The Story of the Lotus Sutra of Your Life

One does not hear without...(I apologize in advance for this long post. I belive the content could not be broken up into multiple posts.)

What follows is the beginning of a new study program that will take at least two years to complete. The framework will be the examination of one chapter of the Lotus Sutra per month. The one per month seems most likely workable from this viewpoint of beginning, it may look different as it unfolds towards some the completion point. There are several reasons for this project of studying the Lotus Sutra. There are also exciting and emerging research studies which show that this sort of activity is beneficial to us for many reasons. The benefits this activity provides are manifold and previously ignored. In what follows, I will try to lay out the reasons, and the whys. Why do this, why might it be helpful, why it works, why, why, why; at least as best as I am able I’ll try to explain.

It has been the case here at the temple where people are at different levels in their study of the Lotus Sutra. In the past, I have cycled through what could best be called beginner, or introductory materials, through what may be considered sophomore level. That is fine except for those who have heard the information and wish to go further. So my challenge has been, and I’ve not done well in overcoming it, how do I have a study program in place which will be engaging, beneficial, and appropriate for any person at any time or place on the study continuum? This program I believe satisfies this requirement.

With the completion of my practice guide book and my lecture book, I have provided almost all the lessons given at the temple to readers. There are a few things which I am in the process of writing, those being a more in-depth look at the parables and other select portions of the sutra. That is a long process, and yet the need for the study program is immediate. This study program contributes to my personal study as well as to yours.

This study approach is perhaps new, at least, I’ve not heard of anyone using it in Buddhist studies or the study of the Lotus Sutra. The world of Buddhism is not the only world, and the ways to study something need not come solely from the Buddhist tradition. In my books The Magic City and The Physician’s Good Medicine, I introduced practice methods from various other religious traditions which I felt could aid us as Buddhist in our deepening of faith and understanding. The same is true for this new undertaking.

Originally the idea came to me partly due to my working with the parables, my deepening understanding of the Lotus Sutra, conversations with other practitioners and teachers of Buddhism, and discussions with Temple members. Concurrent to the emerging idea of this study approach I began working on some mixed media illustrations. In my research into techniques and processes for these new illustrations, I stumbled, quite by accident, a trend or activity engaged in by some Christians. How widespread the practice among Christians this is I’m not sure, all the ones I know of, those being fellow chaplains, have never heard of it. It does exist, is thriving, and plenty of examples are available to see.

Pulling all the above together, somewhat, I’ll now describe the study program. At the rate of roughly one chapter a month I am encouraging people, here at the temple, and those of you who read my blog, to ponder some ideas in that chapter and then look for examples of that thing or idea, or event in your life. I realize this is rather vague, and usually people like some clearer direction, especially at first. So I will for each of the chapters offer one, perhaps more, particular things or passages to consider. In Chapter I, Introductory, we have the story of the Lotus Sutra opening with the Buddha in meditation and various people or descriptions of groups of people.

Depending upon where a person is in the process of their personal study of the Lotus Sutra, they may not be aware of what lead up to the Buddha being in meditation or why this large gathering has taken place. One thing is clear, something occurred before the Lotus Sutra. In each of our lives, the same thing has happened. There was a time before we first heard of, or were exposed to the Lotus Sutra. Depending upon how long you have practiced the time before the Lotus Sutra may have been a long time ago, or as in the case of a couple of high school students who’ve been at the temple lately, it may have only been a few weeks ago. Whatever the case, there was a pre-Lotus Sutra you and a post-Lotus Sutra you.

Again, at the rate of roughly one chapter per month, certainly no faster than that, I will present to you the opportunity to discover, reveal, consider, contemplate the Lotus Sutra of your life. Not intending this to be merely an intellectual exercise, I am encouraging you to make this physical or material through some form of expression. Merely thinking about something, as emerging scientific research is proving, is not necessarily transformative, nor does it promote significant behavior changes, nor inner growth and development. Thinking, pondering, meditating are important, however not to the exclusion of action. If each of us were honest, it is fair to say the mental image of yourself and your behaviors, your responses to life situations is not always congruent with how you actually go about living day-to-day. Some may come close; some may be in perfect alignment, some of the time. Some may rarely live out the beliefs and ideas manifest in thought and theory they wish they would.

When a thought or belief or idea is coupled with an activity highlighting or working on that idea, it is strengthened and reinforced in ways we now are only beginning to understand. One study has shown that if you clench your hand as you walk out of a room, you are more likely to remember something you intend to do. I am guessing many of us may have had a notion to do or get something in another room and then once leaving the current room we forget. Or even the clenching of the hand, when introduced to a stranger, can help solidify the memory of the name. Tying a string around your finger is not such a bizarro notion after all.

