Natasha (not her real name), 35, is a manager at a multinational F&B company. Sarah (also not her real name), 39, introduced Natasha to Nichiren Buddhism and SGM. They have been soulmates for many years.
On one fine Sunday morning, over breakfast and some freshly brewed coffee…
Natasha: Sarah, you always amaze me. Like a riddle, I can never understand. Why are you still active as a leader in SGM, as always, when you know full well that many unhappy things happened and are still happening. The ruthless terminations of central leaders, active bad-mouthing and labeling dissenters as devils and conspirators, sidelining sincere and earnest leaders… These actions are just unfair and cruel. And all this while, SGM is just business as usual, urging members to contribute money regularly to an already large pool of cash without any clear indication of what it is for. How can you continue to support SGM wholeheartedly?
Sarah: You heard of the carrot, egg and coffee bean story? It goes like this. All three items are thrown into different pots of water to be boiled. After boiling for an hour, what happen to each of them? The egg becomes hard, but never mixed with the water. Water is still water and egg is still egg. Just harden. Carrot on the other hand, used to be pretty solid in its raw form, now become soft and soggy. Losing its identity to water. Coffee bean, on the other hand, didn’t change. But the water all turn black.
The boiling water is our life’s problem. How our problem affect us depend on what we are made of.
Natasha: Nice story. Though you are beginning to lose me. Let’s get more coffee before we continue. Fancy a Frappuccino?
Sarah: Sure, thanks. This story can be used as a metaphor to explain the Lotus Sutra’s principle of three meetings in two places (3M2P). In the Lotus Sutra’s twenty-eight chapters, we can divide them into three main sections, ie.
- Eagle Peak (Introduction chapter  to The Teacher of the Law Chapter )
- The Ceremony in the Air (The Emergence of the Treasure Tower Chapter  to The Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King )
- Eagle Peak again (Chapter 23 to Bodhisattva Universal Worthy Chapter )
Sakyamuni assembled all the Buddha’s from the ten directions in the universe, his disciples and other Bodhisattva at Eagle Peak. This is how the Lotus Sutra begins. Then, the Treasure Tower emerges and floats in the air. Sakyamuni uses his supernatural power to lift the assembly into the air. Hence, the name Ceremony in the Air.
Here, the Treasure Tower opens and Many Treasure (Taho) Buddha appeared. Sakyamuni and Many Treasure Buddha were then seated on the left and right of the Treasure Tower. This depiction of Ceremony in the Air in the Lotus Sutra is used by Nichiren Daishonin when he inscribed the Gohonzon in a concrete form. You understand the mandala that we chant to at home?
Natasha: I can’t read Chinese.
Sarah: You can google and find the answers. [Read Gohonzon] Anyway, coming to the climax of the Ceremony in the Air now. Sakyamuni drop the bombshell – he asked, ‘Who would propagate this Wonderful Law (The Lotus Sutra) after my passing (two thousand years after his passing)?’
The Buddhas and Bodhisattva present were more than eager to take up this noble role. ‘Me, me, me,’ they all said. At this moment, the earth open and a huge number of Bodhisattva of the Earth emerge. Like the amount of sand of 60,000 Ganges river. These Bodhisattva were led by Bodhisattva Superior Practice. These Bodhisattvas of the Earth are entrusted to propagate the Wonderful Law in the Latter Day of ther Law.
After that, Sakyamuni brought the entire assemble back to Eagle Peak.
This is the 3M2P.
Natasha: What is the significance of this? And how is it relevant to what we are discussing here? And the story just now?
Sarah: Patience. I will come to that later. To simplify, from Eagle Peak to the Ceremony of the Air represent our enlightenment. When we chant and do our daily gongyo, this is often called performing a Ceremony in the Air. But the key part is coming back to reality, Eagle Peak, after the Ceremony in the Air. In short, we can say that;
- From Eagle Peak to the Ceremony in the Air is seeking enlightenment above
- From the Ceremony in the Air to Eagle Peak is guiding sentient beings below
Once we have experience the Ceremony in the Air (Mr Ikeda said in Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, Vol.1), the reality of daily life, however contemptible it may have formerly seemed, becomes a means for demonstrating our Buddhahood to others. Sufferings and problems enable us to deepen our faith and, by overcoming them, to show actual proof of the benefit of faith. This is the meaning of changing poison into medicine.
You and I are both well-aware of the state of affairs in SGM today, as well as our society, and our country. On a micro level, even our family and our lives, may be in shambles. In short, that may be our reality. But the Lotus Sutra teaches us a philosophy that we can achieve absolute happiness, transform our reality, through our practice, and apply these Buddha’s wisdom, Buddha’s compassion and Buddha’s courage. Yes, reality is cruel. But it does not mean that we, as individuals, are powerless and fated to simply suffer. We can transform our reality.
Natasha: Okay. But I still don’t get the carrot, egg and coffee bean story. How are they related to 3M2P?
Sarah: Look, our society is cruel, agree? How do people cope, in general? They often choose one of these two popular approaches in life.
- Give in to reality. Compromise. If you can’t beat them, join them. In the process, they lose their identity altogether. Today, we see many corrupted officials and managers in the corporate world who were once people of integrity and character. But they could not withstand the harsh and cruel reality. Thus, they join the crowd and lose their identities. These are carrots. Softened and soggy.
- They move away from reality and create their own world. They find safety and comfort within the walls they built to keep reality from coming into their own tiny universe. Many are lost in love, or art or fitness, while others indulged in travelling, computer games, Game of Thrones and Korean soap, or food or even their cats. Escapism. They shun interaction with people and remove themselves entirely from society. Similar to the kungfu monks of the Shaolin Temple. These are eggs.
The Lotus Sutra adopts neither approach. Mr Ikeda said in The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra [Vol.1, p. 105]
‘The Lotus Sutra teaches a way of life in which we gaze serenely upon realities from an elevated state of life – high above in the air, as it were – and yet, at the same time, actively involve ourselves in those realities as reformers. I think this overall structure of the three assemblies in two places is brilliantly expressed in the Lotus Sutra’s characteristic as a reformist religious teaching.’
Natasha: That’s coffee bean!
Natasha: So, you are saying that we should leave this world in search of the realm of the Buddha’s wisdom by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. And after that, come back to reality, and undertake compassionate action among the people to transform our reality. That sounds like a lot of work. What are the chances of success? Not too good, I guess.
Sarah: It’s certain. Our victory is certain. We sow the seeds today, we will reap tomorrow. So long as we do not give up and lose hope. Of course, we must be prepared to be misunderstood, attacked and even disparage by those who do not see or understand what we are doing. Have no fear, and steadily and steadfastly advance, one step at a time. Ignore the barkings. We are on a noble path and continue walking.
It will take many years, even decades. But so long as we hold fast to our original objective, that is to reform SGM in order to safeguard and protect our sincere members, we will succeed. I may not live to see this coming to fruition. But if more and more young people understand and take this up as their mission, we will eventually succeed in making SGM a clean, just and humane organization that befit the supreme life’s philosophy of the Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism. And truly live up to the words ‘in exact accord to the Buddha’s will and decree.’
There are those who build a path, and those who tear it down. There are those who continue to walk a path, and those who stray from it.
I wish to be a person who forges a path; a person who persists in walking a path. No matter what; until the end, I will keep walking, keep running.
Even if I should fall along the way, and return to the dust of the land, because I believe in the youth who will succeed me along this path, I will not have a single regret.