How to develop faith?

DeviantCelt
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How to develop faith?

Post by DeviantCelt » Sun Aug 05, 2018 1:21 am

Hi everyone,

I'm brand new here and still pretty new to Buddhism. A few years ago I joined the SGI in 2014 since that was the closest Buddhist group near me but I haven't done anything until just a few months ago. I'm chanting now off and on and going to discussion meetings. I try to practice at least once a day. Right now I sort of take things from a few different types of Buddhism. I'm reading a lot right now, mostly the Lotus Sutra and The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra books. For instance, Nicherin Buddhism doesn't seem to emphasize the 4 noble truths and 8 fold path much. And I'd like to learn more about those.

Anyway, my biggest problem is faith, which is pretty core to Nicherin Buddhism as far as I can tell. I'm not a Christian because I don't have any faith. I'm an atheist. Hell, I don't even have faith in myself. I don't believe I'll ever attain enlightenment, but I just want to live a better and more helpful life. The Lotus Sutra surprised me by how.... religious... or mystical it is. One thing I like about Buddhism is that it is really down to Earth and I think it's just a good philosophy to live by. But this is a bit strange to me. I chant, but I don't really know if it's doing anything so I feel like I'm just going through the motions.

So my question. What am I supposed to place my faith in? How do I develop faith? Am I really supposed to believe all of these seemingly impossible things that happen in the Lotus Sutra? Is it required to believe in that stuff to have faith? I really just want to have faith in something that's practical, like that this practice works and it's worthwhile and it can change my life and the life of others. I don't know how to go about believing that.

Thanks guys.

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Queequeg
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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by Queequeg » Sun Aug 05, 2018 5:38 am

DeviantCelt wrote:
Sun Aug 05, 2018 1:21 am
For instance, Nicherin Buddhism doesn't seem to emphasize the 4 noble truths and 8 fold path much. And I'd like to learn more about those.
This is a long story, but has to do with the reality being inconceivable. Between the Buddha expounding the Four Noble Truths and Lotus Buddhism, Buddhism was constructed and deconstructed, elaborated, developed along novel tangents, distilled, and back to the top, several times over, some 2000 years of discussion and debate. 4 Noble Truths is a way to explain certain things about life, but falls short as a path to awakening.
Anyway, my biggest problem is faith, which is pretty core to Nicherin Buddhism as far as I can tell. I'm not a Christian because I don't have any faith. I'm an atheist. Hell, I don't even have faith in myself. I don't believe I'll ever attain enlightenment, but I just want to live a better and more helpful life. The Lotus Sutra surprised me by how.... religious... or mystical it is. One thing I like about Buddhism is that it is really down to Earth and I think it's just a good philosophy to live by. But this is a bit strange to me. I chant, but I don't really know if it's doing anything so I feel like I'm just going through the motions.
Life is beyond conception. It is mystical. You're basically a bag of water that walks and talks. If that does not prompt wonder, I don't think you are really paying attention.

We have faith in Buddhanature - that all beings have all the potential to be Buddha, that in fact, that potential is fully developed in all beings and their environment - we just don't see it. We substitute direct knowledge of Buddhanature with faith in Buddhanature.

If you really want to live a better more helpful life, you need to know what life is. There is only so much you can do with something you scarcely understand. The Buddha completely understood life and he taught others how to attain the same understanding. If you really want to help people, it behooves you to wake up. Then you can help others wake up, too, and there is nothing more helpful than to help someone wake.
Am I really supposed to believe all of these seemingly impossible things that happen in the Lotus Sutra?
Some ideas are so big, so far beyond anything in our experience. To talk about them, we sometime have to take ideas we can relate to and draw them out.

How does one explain infinity? By taking something you can relate to and extrapolating out from it. In the Lotus the Buddha explains his infinite life span by describing taking the world grinding it up to dust, and then traveling a thousand worlds through the universe before dropping one dust mote, and then onward likewise until all the dust motes are dropped. Then taking all the worlds one passed as well as the ones that got a dust mote, and grinding them all into dust. The number of dust motes doesn't even begin to explain infinity.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Wayfarer
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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by Wayfarer » Sun Aug 05, 2018 7:21 am

One thing that was explained to me when I first encountered Buddhism, is that the word for faith in Buddhism is 'sraddha' which is derived from 'placing your heart upon'. It is more like confidence in the principles, the teacher, and those who embody it, rather than a 'compulsory belief' per se.