Journaling has been shown to improve a person’s outlook on life, their general disposition in life, it has been shown to boost a person’s happiness or sense of well-being. Walking coupled with meditation enhances the ability to sit and meditate. And here’s one from the opposite direction. Even the simplest of physical activities, when thought of as exercise when doing the activity, has been shown to burn more calories than if not thought of as exercise.

The mind and body are deeply integrated, and when we try to ignore one or replace one with the other, we could be considered as doing harm to ourselves. Thinking does not replace doing, and doing does not meet all the needs of thinking.

Storytelling, the telling of your own story, the authoring of your story, life-review, and various other names given to the practice of listening to and then recording in some way the story of your life. I am not referring merely to the recounting of events; it is what those events have meant to you in the past, what they mean to you now, what they may mean to you in the future. How have the historical events of your life shaped you, how have they influenced the choices you have made? How do those historical events motivate or discourage you? To what degree, if any, are you bound by those historical events, or how have they served to liberate you? What is your relationship with your history?

There will be some who read this who will laugh, walk away from, discount, or any number of other non-positive responses. There are very real examples presented to us in the Lotus Sutra, which talk about past lives and future lives. There are examples of how forgetting one’s past has prevented the growth and enlightenment in the present. Science is now beginning to understand this important Buddhist activity of remembering and understanding. Some people may object saying they like the idea and agree with it however not for them. I would be curious in such a situation about whether they also felt some part of the Lotus Sutra was not for them, as good as it may be.

The degree to which an individual resists something often indicates the most significant thing to engage in personal exploration. Learning to listen to what you don’t want to do or what you don’t want to hear, is at times more important than listening to what is pleasing and agreeable.

Perhaps not now, someone might think. Wonderful, because we have an infinite time waiting to unfold and reveal itself. Hold the door open, keep the thought. Save this for when the time is right. Maybe between now and then you might consider just giving a little try. I don’t know, perhaps just write down a few words and don’t tell anyone. Perhaps on the back of an item of junk mail write out some crazy poem. Then put it in the bin. You know, when no one is looking, and no one will be able to make fun or criticize scribble out some stick figures, and then laugh, crumple, and toss.

There are numerous ways in which you can respond to this study. One way is to be curious about what it may reveal to you. Doing this activity will enable you to better tell someone about the Lotus Sutra, its benefits, its practice, the results in your life, and reveal your passion of the Lotus Sutra. Studies show when people relate heart-to-heart, with emotions and feelings there is a greater connection, empathy, or relationship than when people only speak from intellect or concepts. The Lotus Sutra is fundamentally not an intellectual exercise. It is all about stories, from beginning to ending.

Innumerable are the ways in which you can engage in this. You can write, in a journal, as a poem, as scribbles, by hand, by computer or various other ways. Drawing is also an option, stick figure or well-crafted masterpieces. Sewing, knitting, needlepoint, are a few of the ways in which fabric arts can be employed. Pottery or ceramics would be an interesting way to explore and express the story of the Lotus Sutra in your life. Painting, drawing, abstract or realistic are possible as well as photography. Collage techniques offer those who think they have no ability a way to express through the reassembly of works or creations of others to make something new. This list could go on for quite some time. The point I wish to illustrate is there are as many ways to create, to demonstrate, to share the feeling of the Lotus Sutra, the heart of the Lotus Sutra, the manifestation of the Lotus Sutra in your life. The only limitation is the limitation you place on yourself. Have fun with this, loosen up, and perhaps learn something new about yourself, life, and the Lotus Sutra.

Perhaps I need to say this is not a retelling of the Lotus Sutra as it appears on paper in books. We are not replacing someone else’s words with your own in this study; it isn’t paraphrasing. I hope doing this will reveal to you the Lotus Sutra as it has manifested in your life, your life activities, your life experiences. This is not an exercise of expressing your agreement with the ideas or concepts in the Lotus Sutra. I invite you on a journey into what the Lotus Sutra would look like if you told it from your life.

Since beginning this I have received an email from someone who took up the first suggestion for Chapter I. In the message they shared it told of the realization that the pre-Lotus Sutra story in their life could have been told from various perspectives depending upon which life events they chose to focus on. Yes! This is our life, we choose which events to focus on, we choose what impact they have on our memories, and frequently this realization can provide an opportunity to live a different life.

I welcome you comments or questions.

With Gassho,
Ryusho

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About Ryusho 龍昇

Nichiren Shu Buddhist priest. My home temple is Myosho-ji, Wonderful Voice Temple, in Charlotte, NC. You may visit the temple’s web page by going to http://www.myoshoji.org. I am also training at Carolinas Medical Center as a Chaplain intern. It is my hope that I eventually become a Board Certified Chaplain. Currently I am also taking healing touch classes leading to become a certified Healing Touch Practitioner. I do volunteer work with the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (you may learn more about them by following the link) caring for individuals who are HIV+ or who have AIDS/SIDA.