Personal influence and power - resolving conflict by taking responsibility for our outcomes
It may in many ways be a mystery or secret to us of how all we are experiencing is of our own making as we cannot consciously see all the connections and interactions. However, as Buddhists we take full responsibility for what we are experiencing, good or bad.
Then again, one could question ‘what is good and what is bad’? Many of us would say that winning a million dollars in lotto is a good thing. Isn’t that so?
Yes for sure we would say, because now I can buy a Ferrari. But what if I drive too fast in it and have an accident because of it? Good or bad? We would probably say that it’s bad. Then again, what if I meet the love of my life in the hospital I am recovering in from the crash? Good, we would say. This shows that the mystic law doesn’t have any value preferences. It is us and our projections who give it meaning.
This principle is known to many scientists when conducting experiments by employing the law of cause and effect in the laboratory. Therefore the scientific community has little hesitation to acknowledge that this law is indeed a reality. But the laboratory is a confined space and the interactions are carefully controlled so that they can be made visible.
However, the Buddhist practitioner sees the far more reaching interactions of cause and effects beyond the controlled experiments in the laboratory. There is no doubt that the multitude of variables which our ordinary ‘thinking’ mind would have to process could possibly supplement the necessary deeper level processing required to get the more significant changes happening in life.
We can plan and control the environment but ultimately, the multitude of internal and external factors are beyond our conscious mind to compute and control. Thus, we may plan to go to the bank this afternoon, we know the way, we know how to do it, but can we get there really? Will other factors get in the way? Perhaps a phone call bearing good or bad news changes everything? Or an airplane falling out of the sky on top of our house? Maybe our car breaking down? Or your neighbour requiring your assistance when you were about to leave?
The list of variables goes on, and yet you want to make it to the bank, and you are likely to get there because you made up your mind.
Faith or good intent is the most essential ingredient in getting where we want to go at the end of the day.
Simple as it may seems, higher order processing in terms of faith is simply saying“it is my aim to make it to the bank, but whatever happens on the way, it happens for a reason and I know that if I keep my mind focused I will eventually get where I need to go”.
In addition to that, the Buddhist practitioner uses the obstacles or conflicts that may arise on the way as opportunities for greater development or way markers that are required to show him or her the way towards the ‘truly’ intended outcome (i.e. the outcome that we subconsciously believe we should get).
Put differently, faith enables the Buddhist practitioner to direct his or her ‘whole’ being towards achieving the intended outcome. Faith allows one to ‘pluck’ into the greater workings of the universe without being necessarily ‘consciously’ aware of how it all works.
Just like we are able to drive a car without knowing anything about the mechanics, we will still be able to use it to get from A to B.
The practitioner finds comfort in believing that all works towards his/her intended outcome because of his/her faith. Many people will identify this feeling as ‘going with the flow’. In other words, by practicing faith the ‘thinking’ and the ‘feeling/intuitive’ minds; the conscious, subconscious and unconscious minds; are equally directed towards the desired outcome. ND Buddhists are eternal optimists who can see nothing but opportunities for growth even under the most trying of circumstances.
The power of now-changing our action means changing our karma
The true power of Buddhism lies in the practitioner’s belief that s/he can act differently in the here and now, and because the NOW being the only constant reality that exists, the potential of having different outcomes NEVER ceases to exist.
Thus, karma is instantly altered as soon as the practitioner alters his/her action, i.e. by changing thoughts and consequent behaviour, and thus s/he can expect different outcomes almost instantly.
TWhy therapy works - the power of faith
This is the sole reason why cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) works. In fact, if one comes to really analyse it, this is why any kind of therapy works. A client that believes (has faith) in the suggestions of his or her therapist ultimately changes his or her action and therefore has different outcomes.
But these outcomes are not due to the power of the therapist. They are entirely due to the client’s’ belief that ‘now I can believe I can change because I have been told’. Thus unbeknown to them they produce the desired changes themselves by believing in the ‘power’ of the therapist.