In Christianity, faith has a different emphasis, because you are required to believe specific ideas - as for instance those expressed in the Nicene Creed.

There are convergences between Buddhism on the popular and cultural level, mainly due to human nature. Some devotional forms of Buddhism are outwardly similar in that there are also recitations and acceptance of articles of faith. But the basic principles of Buddhism are more amenable to an experiential approach - a kind of 'try it and see' way of understanding and practice. If you carefully consider, for instance, the foundational teachings of Buddhism, they don't state that acceptance of and belief in a supernatural event (i.e. the Resurrection) are a necessity. There is a well-known early Buddhist text that is often cited in this respect, where the Buddha advises the Kalamas:
"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them.
So - there's a strongly pragmatic element in that type of approach.

The kind of faith you need really is that, right action and right efforts tend to produce the right results - although sometimes it requires taking a very long view.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by DeviantCelt » Sun Aug 05, 2018 3:54 pm

Queequeg wrote:
Sun Aug 05, 2018 5:38 am
Life is beyond conception. It is mystical. You're basically a bag of water that walks and talks. If that does not prompt wonder, I don't think you are really paying attention.
I'm paying attention. Too much attention to the point of having existential problems and over analyzing everything and wondering too much to the point of it paralyzing me.
We have faith in Buddhanature - that all beings have all the potential to be Buddha, that in fact, that potential is fully developed in all beings and their environment - we just don't see it. We substitute direct knowledge of Buddhanature with faith in Buddhanature.
This I have a hard time with as well. I think some people are too far gone, too evil, too ignorant, too filled with hate to ever come close to becoming a Buddha. I feel their potential is gone. Of course maybe they do have it, but that's the problem where my lack of belief comes in.
Wayfarer wrote:
Sun Aug 05, 2018 7:21 am
One thing that was explained to me when I first encountered Buddhism, is that the word for faith in Buddhism is 'sraddha' which is derived from 'placing your heart upon'. It is more like confidence in the principles, the teacher, and those who embody it, rather than a 'compulsory belief' per se.
This is definitely more of a practical way of looking at things. And that quote you posted makes more sense to me.
The kind of faith you need really is that, right action and right efforts tend to produce the right results - although sometimes it requires taking a very long view.
This seems like what I'm looking for. Belief that what I'm doing actually works. I wonder if only time can tell with that because I haven't seen it yet. Then again I haven't practiced enough yet. I feel like I have to wait for some sort of results or evidence that will convince me that what I'm doing works and I can believe in it.

Again I'm still pretty new to this so obviously I don't have much of a grasp on things. I understand a lot of the text of the Lotus Sutra (I've only read up to chapter 10 so far) is all similes and parables in order to help people understand some concepts. Although it makes it more difficult to understand for me. Reading the Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra helps a little bit, but it just shows yet another person's interpretation of the original text, which also incorporates the Daishonin's take on that text as well. I guess that's another thing that makes it more difficult for me to have faith is that I'm reading other people's interpretations of other peoples interpretations of a book that was written hundreds of years after the Buddha's death.

I think I'm looking at this in too much of a doubtful and "I need evidence now" sense while not understanding or even disbelieving the messages in the sutra. I have a long way to go. Thanks for the help so far guys.

DeviantCelt
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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by DeviantCelt » Sun Aug 05, 2018 5:11 pm

One thing that I suppose chanting can do, even if I have a hard time grasping the changing of karma and acquiring your desires (I don't really believe in chanting for material desires, true or not), is that it's a form of meditation. If I just focus on the words it clears my mind since my mind doesn't wander as much. I suppose I could also use it to focus on an "object" which I believe in concentration meditation. I don't know if that last one is correct but I've heard of different types of meditation.

Also, how long before I don't need a moderators approval for posting?

