The Belief in
Putting Others First
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
About the O-Higan Ceremony
In March we celebrate the O-higan ceremony in the week
of the vernal equinox. The origins of this Buddhist ceremony,
marking attainment of the other shore, lie in the ancient
Sanskrit word paramita. In China this was transliterated, and
later brought to Japan, where it is read haramitsu.
Haramitsu means reaching the other shore, in other
words, attaining the realm of enlightenment, the highest
state, perfection. Since reaching the other shore means
leaving the world of delusions and crossing over into the
realm of enlightenment, it can also be expressed simply with
the single character for “to ferry across.”
Since ancient times, O-higan has been a Buddhist
ceremony unique to Japan. Although some people say that
Buddhism, born in India, has from the beginning never had
services for ancestor veneration, giving thanks for the
lifetime deeds passed down from one generation to the next,
from our ancestors to the parents who bore us and raised us,
is only natural from the perspective of the Buddhist worldview
based on the doctrine of dependent origination.
Furthermore, going further into the past than just to our
ancestors in tracing our roots, we will arrive at the One Great
Life that is the origin of all life. In this sense, we can say that
Buddhism does indeed include ancestor veneration, and that
by venerating our ancestors, we are brought to the realization
that we are all caused to live as manifestations of the One
Happy to Bring Joy to Others
At the time of O-higan, many people visit their family
tombs. However, since O-higan celebrates crossing over into
the realm of enlightenment, its significance is not limited to
visiting tombs and chanting sutras. Through approaching the
realm of enlightenment, we can achieve great happiness. One
practical way to do this is through bodhisattva practice.
Bodhisattva practice benefits others by bringing them joy
(wishing for the happiness of others), which is based on
donation, the first of the Six Paramitas (Perfections). Donation―giving something to others―includes being
considerate and compassionate.
We are apt to view things relatively and to make distinctions
between ourselves and others. However, when we can bring happiness to others, we too become happy. Although
our physical appearances may differ and we may have different
personalities, such happiness is proof that we are all
connected through our roots in the One Great Life.
The pleasure we feel from bringing joy to others stems
from our realization that all things are manifestations of the
One Great Life and thus are caused to live.
The Foremost Ancestor Veneration
One verse of the Nirvana Sutra states, “Although I myself
have not yet reached the other shore, I will ferry others across
first.” This means that even though one may not yet have
attained enlightenment, one can still help others to reach
their goal of enlightenment. Indeed, Zen master Dogen
described aspiration to buddhahood as giving rise to the wish
to “ferry others across.”
This means, for members of Rissho Kosei-kai, the
practice we consider important of putting others first. Putting
our own wishes aside, we seek to make others happy through
their encounter with the Dharma. By leading our lives with
this spirit of compassion and consideration, we can feel true
joy and a real sense of purpose in life.
The devotional service that should bring the greatest
happiness to our ancestors is to conduct our lives in such a
way that we bring joy to other people. Taking advantage of
the week of O-higan, let us be diligent in pursuing the spirit
of putting others first.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.