What makes a teaching powerful? And what holds people back from making progress in their lives? I think the most powerful teachings are the ones that cause real paradigm shifts within individuals and society. The ones that shatter our illusions, bulldoze our comfort zones and remove our subconscious excuses for being unhappy. Poems like The Invitation, books like The Alchemist, The Key and Loving What Is. Buddhist teachings such as the Lotus Sutra. I am sure you can think of many others as well.
By illusions I mean ‘beliefs that you think will make you happy’: things like: the familiar witty comfort of the cynic. The coping strategy that gets you through another day. Delicious but destructive addictions. Hiding away under the comfortable duvet of failure, instead of getting up and being all you can be. The belief that it is your wife or husband’s job to make you happy. Playing the angry victim. Bitching about other people (just for the temporary ‘sugar high’ it gives you.) Let’s face it, we’ve probably all done most of these things at one time or another, it’s part of being human after all.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is that these illusions do not dock up with a stark health warning stamped on their foreheads; they come instead seductively packaged and full of whispered promises. Or full of consolation. They do not admit to you that they will ultimately produce a life of joyless mediocrity or frustration. They come with the best of intentions and, within their limits, work well, for a while at least.
As a Buddhist ex-Catholic with a Jewish Dad (yes really…), I am fascinated by all religions, philosophies and personal development teachings. I am always wondering which one is best for sorting out these illusions and making our world a better place? And I guess the sceptic in me still wants to check whether Nichiren Buddhism really is the best teaching for my life and for the planet. Here are three questions you can ask yourself when looking at different teachings:
- Is it profound – does it reach deep inside the heart – my own and other people’s?
- Is it complete – does it answer all the difficult questions about life?
- Is it practical – can we use it every day? Does it actually work? (Nichiren taught that actual proof is more important than theoretical proof.) In fact, does it remove our excuses for being unhappy?
In my ongoing 28-year experiment with Buddhism, I have found that chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo ticks all of those boxes. And if I ever found something that provided better answers to those three questions, I would stop practising Buddhism.
Finally here is some useful advice to discourage blind faith: “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe simply because it has been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken of and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is written in Holy Scriptures. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of teachers, elders or wise men.” Who said this? Well believe it or not, it was Shakyamuni Buddha (aka Siddhartha Gautama). In other words, Buddhism is designed to be tested, not swallowed whole and without question simply on the authority of some man in priestly garments.
As Nichiren Daishonin famously wrote to a follower in 1275: “Test the truth of Buddhism.”
PS. A big thanks to photographer Savvy Gulia from New Delhi for sending me loads of stunning photos to use on this site, including this one of a small boy with a big seeking spirit. (He may be a young boy, but he sure looks like an ‘old soul’ to me….) Check out Savvy’s beautiful work at: www.facebook.com/savvyguliaphotography or savvygulia.wordpress.com