Yuren
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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by Yuren » Sun Aug 05, 2018 6:35 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Sun Aug 05, 2018 7:21 am
. Some devotional forms of Buddhism are outwardly similar in that there are also recitations and acceptance of articles of faith.
Not only some, all forms of Buddhism involve faith.
I often hear (from other Western Buddhists) how "faith" is essentially something different in Buddhism than in Christianity.
I am not so convinced - I think at best it's an upaya to attract Westerners who are escaping from Christianity.
In nuce, faith basically means this (and it's not that different than in Christianity):
You believe X even though you've never experienced it, because you trust person Y who claims to have experienced X.
Buddhists trust the Buddha and writers of sutras - Christians trust the apostles.
Saint Paul had a visionary experience of arisen Christ... The anonymous writers of Mahayana Sutras too (visions of the Saṃbhogakāya)

Rebirth in heavens etc. is completely asserted in the earliest strata of Buddhist canon
Truth be told, Mahayana especially puts faith in the center, as the root of all good qualities.
Suppose it's true that "Christianity requires you to believe blindly while Buddhism only requires you to trust provisionally and then test"?

But how do you test rebirth?

I heard a Western teacher say "Buddhism is true, you can test it yourself" . Okay ... How do I test rebirth?
I don't think the whole structure of Buddha-Dharma makes sense without rebirth. The whole structure depends on it.

The Sutta you quoted says:
; these qualities are praised by the wise;
So that is exactly faith. Trusting "the wise" = faith. It teaches the same as Mahayana sutras (such as Avatamsaka).

---

Secular Westerners tend to associate faith with negative connotations, which is understandable. Skepticism is the best counter-measure we have to quackery and superstition. However there's also the other side of the coin, the positive aspect of faith is that it is a shortcut, the best shortcut. Imagine if a child doubted every single thing you try to teach them and did not want to learn anything unless provided with absolute evidence for each claim. The child would not learn anything, or would take millenia for him to acquire sufficient knowledge to become an adult; longer than than its lifespan. So the child just accepts all on faith (trusts "the wise"). This way involves risk, but without this risk, advancement would be impossible. Similarly a Buddhist is like a child who wants to trust Father Shakyamuni. "I trust you even if I don't understand all you're saying."

"I trust that eventually I will understand. Right now only in part - but then I will know fully."

To provoke a little, I will conclude this by quoting the great Saint Paul:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

DeviantCelt
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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by DeviantCelt » Sun Aug 05, 2018 7:37 pm

Yuren wrote:
Sun Aug 05, 2018 6:35 pm
So that is exactly faith. Trusting "the wise" = faith. It teaches the same as Mahayana sutras (such as Avatamsaka).

---

Secular Westerners tend to associate faith with negative connotations, which is understandable. Skepticism is the best counter-measure we have to quackery and superstition. However there's also the other side of the coin, the positive aspect of faith is that it is a shortcut, the best shortcut. Imagine if a child doubted every single thing you try to teach them and did not want to learn anything unless provided with absolute evidence for each claim. The child would not learn anything, or would take millenia for him to acquire sufficient knowledge to become an adult; longer than than its lifespan. So the child just accepts all on faith (trusts "the wise"). This way involves risk, but without this risk, advancement would be impossible. Similarly a Buddhist is like a child who wants to trust Father Shakyamuni. "I trust you even if I don't understand all you're saying."

"I trust that eventually I will understand. Right now only in part - but then I will know fully."

To provoke a little, I will conclude this by quoting the great Saint Paul:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
I like this and you put it in a very easy to understand way. Basically, trust in the people who probably know more than me about such subjects. So trusting in them is believing and believing is just another word for faith. That's excellent.

DeviantCelt
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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by DeviantCelt » Sun Aug 05, 2018 7:52 pm

Can't edit posts since they still need approval yet but I saw this in a wiki article on "Faith in Buddhism."
Faith is defined as serene trust that the practice of the Buddha's teaching will bring fruit.
That makes it much more practical to me. Believing in the practice, not necessarily some divine beings.

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by Wayfarer » Sun Aug 05, 2018 11:42 pm

Deviantcelt wrote:Believing in the practice, not necessarily some divine beings.
The word 'divine' is descended from the Indian word, 'deva'. And while the Buddha is not a deva, not 'a divine being', the Buddha is still 'lokuttara' meaning 'world-transcending' or 'above the world'. And there's not really anything that maps against that concept in secular Western thought, as, for us, 'the world is all that is the case' (to quote some philosopher). Furthermore even though the Buddha is not a deva, the early Buddhist texts all assume the reality of devas - their world is not at all 'secular' in the sense that the modern West is; it is populated by gods, demons, yaksas, and all manner of spirit-beings, even though the Buddha is in a separate category as 'teacher of Gods and men'.

