possessions or wealth (objects we can buy, keep or sell). “Treasures of the body” refer to our physical health and well-being, including our mental health. “Treasures of the body” might also be a talent or skill we have such as writing, singing, acting or playing a musical instrument. For me, “treasures of the heart” refers to my friends and family members, those I cherish and love, and who are an important part of my life. “Treasures of the heart” are also my beloved, happy memories I have of my own childhood and other life experiences. From a Buddhist perspective, “treasures of the heart” are the opportunities and challenges we have to grow and develop our lives through faith and by helping others. “Accumulating treasures of the heart means that we come to understand we are Buddhas.”
I believe in our society [in the U.S.], we have placed these three treasures backwards in order of their correct importance or priority. We place the most value on accumulating material possessions and financial wealth, yet we place the least value on developing our own lives and fostering healthy relationships with others. Doesn’t this seem as if our priorities are upside down?
In a beautiful article titled “The Poor Woman’s Lamp,” (Living Buddhism, March 2006 p. 14), SGI President Ikeda describes a Buddhist parable of the same name. He writes, “What the ‘Poor Woman’s Lamp’ teaches us is, more than anything else, the value of sincerity…A mind which attaches importance to even to the slightest matters, and which loves and treasures even seemingly insignificant things, can profoundly move people even through a small action.” As Nichiren Daishonin states: “It is the heart that is important.”
In a culture of violence, and anger, and hate, when people place more value on a cell phone or a car than a person’s life, we need to learn the tremendous value of our own lives and of each other’s.