The Sake of Peace

Romancing the Buddha
Embracing Buddhism in My Everyday Life

By Michael Lisagor

ISBN 0-9723267-4-X

About the Book
About the Author
Reviews
Table of Contents
Chapter from Book

ABOUT THE BOOK:
Romancing the Stone, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, was an adventure-comedy movie about a hunt for lost treasure in the South American jungles. Romancing the Buddha, is an adventure-comedy story about the author's hunt for lost treasure in the jungles of urban America and the depths of his life.

How do we as individuals do more than just survive? How do we have enough time and energy to enjoy what there is to enjoy and suffer what there is to suffer? Michael Lisagor began practicing Nichiren Buddhism together with his wife in 1969 at the age of nineteen to find answers to these questions.

Romancing the Buddha chronicles his thirty-four years of applying Buddhist practice and principles to gradually evolve from a confused and sad teenager into a creative and happy adult, father, and husband.

With insight, humor, and wit, Lisagor tackles such topics as changing one's job karma; partaking in year-end holiday celebrations; transforming from a chronic over-sleeper to an obnoxiously cheerful morning person; living with, relating to and actually enjoying teenagers; creating a happy marriage and the challenges of mating for life; integrating psychotherapy and Buddhist practice; supporting a loved one through serious illness; and, the meaning of happiness.

The book also contains a highly accessible overview of Nichiren Buddhism as well as a glossary of Buddhist terms.

Thousands of people from around the world have enjoyed reading Michael Lisagor's perspectives on applying Nichiren Buddhism to daily life on his popular website www.romancingthebuddha.com which has received 71,000 visits since it's launch in January 2002.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A practitioner for over thirty-five years, the author has been contributing articles on Nichiren Buddhism to the World Tribune (a weekly newspaper) and Living Buddhism (a monthly magazine) for the last 18 years. Both publications are published by the SGI. He also writes a regular managment column for Federal Computer Week magazine.

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REVIEWS:

Romancing The Buddha: Applying Buddhism To Everyday Life is the published version of author Michael Lisagor's web site, www.romancingthebuddha.com, a resource which provides excellent insights into applying Nichiren Buddhism to the difficulties of daily life, including depression, spousal illness, the challenge of raising two daughters, and the quest for happiness. An absorbing and inspirational selection of vignettes touched with wisdom, Romancing The Buddhist is an impressive and welcome contribution to Buddhist Studies reading lists.
—Midwest Book Review

"Seamlessly weaving familiar bumps in the marital road - child-rearing, the work world - with the uphill climbs - his depressions, her multiple sclerosis - the slim volume demystifies what may still seem to some like an exotic practice. "
—Dee Axlerod, Bainbridge Island Review

Romancing the Buddha is a wise and moving account of the author's~adventuresome journey toward~spiritual~enlightenment and social awareness.~ Michael Lisagor's work helps us to understand the intimate connection between~resolving conflicts in one's personal life and~working effectively for peace~on a global scale.
—Richard E. Rubenstein, Professor of Conflict Resolution, George Mason University

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TABLE OF CONTENTS:

PROLOGUE

ADVERSITY AND PERSONAL GROWTH
Dealing with Adversity
Buddhism and Psychotherapy
A Major Shot of Hope
The Early Morning Blues

FAMILY AND RELATIONSHIPS
Thoughts on Marriage
Teenagers are Aliens
To My Daughters
A Father's Role
A Mother's Perspective
Mating for Life
Ashby, the Wonder Dog

DIALOGUE AND DIVERSITY
Imagine Peace
Dinner at Bea's I - Getting to Know You
Dinner at Bea's II - The Benefit of the Doubt
Dinner at Bea's III - Life Goes On

HAPPINESS AND DAILY LIFE
Elevating My Life
Holiday Identity Crisis
The Elusive There
Humor - It's not always a Laughing Matter
What Is Happiness?

REFERENCE
A Brief Introduction to Nichiren Buddhism
Glossary

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from Romancing the Buddha
Dealing with Adversity

Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.

—Morrie Siegel from Tuesdays with Morrie

We’ve returned from a great summer of ‘96 family beach vacation and finally finished remodeling the first floor of our house. And even though the Buddhist teachings make it abundantly clear that it is only by overcoming great challenges that I will really grow as a human being, I’m not particularly looking for trouble. So, of course, it finds me instead! Fortunately, as Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

It’s Wednesday morning and as I step out of the shower, I get a little bummed to see the reflection of my shiny bald spot in the not-quite-fogged mirror. I call out for my wife, Trude, to get up and she yells back that her feet are asleep and won’t wake up. I start to worry because of her numb-foot episode twelve years ago that had us all concerned even though it turned out to be a temporary spinal disk problem.