But it also helps to understand the significance and roles of cultural archetypes. Consider Kwan Yin, who is the Bodhisattva of Compassion in Chinese culture. She is almost an exact counterpart to the role played by Mary, Mother of Mercy, in traditional Europe. That doesn't mean they are 'the same' in any obvious sense, or that the ideas were copied from one place to another, but that they are universal archetypes. The Bodhisattvas generally are embodiments of various great qualities - justice, mercy, compassion, wisdom, and so on. They're like 'wisdom personified'. (Also see this article.)

Overall, I think one useful attitude is 'suspension of judgement'. I studied Comparative Religion at University, and an important part of the method in that discipline is 'bracketing' or 'suspending judgement'. That means, if you're studying some religious phenomenon, say from the perspective of anthropology, then you put aside the urge to say 'wow, how could anyone believe/practice/do that?!?' You study whatever it is, while putting that instinctive reaction on hold. It doesn't mean that you're going to believe in or accept said practice, but only that you can consider it without looking at it through those instinctive (and often culturally-conditioned) spectacles. It doesn't mean putting aside critical awareness, but also being critically self-aware of how inclined we naturally are towards cultural materialism.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by Miroku » Mon Aug 06, 2018 9:07 am

I am not a nichiren guy but here are my 5 cents anyway. Faith or trust is important in all schools of buddhism. What helped me was just doing it. Trusting myself that I chose the right teacher, trusting my teacher that he gave me the right practice and practicing so I can trust my practice. When you practice (on and off the cushion) you will slowly gain positive qualities and become more relaxed a bit. That is a good sign of practice. And when you see such change in yourself, however small it may be, a faith/trust will start to arise in you. Hope this makes sense.
A boat delivers you to the other riverbank.
A needle stitches up your clothes.
A horse takes you where you want to go.
Bodhicitta will bring you to Buddhahood.

~ Khunu Lama Rinpoche

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by narhwal90 » Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:35 pm

I've been in SGI for many years, the "actual proof" thing has been troubling for me since day 1. Lots of folks claim this or that result is actual proof but the problem is the lack of a control group. However, I had a very illustrative example of it recently in hospital after wrecking on my motorcycle. Having a practice (I could chant in lucid intervals which helped make the considerable discomfort and uncertainty a sort of training), and a background of reading that showed examples of how Nichiren instructed his followers to interpret hardship and suffering.

I don't think Nichiren is right and other schools are wrong- I used some Zen techniques at other times with immediate and considerable benefit when the pain and narcotics had me so doped I couldn't even hold my head up or reliably distinguish awake vs dreaming. For my part, this experience as proof isn't the often heard "I chanted and got a new car" sort of thing, its that I chanted and discovered confidence in the teaching (and others), that I could make this experience into training, and that because nothing is permanent, it would eventually change and in the meantime every moment was a choice wrt how to handle recovery. On a regular day the latter is not obviously a big deal, but I found it a profound, practical and comforting truth in the hospital.

Its true the SGI doesn't emphasize the 4NT and the 8Fold Path which is a bummer. They appear momentarily in SGI docs from time to time as accepted or prepatory material but don't get the study I think they should. IMO SGI gets some things right but wrt deep study of wider Buddhism they err with the exclusive and too-often shallow focus on Nichiren. in addition to SGI, I go to Zen meditation sessions, do vipassana/samatha meditation elsewhere, and read lots of sutras and commentaries, which has made the Nichiren practice a lot better informed and satisfying. I do not try to mix the zen with the daimoku and such stuff, I perform the SGI practice in meetings and in front of my altar, and the zazen forms in a zendo and so on. Doing both in their respective venues to the best of my ability seems to me a more respectful sort of practice- if nothing else it keeps me out of my interpretive thought process which in the past has kept me obsessed with self and trapped.

