Linda Johnson Lecture – September, 2005, Chicago: “Polishing the Reflection in the Mirror”
Notes by Lisa Mattsson (Unofficial notes of lecture)
Hello Chicago! And then I have to say, hello to Central Zone! I have to say how absolutely delighted I am to be with you today. This is my great fortune. So I am so happy to be able to see all of your beautiful faces. I know how busy your daily lives are, and I know there are many other things you could be doing right now, and so for everyone here, and for everyone listening to this telecast, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking your precious time today to really listen. And I really hope that somehow through your listening, you are able to take your life to a whole other level; a whole other level. So, I realize we have some guests here today. And what I really want to talk about is, how do we use Nichiren’s Buddhism to change our life. Because I think that this is what every single person in the world is looking for.
As long as you have breath, you will have problems in your life. This is the reality that everyone needs to wake up to. There is no amount of chanting in the world that will prevent you from having problems. I want you to understand that. And so if that’s true, I’m sure many of you are saying, “Then why do you chant?” We chant to learn how to win over problems. We chant to learn how to never be defeated by any problem that we encounter in life. I truly believe that this is what makes the difference between human beings. Those people that we call the successful ones, the winners in life, they have problems just like us – the difference is, they refuse to be defeated by any problem that they have, and they keep their eye on the goal, and they refuse to allow any obstacle to impede them from achieving their goal. But the people that we call unsuccessful in life, those are the people who are constantly using their circumstances as a justification for why they can’t do something.
So, Nichiren Daishonin, for the guests, basically says everything in life operates under the law of cause and effect. This law of cause and effect, we sometimes refer to as the Mystic Law. It is a law that pulsates in everything in life, including you. We call it “mystic” because it is beyond our intellectual capacity to comprehend. But it is a law just like gravity, and it operates in your life, whether you believe in it or not. In other words, you create this movie called your life. You are the screenwriter. You are the producer, and you are the director. And you write this screenplay every moment of your life with your thoughts, your words, and your behavior. And this law is strict. It then means that there is nothing you experience that is coincidence. You made a cause to be everywhere you are, to experience everything you experience. And so every human being makes good, positive causes in their life, and they receive positive, good effects in return. But, every human being also makes negative causes in their life. And for those negative causes, we receive negative effects. And I don’t think any of us have a problem with the good stuff. It’s the negative stuff that we’re struggling and suffering from. So, I really want to address that today, because Nichiren Daishonin basically says, “I don’t care what negative karma you have in your life; through practicing this Buddhism, you can change any karma in this lifetime.” Any karma. There is no qualification on it. He doesn’t say, “Yeah, you can change that, but not that,” since you can change anything, no matter what it is. So having said that, the issue becomes, well, OK, how do we do that. What is this about? And so we study. We study letters that Nichiren Daishonin wrote, and in those letters he tells us how to practice correctly. And one of the letters that he wrote is entitled “On Attaining Buddhahood In This Lifetime.” (That’s rain that I hear, isn’t it? You know, in Buddhism, rain is a great sign, because rain is a sign of washing away the impurities. And our fortune is, that we’re all in here while it’s raining. And let’s just keep our collective determination together that by the time we’re done, it will stop, and you will all go home safely.)
So, Nichiren Daishonin, in this letter called “On Attaining Buddhahood In This Lifetime,” he basically says, “If you wish -- and ‘wish’ is the operative word – if you wish to free yourself from the sufferings that you have endured throughout eternity, you must awaken to the mystic truth which has always been within your life. This mystic truth is Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo will enable you to grasp this truth.” Let me translate that for the guests. What Nichiren Daishonin is saying is, you are incredible. He is the greatest cheerleader for human beings. He is saying, “Everything you need, to confront any problem you will ever encounter in your life, everything you need to face it head on and transform that problem into working positively for your life, you already have inside of you right now as you are sitting or standing here, and you don’t need to change one thing about yourself. You already have it. The problem is, you’re unaware of it, or you don’t believe it. And because you don’t believe it, you can’t tap it. So, he says while you have this unlimited potential inside of you, you need to be awakened to it. When one is awakened to this unlimited potential, we call them a Buddha. But for the guests, I need to make one thing clear. There is no Buddha that is superior to another. A Buddha is not a superhuman being. A Buddha is a person awakened to the infinite potential that has always existed in their life, and Nichiren Daishonin says the only difference between a Buddha and an ordinary human being is just that the ordinary human being hasn’t awakened yet to understand that they are a Buddha. That is the only difference. So there are never any distinctions. Every human being on the planet has this Buddha potential inside of them. There is not one person missing it. Now, having the potential and manifesting it are two different things. But every single person has the potential. So, Nichiren Daishonin then tells us how to manifest it. He says what prevents us from really believing in this infinite potential inside of ourselves is something we call fundamental darkness.
