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.