Nichiren Shoshu

Myoshinji Temple

Okyobi Address

June, 2015
John Doumani

Today I would like to talk about my new-found gratitude for Sansho Shima – The Three Obstacles and Four Devils.  In Buddhist terminology the original word for ‘devil’ is the Sanskrit word ‘mara’, something that obstructs the practice of Buddhism, hinders the attainment of Buddhahood and the worldwide propagation of the True Law.

First I would like to express my thanks to the courage, commitment, and compassion of a couple of members – they know who they are – who have been working with me in support of taking our practice to new levels. Recently one of them asked me if I am living the practice or merely going through the motions of living with the practice. This question inspired us to reflect deeply on our lives and making adjustments in to practice. As a result we have faced major obstacles this year.

We work closely together inspiring each other in living this practice fully and preparing for the day we have amassed enough fortune to do battle with the devil of the sixth heaven. When that day comes we will know we are close to attaining Buddhahood.

Until then how do we recognize obstacles and devils for what they are and face them as they emerge?

When we begin our journey in the practice two major changes begin to take place in our lives. The way in which we see the world starts to change. As one member put it:  “False ideas are stripped away and a new world is revealed.”  We begin to see the singular nature of all things – Nam Myoho Renge Kyo – and that we are all karmicly connected.

The other thing that happens is we begin to eradicate our negative karma. And while that is a good thing, yes, it also means we have to face the consequences (“effects”) of our past causes and sometimes it just isn’t pretty. This can be confusing to beginners who may question why such misfortune is happening even though they are practicing. And as we accelerate the eradication of the karma, more difficulties seem to arise. On the surface looks like stuff is hitting the fan from multiple directions.

I compare this to a lifelong junkie going through detox. Mind and body go through a period of severe trauma as they expel toxins and as this happens one begins to see the world clearly.

If we don’t allow the difficulties we face to affect our practice or shake our faith in the Gonhonzon then they are merely difficulties. If, however the difficulties cause one to have doubt in the Gohonzon, weaken one’s faith, or make one consider quitting the practice then it becomes Sansho Shima. Facing Sansho Shima is challenging because by the time you get to the point where your practice has become weak or you feel like quitting it’s difficult to pull yourself up and forge ahead when you don’t feel like it.

IMHO, much more profound are the obstructions we face once we have developed a very strong practice and resolve to transcend the foolishness of this world and attain Buddhahood through the propagation of Myoho Renge Kyo.

Most of us have heard the following statement:

“If you propagate it devils will arise without fail. Were it not for these there would be no way of knowing that this is the true teaching.”

I don’t know about you but I have generally accepted this as truth without really understanding it. What does this actually mean?

I used to think of Sansho Shima as something to be avoided, that somehow if we practice correctly and sincerely the Gohonzon and the Shoten Zenjin would protect us from their ferocity.

Nichiren Daishonin states that this world - the saha world - is the realm of the Devil of the Sixth Heaven. When one makes efforts to transcend this world, the Devil of The Sixth Heaven cleverly manipulates peoples’ hearts and minds to obstruct their practice of Buddhism.

On the surface it may sound like the Devil of The Sixth Heaven is an external entity, consciously conniving to mess with our lives however it is important to remember that we are one with our environment and are intrinsically connected to each other. We have all made the cause to be here and have helped shape this world consumed in the three poisons of greed, anger, and stupidity. 

There is such an immense momentum of people contributing to the foolishness of this world that efforts to change it or transcend it are met with intense opposition. It’s like rowing a canoe. The faster you row, the more resistance you meet from the water, and at the same time the faster you go. The size and obstruction by these forces is proportional to two things: the strength of your practice and the depth of the teaching. 

The resistance we face from the Three Obstacles and Four Devils makes us work harder and by working harder we achieve greater things.

Those strong in faith use Sansho Shima as a springboard for reaching new heights while those who are foolish or weak in faith hesitate and abandon the True Law when they encounter the Three Obstacles and Four Devils and so lose the benefit of attaining Buddhahood. (Shinyo #12, Pg. 14)

We should all welcome the emergence of Sansho Shima as a sign of progress in the mission for Kosenrufu. That is the measure of my practice.

In an article entitled “The three obstacles and Four Devils” in the 12th issue of Shinyo magazine it states:  “If ferocious obstacles do not cross your path, you have no claim to saying that you are propagating the True Law. (Pg. 14).

Another important point I’d like to make here is that because sansho shima arises from within our lives (which is Myoho Renge Kyo inside and out), we should not externalize the cause of the difficulties we face. It is easy for our human nature to  blame other, gossip, or slander members when they do something they don’t like.

Doing this only results creating harm and disunity. Instead we need to chant and reflect honestly until we are able to accept responsibility for the situation and be sincerely thankful to those who have provided us this opportunity for growth. It is very easy for us to see and comment on someone doing something we perceive as wrong. It would be great if we can learn to recognize and comment on the good that people do.

So, how do you measure your practice?

Next time you look in the mirror to brush your teeth, shave, put on your make-up, or shave AND put on your make-up ask yourself a question. Are you truly living this practice or simply making use of it for your own benefit?