Telling a client straight away that they have got what it takes to effect these changes entirely by themselves would fall on deaf ears as they don’t believe in their own ability (this is why they come to see a therapist in the first place).
Therefore, in the initial stages, the greater they respect and believe in the therapist, the greater the power of the therapist to affect change in the client.
Herein also lies the mysterious power of hypnotherapy. A client surrendering to the power of the hypnotist during therapy simply allows the client to believe in him or herself.
The dangers of delusion
There is a real danger that some therapists don’t know of these principles as outlined here, and they may come to the false conclusion that they really are ‘special’ and a lot more ‘important’ than their clients. Being aware that we are all equal Buddhism warns of such arrogance. A therapist who comes to see the changes in a client as a product of his or her making is simply just as deluded as the client. This would be a case of ‘the blind leading the blind’ and would eventually lead into a dead end.
However, one doesn’t necessarily have to be a hypnotherapist or psychologist to affect self induced changes in others. Any kind of person that is perceived as being ‘special’ can do so. Medical practitioners, celebrities, religious or non religious mentors, etc., can all function as change agents as they inspire belief. Yet, Buddhism clearly states that this is an illusion – there is no distinction between a beggar or a king. This is not to say that we all have different skills and abilities that create a level of distinction between us depending on our specialisation, however, we essentially all carry the same ‘action and achievement potential’.
The halo effect - the self fulfilling prophecy according to Thorndike
In psychology this kind of projection (delusional projections) is called the ‘halo’ effect. In the1920’s a psychologist named Thorndike found out that we have a ‘cognitive bias whereby our perception of a particular trait in another person is influenced by the perception of the former traits in a sequence of interpretations’.
Now this may sound a bit complicated, but generally speaking, Thorndike found that once we have a good impression of a person, may that be because their features remind us of someone that we know, or trust, we automatically assume that they are ‘good’. The same holds true for the reverse (i.e. bad). In other words, instead of thinking of other individuals in mixed terms we seem to see each person as roughly good or roughly bad across all categories of measurement.
For instance, the level of attractiveness of a person is an essential trait to this concept. So if we think someone is attractive because of looks, intellect or some other ability, we presume all the other traits of that person are just as attractive and sought after.
This is one of the main reasons why we see that a lot of celebrities are used to endorse products that they have no actual expertise in evaluating. Social Psychologist Richard Nisbett demonstrated that we do this unconsciously. In a 1970’s study he found that even though participants of the study were told that this effect exists, they continued judging people in the same manner.
Therefore, instead of being concerned with ‘make belief’ through therapy, Buddhism is concerned with making people aware that they are ‘Buddha’s’ endowed with everything they need. However, due to the delay we perceive through the time/space paradigm, we have the illusion that the cause exists separate from the effect and therefore we may doubt that this is true. In other words, as we have no immediate confirmation that the cause we have made has the desired effect, we once again find ourselves in conflict between faith and doubt.
Then we are likely to question whether what we want to achieve ‘could really happen’, and because we don’t have the instant gratification, we may give in to our doubts and change our minds. We thus never get the desired outcome and are likely to maintain a negative view of our abilities to affect the kind of change we wish to see.
In Buddhist terms we are like atoms constantly ‘bumping’ into each other and the environment and as we are exciting each other that way, we are consistently challenged to alter our course and direction.
The practitioner on the other hand, through the act of faith, maintains his/her course of action in an ocean full of seemingly unexplained waves, knowing fair well that s/he is the creator of such waves. As pointed out much earlier, we could say that all we are experiencing is our own creation. The question that many will ask at this stage is of course how could I have possibly created the reality of another human being or anything else in the environment for that matter?
How we create each other's reality - the parable of the two unenlightened people
Well…if we come to think of a simple interaction between two people this process of creating each other’s reality will become quite clear. As outlined a little earlier in the example that described the halo effect, which pointed out that the ‘attractiveness factor’ increases belief in the therapist, there is also an interaction effect that alters the perception of the ‘attractive’ person just as much.
