Exam time

I’m sitting for an exam these days; not because I attach any particular value to collecting certificates but because I love attending classes.

This is an exam on the study of Nichiren Buddhism. I attended a lecture at someone’s home recently; they’ve converted their basement into a prayer hall (excellent way of generating good karma, I say). Our teacher was elaborating the concept of ‘myoho’. It has a couple of meanings, he said.

The first is the relationship between myo (cause) and ho (effect). Buddhism counts karma as thoughts, words and action (not just action) so just about every thought that flits across your mindspace works as a cause that is bound to have an effect. Which is why it’s important to learn to control our thoughts — words and actions will follow.

The second is the relationship between myo our internal life condition and ho, the external environment. This is a very interesting idea. It says that our external reality is a reflection of our inner reality — based on what we think and are, we actually create our external circumstances. “It’s not the other way around, it’s not ho-myo,” said the teacher, his arms flailing about and his comically disapproving expression drawing laughter from the 40-strong audience. Our perspective creates our world. Our challenges and issues are a result of our own beliefs and obsessions. If we wish to see our physical world change, we have to change our inner one.

So when things happen — and especially when things happen again — the idea is not to curse God, nature, your neighbour’s son, your mother-in-law, your husband, your wife, your child, your mom, the stock market, the weather. The idea is to look within and see what has created this pattern in your life. Why is this or that happening to you? What is it that you need to change within yourself?

It could be something big and obvious — like an addiction, a tendency to violence, an angry temperament. But in most probability, it would be something subtle — a latent disrespect towards a form of life; an age-old fear you are no longer aware of; a suppressed emotion; a wayward wish for destruction of the self or the other.

When things happen — as they are wont to do — it won’t help to look at what the other person has done to you. That’s their karma. Your karma is what you think and do. That’s all the limit of your responsibility. And yet, it often takes us a lifetime to figure that out.

While the teacher went on in that fascinating, animated way of his, a low human wail began outside of the room, just up the stairs. It was an older person, perhaps specially abled. The sound seeped deep into our hall, raising goosebumps on our arms. A couple of women clucked disapprovingly, looking around with exasperation, tch tching at no one in particular.

The rest of us focused even further on the teacher, our attention taut as if we were determined to squeeze out every last bit of juice from his words. The more the old person wailed, the more waves of compassion and gratitude went up the room. It was an exam of the more lasting sort — it was not our knowledge but our faith and empathy that were being tested here.

We create our environment, after all.


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