Nichiren Shoshu

Myoshinji Temple

Okyobi Address

February, 2016
John Bennett

Good morning everyone. Thank you Reverend Kimura for conducting the Okyobi ceremony and also to Reverend Kondo for his able assistance.

This morning I would like to share an experience from my past regarding confidence in this practice. I thought that as we conduct shakubuku and advance in practice we are all bound to experience difficulty. In my experience this kind of difficulty can give rise to doubt and cause you view yourself and your capabilities in a less than positive light.

In 2006 when Reverend Kimura first became the Chief Priest at Myoshinji, I was going through some difficulties with practice and activities and I asked him for guidance and especially to ask him if he thought my practice was off and needed improvement. At the end of the guidance he said “I think your practice is just fine, you just need confidence”.

Normally this should be encouraging but to me it was confusing. I remember thinking “ I don’t think I have the confidence to get confidence”. To understand this you have to understand that my confidence in myself was based on the confidence others had placed in me. As an example, I once asked one of my bosses, “I seem to only have projects with a lot of difficulties are there any easy projects?” And his answer was, “Oh sure there are plenty of easy projects I just never give them to you because you’re my fireman.” He explained that if he had a project that was on fire he would throw me into it because he knew I could put the fire out. His confidence in me gave me confidence even If I was thinking “What could you possibly be thinking?!” For me confidence was something borrowed from another person’s point of view about me. So I chanted to the Gohonzon thinking “I don’t know how to get confidence but I seem to need it so please show me how.”

Later that same year, I was put in charge of an important piece of a very large project at work for a very large client company. My job was managing Software Quality Assurance. On this project there were political tensions between our team and the client company’s team.

And of course, the portion of the project I had was complex and met with difficulties. These difficulties increased status meetings from once a week to twice a week and eventually to once a day. About six weeks into the testing my supervisor informed me that upper management had mentioned that if I didn’t do something significant at the next morning’s meeting I would be fired. There was nothing more detailed than “something significant”.

So I spent the rest of the day preparing for the morning meeting. Trying to anticipate issues and questions the client would have and offer strategies to finish the testing on time. Then I went home to do Gongyo and chant Daimoku about this problem. It was 9:30PM when I went home and I chanted until midnight.

While chanting about the situation, reviewing it over and over, I suddenly had the thought that up to now there were no complaints about the work I was doing. And since I hadn’t been doing anything differently I must be doing what needs to be done. Then it occurred to me that the focus of the morning meeting should be on the project and the strategy to resolve problems and not pay attention to blaming anyone or any department. I determined to derail talk of blame and stay focused on solutions to get the project back on track. I figured if I do that and they still want to fire me then that means my skills don’t fit there and maybe I should be gone.

I then remembered a Gosho passage which said that those who practice and propagate this Buddhism are worthy of respect. Now, while I didn’t feel that I was worthy of respect, I was pretty sure I wasn’t worthy of derision either. And at that moment I felt that whatever the outcome of the morning meeting I would be able to overcome the difficulty and I would continue to practice at any rate. Suddenly all the worry, fear and anxiety was gone and in place of that was a determination to report the problems and recommend the solutions to the best of my ability and years of experience.

The next morning I was able to conduct the meeting as I had planned. At the end of the meeting my supervisor called me up and said “Where did that come from?!” I asked what he meant and he said upper management just told him “I don’t know where that guy came from but he’s the guy we want to work with and you tell him that!”. Needless to say, I was completely surprised. Somehow the determination I felt in front of the Gohonzon was enough to influence management across the country and change me from the guy they wanted to kick to the curb to the guy they wanted to work with. How this happened is a complete mystery to me, all I know is that life condition matters and moves huge obstacles.

Now I would like to leave you with some additional thoughts. Everyone encountering difficulties is bound to feel less than worthy in the eyes of others. We may even feel embarrassed or humiliated about our circumstances in life. We may think that we are not the kind of person people will listen to about how to overcome suffering. But a fundamental principle in Buddhism is that things are not what they appear to be. Sessen Doji gave his life to learn an important teaching in Buddhism from what looked to him like a demon. Because of this Sessen Doji was reborn as Shakyamuni Buddha in India. Nichiren Daishonin encouraged Shijo Kingo when he was about to loose his livelihood by saying;

“This life is like a dream. One cannot know if he will live until tomorrow. Even if you should become the most wretched of beggars, never disgrace the Lotus Sutra. Since life is short in any event you should not weep over your fate. As you yourself wrote in your letter, you must speak and act without the least servility.”

The life condition you have when you are wealthy is the same life condition you can have when you are poor. Don’t let circumstances influence you. If you want a life without fear, worry and anxiety you have simply to reach for it. Face the Gohonzon and chant with courage and determination to overcome all obstacles. Then I hope you can experience true confidence in life.

Thank you.