For instance, suppose two equally powerful people meet. But, let’s say they have the dilemma that they both have no idea that they are endowed with the power to create and influence everything around them. In other words, they are both completely unenlightened about their true nature or in Buddhist terms they are ‘ignorant’.
Let’s further assume it so happens that one asks the other what s/he thinks about him. Thinking for a moment the person that has been so questioned answers “You look to me like you are a pretty good salesman”.
“Oh, do you think so?” the person may hesitantly replies. “Yes, I really do” confirms the other.
As the mind of the person that has posed the question rendered itself open and impressionable, let’s assume this person starts ‘believing’ that this is in fact so (i.e. the thought ‘I am a good salesman’ takes hold in that person’s mind – or to the contrary ‘I am not!’).
Based on this assumption one could argue that an internal reality seeking belief is thus created. In other words, that person may believes that s/he is indeed a good salesperson, therefore looking for opportunities that would confirm this belief and consequently persuades a successful career in the field.
Thus, by simple means of suggestion, and by environmental reinforcement a self fulfilling prophecy is created.
This is the nature of questioning – we either accept or reject what has been offered, but either way, it is an indicator that someone has opened their mind to receive a new impression (i.e. I am or I am not what has been suggested, yet either way – it has equally influenced my perception and belief).
This is especially true when the question is sincerely asked. Hence, the Buddha Shakyamuni was renowned for only speaking about the deepest levels of understanding when people asked the ‘right’ sort of question. This way he was able to assess the level of sincerity and the seeking mind of a follower, and thus determine what could be imparted. If we are honest we will have to admit that people who make us question ourselves are of the greatest influence to us.
However, returning to our example of the two ignorant people, it is easy to imagine the following scenario.
‘Most certainly impressed with the great and perceived ‘truthful’ observational skill of the other, that person may go back to the one who told him or her about the unbeknown sales skills saying “Oh, wise man (or women), what you have told me was true, I wonder if you can tell me more about me?” not recognising that the actual manifestation of what was observed by the other was completely due to his or her own belief, and the consequent workings of the law of cause and effect.
This has consequences for the one who made these suggestions also. For instance, the person addressed as the ‘wise’ man may now come to believe that s/he indeed has a ‘special’ gift (that of telling others what is best for them), thus the two participants in this dialogue have created a circular reference that is self perpetuating and really nothing more than an illusion. In fact, it is a well hidden lie because both people have not recognised the true operational factors of their perception.
Because as we now know, the underlying truth is that both have exactly the same ability (being all powerful) but instead of realising this fact, each one has taken on a role that they keep reinforcing. Both are unaware of the underlying factors and thus believe that they ARE the roles they are playing (when in reality they are something entirely different – a fully endowed Buddha, yet they remain common mortals that cannot see the true aspects of the phenomenon they are experiencing)
Based on Buddhism, this is how distinction and conflict is created.
It is nothing more and nothing less than a role play that has taken on an identity of its own. This is why we have kings and beggars, commoners and popes, holy men and thieves. Buddhism makes clear that the roles we are playing are not our true identity.
The Pygmalion effect - the self fulfilling prophecy according to Rosenthal
In psychology this ‘role play’ is termed the ‘Pygmalion effect’, or ‘Rosenthal effect’. It refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform.
Rosenthal defined this effect as a form of self fulfilling prophecy showing that people with good or poor expectations internalize their label, positive or negative, and fail or succeed accordingly.
Between the 1970’s to 1992 Rosenthal and Jacobson studied this effect in educational settings. In the experiment teachers were led to expect improved performance from some children consequently children did indeed show that enhancement. If they expected poor performance, this would be true also.
In other words, teachers who have low expectations of the children they teach have unconsciously created a self fulfilling prophecy in the classroom. Children of whom was little expected have in fact performed way below what they were capable of. Worst of all, they started believing that they indeed are incapable of being any good in the subject. The teacher therefore will see his/her expectations confirmed and thus keeps reinforcing his/her prejudice towards the pupil.