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by Queequeg » Mon Aug 06, 2018 4:23 pm

DeviantCelt wrote:
Sun Aug 05, 2018 3:54 pm
We have faith in Buddhanature - that all beings have all the potential to be Buddha, that in fact, that potential is fully developed in all beings and their environment - we just don't see it. We substitute direct knowledge of Buddhanature with faith in Buddhanature.
This I have a hard time with as well. I think some people are too far gone, too evil, too ignorant, too filled with hate to ever come close to becoming a Buddha. I feel their potential is gone. Of course maybe they do have it, but that's the problem where my lack of belief comes in.
That is where the point of faith is tested - can you believe a serial killer has Buddhanature?

When you read further in the Lotus Sutra, you will come to the Devadatta chapter. In the Buddhist pantheon, Devadatta is one of the worst characters - he made several attempts to kill the Buddha, embroil him in scandal, cause schism in the sangha, and convinced a prince to kill his father, who supported the Buddha, and imprison his mother. And yet, the Buddha explains that in a past life, Devadatta enabled the Buddha to take critical first steps toward enlightenment, and that Devadatta, who is said to have fallen into hell alive, will one day be a Buddha. You will also come to the chapter of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging who honors all beings in their Buddha nature aspect, even when they attack and try to kill him.

This was Nichiren's single practice - to insist on people's Buddha nature, even when it angered them and prompted them to try and kill him.

I don't know what you think you've signed up for, but that Daimoku you chant is a radical, radical teaching. It can also be used as a tool to help you get a new car, but that's like having a Ferrari and never taking it out of first gear.

:smile:
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by Yuren » Mon Aug 06, 2018 5:45 pm

narhwal90 wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:35 pm
Its true the SGI doesn't emphasize the 4NT and the 8Fold Path which is a bummer.
But why is that "a bummer"? Seems to me it's a "bummer" only from a perspective that is not the Ekayana perspective of the LS.
That's fine but why should we expect the SGI to take a perspective that is not the LS perspective, since they are a LS school?

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by DeviantCelt » Mon Aug 06, 2018 6:13 pm

This is all great information.
Queequeg wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 4:23 pm
That is where the point of faith is tested - can you believe a serial killer has Buddhanature?
I definitely need to practice more. I'm sure with time I can learn to accept some things. Right now I'm basically a pessimist and always look at the worst. That's one reason why Buddhism was so appealing to me.
Yuren wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 5:45 pm
narhwal90 wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:35 pm
Its true the SGI doesn't emphasize the 4NT and the 8Fold Path which is a bummer.
But why is that "a bummer"? Seems to me it's a "bummer" only from a perspective that is not the Ekayana perspective of the LS.
That's fine but why should we expect the SGI to take a perspective that is not the LS perspective, since they are a LS school?
Like narhwal, I'm not limiting myself to just one teaching. I want to learn as much as I can about the Buddha's teachings, even before the Lotus Sutra because I still think there is a lot of wisdom there. I know SGI focuses on the Lotus Sutra, but I personally can't discard everything else. I don't think a person has to only devote oneself to one teaching and ignore everything else. With regards to life in general.

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by Queequeg » Mon Aug 06, 2018 6:54 pm

Yuren wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 5:45 pm
narhwal90 wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:35 pm
Its true the SGI doesn't emphasize the 4NT and the 8Fold Path which is a bummer.
But why is that "a bummer"? Seems to me it's a "bummer" only from a perspective that is not the Ekayana perspective of the LS.
That's fine but why should we expect the SGI to take a perspective that is not the LS perspective, since they are a LS school?
It would be nice if SG would explain why 4NT and 8FP are not taught - other than just saying they're "provisional". But that would require explaining "provisional", and its pair, "essential", and I don't know how you explain that to someone who is not committed to a deep dive into Buddhist teachings.

One approach is to simply ignore the provisional and just emphasize the essential; if you know nothing of the 4NT, does it need to be explained how it relates to Saddharama? It seems the explanation is required because people have wandered out of the SG cosmos and found teachings like 4NT and are curious about it. If they stay inside the SG cosmos, it won't be an issue. But, the horse is out of the stable, so to speak. It then behooves SG to explain how the 4NT relates to daimoku. For that you have to say, "OK, have a seat. We need to have a long talk."

I don't think they are pursuing that long talk, but rather they seem to just be intent on shoring up the SG cosmos. For a lot of people, that's probably just fine.

