How To Be a Buddhist

by Ryuei Michael McCormick

I believe this was written in April of 2000, but I am not certain. It may have been a lot earlier. I have decided to leave it as it was written, but my views have changed since then. I would no longer equate the Buddha-nature with the seed of Buddhahood. I now see the Odaimoku as the seed of Buddhahood. The Buddha-nature is like the field which receives that seed and because of its own fertile life giving qualities buddhahood becomes manifest in the life of the recipient. Another way of putting this is that the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Teaching is the true nature of all reality in expression, and our faith and joy in the Wonderful Dharma is the true nature of all reality as receptive. In the moment of hearing and accepting the Dharma, the seed of the Eternal Buddha's merits and enlightenment and the fertile ground of our own Buddha-nature give rise to the full blossoming of buddhahood in terms of our own personal expression of virtue, peace of mind, and wisdom. I think this dialectical view is more in keeping with not only Nichiren's views, but the basic Buddhist insight of interdependence and nondualism whereby there can be no enlightenment that is one-sidedly locked within or, equally one-sidedly, bestowed from the outside.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

How To Be a Buddhist

I will begin with the Three Jewels, because it is in these that we take refuge. The whole idea of taking refuge is a recognition that our life as it is ordinarily lived is full of anxiety, dissatisfaction and even outright suffering. We seek to find out if life holds any answers to our search for security and happiness. We may even come to wonder if life is meaningful at all. The greatest horror (it seems to me) would be to give up and sink into the conviction that life is just an accident of thoughtless waves and particles and heartless interactions in the void. It is at this point that we may begin a sincere inquiry into the meaning of things. Who am I? What am I here for? Why is this all about anyway? Some of us, if we are fortunate, may even stumble upon the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

In the Buddha, we discover that it is possible for people to awaken to the Truth about life. The life of Shakyamuni Buddha shows that it is possible to resolve those perennial doubts in a way that does not require blind faith and/or blind submission to the rites, ceremonies, dogmas and rules of an institution that may simply be another part of the problem. Shakyamuni Buddha provided us with a primordial archetype of human wisdom and compassion. When we take refuge in him, we take refuge in the possibility of our own awakening. For those of us who put faith in Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Teaching, we are reminded that Shakyamuni Buddha is no otherworldy reality, abstract ideal or long dead teacher; he is, rather, the living reality of our own lives.

In the Dharma, we find a teaching that will enable us to cut through the illusions and karmic hindrances that prevent us from awakening ourselves. The Dharma is a placeless and timeless intuition of the True Reality of All Existence. These insights are beyond words and phrases, but have no reality apart from them either. As it is taught in the Heart Sutra: “Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form.” Through the words and phrases of the sutras, that tradition tells us originate with the Buddha, we engage that True Reality in a way that turns us away from abstractions and back to ourselves and the here and now and enables us to see the timeless placeless teaching that makes us rejoice in the Dharma all the more. Those of us who chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo (Devotion to the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Teaching) take delight in all the sutras as well as in the unfathomable True Dharma because we are able to rejoice in the true intent of all the sutras and in the clearest engagement with that innefable Dharma through the Dharma-recollection practice of chanting the Great Title (Odaimoku) of the Lotus Sutra: Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.

In the Sangha, we join a community that supports and encourages a life that is devoted to the Way. The local Sangha also provides us with a base community that enables us to reach out to the larger Sangha of all beings. Without a Sangha, we become like a plant that has been uprooted from the fertile soil it needs to grow. In a more positive light, the way of the truly compassionate person is the way of engagement with one's fellow beings. Certainly there are no perfect Sanghas, and certainly there are times for solitude and reflection, but always there is the need to maintain a connection with others in practice and in caring. Those who chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, further realize that we ourselves are the Bodhisattvas of the Earth who must work together as the original and true disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. The sutra further shows that we do this by just transforming our ordinary lives and creating a Buddha land right where we are. This transformation of daily life is rooted in our faith, which then gives us the confidence and motivation to practice and study the Wonderful Dharma.

The Threefold Discipline is really the Eightfold Noble Path stated in a more essential form. The three are Sila (Virtuous Conduct), Samadhi (Meditation) and Prajna (Wisdom). Through virtue one achieves a life of integrity and stability. Through meditation, one cultivates mindfulness, concentration and insight in both formal practice and daily living. Through wisdom, one sees things clearly just as they are, empty and marvelous. By following the Threefold Discipline one actualizes one's faith in the Three Jewels. The Buddha is realized, the Dharma is made a part of one's life and the Sangha is the field of endeavor. When a person begins to find faith in the Three Jewels and wishes to realize their own Buddha-nature, the Threefold Discipline then begins to manifest as the defining factors of their lifestyle. One could say that the Buddha-nature is that seed within us which flowers forth as the Threefold Discipline once we become aware of it. For those who chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, the practice is itself the discovery and cultivation of that seed as well as our joy in its unfolding. Namu Myoho Renge Kyo should, therfore, never become mere lip serive to the Dharma; rather, it should be our expression of our total trust in and joyful reception of the Wonderful Dharma as the infinite light and life which is our own Buddha-nature.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2000, 2002.

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