Our Era of Irrationality: How the Philosophy of a Thirteenth Century Monk Could Help Us Solve Our Many Crises

“If the minds of living beings are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land.”-Nichiren Daishonin

Last year, BBC published a video and accompanying article about a plastic bag and some candy wrappers discovered at the bottom of The Mariana Trench, which is the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. This news was very distressing, but it was quickly absorbed by ‘more interesting’ headlines. A plastic bag sitting on the floor of the deepest trench in the ocean should have raised a serious alarm, but since ‘Man’ accomplished another ‘major feat’ by reaching the bottom of the ocean’s deepest part, it was soon pushed aside. The urgency of the moment was overlooked since we were busy with ‘things.’

When a pebble is thrown into a body of water, concentric ripples flow out from the point of contact until the effect of the stone hitting the water has run its course. The pebble hitting the water is the cause that created the outcome of the ripple moving outward. The law of cause and effect posits that for every action, there is a reaction. This axiom applies to the minutest forms of life, including things we can see with the naked eye and those we cannot. Therefore, if this is so, it makes sense to say that everything we see happening in our individual and collective lives has a point of origin and a point where the action ceases.

By the same token, if we expostulate this concept of cause and effect from its logical beginning to its ending, we can see how it applies to our daily lives and everything around us. For example, on a micro-level: if we drink too much water, we will eventually have to go to the bathroom; if we do not get enough sleep, we will become ill over time; if we do not pay our bills, we will lose everything. This notion also applies to the macro-level regarding the actions we take in our society:

  • Crooked politicians will bring us corrupt policies.
  • Inadequate regulations will result in a sicker population.
  • Inattention to our Environment will eventually result in a degradation of said environment.
  • Ignoring a pandemic can collapse a society.

In essence, the law of cause and effect is working at every level of our lives, and as living beings on this living planet, we cannot escape no matter how much we try. The only way out is death.

Therefore, seeing a plastic bag at the bottom of the deepest ocean trench known to man should surprise no one. Our human actions were the cause that created this distressing effect. Consequently, as we come to know this, should we not care about the steps we take so that the impact from those actions would have a beneficial effect for all concerned? If we desire to see a better and more livable world, should we not take responsibility for our lots and actions in life with an eye to the greater good? If we genuinely care and take responsibility for our lives, we will sincerely care and take responsibility for our planet. Why are we not doing so? Why are we, as the highest form of life, fighting against the apparent harm we are perpetuating upon our earth home? What does that say about us?

Nichiren Daishōnin was a little-known historical figure. His sole purpose in life was to enshrine in a Mandala called The Gohonzon. To solve all our problems, Nichiren codified the concept of the law of cause and effect. Known as The Daishonin to his followers, Nichiren Daishonin was a monk who lived in Japan in the 13th century. He came from a family of peasants and was considered radical because he tried to improve Buddhism in Japanese society. Nichiren lived by the tenets of the last teaching of The Buddha, which is The Mayahana teaching of the Lotus Sutra. He believed that the teachings of the Lotus Sutra were the only truth. Embodied in the heart of the Sutra is the law of cause and effect. He codified the law of cause and effect and made it the center of his practice saying it was the only way ‘Man’ could relieve his suffering. Nichiren’s vision, at the time, was considered revolutionary. Nevertheless, he fought for the law of cause and effect to be passed down by his disciples for generations.

During Nichiren’s lifetime, Japan was undergoing numerous disasters, and many were dying. Nichiren told the leaders of the day that the environment was in upheaval because they were practicing Buddhism incorrectly, and as long as they continued to do so, the suffering would go on. The leaders did not like a mere peasant telling them what to do, so they persecuted him, trying to kill him time and time again.

Nichiren believed in cause and effect and its rigorous application to everything and the principle of the oneness of life and its environment or Esho Funi. He said:

“Environment is like the shadow, and life, the body. Without the body, no shadow can exist, and without life, no environment. In the same way, life is shaped by its environment” (“On Omens,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 644).