Nerds have other needs. They ask impertinent questions like, "Why?" and "What is that?"

As an aside - this issue about not teaching 4NT, etc., touches on some big questions that led to Nichiren's teachings, I think. In the Kamakura period, there were a few things that contributed to a major concern about the accessibility of Buddhism. Tendai in itself is a really expansive curriculum. There is no penetrating that stuff without serious effort. Add into that mix Mappo thought and the decline of people's capacities, proliferation of esoteric lineages, and questions of access to teachers and teachings based on social, economic, and political divisions: all that makes for a really opaque picture of Buddhism.

The Single Practice teachers were addressing: How do you make Buddhism accessible to the person who doesn't have the time, capacity or inclination to take a deep dive into BuddhaDharma? In that environment come the single practice teachers who say its OK to forget all that stuff (for now) and just focus on one simple practice. It started with Honen - "It is too difficult to attain enlightenment through the "sundry" teachings and practices; aspire for birth in Sukhavati where Amitabha assures enlightenment." Dogen, AFAIK, didn't avoid the theory, but taught a single practice to deal with the confusing proliferation of practices. Nichiren, arguably, sticks to the Tiantai/Tendai framework, and interprets it to explain that the deep dive is not necessary or even productive for most people at this time, but that instead, direct orientation to Saddharma is all that is necessary to practice at this time.

It seems this question of what place "provisional" teachings have in the present time is the question that divides the various Nichiren traditions. There's the ones who insist only on the Daimoku and all else is provisional; those who insist its the Essential Teaching/Hommon. There are those who balance the Hommon and Provisional/Shakumon. Then there are those that have an expansive approach to Non-Daimoku teachings - Soka Gakkai, in a way does this, at least to Non-Buddhist teachings; toward Buddhist teachings they are very selective; Rissho Kosei Kai is open toward all teachings.

Sorry for that tangent, but maybe that fills in some answers to the OP.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by narhwal90 » Mon Aug 06, 2018 10:44 pm

Yuren wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 5:45 pm
narhwal90 wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 12:35 pm
Its true the SGI doesn't emphasize the 4NT and the 8Fold Path which is a bummer.
But why is that "a bummer"? Seems to me it's a "bummer" only from a perspective that is not the Ekayana perspective of the LS.
That's fine but why should we expect the SGI to take a perspective that is not the LS perspective, since they are a LS school?
I think Q explains the walled-garden aspect of the SG model well, I know lots of folks who find it entirely sufficient at least in a "public" SGI meeting venue. I've often seen individual signs of deeper study- comments on more involved doctrine (eg ichinen sanzen) that are not found in the circulated study doc material, overheard conversations about interdemoninational meetings etc- but that kind of thing is not generally discussed or advertised. Which is not to say these things are suppressed but that they are up to individual initiative and there is little or no room for related discussion in the usual meetings. Fundamental principles such as 4NT/8FP don't seem like nerd fare, to me they are foundational. SG pubs occasionally reference them and show how (their interpretation) of Nichiren's doctrine fits in. To put the practice in better context with others it would be nice to have a SG position on the major #'ed lists, for instance.

OTOH I appreciate the SG as an experiment; pare down all the complexity to some basic practice that demonstrably works & see what is essential and what is not. That said, a lot of the paring down also involves Nichiren's own history and development of his doctrines- the SG line doesn't reveal much of the complexity of Nichiren's experience and the relationships between his school(s) and Tendai for instance, or the trials and tribulations of his lineages after his death, except for the details that fit the narrative. Inevitably, brands are clarified and defended by selecting the story but thankfully there is a lot of history out there for the reading.

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Queequeg
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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by Queequeg » Tue Aug 07, 2018 5:38 pm

narhwal90 wrote:
Mon Aug 06, 2018 10:44 pm
I think Q explains the walled-garden aspect of the SG model well, I know lots of folks who find it entirely sufficient at least in a "public" SGI meeting venue. I've often seen individual signs of deeper study- comments on more involved doctrine (eg ichinen sanzen) that are not found in the circulated study doc material, overheard conversations about interdemoninational meetings etc- but that kind of thing is not generally discussed or advertised. Which is not to say these things are suppressed but that they are up to individual initiative and there is little or no room for related discussion in the usual meetings. Fundamental principles such as 4NT/8FP don't seem like nerd fare, to me they are foundational. SG pubs occasionally reference them and show how (their interpretation) of Nichiren's doctrine fits in. To put the practice in better context with others it would be nice to have a SG position on the major #'ed lists, for instance.
Embrace your nerd, man.

