Chapter III: Part 2 – Peaceful as the Sea

Chap 3 - Peaceful as the seaIn this passage  we have Shariputra telling the Buddha about how confused he was, about how perplexed, and even afraid.  He had begun to suspect that Mara was impersonating his beloved teacher, his doubt had become so great.  As a teacher I have had people react to me in similar and even harsher ways when I’ve not made myself clear and my message has become confusing.  There have been times too, as a student when I’ve misunderstood something I’ve been told.  It can be upsetting in either circumstance.  Sometimes there is a chance to clarify matters, and sometimes the situation was unresolved.  

Recently I experienced a situation where someone misunderstood what I said and completely broke off all communication.  Forever probably this will remain unresolved and unlike Shariputra and the Buddha there will be no removal of the web of confusion or doubt.  There have however, been many more instances where people have related to me that their understanding had been enhanced, or that there was clarity when before there was none.  Then there are instances where both listening styles and teaching styles simply do not align and both are better served in faith and practice to go different ways.  

There are many ways in which we understand our experiences, and this is important to keep in mind.  Even here, not everything will be appropriate for every person.  There are many different teaching styles as well.  It is a wonderful, and perhaps rare occurrence when a student can spend time with a teacher and travel deeply into learning and comprehension.  Fortunately I’ve had some of those experiences.  

One of my first teachers in Buddhism someone whom I shall always consider one of the most influential people in my life was a retired Marine.  At the time I was stationed at Cherry Point, North Carolina.  I had been practicing merely 6 months when I first met him.  He lived in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and frequently I would be at his house every night of the week.  At the time the trip there would take over an hour, now I think it takes less.  After the sangha meeting several of us young Marines would hang around talking about Buddhism, yes Buddhism and not sex as hard as that is to believe, at his house.  Even now as I write about this tears come to my eyes.  

His influence on my life was instrumental in keeping me out of trouble and keeping me focused on Buddhism.  There were many life lessons I learned from him.  In some ways he was the father I never had but always wanted.  I’ve shared this before, however in case you have not heard it I’ll share it again.  I was having a difficult time managing my life, my Buddhist practice, and the Marine Corps.  I remember sitting on the floor of the main practice space, the carpet was an off-white and had a few cigarette burns in it even though it was practically brand new.  Crazy that I should think of that, but I recall how upset he was at the unknown person who had so carelessly allowed the ashes to burn his carpet.  

I had asked him what he would advise me to do so that I could get everything done I needed to do and still chant Odaimoku for the time I wished to devote to my practice.  He asked me what was the first thing I did after I got off work for the day.  A profound question, and one that I have continued to ask myself.  What is the first thing you do when you get off work?  What is the thing you put first in your life when you have free time?  For me the first thing I did was sit on my foot locker and smoke a cigarette, no it was not I who burned his carpet.  I have always suspected it was actually he who burned his own carpet; he smoked like a fiend. 

In response to my answer he said, why don’t you put the Gohonzon first and chant Odaimoku instead of smoking?  Then when you get finished with the most important thing all you have to do is find time for unimportant things.  In a way my actions said something different from my words.  I was saying the Lotus Sutra was the most important thing in my life but I was living as though smoking was the most important thing.  I found that once I made that shift in my actions my life began to dramatically change. 

His question to me, even though he has since died, has repeated itself on many occasions in the almost 50 years since it was originally spoken.  I will never forget Mr. Homer Darche.  I hope you have had such a significant person in your life.

For this piece I wanted to evoke a feeling of fear, frustration, even doubt.  For Shariputra to think even for a moment that Mara was impersonating the Buddha evokes a red, orange, yellow feeling in me.  These are warm even hot colors.  The image of a red demon mask comes to my mind. Yet these powerful emotional colors cool to blues as clarity is found and answers revealed.  Especially I feel a great sense of peace and the return of joy in the words of Shariputra.  My mentor Mr. Darche would often calm my frustration and anger, he would compassionately, even with harsh words, guide me.  He would question me, challenge me, and always he would lead me back to a place from which I could grow.  Nothing I ever do will completely repay my debt of gratitude to him and many others who have had a profound impact on my life.

I used water color and water soluble wax-pastels and three cut out images from foreign stamps.  This is on page 55 from the Threefold Lotus Sutra.

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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.