Thus it became clear that reality can be influenced by the expectations of others. Depending on the intent, this influence can be beneficial or detrimental. Again, from a Buddhist perspective this is regarded as a clear case of ‘ignorance’ leading to undesired outcomes. We could say that an uneducated person makes uneducated choices and creates therefore an environment that reflects these choices. Let’s not forget, action is another word for ‘karma’.
It shows how not knowing the ‘truth’ can create people with low self esteem and they will eventually have to deal with the consequences and conflicts of their belief and action when realizing that they are not getting the outcomes they truly desire. This is an example of how belief creates reality.
However, there a number of other empirically assessed experiments that prove beyond a doubt that our beliefs are indeed creating our reality.
The Hawthorne effect - observation leads to increased productivity
For instance, psychology talks about the so called ‘Hawthorn effect’. In 1955 Henry A. Landsberger was employed by an electrics company in Chicago to investigate how workers could be made more productive.
He began by researching older experiments conducted in the Hawthorn factory between 1924-1932. These showed that increased lighting had significantly improved productivity, as well as a host of other interventions such as clearing floors of obstacles, maintaining clean work places in general and even the relocation of entire workstations. They all had significantly improved productivity.
Nevertheless, Landsberger found that as soon as those studies were completed, productivity slumped. He concluded therefore that the increase in productivity back then was due to the motivational effect of the interest being shown in the workers who participated in the experiments.
Perhaps by far the greatest example of how belief affects our reality may be found in the ‘placebo’ effect. It is commonly known that placebos work through an expectancy effect. In the case of drugs, this means that an inert substance which is believed to be an effective drug has similar effects to the actual drug.
Placebos can also act through classical conditioning. In such case a placebo and an actual stimulus are used simultaneously until the placebo is linked with the effect from the actual stimulus. Expectations and conditioning both play a crucial role in the placebo effect. Conditioning affects earlier stages of information processing and is generally believed to have a longer lasting effect.
The expectancy effect on the other hand can be improved through a number of factors such as the size and colour of the pill, or the demeanour of the doctor, i.e. the level of enthusiasm he or she displays when talking to the patient about the effectiveness of the intervention.
Whether patients taking part in placebo studies suffered from pain or depression, as soon as they were told that they were given placebos, their condition quickly deteriorated. One study showed that the effects of the placebo increased from 44% to 62% when given by the doctor with attention, warmth and confidence.
A large 1998 study identified that 75% of the effectiveness of anti-depressant medication was due to the placebo effect. Similarly, a study in 2008 found that 79% of patients receiving placebo treatment for depression remained well for 12 weeks after an initial 8 week successful therapy trial.
It is also known that as soon as patients have been told that the placebo intervention is ineffective, or that their expectations are unrealistic, the positive effects disappear. The placebo effect is that well known that it is used by many medical practitioners in the treatment of their patients.
For example a study shows that 48% of general practitioners in Denmark had prescribed placebos for their patients at least 10 times per year, usually antibiotics for viral infections, or vitamins for fatigue.
Similarly, a 2004 study of physicians in Israel found that as many as 60% use placebos to calm their patients or to fend off those patients who request unjustified medications.
These examples clearly show that the more we ‘believe’ in another person (idols, pope, hypnotherapist, mentors, kings, queens, pop stars, etc) the more impressionable we are, and that keeps reinforcing the illusion that they have a power unlike our own.
Taking the placebo effect into consideration, this would also hold true with regards to our belief in pills, talismans, ‘holy’ rocks, or any other kind of object onto which we project our belief.
What we believe creates our reality and not seeing the truth is likely to create a self fulfilling prophecy that we do not recognise as our own creation.
Buddhism teaches that there is NO DISTINCTION. All phenomena are simply expressions of the same LAW.
Just think, even the most advanced computerised game with all its fantastic graphics, can ultimately be traced back to a simple 0 and 1. That’s that, a binary stemming from one source.
NDB calls this understanding ‘esho funi’ which means ‘two but not two’. It explains the principle that life and its environment, though two seemingly distinct phenomena, are essentially non-dual; they are two integral phases of a single reality.