Fundamental darkness manifests in many negative ways in our lives, such as doubt, fear, insecurity. You know, I always call it our “evil twin” that resides inside, and we all have an evil twin, right? It talks constantly, right? And that evil twin is constantly telling you, “You can’t do that, you can’t be that, you can’t have that.” Constantly. That’s that fundamental darkness talking to us, and in essence, Nichiren Daishonin really demystifies life. He says everything in life has two sides to it, a positive and a negative. Everything. These are the two powers or forces at work in the universe, and there’s this constant pull between the two. Constantly. And it manifests inside of our life as well as outside of our life. And so for every human being, it doesn’t matter whether you chant or not, the struggle every single day for every human being is a battle between your positive side and your negative side.
So, why do we need to chant? I think the reason we need to chant, we need to chant every day is because the negativity never takes a vacation. And Nichiren Daishonin says, again, you are in control of your destiny. You control your life; through your thoughts, your words, and your behavior. But when your negativity is stronger than your Buddha, guess what? Your negativity is in control. So we chant every day because it’s one of the means by which we are able to empower the positive side of our life. You can’t stop the negative evil twin from talking. But, by empowering the positive side of your life, you give yourself the ability, when the evil twin speaks, to not listen this time.
We do not create an effect by our evil twin talking. We produce effects by the way we respond to our evil twin. So when the evil twin says, “You can’t do that,” even in that moment, if you can go, “Oh, yes I will” – in that moment, you have won over fundamental darkness. In that moment, you have made a new cause which is consistent with your goal, and as you continue to do that, day by day, the law of cause and effect is so absolute, you will have to see a different result in your life. Have to. The law is always absolute. It’s very, very strict. So, for us, because of this fundamental darkness, Nichiren Daishonin basically says, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is your power. It is stronger than any negativity you will ever face in your life. Don’t ever forget that. But because negativity is what prevents you from winning in your life, it’s the thing that always holds us back. You must realize negativity is your greatest obstacle. And because Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is your greatest power, then when you chant, you must chant “fighting daimoku.” (Daimoku, for the guests, is when we say the words “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” over and over and over. When we’re chanting, we call that “daimoku.”) So, Nichiren Daishonin says, you must use Nam Myoho Renge Kyo to defeat the negativity in your life, because when you defeat the negativity in your life, you throw out of your way all of the impediments to the manifestation of your goals and your dreams. The reason we fail in life is because we get defeated by negativity. It really is that simple.
I was talking to some women earlier today, and I know this is true for many people, including those who have been practicing for many years. You might see a member face this extreme obstacle. You may know of a member; for example, with regard to Hurricane Katrina. We are still trying to account for every single one of our members that were affected by Katrina. I think we’ve accounted for all but approximately 65 right now. And of them, we know that five families lost their homes. And so some people will say, “If they’re practicing, how come they lost their homes? Isn’t that a sign something’s wrong with their faith?” And my answer to you is no, you cannot judge someone’s faith by the obstacle. You get to judge someone’s faith by watching their life after the obstacle. We talk about the fact that Nam Myoho Renge Kyo has the power to allow you to win over any obstacle. How do you get to prove that? Only by facing and winning over obstacles. Otherwise, it’s just words. This is the way we show the power of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo to others, like that incredible experience that Cecilia gave. This is how we’re able to demonstrate the power. Otherwise, anybody can get by in the good times. The difference in human beings is looking at them during the difficult times, and seeing how they handle that. That’s where you get to see the difference in human beings. And what I want to say for those members who have doubt with those five members who lost their homes: I promise you, that those five families will rebuild their lives such that they will be better than they were before Katrina hit.
