Let's Be Good Friends
New Year's Dharma Guidance by
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Walk Together the Path
Toward the Truth "Make the Self Your Light, Make the Dharma Your Light"
Happy New Year!
It has been ten years since the Founder entered nirvana. I think some members were worried about the future of Rissho Kosei-kai at that time. In the past ten years, however, the teachings of Rissho Kosei-kai have been continually disseminated, always guiding many more people to true happiness.
We have come thus far thanks to all the Sangha members, I really think.
Shakyamuni Buddha taught us, “Having good friends is the whole of the sacred Way.” Who are our good friends? They are the members of the Sangha who keep the Buddha’s teachings as their core value and strive to perfect themselves. What is the sacred Way? It is the Way of the Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha meant that making good friends, or joining the Sangha, and learning and practicing the teachings with them, is the most significant part of walking the Way of the Buddha.
Good friends are not only longtime fellow believers. Even those who have just joined Rissho Kosei-kai may have a deep impact on other members when they share concerns and inspiration through speeches at hoza and testimonials on memorial days. The audience may say things like “I had a similar experience” or “Her story taught me a lot.” By hearing others’ experiences and stories, we reflect upon ourselves and undergo spiritual transformation.
Thus interaction of Sangha members is not one-way, and we are inherently all good friends to each other. So the merits and meanings of having good friends are in seeking liberation and peace together through studying and grasping the Dharma.
Good friends are also fellow believers who together walk the path toward the truth “Make the self your light, make the Dharma your light.”
It is said that Shakyamuni Buddha offered that short teaching just before entering pari-nirvana. He said, “Do not rely on me, but strive to live by making yourself your light and making the Dharma your light.” In other words, the Buddha taught each one of us the importance of studying and grasping his teachings and living a meaningful life as a Buddhist practitioner in a spirit of self-reliance.
Good friends and the Sangha are essential for overcoming worries and sufferings and for lifelong happiness, joy, and nonattachment. Receiving guidance from experienced practitioners is very important. But we eventually need to grasp and practice the Dharma by ourselves. This is what the Buddha taught. So the main feature of the Sangha is that everyone in it strives to live by the truth “Make the self your light, make the Dharma your light,” and that everyone guides others toward the ideal “Make the self your light, make the Dharma your light.”
Furthermore, good friends are always cheerful, warmhearted, and gentle. Society is very competitive. Businesses compete hard with one another to make profits and expand. That can’t be helped in a way, but if we gauge people’s worth by how much money they make, society does not seem very pleasant.
On the other hand, there are no differences in individual worth and no competition in the world of religion, where the absolute value of each individual is recognized and each individual is esteemed. There are good friends who are warmhearted and gentle, and all enjoy peace and liberation in body and mind. I would like to promote this world of religion.
In the light of the significance of good friends and the Sangha, I have established a guideline for our faith and practice in 2010, as follows.
In the new year, we will continue our progress in enshrining at members’ home altars our organization’s main symbols of faith—the Gohonzon (focus of devotion) and the Dharma titles of Founder Niwano and Cofounder Naganuma.
Through this major undertaking, we strive to foster the development of those members, or good friends, who recognize in Buddhism a true way of liberation and practice the teachings.
The teaching and guidance of Founder Niwano and Cofounder Naganuma have shown us that Shakyamuni’s true spirit, as revealed in the Lotus Sutra, is wisdom and compassion.
As we look ahead to the centennial of Rissho Kosei-kai, we strive to build an organization—a sangha—that fully embraces the essence of Buddhism. In this sense, let’s together walk the way of liberating others as well ourselves through wisdom and compassion.
The Buddha-way of Liberation Offers Happiness to Humanity
To enshrine the Gohonzon at each home altar and pay homage at the altar every day is the foundation of lay Buddhist practice. But enshrining the Gohonzon is not our highest goal. Our highest goal is to become a person who pays homage to the Gohonzon and takes refuge in the Buddha, and who is also cheerful, warm and kind. That can be achieved only when we firmly grasp the essence of Buddhism, and the Buddha taught that everyone is gifted with the ability to do that.
The Buddha’s first words after he was born were “I alone am honored in heaven and on earth.” I take this to mean that no one is useless, but that everyone on earth is precious.
A Buddhist sutra describes as follows Shakyamuni’s state of mind on attaining enlightenment:
“Wonderful! Wonderful! All living beings possess the same signs of wisdom and virtue that the Buddha does. But, they don’t realize this because of their attachments and illusions.”
By “wonderful” he meant miraculous. He meant that all living beings possess the same virtues of wisdom and compassion that the Tathagata does, but are prevented by attachments and illusions, or such defilements as greed, anger, and ignorance, from realizing that they possess those treasures.
His saying that all people deserve respect and that all living beings possess the same wisdom and compassion as the Tathagata does gives me great encouragement.
In addition, the passage in the Dhammapada that says “Difficult is it to be born as a human being; difficult is the existence of mortals” makes us aware of how wondrous, precious, and blessed our lives are. This awareness enables us to discover our purpose in life, which is the most important thing we can do, and brings great joy.
Keeping these Buddha’s words in our hearts awakens us to all the blessings we have received and makes us grateful for the gift of life, instead of complaining. We can find something to be grateful for in things that at first glance seem disadvantageous. The Buddhist saying “Benefiting both ourselves and others brings perfect fulfillment” makes us aware that true human happiness comes with the spiritual liberation of others as well as ourselves. That is what is meant by the true way of liberation through Buddhism.
Bringing Sunshine into Others’ Lives
At home with family members, we sometimes forget the lessons we have learned at the Dharma centers and revert to our usual behavior. That is why we need to study and practice the Dharma. We need to grasp the Buddha’s teachings correctly and think about them in terms of our own daily life, and practice them constantly. Actually, it is to improve our conduct in daily life that we must diligently study and practice the Dharma. “Practicing the teachings” means always studying and practicing the Dharma at every moment—twenty-four hours a day and 365 days a year.
A decade has passed since the death of our Founder. But his smiling face is ever present in my mind. The Founder never complained or lost heart, and never cast blame. Instead, he accepted every situation with a smile to the end of his life. As members of Rissho Kosei-kai, it is our important, lifelong goal to emulate the Founder in being cheerful, kind and gentle.
That is also the goal for Rissho Kosei-kai, as an organization in which each member, chapter, and Dharma center strives as one for great harmony.
Enshrining the Gohonzon and Dharma titles at every member’s home altar and building the Sangha of Rissho Kosei-kai members who grasp the essence of Buddhism are essentially the path to true happiness. Let us pursue these goals steadily, calmly and joyfully as we approach our organization’s centenary.
I deeply pray that we will give careful thought to everyone around us and everything before us, and that we will move forward step by step along the path of spiritual liberation for others as well as ourselves, which can be accomplished through wisdom and compassion.
Translated from the Kosei Shimbun newspaper edition of January 3, 2010
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.