Trude goes to school; she teaches sixth grade. I go to work and we both keep our Buddhist fingers crossed.

Thursday morning Trude wakes up numb from the waist down. Can’t feel a thing. Doesn’t seem to affect her bodily functions and strength—she just isn’t receiving any sensations. A million thoughts run through my mind—worries—nightmare scenarios too depressing to mention.

Our family physician is on call and sees us right away. She sends us to a neurologist who orders an MRI and suggests a spinal tap the following Monday.

Now it’s Friday morning and Trude can barely walk. It’s breaking my heart. In twenty-seven years, I’ve never seen her so vulnerable and scared. She has been my pillar, my source of strength. It’s Mike who gets the strange illnesses—it’s Mike who catches chicken pox from the girls and almost dies. Trude just keeps on truckin’—why, she’s indestructible! Or so it seemed.

We rush to the neurologist again. Trude almost falls while walking on her tiptoes for him and barely avoids hurting her ankle. I’m trying to be strong but want to cry. While she lies in the MRI chamber, I sit outside in my car for an hour chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the phrase Nichiren Buddhists chant every day.

Through his exhaustive studies and internal realizations in turbulent thirteenth-century Japan, the Buddhist monk Nichiren came to realize that Myoho-renge-kyo, the title of the Lotus Sutra, a written record of the teachings of the first recorded Buddha, Shakyamuni, was actually the essence of that sutra’s teaching. Nichiren was able to concentrate all these profound lessons into one simple but profound phrase that enabled people to attain Buddhahood—their fundamental identity as an enlightened being. Adding the word nam for “devotion to,” Nichiren gave us a tangible means to express our enlightenment in everyday life. By saying the words Nam-myoho-renge-kyo out loud, we are able to tap into our inner wisdom, compassion and joy. This positive inner change then reflects in dramatic improvements in our surroundings.

I realize that even in the midst of this unknown illness, Trude is incredibly strong. At home, we sit together and do our Buddhist prayers. We each silently express our appreciation for the functions in our life and environment that protect us. Nichiren Buddhism is based on the reality that our surroundings are a reflection of our life. Through chanting and then taking action, we can manifest our enlightenment. This causes both conspicuous and inconspicuous improvements in our environment in the same way our shadow straightens when we stand up. Some philosophers have likened this process to returning to our spiritual center. Our Buddhism refers to this process of inner transformation as individual human revolution.

One of the interpretations of the word kyo is harmony. When we chant, we are more in rhythm with our environment—things seem to go our way more often. Nichiren explained that a true life philosophy should not only be historically and theoretically sound but also must provide actual proof in the lives of its believers. Needless to say, we offer intense prayers for actual proof.

At one point during our prayers, I sincerely ask Trude what she thinks I should pray for. She says, a twinkle in her eye, “Well, Mike, how about a pony?” I look shocked. She sings, her arms waving back and forth, “A pony or Trude’s health? A pony or Trude’s health?” We fall together laughing and then begin to chant.

Nothing conclusive is learned from the MRI. The good news is she doesn’t have a tumor or a major back problem. But she could have multiple sclerosis or Lyme disease or who knows what.

The doctor is very warm and patient. He has us check Trude into the hospital for a spinal tap that evening. At home, while we’re packing, our youngest daughter, Jamie, is finding her special pajamas to loan Mom, while Trude and I hug each other and finally have a much needed cry. We know we’ll get through this, but we’re still frightened.

Things like this happen to other people. We’ve lost my sister, mother and father and Trude’s father, so we’re not strangers to hospitals and serious illnesses. But this is so different; this is the woman I love more than anyone or anything in the world. This is my karmic mate—we’ve chanted together almost every day for twenty-seven years. We’ve agreed to find each other again in the next lifetime (although I had to promise to do the grocery shopping!).

Nichiren Buddhism explains that there is an ultimate realm within our life called amala-consciousness or enlightenment. This place in our life is connected with the life of the universe, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the ultimate Law of life and death. So both life and death are natural expressions of human existence. By basing our beliefs and actions on the great universal life of Buddhahood that exists within the depths of our lives, we can face death with dignity and peace. Nichiren explained that by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we experience a surge of joy and, eventually, overcome our fear of death. Then we can begin to focus our lives on helping others.