Before I quit SG, back when I had thoughts of trying to "improve" things (hubris of youth LOL), I envisioned a more robust emphasis on doctrine and study programs, especially in North America. One thing about Americans in general, in contrast to Japanese, is a deeper curiosity and willingness to demand answers to questions. We can speculate where that comes from... as a general matter maybe the Western Enlightenment when Church authority was questioned in favor of individual understanding, and subsequent development of our democratic ideals, individualism, notions of liberal education and scientific inquiry... etc...

In Japan, Buddhism is something that is in the soil and air. Its just part of the order, the way things are. Soka Gakkai is comparable to a modern American evangelical church. Its Buddhism, but modern. They break with the overbearing weight of the solemn 1000 year old temple perfumed with a billion sticks of incense... like Christian protestants. Their buildings are bright, utilitarian and modern, where the Buddha meets Sony. But like the modern Churches, the people who go there are basically traditional, even conservative, in their fundamental identity. They have basic notions and sensibilities that are beyond questioning. For them, a lot of Buddhism is conventional wisdom even if they don't actually understand it and couldn't articulate it. Modern Japanese are also intellectually more deliberate, even docile, than Americans. Americans are intellectually gruff. Sacred cows are there to be slaughtered. In Japan, under the veneer of modernity, its still a culture that is consciously at least 1,600 years old - a subtle awareness that everyone they are related to has been on that soil for a very, very long time and that things change, but they don't change. Americans have no idea what that kind of identity means. We hardly stay in one place for more than a generation.

When Soka Gakkai came over, I don't think they comprehended this deep difference... Mr. Williams did. What he did with that insight is a story in itself, but beside the point I'm getting at.

That said, in the earlier days, there was a stronger emphasis on study and explaining basic Buddhist concepts I think out of necessity. If you can find old NSA Quarterly from the 1970's, you'll find pages of text explaining basics like ichinen sanzen, 10 worlds, shikishinfuni, eshofuni, etc. etc. etc. At that point, there was no institution to be part of - just some Japanese people trying to explain why you should chant this phrase. Talk to members from that era and their knowledge of basic Buddhism is generally beyond what you'll find in people who developed post schism. In the immediate aftermath of the schism, I think there was a new emphasis on study, but it had the agenda of vindicating SG in the schism. That lead to a very caustic period - that Soka Spirit stuff. One reaction to that was to back off study, rememphasize the "Mentors" and the Human Revolution/New Human Revolution. They wanted to get away from Nichiren because Nichiren is heavy. The gosho are heavy. They also need a lot of background to make sense of.

I would like to have seen doubled and triple efforts to go into the doctrine. Develop a permanent center of study - maybe even a seminary type setting. Initiate an energetic translation effort - translate all those documents, all Nikko's writings; all those Tiantai/Tendai documents that Nichiren relied on; Nichiren's annotated Lotus Sutra, translate modern scholarship. From there, develop a curriculum for those who want to go into deeper study; develop a lighter curriculum for those who are not interested in that kind of challenge. Develop curriculum for children. Etc. etc. Emphasize the "Study" part of the Three Pillars.

One thing Soka Gakkai has is resources in abundance. It could do these things.

They've elected a different approach.
OTOH I appreciate the SG as an experiment; pare down all the complexity to some basic practice that demonstrably works & see what is essential and what is not. That said, a lot of the paring down also involves Nichiren's own history and development of his doctrines- the SG line doesn't reveal much of the complexity of Nichiren's experience and the relationships between his school(s) and Tendai for instance, or the trials and tribulations of his lineages after his death, except for the details that fit the narrative. Inevitably, brands are clarified and defended by selecting the story but thankfully there is a lot of history out there for the reading.
Nichiren pared because he basically looked around and like other advanced masters of the time, concluded that there is no way a lay person concerned with household life, or even the average renunciate, let alone an illiterate farmer, is going to be able to penetrate Makashikan. And yet, one must still live up to the ideal of making the teachings accessible to all. The solution that Nichiren came to, and I think SG is working with a variation: get back to the essential teaching that is accessible to all, the essential teaching of reality itself. Confront the real circumstances of your life through NMRK. No need for imaginative journeys in contemplation - your life is as real as it gets. Work with that as your practice.