It isn’t hard to see how our behaviours are shaped by our beliefs and thus they have the power to shape the environment we live in. The stock market is a good example where millions of people decide through buying and selling shares which way the economy of a nation and ultimately that of the world goes. Thus, ‘belief’ is clearly linked to changes in the environment.
Perhaps a more ‘naturalistic’ explanation provides an even greater insight into how behaviour influences the environment.
One who was convinced of the interlinked causality was the great Charles Darwin who proposed the theory of evolution. During his trip that took him to the southern ocean he noticed that one species of turtles of the same kind developed distinct features depending on the environment of two different islands of the Galapagos.
He observed that due to a certain species of plants on one island, turtles there had a long neck, whereas the other island which was devoid of these plants had a short neck. He pondered for a while and came to the conclusion that the external causes on both islands (environment) stimulated this development.
This follows that in terms of the law of cause and effect, there is always the potential that by eating all those plants which have caused the turtle to develop a long neck in the first place, it will then have to look for a new food source and therefore may again develop a short neck in order to survive as a consequence of its own actions.
Seen from the Buddhist perspective, this is how the environment and the self are in constant interaction with each other. In other words, the environment (i.e. people, animals, plants or rocks, etc) is stimulating us to do things differently. By doing so, the environmental interaction is actively creating us mentally and physically. Based on the environmental input, we in turn create (change) the environment through our interactions and then the changed environment causes us to interact with it differently again (and so on). Thus, the cycle is closed. It is an eternally reciprocal creative process that never ends (at least not according to NDB).
NDB explains “The ten directions are the ‘environment,’ and living beings are ‘life.’ To illustrate, environment is like the shadow, and life, the body. Without the body, no shadow can exist, and without life, no environment. In the same way, life is shaped by its environment”
Nichiren also writes in On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: “If the minds of living beings are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds”
However, even though we may be endangered to live a self fulfilling prophecy when we are not careful, this is not to say that we shouldn’t have trust and believe in mentors, doctors, mechanics or any other person who has advanced specialised knowledge or experience.
After all, these people have focused their attention in various fields of endeavour and are therefore qualified to share the ‘truth’ of what they have learned and discovered with the rest of us. Theirs is a gift to advance and confirm our enlightenment. This is especially true if there are people who mentor us compassionately on our true potential. However, they are only any good to impart their understanding if they ‘truly’ are aware of life in its purest form, otherwise we may come to be led by blind men, and that can only end in disappointment.
As such Buddhism is practical in approach. It acknowledges that action needs to be taken in the real world of distinction. In other words, if you have a broken leg, it is obvious that practising faith alone will not yield the most effective outcome. You most definitely need to go and see the doctor to get it ‘fixed’
Similarly, if you break down with your car and you don’t know how to fix it, go and see a mechanic. However, in either event, having faith in the Buddhist practice will ensure that we have the confidence and wisdom to take the ‘right’ action in the moment.
But whatever may happens, we should never for a moment come to believe that just because the doctor can fix our broken leg, or the mechanic fix our car, that there is a distinction in potential between us.
We are of the same substance and we are just playing different roles for now. Think of the halo effect and remember that we have the capacity to reinforce a self fulfilling prophecy when we are blind to our true nature.
The greatest and most significant outcomes can be experienced when two highly sincere and objective people come together, both fair well understanding the ‘true aspect of all phenomena’.
In Buddhism those who understand the true aspect of all phenomena are called Buddhas. If we have the opportunity to be mentored by a person who has the correct understanding of the workings of life, we are indeed very fortunate.
Shakyamuni and Nichiren were just such people, but they were people nevertheless. In a way they were great scientists investigating the nature of all things and who made it their mission to spread the knowledge of their findings to those who had a seeking mind.
But there were many more people over the history of Buddhism who also knew of the law that governs the universe. For instance even before Nichiren’s time it is said that the scholars Tien Tai from China had a comprehensive understanding of the law, and so did Dengyo from Japan.
