I admit I am not a patient person – at least not when it comes to adults. I have an almost infinite amount of patience with children since patience is a requirement for teaching children effectively. I figure adults should know better. When I used to think of making changes in my life, it seemed I was always waiting for the “right time”, invariably some time in the future. Eventually I will be a better conversationalist. One of these days I won’t be so afraid to introduce myself to other people. Pretty soon, I’ll have the confidence and social skills to carry a conversation longer than five minutes. What I learned, however, is that if we don’t take the initiative ourselves, the “right time” will never come.
I started reading a new book about the Buddha’s highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra. The book, “The Heart of the Lotus Sutra” by Daisaku Ikeda, starts with a description of Shakyamuni Buddha after he rose from meditation and began to preach the Lotus Sutra. Specifically, Daisaku Ikeda interprets two chapters from the Lotus Sutra, the first of which begins with a statement regarding “that time,” or the time when the Buddha began to preach. According to President Ikeda, “that time” when the Buddha started preaching the Lotus Sutra occurred as a result of his disciples’ seeking spirit to learn the Buddhist way.
For us everyday people of the modern world on the path to enlightenment, “that time” is something we must create for ourselves based on our own seeking spirit and determination to change our lives for the better. As Daisaku Ikeda states: “”That time” is when we set our lives in motion, when we stand up of our own volition and by our own will and strength…The moment you autonomously determine to accomplish something – not when you do it because you are told to – is “that time,” the time of mission.”
It’s like the old saying goes, “There’s no time like the present.” We wait and wait for things to get better, but unless we take action and do something about it, they never improve. When I lived in Washington, DC I used to spend Saturday mornings at my Buddhist friend’s house with our small group chanting and chatting afterward over coffee. My friend spiritedly called our weekend gatherings, “Seize the Saturday!” after a weekly insert in one of our publications titled “Seize the Day!” When your job, health, or relationship isn’t going so well, it’s easy to get depressed and unmotivated, but life is short and we’ve only got this one chance to make a difference.
In a different sutra, “Shakyamuni Buddha clearly explains that true meditation is not solitary contemplation beneath a tree but playing an active role in society while embracing the truth. When someone urged that he pursue a life of meditation, Mahatma Gandhi is said to have replied that he felt no need to withdraw to a cave for that purpose. He carried the cave with him, he said, wherever he went…The true spirit of meditation lies in manifesting our innate wisdom in society, resolutely struggling for the happiness of ourselves and others, and building a better society.”
For most people, retreating to a mountain forest to find peace is not practical – for many people it is impossible. As Gandhi states, we must learn how to “carry the cave with us,” so that we can be the source of peace, happiness and enlightenment for our surrounding environment no matter where we are.
Last Friday I read a great quote about the importance of person to person communication; speaking to each other verbally rather than texting, emailing, faxing, Tweeting or using Facebook posts. While internet and smart phone communication is great for keeping in touch with friends and family far away, personal one-on-one dialogue can never be replaced by technology.
We live in the midst of a flood of soulless information. And, the more we rely on one-way communication, like radio or TV, or static and unmoving words in print, the more I feel the need to stress the sound of the human voice: The simple but precious interaction of voice and voice, person and person; the exchange of life and life.
I had never thought of speaking to another person in this way. Most people don’t give conversation a second thought, but what this quote is saying takes into consideration the modern age of technology. We rely now more than ever on nonverbal communication with our use of technology, but human interaction is more important than ever. We risk becoming a society of strangers surrounded by meaningless information, rather than communities made up of people who care about each other.
For me, this made me think about my own tendencies toward nonverbal communication. I really don’t like making phone calls and I avoid calling people as much as I can. I would rather send an email or text than make a phone call. I don’t know if other people have this problem or not, but I believe what Daisaku Ikeda is true. When we talk to another person, we have that life to life exchange that doesn’t exist with simple technology. Our voices are important and it is important to use our voices to engage in dialogue with others. Maybe we don’t realize the value of simply talking to another person, heart to heart, life to life. For someone like me, who has never been very talkative or social, I realize the importance of what President Ikeda is saying. When we speak with another person, it isn’t just our voices that are interacting, it’s our whole life, our entire being that’s participating in a dynamic life-to-life exchange with someone else. This is why it is so important to talk to other people.
