(Photo above courtesy of Netflix)
Have you binged the first half of “Stranger Things,” season 4 yet? If not, spoiler alert.
But we couldn’t pass up the chance to comment on how much this new season’s monster, Vecna, exposes how easily manipulated the human mind can be. As The Atlantic writer Shirley Li comments, “The real terror, ‘Stranger Things’ makes clear, isn’t the fact that Vecna exists but that the human mind can fall prey to twisted thinking.”
Even more terrifying, this season’s monster takes on the human form and manipulates emotionally vulnerable people to bend them to his will.
The show points to a painful reality of human nature: that even your own mind, if it harbors a distorted belief too long, augments the way you perceive the world and can create a new, twisted reality. And by the time you realize it, you’ve already become the villain.
So maybe you’re not into the mythology of the Upside Down but holding on to twisted beliefs is probably not new to you. For example, telling yourself that you’ll never become happy or that you’re not a good person are just two examples of negative narratives you can give into. But that’s where Buddhist practice can help.
As the 13th-century Buddhist reformer Nichiren Daishonin famously writes,
Become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you.
“Letter to the Brothers,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 502
To “let your mind master you” means to allow your negative impulses and thoughts influence you. This generates words, decisions and actions that lead to unhappy results for ourselves and others.
We practice Buddhism to combat these tendencies and gain control of our lives. To master our minds, the Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda says,
We must set our sights on the solid and unshakable summit of attaining Buddhahood.
The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 107
Every time we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are doing just that. We experience a fundamental change in how we live our lives, putting us on track to recognizing our Buddhability. We expose the untrue distortions for what they are and sidestep them.
By chanting and connecting with the Buddhability community, we can constantly remind ourselves and others that the truth of our lives is that we’re Buddhas. And what greater belief is there?
Just like the teenage heroes of ‘Stranger Things’ figure out that music stops Vecna’s influence, when you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you’re stopping whatever negative view you have of yourself and replacing it with a belief in your inherent worth and limitless ability. You are turning your world Rightside Up.