Testing the truth of Buddhism
Recently a lovely new non-religious friend of mine asked me, “How do you come to believe what you believe?” What a great question! Well the truth is, I was a very reluctant Buddhist at first. Allow me to take you back to 1983 and share with you how I first bumped into Buddhism. I had just arrived in Paris after leaving home at the age of 17, with grand ideas to work my way across Europe. On my first night I checked into the Hotel de Nesle, a cheap and bohemian Latin Quarter hostel.
There I soon made friends with a New Yorker called Ken. The deal was that he would show me round Paris and I would teach him French. Little did I know that this chance encounter would change the course of my whole life. Ken had taken a shine to a young Finnish lady called Mina. Mina was renting a room from a French lady in the 19th arrondissement, in those days one of the less salubrious parts of the capital. Mina was heading home to Helsinki and the French lady was hosting a leaving party. Both Ken and I were invited. The French lady now had a spare room to rent. A spare room to rent in an apartment with a south-facing balcony where attractive young people came to party. The French lady with a room to rent also had a strange altar in her lounge with a scroll in it. She was called Christiane and she was a Buddhist. We decided not to let her weird religion put us off, so Ken and I moved in a couple of days later.
Destiny and Dominoes
So… the Hotel de Nesle, American Ken, his Finnish love-interest, her leaving party, my first sight of a Buddhist altar, a cheap spare room to rent… Did this ‘series of dominoes’ fall in some pre-ordained sequence? Was it fate? Cosmic coincidence? Karma? At the time, none of the above. I had absolutely no plans to become a Buddhist, despite Christiane’s earnest endeavours. Firstly, I was a devout (if increasingly sceptical) Catholic. And secondly, although I found the philosophy intriguing, the practice was just a bit too ‘far out’. My first impressions were that Christiane’s scroll (her Gohonzon) and its central mantra – Nam Myoho Renge Kyo – were at best bizarre and at worst sinister.
I spent ages debating with her about our different religions. All my philosophical points made perfect sense to me, though somewhere deep inside I did feel moved by her heart, by her compassion and also by her anger about the injustices of the world in her disadvantaged corner of Paris. I was profoundly sceptical and yet I was also seeking, wanting answers to those age-old questions – what’s it all about, and why am I here?
Thanking the spoon
For all my ability to argue, this wise and perceptive lady could sense that I was struggling. She saw straight through my intellectual arrogance to all the confusion and insecurity it hid. By this stage I still had no job, was down to my last few Francs and was in a relationship with a beautiful artist who was dabbling in Buddhism to beat her heroin addiction. I was on the verge of giving up and heading back to England. It was at this point that Christiane shared the Buddhist guidance about a spoon stirring up ‘karmic sediment’ from the depths of our lives. Her point was that if you take ownership of your problems, if you ‘thank the spoon’ rather than resenting what is happening to you, you can become the architect of your future, developing the inner resources to transform your life.
And so, a few days later, on 3 July, after more fruitless attempts to find work, I began to chant. But when I quickly found a job (as a chef in an Italian take-away) and when my girlfriend beat drugs, I dismissed both as mere coincidences. I then went to university in Scotland for the next two years, where I completely forgot about Buddhism. My earnest practice only began when I returned to Paris in 1985 for a teaching placement and noticed that most of the Buddhists who came to the flat had moved forwards in their lives, whereas I had stopped growing and was unhappy.
They reported a whole range of tangible and intangible benefits from their spiritual practice. One had a happier marriage, while another had unearthed the courage to leave a violent relationship. One had a better-paid job, another had found a new career with less money but more meaning. One had overcome a major health challenge, and another had discovered her artistic talent, realised she was gay and made a whole new set of friends. Some had rediscovered a sense of hope or freedom or confidence, others were kinder, less angry, more energetic, less anxious… and so on. And some were still struggling a lot, but with more hope and determination, thanks to the warm encouragement of their fellow Buddhists.