And this is the message of Nichiren Daishonin: yes, we will have problems. But if you wake up to the fact that the solution to win over that problem always resides in you, then you no longer have to fear life. Because as long as you have you, you can always win. It’s about really waking up to that. Really waking up to that. And even though we study, this Buddhism is profound. But if you don’t apply it to your daily life, you will never get the benefit from the profundity of this Buddhism. So, we must study to learn how to apply it to real-life problems. A Buddha is not someone who goes to a mountaintop, away from reality. A Buddha is someone who stays in the midst of reality and society, and the midst of problems, is able to blossom their life, like the lotus flower that blooms in the muddy swamp. We need the swamp to blossom. Let me explain that.
Inside of each one of you, you have a muscular system. We all know this. And we all know that no matter how buff or unbuff we might be at this particular moment, we all know we can develop our muscles more than they happen to be right now. We know that. You don’t have any question about that, do you? OK. So I want you to do an exercise for me. So we know we have this unlimited potential to develop the muscles in our body. And we know, you just told me, that exists in you right now. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to call it out. I want to you develop your muscle, right now, in front of me; yeah, all of you, I want you to do it. Right now, call it out.
You’re laughing, though, of course, because even though you know it’s real, we can’t just will it out of your bodies. Right? We know that we’ve got to do weight-resistance training. Right? So what it means is, you’ve got to find an external stimulant. We need an external stimulant that calls out that potential. So for the muscle, it’s weight resistance. And when you’re unbuff, resisting that weight is a major problem. But the more we resist that weight, the more we call out this unlimited potential of our muscles. Right? Nichiren Daishonin says that life is just like that. He says that inside of you is unlimited potential; unlimited. And it is as real as your unlimited potential to develop your muscles. And just like that potential to develop your muscles, you can’t will out your unlimited potential any more than you can will out your muscles development. But the fact that you cannot will it out doesn’t mean that it isn’t as real as your ability to develop your muscle potential. It is as real, but just like the weight resistance you need to call out this unlimited potential of the muscles, you need weights in your life to call out that unlimited potential inside of you. And you know what those are? Problems. Problems, negativity are the weights of life; that when you resist them, when you fight back with Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, they become the catalyst by which you are able to call out of your life all of your unlimited potential. You can’t call it out when everything is going great. We need problems to get our attention. Problems cause us to chant with a level of conviction and seriousness we can’t get to, when things are going smoothly. And the more serious and determined your Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is, the more you are able to bring out what we call your Buddhahood. And it manifests as turning hopelessness back into hope; it manifests in terms of wisdom: “I know what I need to do to solve this problem.” It manifests in many, many different ways. But ultimately, what Nichiren Daishonin is saying, is, stop resisting problems and obstacles in your life. You must understand; by facing obstacles head on 100% with Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, the greatest power in the universe, you can transform any problem into something good for your life. You utilize the problem to become your motivation to chant with more earnestness. And the more earnest you are, the more of your strength comes out. And through your strength, and action, you actually, physically turn the obstacle into an undeniable benefit. But more than just the physical benefit, guess what happens. You realize that because of that obstacle, you are a better, stronger human being than you were before that obstacle appeared in your life. That’s one part.
I really want us to get this. I want you to leave here knowing that there is no problem bigger than Nam Myoho Renge Kyo; that Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is your power, it is your strength. And I want you to leave here knowing how to chant to win. It means you must use Nam Myoho Renge Kyo as your power to fight the negativity, because it’s the negativity that holds you back in your life. You can no longer afford to be defeated by negativity. Both inside of yourself, as well as the negativity that appears outside. So now, what do I mean by that?
In Buddhism, we say there is no separation between ourselves and our environment. It is a most difficult concept to grasp. Most difficult, honestly, because our eyes say, “That’s not true! You’re outside of me! I can prove that! You’re a different person.” Right? And that’s what always happens. And we do this.