Meaning that as we are on the inside, so we are on the outside. If we are living lives that are toxic to our physical bodies and our environments, our lives will reflect this inner condition. In other words, we and our outer environments are the same.

Many centuries later, in the 1980s, Richard Causton (1971–1995), a British follower and leader of Nichiren’s Buddhism, spoke on and further explained what Nichiren meant regarding the environment as our “shadow” in his lecture “Buddhism and the Environment” in 1987. Causton, like Nichiren, believed that because the environment was our shadow, it told the story of who we were: since the shadow and the living being are one, it cannot be separated.

This idea is basically what the concept of ‘Esho Funi’ is about. In effect, man and his shadow are intrinsically tied, just like human beings and nature are joined. Human beings are the highest form of life here on earth because we can discern, analyze, and act based on our discernment and analysis of any given situation. Since our environment reflects who we are, whatever we are experiencing will be mirrored back. Considering this, why is it so difficult to understand that we are collectively responsible for our beautiful planet’s rapidly deteriorating condition? Why is it so hard to know that the causes created by us will bring back the effects of those causes? Yet, we steep ourselves in a putrid soup of denial, hoping that politicians and other leaders will solve these pressing problems. However, we are the only ones who can save us because we gave them the power to lead us. Like Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Consequently, in our modern time, Nichiren’s principle of Esho Funi or oneness of the environment applies and can help us move forward if we take heed. In our contemporary world, human beings are not making connections regarding the state of their inner lives and the rapidly deteriorating state of our society and the larger world. Sadly, we live in a state of moral, cultural, societal, and decline. This state of being is further exacerbated and buffeted by pervasive irresponsibility and irrationality.

In other words, the earth is suffering because we are in anguish. We are in pain internally because we are choosing, more and more, to mindlessly operate from a place of the three poisons known in Nichiren’s Buddhism as greed, anger, and foolishness: also known as aversion, ignorance, and attachment in the larger sphere of Buddhism teachings. The three poisons are illusions and delusions we internalize as human beings that work towards destroying us from the inside out, making it difficult to manifest our true selves in the world. These deeply harmful compulsions make it challenging to live full, healthy, and happy lives, which leads to creating value in the world.

Unfortunately, many of us human beings are wrapped in the greed of consumerism worshipping brand names and celebrity culture, hoping to one day be rich enough to enjoy the ‘high life’ like the television and social media kings and queens we worship.

In like manner, we follow leaders who are cunning, selfish, and manipulative. These leaders of weak character whip us up in a frenzy against each other based on our race, class, gender, and religious affiliation to harness illegitimate power. Under these circumstances, hate and resentment lead the way, and we descend into the lowest levels of humanity to achieve our goals. Consequently, because our ability to reason is compromised, we fall into foolishness, hurting ourselves and our families at our own expense with no eye toward our future. We are slowly killing ourselves from the inside out. As a result, Mother Earth is reflecting our inner states and aberrant irresponsibility and irrationality. No wonder she is dying all around us.

In the long run, if we are to move beyond this era of rampant irrationality, it would be wise to be mindful of the words of John Dickerson. One of the founding fathers, who in his words from “The Liberty Song,” said: “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” Ultimately, it is only bold, collective, and dynamic global leadership with an eye toward openness, flexibility, and creative thinking driven by urgent action that will bring about positive change. This change will uplift all living beings. Sadly, this type of unparalleled, passionate leadership is only coming from the incredibly young among us who are unable to take the reigns fully. In the final analysis, we as a collective are our own worst enemy and the main contributor to our inevitable downfall if action is not taken STAT.

Read:

The Concept of Esho Funi

BBC: Mariana Trench Deepest Ever…

BBC: Nichiren Buddhism

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CLARITYISJUSTSOHIP!

CLARITYISJUSTSOHIP!

Clarity is an ambivert and a 57-year-old practicing Buddhist of 30 years. Her mission is to spread peace, clarity, love, and light through her art and writings.