Refining Our Hearts and Minds
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Reading the Kyoten
For us who are Buddhists, it is important to learn the Buddha's teachings—to study and practice the Dharma—but are you aware that, even if we do not seek some special opportunity to engage in learning,we are in fact already doing so to a certain extent from one day to the next?
Morning and evening reading of the Kyoten is an important regular practice for us. On some occasions, we may not give it our full attention, or we may be distracted, but when we are able to read the Kyoten from a desire to deeply understand the heart and mind of the Buddha, then such reading naturally becomes the process for nurturing our hearts and minds. In other words, at those times a positive influence is at work.
In Japanese, the word for "learn" shares the same root as the words for "emulate" or "follow." Therefore, learning the Buddha's teachings is to emulate Shakyamuni, and to follow the words and actions demonstrated by Shakyamuni.
The Buddhist sutras explain the teachings realized by Shakyamuni as well as the working of his heart and mind, and so, in the midst of our recitation, we are drawing deep inspiration from the heart and mind reflected in the sutra and emulating Shakyamuni. Eizon (1201–90), a Shingon Ritsu monk during the Kamakura era, said, "We study in order to rectify our hearts and minds," and indeed, the distortions, confusion, and mistakes that assail us are removed through studying and our hearts and minds are returned to their original normal state. This refining should continue even after the distortions, confusion, and mistakes are removed. Kukai (774–835), also known as Kobo Daishi, left us these wise words: "Recite well and speak well; even a parrot can do that well," which means that, no matter how much of the Buddhist sutras we read, unless we refine our hearts and minds through this and link it with our daily practice, our effort is wasted.
Oneness with the Life of the Buddha
Zen master Dogen (1200–53) told us that "learning the Buddha Way is learning about the self," and so that is what refining the heart and mind really is.
What, then, is the self about which we are learning?
Simply put, the source of all life is one, and so all living beings are in and of themselves manifestations of the buddha-nature. That is our essential nature, in other words, our true self. Being aware of this is a key part of learning about the self—in other words, that studying and emulating contribute to refining the heart and mind.
As the Buddha's heart and mind are always filled with compassion, it follows that we, too, through these actions become not self-centered but full of consideration for others.
In some instances, though, we have a nearly uncontrollable desire to get something we want, become angry when matters do not go as we wish, and grumble, complain, and think about things from a self-centered viewpoint. Then friction arises with other people, and we bring suffering and worry upon ourselves. Therefore, we should learn from the Buddha every day, embrace his heart and mind, return to our "innate self," and be inspired to make diligent progress.
Because we take refuge in the Lotus Sutra, we learn to live as humane individuals through recitation of the sutra. As the chords in the hearts and minds of different people are struck by different things, not only the Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism, the Christian Bible, and the literature new and old of East and West, but even the manga that move so many people these days can become our subject, as long as this helps us to refine our own hearts and minds.
From the Buddhist sutras as well as general publications, I often copy out the sections that make a profound impression on me. This has been my habit since my younger days. One of the five practices of the teachers of the Dharma, as taught in the Lotus Sutra, is copying the sutra, and in my own way I have adopted the practice.
For some people, reading the Kyoten and refiningthe heart and mind may seem like difficult things to do, but what is essential is that we become caring and warm-hearted people who show consideration for others. To have no reservations about extending a helping hand in response to the suffering of another person—that is what is meant by refining our heart and mind, and putting this into practice issomething we must keep continuing to learn.
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.