SG is definitely experimenting with that... I wonder if they've become attached to a particular approach to that and have built up and become deeply invested in a whole new provisional facade.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by Yuren » Tue Aug 07, 2018 5:42 pm

Thanks for your explanations. I'm not very familiar with SG's methods.
Agreed, without emphasizing them, nevertheless they should fully explain the 4NT&8FP etc.
I came to the LS after studying Theravada, Pure Land, Zen, etc.
I think it has the greatest effect that way - if you come to it after you already tried the 'provisional' for years.
And then you come to the message of the LS and it's like - boom!

DeviantCelt
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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by DeviantCelt » Tue Aug 07, 2018 10:13 pm

To be honest, I mostly go to SGI due to distance. There is a group just a few miles from me and they are really great people. Again though, I'd like to study other texts and sutras and come up with my own beliefs and not be limited to exactly what someone tells me is the only way. I think I mentioned that I Saturdays I try to go to a Buddhist Temple that's an hour drive away. It's Sri Lankan Theravada, but the "service" I guess you'd call it is pretty clear and nice. It's just a guided meditation for 30 minutes and then a dhamma talk. I really like it.

I find all of that cultural differences stuff that Q said very interesting. Reading some of the SGI publications and stuff I was always wondering if they thought differently because some of the stuff is pretty... extreme. I like the comparison to Christian evangelicals (which I actually very much dislike), but it is what it is. And the local group I go to isn't like that. We just discuss certain things from the Living Buddhism magazine and go off on tangents about how Buddhism in general is helping us or whatever. We're not into extreme proselytizing or anything but our group is getting bigger. I like it. Good people.

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Re: How to develop faith?

Post by narhwal90 » Wed Aug 08, 2018 2:10 am

The modern SG is moderate as you see, my district is similar. Back before 1990 when we were Nichiren Shoshu of America there was a much stronger evangelical bent to the practice; campaigns of streetcorner shakabuku- handing out literature to passers-by, inviting them to meetings and so on. Participating in such things was essentially expected and it would take considerable force of character to refuse. Ever-increasing headcounts in meetings meant you were practicing correctly and anything less meant you weren't chanting enough, etc. After the schism such methods were explicitly proscribed, it was a big change. In lots of ways I think it better- I would not go back to the old NSA or anything like it OTOH the old NSA was an active, driven organization- activities in the community centers every night of the week for most if not all the divisions, lot lots of leaders pushing lots of folks to increase their practice. As Q mentioned, study in some considerable depth was also expected.

I wonder if there may be correlate examples in Christian congregations. There are a number of evangelical Christians on my job, a few are not much into the pursuit of their theology- but one is, he is quite open and forceful about his church's doctrine and does not hesitate to disparage the pope right to the face of some of the Catholics on the project. The Catholics are tolerant and amused and see no need to remonstrate. He does a lot of study and strongly encourages the less motivated folks to do so as well- today I saw a pair of commentary volumes he loaned out, total thickness of probably 8 inches.

The old NSA offered many examples of that kind of forceful practice. Back in the day we would not hesitate to dismiss the other "heretical" Nichiren schools (meaning all except NSA), not to mention the deluded Hinayana schools and so on. In my opinion SG is a far, far better place to be than the old NSA wrt that sort of thing. That said, there are SG old-timers who keep the old heretical line which I think is easily done if one stays in the walled garden.

Personally I like the Theravadan practices and listen to a number of bikkhu's on youtube. A good friend of mine who practices in a Theravadan sangha runs a generally nonsecular vipassana session every tuesday during the day which I try to make as often as possible- I was toying with hooking up with his group but discovered a greater affinity for zen so thats where I go as occasions permit. I volunteer at a nearby Catholic church and have gotten to know a number of people there, it is impressive to see how their faith motivates compassion, and indeed, how their own human revolution is expressed. In the end its the similarities that interest me not so much the differences.

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