This nice gentleman here, if we were to get into a heated discussion…we won’t, don’t worry. But if we were to get into a heated discussion, you know, and maybe he would say something to hurt my feelings. This is the way most of us react. When that other person does something to hurt us, the most natural human reaction is to retreat to protect ourselves. And then, we start looking at that person with the most judgmental of eyes. Don’t we? And we look at them like, “It is all your fault that I am suffering right now. I’m suffering because you’re not acting right.” So then, it behooves me to fix him. I’ve gotta get him to act right so I don’t suffer any more, isn’t that right? And particularly as women, we’re masterful at this. We then go inside of our head and we develop the most elaborate strategies, designed to fix all of those people in our life that aren’t acting right. You know you do this, right? (Laughter.) You just whip your magic on that person. And if it works at all, it’s only temporary. Right? And they go right back to the way they were before. Isn’t it true? But you know what I don’t get? We don’t learn anything from this. We don’t. Because what do we do? We go back and develop another strategy, designed to fix them. Right? And we’re just workin’ our strategies, until we get to what I call, “drastic solution.” “Drastic solution” is, “I’m outta here.” Right? That’s the time for the new job. That’s the time for the new relationship. Right? And your friends, and your parents say, “Honey, you don’t need to take that stuff, get yourself a new job. Get yourself a new relationship.” You know they do, and you do it, too. Right? So you got yourself a new job; you got yourself that new relationship. I know you did. And after that brief honeymoon period wears off, you know, because everything new has that honeymoon period – after that honeymoon period wears off, all of a sudden, the same movie starts playing over in your life. Doesn’t it? It’s amazing. The names and the faces have all changed, but it’s the same movie playing over in your life.
Nichiren Daishonin says the reason that’s true is because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the way life really works. He says contrary to what our eyes tell us, there is this underlying causal law of cause and effect. And if you want to see the causes that you make as a human being, in the thoughts, the words, and the behavior, your actions, all you gotta do is look at your life right now. It’s very strict. More importantly, look at the people in your life right now. Those people are your mirrors of the inside of you. Some of them are beautiful mirrors. And you need to own that. But there are the others, the ones we tend to want to reject, that are there to mirror our weaknesses. And they are an incredible teacher in our life, giving us the opportunity to change our destiny, if we don’t run away. The battle for every human being, whether they chant or not, is a moment-to-moment battle between the positive side and the negative side of our life.
Every one of us has strengths and weaknesses; positive and negative in our life. And in the areas of your life that you have the most negative karma…you can be in the middle of doing something. And it’s almost like your brain detaches and becomes very objective about what you’re doing, and in the middle of doing something, you can know you need to stop – haven’t you done that? – you know you need to stop, right now, because you are absolutely creating no value for your life, and yet, you can’t stop yourself. Haven’t you experienced that? This is what we’re talking about. All of us have. In that area of our life, we need to be able to tap a power that can empower us to be stronger than that negativity. Because until we’re stronger, we’re always going to go with it. I call it “possession.” It feels like you’re possessed. You know? Intellect does not help you at a moment like that. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are. When you’re dealing with strong negativity, you go stupid. You cannot stop yourself, to save your life. So, that’s another reason that we chant. It’s because chanting will always enable you to empower the strength in you; because you can’t stop the challenge with the negativity. But you are in control of how much of your positive side you are able to manifest every day. And the more, through practice, you make your positive side stronger, then the negativity is no longer a problem. It doesn’t go away, but it means when it comes out, you are no longer swayed by it. When you’re no longer swayed by it, you respond to it differently. Rather than going with it, you can respond instead in the direction in which you want your life to go. You can create a new destiny for yourself. This is why we chant twice a day. For this purpose. To me, it is the greatest gift you give yourself.
So now, go back to my gentleman. Who left me. (Laughter.) When we’re encountering someone, and we have that disagreement or hurt with another human being; you know, that person who’s gotten on your last nerve? OK. From the standpoint of Buddhism, I want you, from today, to look at them from the eyes of Buddhism. And what I mean by this is, I want you to understand that when you see negativity in another human being, all you’re looking at is another human being just like you. Who, at this moment in time, is being possessed by the negative side of their life. Honestly.