Eternity is an elusive concept. How do I conceive of a time without beginning or end? Still, I’ve come to accept that my life is at some level connected to everyone else in the world and believe that this relationship extends for generations backward and forward into the future. Maybe it is related to the “butterfly effect” physicists describe—that a seemingly random event in one part of the world often causes significant changes elsewhere. I like to think that every time I manage to perform a compassionate act, it causes ripples across the universe.

Jamie calls family and friends to tell them about her mother. A year later in her college entrance essay, she revealed how difficult it was for her to deliver this news—how she found herself having to encourage everyone else when she herself was silently crying out for comfort.

From the car, we phone her older sister, Megan, who is away at the University of Virginia. It’s a real challenge to make sure she knows what’s going on without freaking her out. We have always been honest with our children. So it is important to communicate clearly to her exactly what we know and don’t know about Trude’s sudden illness since it is often emotionally difficult to accept that “no news” is not “good news or bad news” but merely “no news.”

We check Trude into her hospital room without any hassle. Trude has me arrange all her things just so…some habits die hard. When I return from talking to the nurse, the doctor is in her room taking some fluid out of her spine. We’ve heard this is a terrible procedure, but it didn’t hurt too much (easy for me to say) and Trude stayed on her stomach for two hours just like she was supposed to; she didn’t suffer any headaches or other dreaded side effects.

It’s very hard leaving Trude that night. She looks so alone and disoriented. I pretty much cry and chant all the way home. Trude mentioned to me that she was glad our faith was such that we never questioned why this was happening to us. We both understand that this is our time to advance in our practice and prove the limitless power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo – to bring forth from within our lives the power to heal. As my friend, Jeff, likes to say, “Suffering unlocks the door to our Buddha nature.”

The next few days are, I think, the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I’m emotionally and physically exhausted. I always wondered how I would react if my spouse had a debilitating illness. Would I panic? Run away? Lose my confidence? I’m really pleased to discover that, with a lot of help from my practice, I can do whatever is needed. And also that the love I have for this woman really does know no limits. Our daughter, Megan, comes home from college overnight and entertains us with funny stories as only she can.

If one’s illness is caused by immutable karma, even the most excellent medicine will turn to poison. But, if he believes in the Lotus Sutra, poison will change into medicine.

—Nichiren

After the first day in the hospital, the nurses and doctors decide to put Trude in a private room, at no additional cost, so she can rest. She can freely chant whenever she wants. Numerous precious friends visit her. Trude strolls around the hallways with her walker in her colorful pajamas greeting nurses and patients, trying to encourage them.

An old friend, one of the first people in the United States to practice Nichiren Buddhism, calls Trude to see how she is doing. We have a picture of our oldest daughter as a baby in his arms from many years ago in Los Angeles. Just hearing his vigorous, confident voice penetrates Trude’s life like an arrow. She can’t stay on the phone since the neurologist comes in to tell her that some kind of virus has invaded her spine and there is no way of knowing how damaged her nerves are.

When Trude calls our friend back, he reminds her that the doctors, while sincerely trying to help her, are still outside her. Only Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is actually inside her life and so can affect everything. Trude shares this with me, and we really become determined to achieve a great victory. After six days in the hospital and extensive steroid intravenous treatments to counter the inflammation, she comes home to physical therapy and chanting.

Life is a struggle with ourselves. It is a tug-of-war between progress and regression, between happiness and unhappiness.

—Daisaku Ikeda

It’s now three weeks later and Trude is still in physical therapy. She has begun to regain some feeling in her feet and knees and her spirits are incredibly high. Although someone who wants to be in control of her life, she is for the first time forced to allow others to help her and express their love. Teachers from her school cook us meals; her former students from the last ten years circulate a get-well card to the local high schools and present their wishes for her speedy recovery.

She makes a major breakthrough in communication and trust with her mother. She also verbalizes a new awareness of her purpose in life as something beyond (in addition to) her role as a mother, wife and teacher. Her medicine keeps her up at night, so she begins writing a journal of her struggle and the changes she goes through—she is already on page 105. It helps her focus her thoughts when she encourages the many people who call and visit her. This remarkable woman is changing in so many ways!

This story has no real ending. It’s our life . . . it’s the joys and sorrows we need to experience to transform our inner lives, what we call human revolution, and manifest our enlightened nature. I’m confident that given time, Trude’s nerves will heal and we will eventually receive a definitive diagnosis. But, more important, we both now have a much deeper appreciation for our lives, for each other and for the treasure that is Nichiren Buddhism.


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