First Class as “Visible Reward”

Personal Narrative

As I have often mentioned before, it is said that,
where there is unseen virtue, there will be visible reward.

~Nichiren 

Despite mainstream portrayals to the contrary, some people live lives that are not wholly centered around little plastic rectangles. They may operate in cash, or favors, or may require little in the way of strict identification for one reason or another.

I, on the other hand, am one of those beholden to plastic rectangles. For better or for worse, many of my most important transactions are facilitated via these objects and their imprinted numbers, letters, and/or photos. So when I found a wallet bulging with these Rectangles of Life, my next steps were easy.

Those of us whose lives are married to those plastic rectangles know the frustration, and, depending on your line of work or primary mode of transportation, the near paralysis that comes when any of these little bits of matter become compromised. Whether they are lost, stolen, or sucked in to the ATM abyss, it’s not too far afield of tragic.  I’ve dealt with this, albeit on a very small scale, only a couple of times. Once, someone hijacked my debit number and went on a shopping spree. I had to  cancel my card and order a new one. Before that, an overseas ATM decided I must be a criminal rather than simply barely literate in the host country’s language. It kept my ATM for my own protection.

So that brings us to this afternoon. I settle in at the gatehouse, awaiting my flight. I choose a spot a few seats away from a man, and continued a phone call in progress.

Within a few minutes, it’s time to board. I gather my things and notice a wallet where the man used to be. I look around, guarding it, wondering if he’d touch his pockets and realize they’re a bit lighter. No such luck. Sneaking a peek at his ID, I don’t recognize his face in the swelling crowd.

I present the wallet to the gate agents. Nearby passengers tap their pockets and breathe sighs of relief. Their plastic rectangles are still in tact! One agent summons Scott, who appears from the crowd, not too far from where we’d been sitting.

The other agent decides to give Scott a hard time. She requests that he show his ID. Good-natured Scott pats his pockets and fumbles with zippers on his carry-on.  Obviously unable to produce it quickly, she stops the charade, “How about I show YOU your ID?” She hands him his wallet and he sort of laughs, a dazed, or maybe grateful look in his eyes. “Where did you find it?”

They point to me as the person who retrieved it. Nearby passengers marvel, “Oh there are still nice people in the world! Thanks for that!”

Turns out Scott, handsome, yet also married, has trouble with wallets. He’s lost one before. Some way or another it went for a swim while he was boating with friends. “It took me six months to get my life together after that. I can’t believe I almost lost it again. I owe you.”

The least he could do, he said, was trade seats.

And that’s how I ended up in first class today. 🙂

Continuing Faith | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Spirituality, Temple Building

To accept is easy; to continue is difficult.
But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith.

Nichiren wrote The Difficulty of Sustaining Faith to one of his most trusted disciples, Shijo Kingo. Shijo was being pressured to give up his practice of Buddhism, and Nichiren reminded him that difficulties were predicted in the Lotus Sutra – that he must bear this firmly in mind and remain steadfast.

Although this letter is about maintaining faith in Buddhism, the encouragement is applicable to anyone. Victory lies in never giving up. It requires one to be relentless in her commitment to a task.

How many times do we start something – anything – with energy and verve, only to be to swayed when difficulty comes along? For instance, let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. You’ve found a training plan that makes sense for your level of fitness. You’ve chosen the perfect marathon, one that is bound to have great weather and a relatively flat course.

After a few weeks of training, you need new shoes, but your funds are low. You simply can’t run another mile in your current kicks, and you must put off training until you can get a new pair. Obstacle? Or maybe your training isn’t progressing as planned. You can’t seem to break 10 miles without hitting a wall. Obstacle. Or here it is, a couple of weeks away, and you sustain an injury that will force you to miss your race. Obstacle!

These obstacles must be signs, right? You think to yourself, Maybe marathons are for other people.

Maybe. But the obstacles don’t decide that. You do.

To accept is easy; to continue is difficult.
But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith.

As human beings, we can’t control our environment, our circumstances or the timing of things. The only thing we can control in a given moment is our ichinen – our single-minded determination. For various reasons we might not be able to run the marathon we intended. But we can still run a marathon.

Choosing to strive again another day, even to start all over if circumstances warrant – that’s continuing faith. It may seem more than merely difficult – it may seem Herculean. But the decision to keep moving toward your goal, undaunted by the inevitable setbacks; to keep believing in yourself even in dark times, that, that is enlightenment.

Treasures of the Heart | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Spirituality, Temple Building

The treasures of the heart can never be destroyed.

Daisaku Ikeda wrote a message to fellow Buddhists and other Tohoku residents whose surroundings were decimated in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. His message included these words, which were meant as both solace and inspiration.

I’m attending a Buddhist lecture this weekend, and the members of Tohoku were used as an example of maintaining faith – the spirit to remain hopeful and cheerful – in the most dire circumstances. Ikeda wrote to encourage them to remain undefeated, even in face of devastation. Now, over a year later, many people have temporary housing and still don’t have jobs, yet they maintain high spirits.

Ikeda’s encouragement was based on this well-known passage from the gosho:

More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all. From the time you read this letter on, strive to accumulate the treasures of the heart!

Nichiren, Three Kinds of Treasure

As noted above, there are three kinds of treasure elucidated in Buddhism:

“Treasures of the storehouse” are material treasures. They include such things as property and financial wealth.

“Treasures of the body” are attributes that endow our person, such as skills, knowledge, educational background, etc. They also include perceptions that are attached to or associated with us, such as social standing, reputation, position and fame.

We can define “treasures of the heart” as the mental and spiritual capacities to achieve mastery over oneself and to have genuine concern for others. This equates to such attributes as a solid sense of fulfillment, a brightness of spirit, a warm and attractive personality, self-control, conviction, a sense of justice, courage, empathy and compassion.

In the course of daily life, tragedies and mishaps occur, each with the power to demolish material treasures. With financial crises, natural disasters, and the like, houses, cars, clothes can disappear, almost without warning.

When it comes to the treasures of the body, these are more stable, but still susceptible to outside influences. A careless word or action by another can ruin our reputation. An accident, illness, or other obstacles can diminish the functioning of our bodies.

But the most durable, and according to Nichiren, the most crucial treasures, are those of the heart.  In other words, your determination to continue in adversity. Your capacity to care for others in need. Your ability to nurture hope even when situations seem hopeless.

Each of us has the capacity to develop a strong state of life – one that can withstand difficulties with composure and good cheer. I pray that we all strive to amass treasures of the heart. They are the most valuable and indestructible of all.