If you can have the compassion to chant by sending Nam Myoho Renge Kyo to their life with the conviction that Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is more powerful than any negativity, whether inside of you or inside another human being; I want you to send Nam Myoho Renge Kyo to his life with the determination that through my prayer alone, I will defeat the fundamental darkness that is holding his life captive. And when you can chant that way, you will see a difference. And nobody will have to tell you, because your relationship with that person will automatically change. It will be very obvious. But this is the point. When you see a change in him, it means you’ve also changed a fundamental darkness that was controlling you. Because there is no separation between ourselves and our environment. When you can use your life to defeat the fundamental darkness that holds other people back from being all they can be, you never sacrifice yourself. When you can use your life to defeat the fundamental darkness in the mirror, because the mirror is already reflecting what’s also inside of you, you are not just working on that person’s life, you are working on your own life at the same time. And so Buddhism says, you never sacrifice yourself by using your prayer to help another human being.
The message that I want you to get is that the direct route to uncovering your enlightenment is by challenging negativity. You don’t call out your Buddhahood by running away. Your Buddhahood will come out of your life and manifest in direct relation to the seriousness with which you use your prayer to win over negativity. When you get this, then you realize that obstacles hold an opportunity for you to become all you can be. And therefore, you need no longer fear obstacles. I want you to change your way of thinking; that negativity, obstacles, problems, adversity, whatever word you want to attach to it: I want you to now think, “Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity.”
This is the means by which we call out our Buddhahood. Remember the muscle. You need an outside stimulant to call that out, and problems are that means. When we get that, life becomes joyful. Problems become this great game; “Wow, there’s something amazing waiting for me! I’m going to go down this journey today!” When we do this, you become in charge of your life. And for the first time in your life, your ability to change your circumstances is no longer dependent upon anyone or anything outside of you. Isn’t that freeing? Because every time you wait for someone else to change, you can spend a lifetime waiting.
And in fact, Nichiren Daishonin,in “On Attaining Buddhahood In This Lifetime” says, “Even though you chant and believe in Myoho Renge Kyo, if you think the law is outside of you, you are not practicing the Mystic Law, but an inferior teaching.” And I want you to understand that every time you think you are powerless to change a problem in your life, every time you think you are powerless to change a problem in your life, you have reverted to being non-Buddhist.
Nichiren Daishonin is saying, you have the Mystic Law within you. You can tap that Mystic Law at will with the invocation of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. But when you chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, he says, you must summon up deep faith that your life itself is the Mystic Law. Which means that when you chant to defeat that negativity in your life, no matter where it’s coming from, you must chant out of conviction that you will win. It is not mindless Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. It is not half-hearted Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. It is a deep conviction that Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is more powerful than anything else, and you must attack your negativity with that conviction. And when you do that, over and over, and please don’t forget, I want you to defeat negativity in other people. This organization is about world peace. World peace comes down to your daily life. Don’t tell me you believe in world peace, and you aren’t talking to your sister. (Applause.) You know? Don’t tell me you believe in world peace and you’re not speaking to your mother or your father. Don’t tell me you believe in world peace, and you have a problem with another human being at work that you can’t solve. This is our world peace. It is our immediate circumstances. We need to prove to ourselves and others everything Nichiren Daishonin is saying; which is that within you, you have the ability to transform any problem into the catalyst for something good. But you can’t do it if you won’t become a fighter. You’ve got to stop resisting conflict – oh, I hate conflict!
And the other thing; I think many of us misunderstand, and think that there is a “neutral gear” in life. You know what I mean? I think that many of us think that if you see somebody else doing something negative, but it wasn’t you. You see it, but you don’t say anything about it. Because you’re just minding your own business; that was somebody else! If you see someone doing something negative and you do not say anything about it, rather than making zero cause by your inaction, you made a negative cause. Because by seeing negativity, you then have the opportunity to correct it. And when you don’t take the opportunity to correct it, you have enabled negativity to get stronger. This is a fundamental point. Negativity never gets weaker by you doing nothing. Negativity only gets stronger by you doing nothing. So every time you see negativity and you take no action, you have now enabled it to get stronger.