As outlined in the introduction part, both were studying the lotus sutra and knew in essence what is discussed here. Nevertheless, they did not make it their mission to spread that knowledge far and wide. Nichiren pondered why this was the case. He came to the realisation that the time for spreading such complete knowledge and wisdom wasn’t right as they lived in what Shakyamuni termed the ‘middle day’ of the law (specified as beginning approximately 1000 years after Shakyamunis passing).
In other words, the people of that time during which Tien Tai and Dengyo were active, lacked the capacity and seeking mind to understand the true essence and magnitude of the teaching expounded in the lotus sutra.
Even if told that they were in fact just as much a Buddha as Shakyamuni, people back then would have had a very hard time making any sense of such statement. Their self belief was very limited and the various provisional teachings of Shakyamuni were providing enough ‘spiritual’ stimulation.
They were getting sufficient benefits following certain rules (precepts) of which Shakyamuni said would lead them to enlightenment ‘eventually’ sometime in the far and distant future.
However, Shakyamuni also foretold 2500 years ago that there would be a time after his passing when people have the capacity to understand the essence of his teaching, and he named this time the ‘latter day of the law’.
Nichiren believed that the latter day of the law was heralded in during his lifetime (the 13th century) as he was able to understand the essence of the lotus sutra and spread it throughout Japan amidst great opposition from established Buddhist orders.
Ever since then the practice he proposed, i.e. the chanting of NMHRGK and which was designed that we can keep connected to this truth, has been transmitted from one believer to another.
Thus it becomes clear that it is of utmost importance that the knowledge of this law continues to be passed on to as many people as possible so that they too can bring up their enlightened understanding of their own true nature.
NDB believes that the more people become enlightened to their innate Buddha nature, the closer we get to a world that lives in peace and harmony and that can finally work towards ever greater humanistic goals without having to be sidetracked with conflict based on the lower life conditions namely greed, anger and stupidity.
Passing on the practice of enlightenment is traditionally done from one person to another through what is called the ‘mentor and disciple relationship’.
In NDB a true mentor is someone who unselfishly wants to see his disciples surpass him or her in benefits and understanding. It is someone who is keenly familiar with the true aspect of all phenomena and has shown actual proof that he or she can indeed ‘walk the talk’.
It is someone who knows fair well that those around him or her are just as endowed with the potential to achieving enlightenment. It is someone who knows that there is no distinction between him and others. It is someone who delights in seeing others the happiest they can possibly be, because it makes them happy.
The four truths – birth, old age, sickness and death is a universal phenomenon
As outlined earlier, no matter how hard we try to avoid unpleasant thoughts about death and dying, part of being enlightened entails that the Buddhist practitioner knows that life goes through the stages of birth, aging, sickness and eventually death, and thus it is only a matter of time when one is faced with the resulting challenges of those truths. This truth does not only apply to our own life, but can also be observed in the environment and society we live in.
For example when we look towards the stars we see whole galaxies being born and dying. In fact our own sun has a life expectancy of 6 billion years from now after which it will have burned out, in the process becoming what is called a red giant a hundred times larger in size than what it is at present. Thereafter, what we would have known as the most significant cosmic influence is said to ‘implode’ creating a black hole in its place.
But one doesn’t have to go too far to see or experience these truths. They are omnipotent. We all know that plants and animals are born and consequently go through these stages. We also know that societies rise and fall, countries are born and eventually cease to exist. The 4 truths as termed in Buddhism are evident wherever we look. Time, is mercilessly progressing forward into infinity.
Continents continuously shift along the tectonic plates, new moments are constantly born and then instantly drift into past. Any matter that has been brought into existence will consequently be destroyed through the relentless advance of time, whether it is the car we like so much, people we love, a rock or any other thing or phenomena we lay our eyes on, it all comes to past. The same applies to thoughts. Nothing ever stands still, all rises and then changes its state to extinction (i.e. a better way of saying it would be – it no longer remains what it was a moment before, which is technically speaking not really extinction but transformation).
Even our bodies are changing moment by moment, cells dividing, new cells are being created and the old ones die. It is said that every 7 years a human has renewed all his cells (with the exception of some dental and grey matter cells).
