Documenting my Fundamental Darkness
Hello, my name is Rachel Prost, and I have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism with the SGI since September 2018. I just completed my junior year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Prior to the Fall 2020 semester, I had been very consistent and strong in my Buddhist practice. A 2017 World Tribune article explains, "Fundamental darkness manifests as the devil king of the sixth heaven, which represents negative forces that manipulate at will the lives of others, obstruct good and cause people to fall into evil paths. As we practice Buddhism and free ourselves from the cycle of suffering and help others do the same, this devil pulls out all the stops to prevent us from continuing in our cause, bringing forth doubts and negativity from within our own lives or utilizing the negativity of others to sway us." Therefore, I wasn’t surprised that when I took on my most challenging and time-consuming video project this past semester, it impeded my Buddhist practice. Today, I’d like to share a faith experience about overcoming this obstacle blocking my practice while undergoing an inner transformation.
For months, I conceptualized and planned for this semester before enrolling in my advanced video production class. The professor who teaches this course is a person who I look up to. He's also one of the reasons why I chose to attend UW-Superior for college. I've made videos and audio projects in the past at UWS, but this professor and I had never worked together before.
I was terrified to take a class with him. His high energy and expectations, combined with the comments and experiences I heard from other classmates, intimidated me. I wanted to create a project I was proud of and a video, which would impress him. However, during the project proposal phase, my professor instantly tried to change my concept. I did not feel encouraged to pursue my vision and generally felt lost with my idea. Nevertheless, I forged ahead through brainstorming and filmed an interview.
Aforementioned, filmmaking is a very physically and mentally demanding task. I justified that I was too busy and overwhelmed with my documentary. I felt like I did not have enough mental energy to do a strong gongyo or engage in other virtual SGI activities. However, my life state and the environment around me suffered compared to when I consistently participated.
I was so anxious to present what I filmed to my professor that I had nightmares about it. There were virtual class periods where I was so nervous and emotional that I had to try to stop the tears from streaming down my cheeks, and I was drenched in sweat by the end. With each passing class, I began to change my documentary concept, which strayed further away from my voice as a filmmaker.
After several sweat-drenched class periods in October and some time to self-reflect, I realized I had let the devilish functions and fundamental darkness creep in to try to inhibit my advance in my Buddhist practice. I let my worries take over my life. Instead of putting the Gohonzon at the center of my life, I put my worries at the center to the point where I could not find time to practice. I never stopped doing morning and evening gongyo, but I felt so drained that I lost focus and let my mind drift instead of engaging with the Gohonzon. However, Ikeda Sensei writes, "Faith equals daily life and daily life equals faith. The joy of faith and the joy of living are not separate or different. They are one and the same. Nichiren Buddhism exists to make our daily reality and our lives better." (Living Buddhism, December 2020, page 54).
I dreaded attending my video production course for two months, but in November, I grew tired of feeling that way. I had forgotten that faith equals daily life. Therefore, I determined to win in the morning and see what happened if I tried chanting for my professor's happiness during my morning gongyo. Ikeda Sensei urges us: "Either we advance or we retreat; there is no middle ground. Either we cringe in fear and surrender to the devilish functions…or we challenge this negativity and deepen our conviction in faith. This difference in resolve determines everything" (The Hope-filled teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p 167). I also shared my frustrations with my documentary and my professor with one of my UWS mentors and senior leaders in faith, who offered encouragement.
I could not recognize the tangible progress I made each week or accept my professor’s comments as compliments at the different production stages because I constantly battled my self-doubt. I was under the delusion that I could not take the time to attend activities. However, when obstacles seem insurmountable, I realized that that’s the time to chant, study, and unite in Daimoku even more rather than stray away from the SGI. Therefore, I determined to reignite my consistent practice. Throughout November and December, I chanted for my professor's happiness and participated in SGI activities again throughout the Northern Minnesota Chapter.
With my new determination to win over my devilish functions, I saw my first breakthrough in November when I saw a shift in my relationship with my professor during class. I began to perceive my documentary as a separate entity from myself. Furthermore, I recognized critiquing a piece of artwork is not the same as critiquing a person's worth. I focused on making consistent progress from one class to the next. I thought of his feedback as making my already strong video even better. When classes neared the end of the semester, my professor and I decided we needed to meet 1 on 1 to hone in on individual parts of my documentary.
After my first 1:1 meeting, it was at that moment I realized I had undergone human revolution. In September, I would have been panic-stricken if my professor went through my video from start to finish and nit-picked and tweaked every small detail of my project. However, during our meetings, my attitude was not "me against him," it was "him and I collaborating to improve my project."
I saw another breakthrough during my last 1:1 session. My professor went four minutes long into our next appointments to compliment me on my consistent work ethic, determination, and dedication to the filmmaking process. After not receiving a lot of encouragement throughout the semester, it meant a lot to hear from my professor and the person I respect say I would succeed in the filmmaking field.
We engage in a spiritual struggle at any time we face adversity or take on a daunting goal. We can either maximize our strengths or give in to our weaknesses. Ikeda Sensei says, "Prayer is the courage to persevere. It is the struggle to overcome our own weakness and lack of confidence in ourselves. It is the act of impressing in the very depths of our being the conviction that we can change the situation without fail. Prayer is the way to destroy all fear. It is the way to banish sorrow, the way to light a torch of hope. It is the revolution that rewrites the scenario of our destiny" (Dec. 3, 2004, World Tribune, p. 8).
Moving forward, I am determined to renew my vow to put my faith first. I will take my problems straight to the Gohonzon and chant to defeat my fundamental darkness with conviction. I hope to use what I learned from this experience to help others strengthen their faith when obstacles arise rather than retreat in practice. I will strive to share nam-myoho-renge-kyo with others so that they, too, can win over their inner negativity and challenges to establish harmonious relationships with themselves and others. Thank you.