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 I'm Roy Jones from Solva and I've been a Buddhist since 1992. So why do I do it? I have always wanted to understand why life is like it is. I looked in to many different religions and philosophies but none of them completely satisfied me then one day down in Harbour House, in Solva, someone said she had heard there was a Buddhist meeting up in the Preselis somewhere and I offered to give her a lift. I don't know what I expected to find, monks in orange robes, statues of the Buddha, people who had withdrawn from ordinary life in some way. What I found were people who seemed to be deriving a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from chanting these words in a foreign language while looking at a beautiful piece of paper with oriental looking characters written on it!

Although I'm a singer, at first, I felt a bit self-conscious about joining in with the chanting but eventually I thought; well you've driven all the way up here why not give a go? There was a quality about the sound that seemed to draw me in and I started, quietly and awkwardly at first, to join in and I soon started to feel the rhythm and the soothing quality of the words. It was not like anything I had ever done before. It seemed to wake a feeling of confidence up inside me that I remembered from my childhood but somehow over the course of a life filled with challenges and disappointments I had forgotten. Afterwards there was a great discussion about life in which people seemed really free and able to open up to each other in a way which is unusual. They were just ordinary people like me with ordinary problems but they seemed to have a philosophy which made them view everything from a very positive angle. I left with a feeling that there was definitely something very special going on here and I wanted to find out more. 18 years later I still feel there is more to learn and find out about this amazing philosophy but today I'm going to try and explain some of the simple ideas in Buddhism which make it such a useful practical way of living and overcoming the struggles of everyday life as an ordinary human being.

History

I'll start with a bit of history. The was a man called Shakyamuni or Gautama who lived 2,500 years ago in India which had a religion similar to that of the ancient Celts. But he lived in a time when there were new ideas in the air. One of these was that wisdom could come from denying the body. So although he was born a prince he set off to live in a Bamboo grove with a group of ascetics who were all fasting and meditating in a very extreme way to try and reach a deep understanding of life. He spent so many months doing this that he became thin and emaciated. Eventually he concluded that this was not going to give him the answer to the questions he needed answers for. Why is their suffering , poverty, sickness and death in this world? He left the Bamboo grove, broke his fast and began a famous meditation under a pipal tree near the town of Gaya in what is today called Bihar. In this meditation he awakened to the Law of Life and clearly understood the reason things were as they were. He had become a Buddha or awakened one, someone who had awakened to their innate wisdom and by understanding freed himself from the sufferings of birth and death. Understanding his connectedness to everyone around him he understood the need to try and awaken those he met to the state of freedom he had achieved and so began his lifelong teaching to try and make everyone understand and experience the same state of life. After 30 years of teaching various groups and employing different strategies to start people on the road to self-awareness he finally came to a place called Eagle peak and gave his ultimate teaching which was later written down on banana leaves and called The Lotus Sutra. In this teaching he finally revealed that anyone could become a buddha and the nature of the Wonderful Law to which he had awakened.

Now we move forward in time to the middle ages and the country of Japan. Nichiren, born the son of a fisherman makes a boyhood vow to become the wisest person in Japan and goes to live in a Buddhist temple where he is taught the teaching of T'ien t'ai, a Chinese sage who based his life on the Lotus Sutra. However at this time there were many different schools of Buddhism in Japan. Who had the right teaching? Nichiren was determined to find out so he set out to study them all before he made up his mind. After 14 years of study he returned to the temple he had first gone to, Seicho-ji in Awa province and revealed his answer. None of the schools had it right. The Lotus Sutra was the ultimate teaching of the Buddha but this truth had been mixed with so many different strands of thought that only confusion prevailed. Nichiren understood that Shakyamuni's intention had been for all people to achieve the same state of life as he had. In order to do this they must return to the truth of the Lotus Sutra. On April 28th 1253, Nichiren declared that the invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo - title of the Lotus Sutra - has the power to enable all people to become a buddha in their present lifetime. It was a revolutionary teaching for a time of great change. It has always been so with Buddhism. It seeks to open peoples minds to their true potential. Needless to say in feudal Japan where inequality and disrespect for the poor were the order of the day, such a teaching of empowerment for ordinary people was considered a treat to the ruthless system of feudal order. Nichiren was persecuted but he continued to spread his teachings of self-empowerment based on the Wonderful Law of the Lotus Sutra or Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. He was exiled 3 times and once nearly beheaded but he survived to create the ultimate mandala called the Gohonzon which guaranteed to all future generations a simple and powerful way to awaken their buddha nature.

So what Nichiren did was to take Shakyamuni's highest teaching, revered for centuries in China, and turn it into a method so simple that anyone could use it to become a buddha in this lifetime, with a little grit and determination. You see chanting Nam myoho renge kyo isn't about going into a trance and escaping reality, no its the ultimate challenge of looking deeply into ourselves and with the help of our inner wisdom reforming our mistaken views on things which cause us to suffer and to inflict suffering on others. And that, my friends is what its all about. Its practical. Whatever comes up in our day to day life, we chant about it. When we do so our buddha qualities of wisdom, compassion and courage emerge instantly and allows us to clearly see the reality of the situation. In one sense its the ultimate challenge and in another its the greatest joy because once we look inside we soon realise how wonderful we all are. In order to respect others we must first learn to respect ourselves. Chanting Nam myoho renge kyo puts our life into rhythm with the greater life of the universe which works according to the Wonderful Law of the Lotus, the Mystic Law of Cause and Effect.

