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How Can U Say That...did U Know About It's Practice?

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Posted by Glenn on July 15, 2002 10:19:56 UTC

Since you brought out this practice of chanting in the Buddhism of Nichiren of how shallow your understanding or being prejudice about its practice.
People encountering Nichiren Buddhism for the first time are often surprised by its stance toward desire, which seems to contradict prevailing images of Buddhism. For many, Buddhism is associated with asceticism, and indeed there are many schools and traditions which stress the need to eliminate desire and severe all attachments.

Needless to say, a life controlled by desires is miserable. In Buddhist scriptures, such a way of life is symbolized by "hungry demons" with giant heads and huge mouths, but narrow, constricted throats that make real satisfaction unattainable. The deliberate horror of these images grew from Shakyamuni Buddha's sense of the need to shock people from their attachment to things--including our physical existence--that will eventually change and be lost to us. He sought to tell them that lasting happiness can never be based on attachments subject to constant flux.

The deeply ingrained tendencies of attachments and desire (in Japanese bonno) are often referred to in English as "earthly desires." However, since they also include hatred, arrogance, distrust and fear, the translation "deluded impulses" may be more appropriate in some cases.

But can such desires and attachments really be eliminated? Attachments are, after all, natural human feelings, and desires are a vital and necessary aspect of life. The desire, for example, to protect oneself and one's loved ones has been the inspiration for a wide range of advances-from the creation of supportive social groupings to the development of housing and heating. Likewise, the desire to understand humanity's place in the cosmos has driven the development of philosophy, literature and religious thought. Desires are integral to who we are and who we seek to become.

In this sense, the elimination of all desire is neither possible nor, in fact, desirable. Were we to completely rid ourselves of desire, we would end up undermining our individual and collective will to live.

The teachings of Nichiren thus stress the transformation, rather than the elimination, of desire. Desires and attachments are seen as fueling the quest for enlightenment. Nichiren is recorded to have taught, "Now when Nichiren and his disciples chant Mystic Law, they . . . burn the firewood of earthly desires and behold the fire of enlightened wisdom. . . ."

In the same vein, the Universal Worthy Sutra states: "Without either cutting off earthly desires or separating themselves from the five desires, they can purify all their senses and wipe away all their offenses."

Nichiren's approach has the effect of popularizing, humanizing and democratizing Buddhism. In other words, by making the aspirations, dreams and frustrations of daily life the "fuel" for the process of enlightenment, Nichiren opens the path of Buddhist practice to those who had traditionally been excluded because of the demands of a meditative withdrawal from the world.

It is thus not a coincidence that this attitude toward desires should be central to the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, with its emphasis on the role of lay practitioners. For people living in the midst of ever-changing, stressful realities, those challenges are a far more effective spur to committed Buddhist practice than an abstract goal of "enlightenment" realized through severing all desires and attachments.

Overcoming problems, realizing long-cherished goals and dreams-this is the stuff of daily life from which we derive our sense of accomplishment and happiness. SGI President Ikeda has emphasized the importance not of severing our attachments, but of understanding and, ultimately, using them.

Often the personal experiences of our members describe events and changes that at first glance seem to be focused on the external, material side of life. But such "benefits" are only part of the story. Buddhism divides the benefits of practice into "conspicuous" and "inconspicuous." The new job, the conquest of illness, the successful marriage and so on are not separate from a deep, often painstaking process of self-reflection and inner-driven transformation. And the degree of motivation generated by desires can lend an intensity to our practice which ultimately reaps spiritual rewards. Bonno soku bodai--literally, "earthly desires are enlightenment"--is a key tenet of Nichiren Buddhism. Through our Buddhist practice, even the most mundane, deluded impulse can be transformed into something broad and noble. Our desires quite naturally develop from self-centered ones to altruistic prayers for our families, friends, communities and, ultimately, the happiness of all humanity.

In this way, one's desires are steadily transformed from being primarily material and physical to more spiritually-oriented desires that are based on Buddhist compassion. This transformation of desires leads to a life full of increasing fulfillment.

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