I began to think there might be something in this mantra after all. That it might provide a powerful and practical tool for living. And so began the 29-year adventure that has brought me to this point and to this post. So, to answer my friend’s question above, why do I practise Buddhism? Quite simply, because it works. As Nichiren teaches us: “Nothing is more certain than actual proof.” And as he writes elsewhere: “Therefore, I say to you, my disciples, try practising as the Lotus Sutra teaches, exerting yourselves without begrudging your lives! Test the truth of Buddhism now!”
If you are a Buddhist, please feel free to share below – how did you start chanting? And what made you continue?
PS. I will write another post soon about ‘Buddhism and actual proof’.
20 Replies to “Testing the truth of Buddhism”
Today, as fortune would have it, is my 28th anniversary of practice. Before starting, I had no job, was facing surgery and was still living at home. I went to a friend’s house for a meeting, and was enchanted with the chanting. I had started to look into meditation, but decided that there was something there. And started. And, as David has eloquently stated (and I definitely know), it works. Period. I was able to move out of the homestead, learned to drive, moved 1/2 way across the US, learned to love myself and others (primarily through an 18-year domestic partnership) and have enriched my life beyond measure. Do I have challenges? Absolutely, but I know that I am not and will not be defeated by them.
Thank you David, for helping me celebrate!
Thank you Pat for sharing – that’s a great experience and warm congrats on your fighting spirit and on 28 years of practice, how marvellous 🙂 Take care, NMRK, David
Thank you for the encouragement, David (et al) – I didn’t really get the depth of it all until I read your response 🙂
Awesome, Pat! Happy Birthday!!
I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism at Hostelling International in Austin, Texas.
A jolly fellow Minnesotan, Patrick, introduced me to the practice by means of a NMRK card.
I’ve been chanting since June 2013. Became an SGI member in November 2013 and received a travel Gohonzon. In July 2013 I received a regular Gohonzon. I have yet to fully realize the power of NMRK. The ACTION part is where I stumble. Mostly because of lack of courage. STEP OUT TO FIND OUT is what many Christian preach proclaim. I attend SGI activities, been to two Linda Johnson sessions, but I have yet to truly make the practice my own.
Hi Dan, lovely story and yes, action is so crucial – I am sure you know Nichiren’s quote about courage – “a sword is useless in the hands of a coward” but I also like these words, attributed to Shakyamuni: “If you know but do not do, you do not know.” Quite strict guidance! Give yourself time, the practice will become your own if you keep going…
I found this practice in 1974. I had just moved to West LA. I had met a woman before I moved who helped me make some friends in Culver City. When she moved back shortly thereafter, she invited me to a Buddhist meeting. I went just to see what it was all about. People were sharing their experiences, which did not excite me – one girl had won a box of donuts, another got all green lights on her way to work. What did interest me was how bright and happy everyone was. There was a wonderful energy in the room. I was told that if I practised for 90 days, after making a list of goals, I would see wonderful results. I thought it was a California cult, but I agreed to it as long as if it didn’t work, the members would have to leave me alone and never bother me again.
Since I didn’t really think it would work, I agreed to the trial run. I chanted 1 hour a day, and did morning and evening prayer each day, which was not easy. The first thing I noticed was I had the desire to clean, which I usually hated. The other thing I noticed was that I was so cheerful and happy, even when I had exams. I had always done well, but never felt like that before. I had put a few things on my list. I wanted a Mercedes, I wanted a little back house in Culver City, with men in the front house who would look out for me, and I wanted a thousand dollars. And I wanted a garden with orange trees and a veggie garden (not that I knew anything about gardening!) for less than $300 per month. All of these things happened!! At that point, I realized that there was something deep and profound about this practice, and never looked back. I started chanting about all the important things in my life, and I have used it for every aspect of my life since then. I have overcome Illness, had a child when I was told that would never happen, overcome relationship and family issues, helped others, and have continuously worked on my human revolution working towards becoming the best person I can be. My Buddhist practice has been the most amazing tool in my life for encouraging myself and others and recognizing everything that happens to me as a benefit!