Karma

There are 3 possibilities for explaining fate or karma 1) God 2) Chance 3) Cause and Effect. Buddhism is based solidly on Cause and Effect, rather like science, however we do have some concepts to which science as an exploration of the purely physical universe isn't able to investigate. In practise the average Brit probably refers to all 3 of these solutions and applies them at random.

Buddhism reasons that if cause and effect applies in one case it must apply to all. We do not believe in a deity who makes decisions about who should prosper or fail, who should become ill and who die before their time. It is all cause and effect. A minor aspect of this is that what happens to us is as a result of causes we ourselves have made in the past. However as we can't undo the past its not very useful to dwell too much on this other than to see that if we make a negative cause like stealing or using violence a negative effect is in strict accordance with the Law of cause and effect definitely going to return to us.

The positive side of this is that once we really take this concept on board with clarity, it frees us to change our destiny from this very moment. We are the creators of our own future. Do you see that if everyone thought like this we could actually create a peaceful world with no war and pollution, racial or gender discrimination, poverty drug abuse or violence. The reason the world is as it is is because of the way people think. By spreading this philosophy of self empowerment based on the idea that everyone has the great potential to be wise, compassionate and courageous and that by making positive causes in the present we can create a positive future we are tooled up change, or are we?

Why Practise?

In practise habits are hard to break, especially if we don't even know we have a habit, because we're not in the habit of analysing our own behaviour, except when we get depressed and think that everything we do is terribly selfish and greedy.

Trying to use philosophy alone isn't powerful enough to get us to really change the way we live , think and react to other people in difficult situations.

That's where the practice comes in. Chanting the words Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is opening ourselves up to the essential principles of life. It is a summary of the wisdom of the human race which is completely timeless. Nam is the principle of Faith - faith opens our minds to the possibility of change. If our mind is full of doubt we block or dampen the power of any spiritual practice or indeed any positive thought or hope of improvement. Myoho is made up of two Chinese characters, one myo represents the spiritual or non-substantial aspect of life and ho the physical aspect. To use an analogy this room is full of radio waves. We can't see them but if they weren't there our mobile phones wouldn't work so by observing what we can see we can reason the existence of what we can't see. Myo is what we can't see ho is what we can. We can't see beyond our own life into the latent state of death but by observing life clearly we come to see life and death as a oneness, an eternal rhythm which has no beginning or end. Myo is death in this aspect and Ho is life but ultimately these aspects are both Myoho part of this eternal rhythm of life. 

Renge the Lotus Flower is the principle of Cause and Effect. The Lotus flower has the unique quality of possessing both flower and fruit at the same time unlike say a cherry blossom where the flower precedes the cherry. This represents the idea that cause and effect arise at the same time. In reality we don't observe the effect simultaneously. To use two examples from physics although the light switch appears to activate the light instantly there is actually a time lag of micro seconds on the other scale the light of a star which see tonight may have left that star hundreds of thousands of years ago. The appearance of the effect in both cases requires the correct conditions for the effect to become manifest in reality. There must be a light bulb in the first case or we won't have light and in the other we need a clear night and someone to be looking up. However the actual effect is created instantaneously in both cases but it then undergoes a period of latency before the correct conditions for it to become a manifest effect are in place. Referring back to myo, this is the realm where the cause exists while awaiting the correct conditions to become manifest. 

In regards to chanting and the emergence of our buddha nature however there is no such time lag. The effect of chanting on the mind is instantaneous, we manifest the mind of the buddha the moment we start to chant meaning that buddha-state isn't something totally otherworldly. It is part of the normal experience of everyone here. Its just that we have to make an effort to be that positive and we can block this effect as I said by having a mind of great doubt. But don't let doubt put you off trying it. Chanting words with such a profound meaning has a way of causing doubts to soon disappear, particularly if we have an experience of something we've chanted for coming true. In as sense the action of chanting is an act of faith because we're doing it even if at first we're a little sceptical!

To round off my brief explanation of the meaning of Nam myoho renge kyo, Kyo means sutra or the buddha's teaching it also has a meaning of the interconnectedness of all phenomena or the web of vibration, sound or energy which is life and means that nothing can exist in isolation from everything else.

Don't worry if that all sounded like gobbledygook! It isn't necessary to understand why something works in order for it to work. If it was nobody (except a mechanic or engineer) would be able to use a car. The fact is that at first you have to take it on faith that what I'm saying is true. Chanting is an immensely powerful practice which does put our lives into rhythm with the Universe. It has the power the wake up our sleeping wisdom and help us solve all our problems, even to come to see problems themselves as useful ways of learning more about ourselves and life. We all have negative karma from the past which means that according to the strict law of cause and effect, difficulties which we set in motion long ago will eventually catch up with us. However when we practice we see these difficulties through the eyes of the buddha. They don't defeat us but invigorate us and make us stronger. The aim of practising is to make the tendency for us to act with resilience and strength even under difficult circumstances become stronger and stronger.

Buddhism isn't like other philosophies which suggest its possible to avoid difficulties all together. It starts from what is and explains why so we can work with that to make things go smoother and make us happier.


When I chant, no matter how bad or negative I am feeling when I start, by the time I finish I feel invigorated and refreshed and much more positive about my own situation. I am ready to consider taking on new challenges and stretching myself. After 18 years its still the same! Why would I want to give such a treasure up?