The Importance of Knowing One's Self
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
The Role of Religion
These days, the Internet can bring us knowledge,
news, and entertainment from around the world. We can
be in contact with other people, even in faraway countries,
with complete ease, which is truly convenient.
With the amount of available information constantly
growing, however, sorting through it all keeps us busy.
When people become busy, they can lose sight of what is
essential to themselves and tend to become careless in
their ability to critically examine the quality of all this
information and to determine its value. Furthermore,
when our concern about affairs outside ourselves grows,
we become likely to neglect our precious inner lives.
Precisely because we are living in such an era, it is especially
important that we really know ourselves.
We could say that Shakyamuni’s motive in leaving his
royal home was to learn to know himself. It is no exaggeration
to say that religion plays an essential role in
attaining this knowledge of self.
Incidentally, in the many languages of the world there
are various ways to express the concept of one’s own self.
The Japanese word jibun is considered to do this
The ji of jibun means refers to being individual or
unique. But no matter how unique someone or something
may be, people and things exist in relation to other things
(in Buddhism, we speak of others’ selves), and form part
of a whole. One’s self is unique, and at the same time it is
a part, one’s own portion, of the whole.
We human beings have independent existences and, at
the same time, we have relationships with the selves of
others, and thus also have a relationship with the whole.
Because the sum of these relationships is a perfect whole,
the concept of “one’s self” has many deep layers of meaning.
Over the years, much food for thought has been developed
from the idea of self contained in the following words of Zen master Dogen: “To learn the Buddha Way is
to learn one’s self. To learn one’s self is to forget one’s
The Zen master’s understanding of Buddhism can be
found in the phrase, “All existence is the buddha-nature,”
which means that everything existing in the universe is a
manifestation of the buddha-nature, the Life from which
all things spring. Taking this into consideration, when we
reflect on the meaning of Dogen’s phrase, we will realize
that the idea it conveys is "Learning the Buddha Way” is
to learn the buddha-nature, in other words, discerning
what is meant by the buddha-nature. Similarly, “to learn
one’s self,” meaning to learn about one’s self, is to learn
about the buddha-nature and since one’s self is a manifestation
of the buddha-nature, the Life from which all thing
spring, we are caused to live in a world in which the
buddha-nature that pervades all existence is unfolded for
us. By his words “to forget one’s self,” Dogen exhorts us
to recognize that we are one with the buddha-nature. I
think you can agree with this if you think about the fact
that when we sleep well, we are unaware that we are
sleeping and thus forget about being asleep.
We have covered a range of aspects of this broad topic,
from “knowing one’s self” to “learning about one’s self,”
and it may have been a little difficult to grasp, but let us
open our eyes to the buddha-nature, the Life from which
all things spring and together walk the Buddha Way.
From “Kosei” October 2008 Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.