Friday, 2 November 2012

Grade 1 Study Exam - 2012. Section C. AKA Negativity

Sorry for the two week gap in posting, but I was assaulted by quite a big bout of negativity in my preparation for the Study exam.

As I mentioned before, the decision to take part in the study exam in the first place had been hindered in various ways for years, and obviously the obstacles didn't end with me posting the dreaded application form. Let's see...

A few months ago, I was in the shop at the Buddhist centre and I was buying the study material. The people who work at the shops are volunteers, exactly like Lilacs and Sokas, who give up their time to make sure the shops are open when the centres are open.

This means that they are members, and often you may find one of your friends at the till. The lady at the till that day was not known to me, but we chatted a little anyway. When she saw that I was buying the study material, she mentioned taking the exams last year and experiencing quite a lot of negativity about the study process. I remember her words exactly: "I don't know what my problem was, all the answers were in the booklet, but I just could not see them."

I certainly didn't know what her problem was. The exam questions are in the booklet, and so is the study material where you can find the answers. You just read it and voilĂ . Clearly I didn't share this slightly arrogant thought with her. I smiled and my blessed memory stashed away the lady's words for future use (and thank goodness for that!).

Now, I started preparing the exam, armed with a lifetime of Buddhist practice, countless hours listening to and discussing with my parents (who are living and breathing encyclopedias of Buddhism), the study method perfected through the collection of three university degrees and a few other courses and certificates (all with maximum marks) and my famed memory. I sail through Section A1 and A2, I have an amazing experience studying Section B and reminiscing of little girl me dreaming of being like Shijo Kingo (I just remembered I wanted to be a doctor like him when I was a child!), I start with Section C, Basic Principles of Nichiren Buddhism, and... (I'm sure you can see where this is going).

... I can't find the answers. Where the hell are the answers? The more I read, the more I can't see them. I go through all the stages of grief
  1. I think I must have a booklet with missing pages. 
  2. I get angry at whoever the heck chose a clearly incomplete Gosho study which didn't contain the answers. 
  3. I get depressed because of all the study meetings I had to miss the one about section C (I also missed Section B and revision on A and B, but I choose to ignore those three); I beat myself up for having arrogantly thought this would have been easy. 
  4. I study part D (once again sailing through) and wonder if acing three sections and sucking at one will be enough to pass the exam. 
  5. I finally put all my hopes in the last study meeting dedicated to section C, which I can miraculously attend because I have dedicated Lilac on a Sunday for a change. I'm sure at the meeting I will find the answers. 

Can you see where this is going?

I received a phone call from my Chapter leader, who's been supporting us in the study process so far, telling me he can't actually be there for that particular meeting and do I mind supporting everyone else since I seem quite on top of it?

I don't want to use profanities on the blog, but I have to say that when I put the phone down most of the words exiting my mouth begun with the letter F.

So, finally, acceptance. The lady's words came back to me and I realised that not seeing the answers doesn't have anything to do with what you already know, with your study method or with how much you can retain after reading stuff once. Study exams allow you to make new experiences in faith.

I sat myself in front of the Gohonzon, did a half hour and Gongyo, and opened the dreaded booklet.

And this, ladies and gents, is what I came up with. 

This time we have mostly direct quotes from the study material with the occasional rephrasing from me.

Write a paragraph (maximum 300 words) to explain the following principles.
In the study exam, you will be set two questions from this section.

a) Changing poison into medicine. 
b) The three obstacles and four devils. 
c) The role of the Bohisattvas of the Earth.

a) Changing poison into medicine.
Changing poison into medicine is the principle that earthly desires and suffering can be transformed into benefit and enlightenment by virtue of the power of the Law. […] this phrase is often cited to show that any problem or suffering can be transformed eventually into the greatest happiness and fulfillment in life. 

When the disciple strives with the same spirit as the mentor, there is no obstacle or devilish function that cannot be surmounted, and there is no illness that cannot be positively transformed in accord with the principle of “changing poison into medicine”.

To live one’s life based on the Mystic Law is to change the poison into medicine. As long as we live in human society, there will be times when we encounter accidents or natural disasters, or experience setbacks such as business failures. Such painful and unfortunate events could be described as “poison” or “karmic retribution”. No  matter what situation we may face, however, if we base our lives on faith, on the Mystic Law, and exert ourselves in our Buddhist practice without doubting the power of the Gohonzon, we can definitely turn poison into medicine - transform a negative situation into something positive.

Crucial is the absolute confidence that you can change poison into medicine, no matter what daunting obstacles you may face. This unshakeable belief is the key to overcoming not only illness but all kinds of difficulties in life, and to opening wide the path to obtaining Buddhahood without fail.

b) The three obstacles and four devils.

The three obstacles and four devils are various obstacles and hindrances to the practice of Buddhism. The three obstacles are:
  1. The obstacle of earthly desires
  2. The obstacle of karma
  3. The obstacle of retribution
The four devils are:
  1. The hindrance of the earthly desires
  2. The hindrance of the five components
  3. The hindrance of death
  4. The hindrance of the devil king
It is by fearlessly confronting and overcoming such challenges that we can establish a life of unshakeable victory. Nichiren explains that the difficulties or trials that arise in our lives when we are earnestly persevering in our Buddhist practice are the workings of the three obstacles and four devils that seek to prevent us from attaining Buddhahood.
The appearance of the three obstacles and four devils (for example under the shape of a serious illness) is not a sign of weak faith, because these obstacles and the four universal sufferings are unescapable. However, if when faced with an obstacle we summon forth powerful faith to battle it, it can serve as a chance for us to strengthen our faith even more so that we can triumph over devilish functions. And when we have the strong, invincible faith to withstand any onslaught of the three obstacles and four devils, nothing will be able to stop us from attaining Buddhahood.
The three obstacles and four devils descend in force when an  ordinary person is close to attaining Buddhahood. The Daishonin notes that when these obstructing forces appear, “the wise will rejoice, while the foolish will retreat”.
In actual fact, the absence of these obstacles does not count as happiness, true happiness comes down to whether we vibrantly continue our endeavours to create value based on faith. Those who transform negative karma into mission and constantly strive for self-renewal have already triumphed over the three obstacles and four devils.

c) The role of the Bohisattvas of the Earth.
The Daishonin teaches that those who believe in the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day have an extremely profound karmic connection with Buddhism reaching back to previous existences. First he emphasises that they are people who have made offerings to “a hundred thousand million Buddhas” in the past.
Those who battle the devil of illness based on faith through their example teach others of the noble value of life as a human being. As practitioners of the Daishonin Buddhism, no matter what our circumstances, we are able to bring forth wisdom and compassion though faith and make our own lives and those of others shine brightly. This is the way we of the SGI live our lives.
Our role as Bodhisattvas of the Earth is to demonstrate the greatness of the Mystic Law. In other words, our work to challenge and overcome the three obstacles and four devils doesn’t end when we achieve personal victory. Our victory serves as an example to allow all people throughout the land to be freed from the shackles of sufferings.

Check out the other sections:
Section A1  
Section A2  
Section B (quotes)
Section B (answers)
Section D
Grade 1 Wrap-up 

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