Linda, that’s a really great story, thank you for sharing this very encouraging and positive experience. D 🙂
Really waiting for the next post 🙂
Hi David. Your comments on the practice are absolutely right. My problem however, is that if one simply doesn’t get to see actual proof, one’s attention wanders a bit and no matter how hard you try some degree of frustration does set in. I’m trying to change myself so that my environment reflects the inner me but so far that hasn’t worked. I must confess I’m feeling a trifle low because I feel if only my life condition could lift a bit things might be better, but every time I try I seem to be hit even harder by the “reality” I’m trying so hard to change! It’s been tough for a very long time now and I don’t generally share this with my fellow members because I’m afraid to discourage them when I myself feel so strongly that the philosophy couldn’t be more logical. But for some reason it just isnt working for me! Really don’t know what to do. Wish so much to be able to share a really meaningful experience some day…….reading your blog, though, has always been a source of comfort and reassurance. Thank you so much.
Hi Vatsala, I think there are times in our practice when the proof seems to take an age to manifest and I have certainly had periods like that. Yes, it can feel frustrating. But I have always won in the end. With some aspects of our karma it is like ‘growing bamboo’ – you plant it and nothing appears on the surface for years because it is putting down strong and deep roots. You say that you “don’t generally share this with my fellow members because I’m afraid to discourage them,” but personally I would do so, in fact when we honestly share with others they often find your courage and honesty ENcouraging. Indeed this open-ness might be exactly what you need to change to manifest the actual proof in your environment. Keep going, you will win… D 🙂
I was wondering why this blog was called thanking the spoon. Great story!
I was introduced by my high school sweetheart (now husband and kosen-rufu partner) who was brought up chanting nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I had been seeking the right spiritual practice since I was a child and found it at 19 when I attended my first meeting. While my practice had wavered some in the first 4-5 years, I was truly awakened to my mission as a Bodhisattva of the earth in 2012 when I saw Traveler for Peace. No matter what religion we practice, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is for everyone without exception! And I believe the principles in Buddhism are simple human truths that can bring peace to every living creature on this planet and beyond.
Aw, that’s a lovely story indeed, thank you for sharing and to your husband for sharing NMRK with you! I must see if I can find that ‘Traveler for Peace’ video that you mention – is it just a USA film as I have not heard of it this side of the pond? Warmest wishes, David
Yeah, it’s an SGI film about President Ikeda’s visit to the states and Brazil in 1960. It’s basically vol. of The New Human Revolution. It’s not something you can buy or download. Right now it’s only showing at the Florida Nature and Culture Center. You should ask about it. It’s a great film. I hope you can see it!
I was introduced by an old friend in 1991, by insisting that I go with her to a Study Meeting (she didn’t want me to come as she thought I mightn’t like it, and it was her thing really). It was a fascinating talk about ichnen sanzen by a wonderful man and I was really gripped, until everyone began to chant…then I thought they had all taken leave of their senses! I practiced reluctantly for a bit until I couldn’t deny the coincidences (cheques in the post, the right boyfriend, etc), but then stopped in 1994 because the geting up early t chant was stressing me out (anyone spot the wrong attitude?!). Well, I got myself a life threatening illness in 1996 – which was perfect as it was a mystery cause and I was told I could die any night with a bleed into the brain. Basically I chanted my socks off, for kosen-rufu, for the best part of a year, took a lot of action, and had the best experience ever. Also, I got better. I feel I owe my life to this awesome practice, and will therefore never stop chanting and working towards KR 🙂
Hi Karen, wow, what an awesome experience – has it been in the AoL at all? D 🙂
Thank you! Yes, in September 1997.
Thanks, Amanda – how wonderful it is to share like this – and….Happy New Year to all!!!
One previous comment refers to ‘action’. Please explain what action means in context of ‘Nam myoho range kyo”
Hiya, well ‘taking action’ in Buddhism simply means that you don’t just chant and then sit back and wait for stuff to happen. It means taking action to achieve your determinations, based on the wisdom, courage and life force that you get from chanting. Best wishes, David