All is in a constant flux and yet, the one thing one can rely upon is that the law is the only constant, a continuum along which we experience ourselves anew at every moment. Change is the only certainty we can bank on, and those who can embrace change knowing that they are mere travellers of the mystic law are the ones that truly have the best ride.
They know that although on the surface all is forever changing, their true substance is eternal, and they thus enjoy what there is to enjoy and suffer what there is to suffer, playing the role they came here to play, but never for a moment forget that they are in fact the Buddha of eternal wisdom, and the chanting of NamMyoHoRengeKyo keeps reminding them that this is so.
This is enlightenment. Understanding this means understanding the Buddhist concept of ‘Non Self’. This is freedom, as we move from one moment to the next we know we can change everything. Yet we will still experience all the emotions that there are to experience, but we will never lose ourselves in the dark night of unenlightened despair, because we know we are travellers that are prepared for the journey into infinity, in life like as in death.
Nevertheless, maintaining this lofty life condition requires consistent effort, it is a process that has no end. In fact it is one’s engagement in the process that is the goal of the practice of NDB. Reflecting on one’s action and interaction while understanding fair well what is possible is what defines the practitioner of ND Buddhism.
But even though it sounds simple, it isn’t easy. We are relentlessly swamped with influences that could lead us astray from remembering who we truly are, this is why practice is so important.
People often ask, why practising? Isn’t it enough to know what is true? Well…one needs to understand that we have a tendency to forget. Suppose you have read the book of ‘universal truth’, a book that explains life as it is – all the truths there are to learn are described in it.
You have undoubtedly gained great knowledge and come to think that this is all you ever need to know. You feel happy that you ‘understand’ (even though this may be in theory only) and you put the book aside. What usually follows is a gradual erosion of the thoughts and feelings associated with the newly gained understanding.
Thus, for the first week you are delighted as you can put many of the concepts you’ve learned into context. Many realizations are apparent and things go well.
Then, one day, you receive an unexpected bill in the mail asking you to pay for something you’ve already forgotten. You start feeling ‘not so good’ for some reason. Next you may get the news that you couldn’t get the job that you have been applying for weeks ago.
As you will recognise, by this time your initial feeling of happiness that resulted from your earlier readings has been slowly but steadily eroded and it becomes increasingly difficult to stay on top of your mood.
However, we have used a negative sounding example here to highlight how our mood and associated coping strategies can erode. NDB mentions that an initial positive sounding event can be just as detrimental to our ability to control our state of mind.
Suppose that instead of getting a bill in the mail, you may receive confirmation that you have inherited 3 million from an aunt you’ve almost forgotten. You cannot believe your ‘luck’ and go on a spending spree, forgetting all about what ‘true happiness’ really is. You are now so absorbed in your new sports car and parties that you haven’t got much time to really assess what is going on for you. Needless to mention, it is just a matter of time when we come to realize the flipside of this event.
Living life like this puts us on an emotional rollercoaster with no controls. It is then that we are at the mercy of the unrecognised external factors of our own making. This is why ND says “enjoy what there is to enjoy and suffer what there is to suffer, but never stop chanting the daimoku (NamMyoHoRengeKyo)”.
In the same context he also states “A truly wise man will not be carried away by any of the eight winds: prosperity, decline, disgrace, honour, praise, censure, suffering and pleasure. He is neither elated by prosperity nor grieved by decline. The heavenly gods will surely protect one who does not bend before the eight winds.”
Happiness is the state of mind that remains connected to what is constant, i.e. the law as expressed in NamMyoHoRengeKyo. According to Buddhism this is our true identity which we should aim to remember under any circumstances. NDB points out that we need to be the observers of the roles we are playing, not the ones lost in it.
As soon as we forget, we will become embroiled in the snares of our own delusion. When this happens we are more likely to take action (create karma) based on our lower life conditions and thus are firmly embraced in an unenlightened dance with our environment, not recognising the shadow cast of our own body; not recognising that we are shaped by our environment and our environment is shaped by us.
Many of us may find this hard to believe.