Sunday, 11 March 2012

Guilt and Hon-nin myo

Today I did lilac at the Youth inspiration day at Brixton National Centre.
I had never been to that centre before and I was eager to visit it and lilac there. I was also looking forward to the day. Every year, we hold a big inspirational event on or around the 16th of March. I will write on the importance of the day in my next post.

In my experience, based on how I feel after, there are mainly two types of buddhist meetings. There are those that make you feel full of energy, happy and bouncing around, feeling absolute joy and elation. I feel like that after most meetings, and I feed off that joy and energy for days after the meeting.

Then there's a more complex sort of reaction. Sometimes, after a meeting, I feel weird. I can' exactly pinpoint what's wrong, I just know that something IS wrong. The best ways I can explain it is, I feel fragmented, unsure, swaying between a world and the other without any specific purpose. Until suddenly, something clicks. Something I was mulling over at the back of my head surfaces and I have to deal with it. This more often than not ends in tears, then something else clicks, and I feel better, until eventually, I reach that same feeling of joy and elation, just maybe a bit less euphoric and more serene.

In other words, folks, some meeting make me feel happy, some others trigger my human revolution.

Today, two important things happened. The first one, as I was listening to an experience, I suddenly put two and two together and realised that I haven't just ended up in East London by accident, there must be a very deep, karmic reason why of all places, I would come to live in Stratford and meet exactly the people I met. I am going to acknowledge my mission in East London and really feel the whole area, and not just my little house in Stratford, as my home.

The second thing is a bit more complicated to explain and requires a bit of background about myself.
For my whole life, I always had problems within groups. Aside from the SGI, every other group I found myself in I struggled with. School was a nightmare, my scout group a source of constant suffering, even my choir at times created problems. I was very happy at University, because I was free to interact with a bigger number of people and naturally gravitated around those who eventually became my friends, but any relatively small, closed group of people was a recipe for disaster.

In chemistry, there are different types of bonds. I remember when I was fifteen or something, I studied the type called "Hydrophobic bond". It is actually not a bond at all, just the tendency of hydrophobic molecules to aggregate when put into water. It fascinated me. You have all these non hydro-soluble molecules which may as well have nothing in common, but when you put them in water, the fact that they can't dissolve make them stick together and push the water away. If you use the bond as a metaphor for human interactions and observe it from another point of view, you may realise that the molecules need the water to give them a reason to stick together. They need something to exclude, to hate, so that they can have a bond.

I was always the water.

I don't really know why, and I'm sure in part it was my difficult attitude and my scary, all encompassing rage, but I was always rejected and ostracised. My stand in the group was always shaky, I constantly had to watch every word I said, I had to be careful not to look too clever, not to offend anyone with my intelligence, or I would be cast away. Inevitably, a member of the group would decide they hated me (almost always for unfathomable reasons) and the other members, faced with the choice, would naturally decide to stick with the more important, more "cool" person and reject me.

So, I get out of the meeting, go out for a meal with a couple of fellow members, everything was going well, but I had this weird feeling at the pit of my stomach.
After the meal, I had a look at Facebook, and I see one of my PGCE classmates had put some pictures of a night out with other PGCE classmates. I plunge deep into the world of hell. Because, you see, my PGCE was no exception. I had problems with the group, and while I did create some friendships, at the very end one of the ringleaders decided she hated me and a lot of people fell out with me. Once again, I was cast away and given the blame just for being myself (and in that specific case, just for answering truthfully to one question, really, but that's not really that important). This time I wasn't as affected as the many times before. Call it maturity, call it more daimoku, but I cared much less than in the past.

And yet, my emotional reactions kept baffling me. On the one hand, I wanted to sever all contacts with all these people, the ones that had hurt me and the others who kept being friends with them. But on the other, I was reluctant to do so. I kept some of them on Facebook, practically only to get upset when I would find out they were going out without inviting me. What was wrong with me?

And then, it hit. The big click arrived.

Let me just stop and rewind to the Q&A session at the end of the meeting. Yes, that same Q&A session I only half listened to, because when it's not your question you don't pay as much attention, right?

There were only two questions in the Q box, one dealt with chanting for Kosen Rufu, the other one, more or less, was this:

"I don't think I am doing enough and I feel guilty. How can I eliminate the guilt?"


All of a sudden I realised what was wrong with me.

I felt guilty.

I felt my inability to build friendships with every single person in my school years, in my scout group, and more recently in my French course and my PGCE course as a failure, and as a source of shame and guilt.

I felt guilty for not having done enough for touching these people's lives, I felt a failure for not having left a positive impression in everyone. In short, I felt a failure as a votary of the Lotus Sutra.

I will rewind again to the answer to that particular question (thank the Buddhist metaphorical gods for my incredible memory).

One speaker commented: "if you feel guilt, you are not practising Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism".

Harsh, but true.

Guilt and shame have no place in our Buddhism. 

I have been raised in a Buddhist family, albeit within a (nominally) very catholic country, and I was always taught the importance of having a deep sense of responsibility, not guilt. And yet, here it was.

Well, I tought, I am a votary of the Lotus Sutra, and I refuse this sense of guilt. Sure, there is always, in hindsight, something you could have done differently, you would have been better, stronger, would have found the right words, but at the end of the day, we can only do our best.

And here, we open the door to a wonderful buddhist concept, hon-nin myo, "from this moment forward". In the words of Edward Canfor-Dumas,
This means to decide to make a new start and new causes for the future NOW; to refuse to allow the long shadow of the past to cast its darkness over everything [...].
It doesn't matter if that day I didn't find the right words. It doesn't matter if all those people passed through my life and I didn't bring them to Buddhism, and it certainly doesn't matter if I'm not friends with every single person I meet or even if a lot of people dislike me. The only important thing is what I'm going to do from this point forward.

From this point forward, I am not allowing guilt to affect my actions. From this point forward, I will do my best as a votary of the Lotus Sutra and a direct disciple of Daisaku Ikeda, and my best includes not feeling ashamed if some people don't like my personality.

To think that I didn't even think that question was relevant to me!

I was sitting on a bench in Tottenham, clutching my green coat and doing my human revolution.

Isn't that wonderful?
(and yes, I did delete those people from my Facebook)

To conclude, I would like to share this wonderful music. Most of the mental process outlined above took place while I was listening to this. It is beautiful.


  1. This is my favourite post so far. I bet most people have some memories from school which they'd like to bury for good.. I know I do. And when they pop up out of nowhere, so do the feelings, right??

    Thank you for a sincere, open and touching post. The thing about the molecules and bonds was so interesting and also heartbreaking. How can some people be so ignorant of others' suffering?

    School equalled hell for me for years. I contacted one of the 'bullies' on FB a few years back, and he didn't even remember being particularly mean! I believed him when he said that, it was like talking to a completely different person. In my memory, those bullies had always remained mean. I didn't even think they'd have a nice streak in them!

    Maybe one day I will meet them again and see them as the Buddhas as they are. You know, it's very likely that those people will find their way back to you one day, in order to do THEIR own human revolution.. stranger things have happened..!

    much love to you Ewa M!

  2. Wonderful, brave and honest post - really helpful to see hon-nin myo explained in such a poignant way.

  3. I’m reading this in July 2018. I came across it while I was trying to remember the meaning of ‘hon-nin-myo’. As usually happens, when making a seemingly ‘simple’ cause (looking for the meaning of a phrase out of pure curiosity), you find a whole treasure trove of Really Useful Guidance! Thank you for this Ewa; it totally reflects my experience, even though it is not what I was originally looking for!


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