And then, come with me. Because on a larger scale, there is no separation between ourselves and our environment. The problem is, most of us think, “I’m just one insignificant human being. What difference can I make?” Buddhism says, You know something? The collective actions of all the people on this planet determines whether the forces for good or the forces for evil are in control. And every time you get defeated today by your fundamental darkness, it’s not just you you’re affecting. When you lose to fundamental darkness, you have enabled the forces for evil at work in the universe. And so your victory is critical. That’s why our international president, Daisaku Ikeda, talks about “Buddhism is ‘win or lose.’” And for those of us practicing Buddhism, victory is the only option. Because we’re on a mission to change not only our individual destiny, but the destiny of this world.
And so I think if you look, turn on the TV, look at all of the stuff happening. Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is very clear. Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism basically says, the conflict, the discord, the calamities, and all of the things that are happening in the universe are the result of negativity. And if we want to stop negativity, or not stop it, defeat it. Win over it. What we have to do, we have to give more and more people the means by which they can win over themselves. Because every time a person is able to win over their own negativity on the inside, they have increased the forces for good. This is the greatness about this Buddhism. You don’t just win by yourself. You help others win at the same time. So, we’re on a mission. We’re on a mission to change, particularly this country’s, destiny. And we’ve got to do it sooner, I believe, rather than later. And with that, I think we should be really serious about really sharing this Buddhism with more and more people, for the sake of their happiness. Don’t let people suffer anymore. Give people the means by which they can turn any potential suffering into an asset in their life. And the more we’re able to do this, the more you will collectively see a change in the destiny of this country. I believe the United States has the mission to lead the world in humanism; bringing back the respect for the dignity of life. We are not doing that right now. But I do believe that is our mission. And we can actualize that mission by every time we watch the news, go back to our Gohonzon and self-motivate ourselves to be more serious about this Buddhism. To become the kind of person who learns to become a master at life; a master at life by mastering negativity. And not just for yourself, but so that you can give that gift to others. Because when you share that gift with others, and when you learn that for yourself, you know what you learn? You learn after challenging negativity, negativity, negativity, day in, day out, after many years, you learn that what you were always looking for, all of your life, you always had. It’s always been there, within you. And what you learn is that your life can be the greatest dream you could ever dream. It is within your grasp and control at this moment, at every moment. So my wish for all of you is that you create a life for yourself that is beyond your wildest expectation. Buddhism is about winning. Buddhism is about not stopping until all people become happy. It’s about becoming mad at fundamental darkness, that so takes away people’s soul that they become hopeless, when inside of them, in fact, they have the greatest seed to change anything.
We have to be on a mission to help every human being become all they can be. That’s why we have the problems; to learn these lessons. To make it not just theory. But through our experience, through challenging problems, to develop this conviction that with Nam Myoho Renge Kyo you can do anything. Anything.
Conclusion. There was a woman I met, a couple of months ago, who had practiced with the temple, and came back to our organization. And she had an undiagnosable jaw problem that made it literally painful for her to talk, so she couldn’t chant hardly at all. And she came to me for encouragement, and I encouraged her to do the united prayer. And I encouraged her to do the united prayer because there was a woman in New York who had the same problem she did who did the united prayer and in less than a month, completely overcame it. And I shared this, and I said, “Do this.” Because the united prayer, for the guests, is where we pray, every day, for every single member to experience the limitless potential of their life with this faith, and for them to get it in their DNA; and for them to pass it on to other human beings, so that we can really save this planet. And it’s about people really waking up to obstacles, and how obstacles have the most positive capability in our life. We have to wake up to that, rather than rejecting it. And that is the mission of this Buddhism. It’s not self-centered, it’s not just about me, it’s about you winning at the same time.
I met that woman a month later. And she came running up to me, all excited. She had completely overcome her jaw problem. (Applause.) And she said to me, “I chanted and practiced in the temple, I chanted the same words, for five years, and I was never able to solve this. In four months with the SGI, and it’s gone.”
So, my point is this. The reason we have faith is to do what you cannot do with your own human effort. You don’t need faith for what you can already do. This is the reason we have faith. But how can you ever know your limitless potential, or the power of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, unless you have the courage and guts to fight for that which is illogical in your brain? Please challenge the impossible. The more you have the guts and courage to challenge the impossible, the more you will come to understand, you are magnificent. Thank you.