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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The weather has really changed. I have pulled out of the drawers and closets my "Nehru goes skiing" outfits, as my friend Gil's Mama calls them.

The gardener of 340 has removed the paisley carpet. He did not do this in anger, but most delicately. There are twenty-five cyclamen in the original corner, but another three have been revealed at the opposite end. He has now planted some rich looking pansies, a little leggy perhaps for my own taste, and some sort of little dusty pink bushes, with a profusion of something, I don't know what to call them. I would have preferred a warmer color, but who knows? He may be right again, and this dirty faded pink may be just what is needed to set off the lavishly velvety pansies.

Today, there is also in bloom on the block one single brilliant blue Belle de Jour, a modest Morning Glory. A block away on 56th the tall tomato plants someone planted around one of the trees have finally put out a handful of blooms, there is even one fully-formed little green tomato. They will never ripen, I bet. Where do they think this is? Vermont?

I haven't written for a week. Lots to say, too much in fact: I didn't have much energy. I was afraid that if I started the lettuce would start a-wilting, the soup would go un-cooked, dinner would never get on the table.

Saturday and Sunday was Oeshiki ceremony at my temple. I attended both days.

Oeshiki is the celebration of the True Buddha's passing. At the same time, it is the celebration of His eternal life, and a reminder that He is always present in this world, teaching us the Law.

In the tradition of Nichiren Shoshu, offering flowers on our altars means evergreens. It is only once a year that we put "flowers" as such on the temple altar, which are hand-made paper cherry blossoms. They commemorate the fact that cherry blossoms bloomed out of season when the True Buddha died, and they also symbolize our own springing out of the earth, when the seed of the Law is planted in our lives.

Other items on the altar represent the four continents (in 13th century Japan, they did not know about the fifth continent), and mochi rice ornaments represent the mountains, the oceans and the various treasures. Three kinds of fruit circle these settings, lemons, limes and oranges, signifying the bountiful harvests that will come when the True Law is accepted and spreads throughout the pacified land. Stripes of gold and silver symbolize a world ruled by leaders who respect and honor the True Law.

As a part of the ceremony, the True Buddha's will is recited by the priest. I quote from a part of it:

The host exclaimed with delight: As the proverb says, the dove has changed into a hawk, the sparrow into a clam! How gratifying! You have transformed yourself through your association with me, and like the bramble growing in the hemp field, you have learned to stand up straight! If you will truly give consideration to the troubles I have been describing and put entire faith in these words of mine, then the winds will blow gently, the waves will be calm, and in no time at all we will enjoy bountiful harvests.

But a person's heart may change with the times, and the nature of a thing may alter with its surroundings. Just as the moon on the water will be tossed about by the waves, or the soldiers in the vanguard will be cowed by the swords of the enemy, so, although at this moment you may say you believe in my words, I fear that later you will forget them completely.

Now if we wish first of all to bring security to the nation and to pray for our present and future lives, then we must hasten to examine and consider the situation and take measures as soon as possible to remedy it.

[omission]

Moreover, as the Ninno Sutra says, "When a nation becomes disordered, it is the spirits which first show signs of rampancy. Because these spirits become rampant, all the people of the nation become disordered."

Now if we examine the present situation carefully in the light of this passage, we will see that the various spirits have for some time been rampant, and many of the people have perished. If the first predicted misfortune in the sutra has already occurred, as is obvious, then how can we doubt that the later disasters will follow? If, in punishment for the evil doctrines that are upheld, the troubles that have yet to appear should fall upon us one after the other, then it will be too late to act, will it not?

Emperors and kings have their foundation in the state and bring peace and order to the age, ministers and commoners hold possession of their fields and gardens and supply the needs of the world. But if bandits come from other regions to invade the nation, or if revolt breaks out within the domain and people's lands are seized and plundered, how can there be anything but terror and confusion? If the nation is destroyed and families are wiped out, then where can one flee for safety? If you care anything about your personal security, you should first of all pray for order and tranquility throughout the four quarters of the land, should you not?

It seems to me that, when people are in this world, they all fear what their lot may be in the life to come. So it is that some of them put their faith in heretical teachings, or pay honor to those who slander the Law. It distresses me that they should be confused about right and wrong, and at the same time I feel pity that, having embraced Buddhism, they should have chosen the wrong kind. With the power of faith that is in their hearts, why must they vainly give credence to heretical doctrines? If they do not shake off these delusions that they cling to but continue to harbor false ideas, then they will quickly leave the world of the living and fall into the hell of incessant sufferings.

[omission]

The Ninno Sutra states: "If a man destroys the teachings of the Buddha, he will have no filial sons, no harmony with his close relatives, and no aid from the heavenly deities. Disease and evil spirits will come day after day to torment him, disasters will descend on him incessantly, and misfortunes will dog him wherever he goes. And when he dies, he will fall into one of the three realms of Hell, Hungry Ghosts, or Animals. Even if he should be reborn as a human being, he will be destined to become a slave in the army. Retribution will follow as an echo follows a sound or a shadow follows a form. A person writing at night may put out the lamp, but the words he has written will still remain. It is the same with the destiny we create for ourselves in the threefold world."

[omission]

When we examine this wide variety of sutras, we find they all stress how grave a matter it is to slander the Law. How pitiful, that all men should go out of the gate of the True Law and enter so deep into the prison of these perverse dogmas. How stupid, that they should fall one after another into the snares of these evil doctrines, and remain for so long entangled in this net of slanderous teachings. They lose their way in these mists and miasmas, and sink down amid the raging flames of hell. How they must grieve! How they must suffer!

Therefore you must quickly reform the tenets that you hold in your heart and embrace the one true vehicle, the single good doctrine of the Lotus Sutra. If you do so, then the threefold world will all become the Buddha land, and how could a Buddha land ever decline? The regions of the ten directions will all become treasure realms, and how could a treasure realm ever suffer harm? If you live in a country that knows no decline or diminution, in a land that suffers no harm or disruption, then your body will find peace and security and your mind will be calm and untroubled. You must believe my words, heed what I say!

Oeshiki is our opportunity to dust off our determination to practice in the three ways that constitute our full practice: faith, practice and study.

It is also the moment in the year when we more than at any other time appreciate the preciousness of our own lives, and honor the realization that our lives too, like that of the True Buddha, are eternal.

I feel clean inside, even though I am right now struggling with some sort of painful infection. Things is hoppin'! The karma is shifting.

After the ceremony on Saturday, I had coffee with friends, after which Lisa and I went to the farmers' market on Union Square. I have apples and bread for days. I would have bought potatoes, but $3 a pound is too rich for my blood.

After the ceremony on Sunday, I had lunch with Irene. Chinese food, natch. I let her choose from the Chinese menu. I can eat just about any kind of food, except that I prefer to avoid tofu. We had pickled cabbage soup with tripe--sounds awful, it's yummy. Some kind of tiny fish with fresh green hot peppers, Chinese broccoli with garlic, pork tidbits with bitter melon and black bean sauce. Afterwards, my mouth glowed for hours.

Well, that's it for today. Today is laundry day, and water the plants day. It's back to mundane life.

A knot in my handkerchief: remember to talk about cockroaches.
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