Last week I read an interview of SGI President Ikeda published in an independent New Zealand news wire called Scoop. The article, titled “Peace On Earth: An Interview with Daisaku Ikeda,” takes the form of five questions and the answers to these questions as written by Daisaku Ikeda. I was especially interested in Question Two: Passive Violence, as I believe it relates to our society here in the U.S.. Scoop co-founder and interviewer Alastair Thompson, poses the following question to Mr. Ikeda: What is the role of individuals in eliminating passive violence? President Ikeda goes on to describe the “Pyramid of Hate” created by the Anti-Defamation League. The Pyramid of Hate shows biased behaviors, growing in complexity from the bottom to the top. At the bottom is 1) bias; 2) individual acts of prejudice; 3) discrimination; 4) bias-motivated violence; 5) genocide. The point is that when the kinds of behaviors on the lower level(s) of the pyramid are treated as acceptable, societal conditions can escalate until it reaches genocide. This is meant to demonstrate that broad social divides and conflicts do not happen overnight – they take years to build up.
The other important point that President Ikeda makes in this section is the idea that it is important for us as members of a democratic society not to tolerate even behaviors on the lowest levels, such as bias, prejudice and discrimination. This is part of the belief that if we tolerate this type of “passive violence,” then it is no better than if we behave that way ourselves. In other words, as founding Soka Gakkai President Makiguchi states:
The root malady of contemporary society lies in not distinguishing failure to do good with doing good, viewing the former as somehow different from doing evil and acceptable as long as one does not violate any law. This is why egotism and hypocrisy are running rampant.
– “The Complete Works of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi”, V 10 p 29
This makes me think of our current politicians who have managed to accomplish very little during the past several years, yet receive their salaries nonetheless. I’ve heard and read about many Congressmen and Congresswomen who seem to share extraordinarily hypocritical views, particularly with regard to women, minorities and the LGBT community. This is a very specific example of “passive violence.” Congress certainly isn’t breaking any laws (at least not that I’m aware of), yet when we look at the lower levels of the Pyramid of Hate, especially the bottom three, I can find incidents of biased, prejudicial and discriminatory behavior in many members of both the House and the Senate, in addition to the institutionalized racism and discrimination that is part of our society.
We live in a democracy (although it seems to more closely resemble a plutocracy), and I expect more from the U.S. Congress. While they may not be criminal activities, hypocrisy, discrimination and dishonesty make me angry. I hope we can improve our society and our politicians by refusing to tolerate passive violence.
Founding Soka Gakkai president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi left the following important words of guidance:
“Unless you have the courage to be an enemy of those who are evil, you cannot be a friend to the good.” – Living Buddhism, April 2014 p. 46
Current SGI president Daisaku Ikeda goes on to state: “It is very important to perceive and understand negative influences for what they are and stand firm against them. Good cannot prevail unless we combat evil. Defeating negative forces is also a form of compassion.”
Compassion does not always necessarily mean to pity a person or to commiserate with them regarding all of their troubles. In certain instances, a person might need to be corrected and taught the proper way to resolve their problems. In other cases, the negative or evil behavior needs to be immediately curtailed. Compassion does not mean allowing other people to deceive us or to take advantage of our good nature.
An extreme case in point would be Hitler. Obviously, he was the epitome of evil and he had to be defeated. There was no question about it. In other cases and with different people, the distinction is not always so crystal clear. Yet we still need the ability to distinguish right from wrong, truth from lies, and good from evil. As Edmund Burke’s saying goes: “All that is needed for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.”
Today is a day of reflection, change and moving forward. As always, I make a constant effort to stay positive and think positive. My attitude means everything, especially my own thoughts. Often, my inner attitude is negative and angry, even if on the outside I appear pleasant – inside I may be thinking something entirely different. I believe that my attitude is critical to my own happiness. After all, no one has a perfect life, and if I try hard enough, I can always find something to be angry about. My challenge is to have a great attitude and keep focused on the positive things in my life.
Earlier, I uploaded a few pictures of San Francisco I took a few weeks ago with my husband. We spent an afternoon on a Bay cruise and had dinner afterward on Pier 39. It was a sunny, windy afternoon and we watched a gorgeous sunset over dinner at Neptune’s Palace. The night we became engaged over six years ago, we had dinner at Neptune’s Palace and drove up to Twin Peaks afterward. That night it was foggy and windy, but I’ll always remember it as the most romantic night of my life. After all, it was the night we became engaged!
I still have a little bit to finish up for the last chapter of my memoir, but as the saying goes: “It’s not over ’till the fat lady sings!” I keep chanting daimoku for justice, and for the success of my memoir. This month I’ve volunteered to share my experience at my monthly Buddhist discussion meeting. I only have a brief time to share my experience, but I will type up a description of what I’m writing about in my memoir so that I can share this with the other members and guests. I’m really looking forward to sharing with others, and I hope other people will be encouraged by my own experience. Never give up!