Strength and Softness of Heart – The Cowgirl

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.

strength, softness, heart, cowgirl, dreams, girls, women

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.

“Bedtime Stories”

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.

Without Having Cried, You Cannot Genuinely Laugh

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.

smile, laugh, mission, buddhism

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.

Treasures of the Heart

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?

treasures, buddhism, heart, happiness, sincerity

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.

My One Determination

I decided to mail a copy of my memoir to SGI President Ikeda. One of my goals is to have my memoir translated into different languages, particularly Japanese, so that President Ikeda can read it. Although I haven’t accomplished this goal yet, I’ve decided to go ahead and send it to the SGI Headquarters in Japan. I am determined that I will be able to personally share my experience (based on my memoir) with President Ikeda. I am not quite sure how I will do this, but I have made this my determination and I will definitely chant and do everything I can to personally share my experience with the SGI President and the SGI.

I was reading our weekly newspaper, The World Tribune, this morning and I saw a picture of President Daisaku Ikeda and his wife, Kaneko Ikeda taken in September 2013. The picture was taken at an SGI center in Japan, and President and Mrs. Ikeda were sitting side by side in what looked like small desks. This was the first picture that I have seen where President Ikeda looked as if he was tired and had lost weight. I also noticed that he was not smiling in the picture. Mrs. Ikeda looked much the same as she always does in photos, but President Ikeda did not. I realize that he is 86 years old and he does not travel outside Japan much anymore (if at all). We in the SGI must take responsibility for the future of the kosen-rufu (world peace) movement. It is up to us.

president ikeda, memoir, experience, happiness, buddhism

For the past couple of years, I have always been determined to share my memoir with President Ikeda. I have written him letter regularly since 2010 about what was going on in my life, often because everyone I knew thought I had schizophrenia and there wasn’t anyone else I could share my worries and fears with. I have always envisioned my memoir published in Japanese so I could send the SGI President a copy to read. Spending so much time reading his writings based on his own experiences with the Soka Gakkai in Japan and in other countries, I (and many, many SGI members) have always looked up to him as a source of strength, courage and inspiration.

Now, I feel like it is our turn. We must step up to the plate and take on the role of SGI President Ikeda – each and every one of us.

Every Person Deserves Respect

What does Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s profound respect for people signify? The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being.

Nichiren Daishonin – “Three Kinds of Treasure”

This quote has always had profound meaning for me. The story behind Bodhisattva Never Disparaging (one of the Buddha’s disciples) relates to his name. He was a disciple who travelled from place to place talking to people about the Buddha’s teachings. He told every person he met, “You are a Buddha. I would never dare disrespect you.” Even when people cursed him and attacked him with sticks, he never ceased to show respect because he knew that every person possessed the Buddha nature.

This quote also states that the real purpose of the Buddha’s appearance in this world (approximately 600-800 BC) lay in his behavior as a human being. How did the Buddha treat other people? What was his behavior like? Did he show everyone equal respect or did he treat the rich better than he treated the poor? This is the fundamental spirit of the Buddha’s teachings and of the Lotus Sutra he taught to enable all people to attain enlightenment, regardless of outward appearances, social status, job, wealth, position in society or any of the multitude of differences between us.

buddhism, peace, respect, behavior

It also reminds me of a Tweet I saw posted last week by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. His Tweet reads:

Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me how much you love all His children. Before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.

Cory Booker  – Newark, New Jersey

I really believe in this statement. How do we behave as human beings? How do we treat other people? According to SGI President Ikeda, “trampling on the dignity of life, and disrespecting and devaluing other human beings is the fundamental cause of people’s delusion and corruption in society.” He goes on to state: “Unless this error is addressed from its foundation, humanity will never experience true happiness or peace, no matter what we do.” – June 2014 Living Buddhism

The U.S. is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, if not the most culturally diverse. Our diversity is our greatest strength, not our greatest weakness. All too often, political and business leaders use people’s differences as a reason to discriminate, rather than looking at how we can incorporate all cultures and communities into a more egalitarian society.