Live Every Day Responsibly
New Year's Dharma Guidance by
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Following the Spirit of the Members’ Vow
I wish you a Happy New Year!
This year is a milestone for me, since it is now twenty years since I inherited the Lamp of the Dharma.
There is the expression “Ten years is one long time,” and I think in my life since then, two long times have elapsed. I want to express my deep gratitude to all you members who have lent your support both publicly and privately.
In the last twenty years many things have happened both inside and outside our organization. Even today, I recall the passing of Founder Nikkyo Niwano as if it were yesterday. It happened almost eight years after I became the second president of Rissho Kosei-kai.
In the founder’s last years, somewhere in my mind I prepared myself for the fact that he would die someday. I wanted to relieve, if even a little, any uneasiness or unrest over that among members.
After inheriting the Lamp of the Dharma, I often talked about the Truth and the Dharma of impermanence, because I wished to prepare members for the founder’s eventual passing.
If we compare our organization to a train, the founder was the locomotive. With a powerful locomotive, all that the cars behind it have to do is let the locomotive pull them. However, no locomotive has the power to run forever, and a train will stop if the locomotive loses power.
Although I am Rissho Kosei-kai’s second president, I am not as strong as the founder. So I have come to think all the “cars,” that is, all our members, must run on their own power, pooling all their strength; by doing so we can keep the train moving forward.
Since the founder’s death, my frequent reminders to “make yourself the light, make the Dharma your light” and “a true and independent faith” and the like, have come from an ardent desire for all of us to awaken to the knowledge that each and every one of us naturally has the ability, without relying on someone else, to recognize the Truth and the Dharma and to put this into practice and moreover to convey it to other people and lead them along the way to liberation.
No one would be more disappointed than the founder if, after his passing, the train no longer ran and dissemination of the teachings ceased. For the past twenty years I have taken great care to prevent that.
In 1998 I published Shinden o tagayasu (Cultivating the Buddhist Heart), and in the preface I wrote, “I believe Shakyamuni had only one objective on his missionary travels, and that was to convey the Truth and the Dharma to people and thereby enable them to recognize the true path to salvation.”
For the cover of that book I chose an illustration of a peach, a chestnut, and a persimmon in reference to the saying, “Peach and chestnut tress take three years [to bear fruit], but the persimmon takes eight years.” My thought was that it takes time to truly understand the essence of Buddhism, and the amount of time depends on the person.
Now, for instance when I am listening to members’ personal testimony of their Dharma journeys, I truly get the feeling that their understanding is steadily deepening and that it is not simply a relief from sufferings but a devotion to moving toward true liberation.
Pursuing true liberation is by no means my own idea. It has already been stated plainly in the Members’ Vow. The Members’ Vow was created a half century ago, and although parts of it have been revised since then, I am amazed that a vow that contains the essence of Buddhism was created so soon.
There may be some who recite the Members’ Vow casually and do not pay much attention to its very important message. I would like for all of us once again, as we recite the Members’ Vow, to devote ourselves to keeping it in its truest sense.
Recognizing and Practicing the True Way to Liberation
I am therefore presenting this year’s guiding principles for Rissho Kosei-kai as follows.
We shall again this year continue to urge all members to install at their home altars an image of the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni and the Dharma titles of Founder Nikkyo Niwano and Cofounder Myoko Naganuma, as the fundamental embodiments of our faith.
Through this, we shall work to nurture members, that is, good friends in the Dharma, who recognize and practice Buddhism’s true way to liberation. The founder and the cofounder teach us that the true spirit of Shakyamuni is in the wisdom and compassion expounded in the Lotus Sutra.
As we look ahead to Rissho Kosei-kai’s centenary, may each and every one of us become a cheerful, gentle, warm person, aspiring to build religious communities and sanghas that are firmly based on the true nature of Buddhism, and together let us walk the path of liberating others as well as ourselves.
This year’s guiding principles are similar to last year’s. Because such undertakings as installing an image of Shakyamuni and the Dharma titles of the founder and cofounder at members’ home altars are important to our organization, I have decided to continue with them.
For three years until last year, the guiding principles included the installation at all members’ home altars of an image of Shakyamuni and the Dharma titles of the founder and cofounder, study of the Dharma, and nurturing good friends in the Dharma. These correspond somewhat to the Three Treasures―the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. These principles arise naturally from the things we consider most important.
For Buddhists, each of these is a cornerstone, and of these three, study of the Dharma is the keystone. But study of the Dharma need not be stiff and formal; it can be done through happy, cheerful repetition. That will deepen your understanding of the significance of installing an image of the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni and the Dharma titles of the founder and cofounder at your home altar, and make you grateful for having good friends in the Dharma.
I think installing an image of the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni and the Dharma titles of the founder and cofounder, studying the Dharma, and nurturing good friends in the Dharma, should all be tied together, through enjoyable study of the Dharma, rather than considered separately.
Serving as an Oasis for Society
A new addition to this year’s guiding principles is the injunction to become a cheerful, gentle, warm person. The most important human qualities are cheerfulness in knowledge of the teachings, warm compassion, and gentle consideration for others.
There is a saying, “Concentration on just one thing, that is, showing a kind face, should be a human being’s lifelong endeavor.” The point here is that becoming a cheerful, gentle, warm person and then communing with other people is at the root of creating even better families, workplaces, and communities.
For those who are ordinarily hard to please or disagreeable, this may seem a bit too high a hurdle. But I have recently learned that since cheerfulness, gentleness, and warmth are inherent in everyone, they are not things for which we need to strive. We only need to avoid things like grumbling, ignorance, whining, criticizing, and complaining, which weigh us down like heavy stones.
Through our Buddhist practice, we are not trying to be unique people, apart from the world. Our aim is reasonable for anyone, which is to serve as an oasis for society―each and every one of us by becoming cheerful, gentle, warm people.
This year, we will renew our readiness for dissemination work—building readiness for dissemination work that prizes every individual. In short, we will make our Buddhist organization an oasis, whose Dharma Centers, chapters, and sanghas are places to rest the body and soothe the mind. My hope is that renewal will be carried out at each level without losing sight of this fundamental aim.
Problems such as the recession and unemployment have been piling up around the world. Especially in these times it becomes important to study the teachings carefully and make good use of them. I have learned that phenomena have no positives or negatives, but are neutral. There is no light or dark in worldly phenomena. They all depend on how we look at them. And we should become aware of the things that we have already been given, that we are always surrounded by blessings, and be grateful for them. That is how the Buddha sees life, and it is the plain truth.
“If your viewpoint changes, you will change. If you change, the world will change.” I believe that taking this to heart and engaging with the things that are in front of you will always open up the future to you.
We think about tomorrow, but once we get a night’s sleep and awake in the morning, tomorrow becomes today. We are always living today. I think of every step toward our organization’s centenary in the same way. Following the guiding principles and looking in the important directions set out in the Members’ Vow, I look forward to applying myself throughout this year, together with all of you, according to the motto “Live every day responsibly.”
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.