Learning to Live Humbly
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Let Us Look at Ourselves
How beautiful are the cherry blossoms blown by a gentle spring breeze. At this season, we sometimes
When we make new acquaintances, we often unconsciously tend to take on an air of superiority in what we say and do, seeming to give instructions instead of learning from what is genuine and fresh about a new encounter.
The ancient expression "nothing is as close as ignorance" means that instead of supposing that we know everything, we would come closer to the truth if we admitted how little we actually know. As Mencius, the fourth century BCE Chinese philosopher put it, "Shame is an essential quality for human beings. Those who operate by cunning have no use for shame." In other words, human beings need to know what it is to feel ashamed of themselves. If we can feel ashamed at not having a sense of shame, we can lead our lives without fear of being disgraced. Essentially speaking, we should never fail to demonstrate a sense of humility.
In terms of the Buddhist principle of dependent origination, no matter in what circumstances we may encounter others we are newly connected with them at that very moment, so even if there is some difference in our social status we are all equally "newcomers."
Considering human relations in this way, it seems silly for someone to act in a patronizing manner because he or she has seniority or is in a higher position. That said, we human beings are often truly awkward, and it is difficult for us to act with humility.
The following well-known passage from theverses on repentance from chapter 40 of the Avatamsaka Sutra has the great power to move us to be humble: "All of the mistakes we have made from long ago are due to ignorance, anger, and greed that have no beginning. Therefore we should now together reflect and make amends for them all." This means that our many past wrongdoings are the result of very deeply rooted greed, anger, and ignorance.
The words that fall from our lips and the actions taken by our bodies have accumulated in our minds and hearts, and we should reflect upon and make amends for them all. Before we know it, they sneak up on us, but when such a passage reminds us that we should deeply reflect on ourselves, we can return to being humble, and kind and considerate toward others.
Think About the History of Life
Life on Earth began some four billion years ago. Microorganisms like bacteria gradually evolved into present-day animal and plant life, and during that long repetitive process, in which thousands of species either became extinct or came into being, we human beings appeared in the world.
The reason I am mentioning this rather unexpected topic is that, when we look back upon the long, long history of life leading to our existence today, we cannot help but be humbled by this fact. We should live to the fullest, during the time we have been given, the life we have been granted.
The Japanese life scientist Keiko Yanagisawa putit this way: "It is a miracle that such complicated life forms evolved from mere single-celled organisms. . . . While there is the flow of life, there is also the flowof death. Everything that happens in these flows is the accumulation of chance occurrences. And when I think about that, every little thing appears sparkling and wonderful." When we realize the preciousness of being caused to live here and now in the eternal ebb and flow of life, all existence seems to sparkle in our eyes, and we are overwhelmed by a desire to live humbly in harmony with our surroundings.
Just as Ippen (1239–89), founder of the Ji sect of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, noted, "When I rely on my own abilities, my mind gives rise to selfish attachment, conceit, and arrogance," when people think they are living by their own power alone, they become obsessed with themselves, and lose themselves in pride and vanity. And then, they gradually forget to be grateful.
If we feel that arrogance is creeping into our hearts, we should remember the verses on repentance. We should also think about the long history of life on our planet. When we do so, our attachments to craftiness and self-centeredness instantly vanish, and we experience a refreshing and comfortable state of mind, as if a fragrant breeze were blowing across us. That feeling of being renewed is a first step toward our self-improvement.
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.