Putting Joy Into Action

by Ryuei Michael McCormick

This is the talk that was given in March 2000 for the San Jose Nichiren Buddhist Temple's second open house. The theme was "Joy into Action," so naturally that is what I talked about. We were also celebrating Ohigan, the Spring Equinox and the time to remember one's ancestors and all those who have gone to the "other shore." So I discussed that as well.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, Ryuei

Putting Joy Into Action

Thank you for coming to our Higan service and our second open house. The theme we have picked for today’s open house is “Putting Joy Into Action,” so I would like to tell you about the place of joy in the teaching of the Lotus Sutra and how we express that joy through our daily Buddhist practice. First, however, I realize that some of you may not be familiar with the meaning of the Ohigan service, so let me briefly explain it and how it relates to our theme of putting joy into action.

Higan literally means “the other shore” and it refers to the other shore of the pure land of the Buddha as opposed to this world of hardship and delusion. Traditionally Higan is a time for remembering one’s ancestors who we hope have already transcended the cycle of birth and death and attained enlightenment. It is also a time to reflect upon our own lives and efforts to follow the path to enlightenment for ourselves and others. Though Higan is often thought of as a day to remember one’s ancestors, it is really about joy and putting joy into action as well. It is about joy, because we express our faith that those who have lived before us have been able to attain the joy of ultimate reality now that they have passed beyond the concerns of this world, and it is about the joy that we can find even in the midst of the concerns of this world and how we can allow that joy to motivate us to transform this world into a pure land.

During the Higan service we recited a portion of the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra known as the Verses of Eternity or the Jigage. There is one passage in particular that expresses the insight that the underlying true reality of life is joyful once one pierces the veil of self-interest and anxiety. The passage reads:

“The deluded people think:
‘This world is in a great fire.
The end of the aeon of destruction is coming.’
In reality this world of mine is peaceful.
It is filled with gods and people.
The gardens, forests, and stately buildings
Are adorned with various treasures;
The jewelled trees have many flowers and fruits;
The living beings are enjoying themselves;
And the gods are beating heavenly drums,
making various kinds of music,
And raining mandarava-flowers on the great multitude and me.”

“The living beings are enjoying themselves...” This is a very important thing to keep in mind. What the Lotus Sutra is saying is that once we are able to let go of attachment, worry, and self-concern -- all the things that occasionaly make it seem as though the world (or at least our own personal world) is coming to an end -- then we will be able to see how wonderful true reality really is. Then we will be able to truly enjoy ourselves.

This theme of joy is something that appears throughout the Lotus Sutra from the very beginning. In the second chapter it states:

“When you have great joy, you will become Buddhas!”

Later on, after Shakyamuni Buddha has made predictions that his disciples will not merely attain liberation from suffering but will become Buddhas themselves, the disciple Mahakashyapa says:

“Hearing your teaching of today, we are dancing with joy. We have never had such joy before. You say: ‘the disciples will be able to become Buddhas.’ We have obtained unsurpassed treasures although we did not seek them.”

I especially like that passage. The disciples are dancing for joy because they have obtained more than they could have ever wished for. There is a warmth and a spirit of celebration here that demonstrates that enlightenment is not about becoming detached, cold and aloof. There is something about awakening to the true nature of reality, and the word Buddha means “one who is awake,” which gives rise to joy and which transcends even our own limited notions of what being enlightened would be like.

So joyfulness is a very important theme in the Lotus Sutra, and expressing that joy in our lives is also very important. In fact, authentic Buddhist practice is really all about responding with joy to the truth and then expressing that joyful response in order to share it with others. In this way, joy increases and transforms not only our own lives but the lives of others as well.

I remember taking the bus to work one day, and the bus driver cheerfully greeted me and everyone else who got on that bus. Not only that, the driver was not shy about making jokes and comments on the bus speakers throughout the ride and he also said goodbye and have a nice day to everyone as they got off the bus. It was amazing how a usually somber Monday morning commute was uplifted for so many people by the joyful actions and attitudes of just one man. Daniel Goleman in his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence opened his book with a similar experience. This is what Buddhist practice is really about. It is about becoming aware of and touching the deep joyfulness which is reality unburdened by self-concern and ignorance and then sharing that joyful reality with others. This is why the Buddha says:

“If after my passing anyone rejoices, even on a moment’s thought, at hearing even a verse or phrase of the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, I also will assure that person of their future attainment of perfect and complete enlightenment.”

Today, we have celebrated the Lotus Sutra in our Higan service through chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo (which means "I rejoice in the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sutra"), the Verses of Eternity, and even drumming. Later on, we will engage in the practice of copying the Buddha’s image and there will be time to share and discuss our experiences of finding joy through our practice and putting our joy into practice. I hope that through this, all of us will be able to partake of the joy which is the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, and that this joy will inspire us to share it with others through all of our thoughts, words and deeds.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2000, 2002.

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