Overcoming Our Aversions
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Two Sides of the Same Coin
By and large, people are convinced that there are things that they naturally dislike or are not good at. For instance, I personally feel it is extremely difficult for someone of my personality to make a public speech. Even now, I cannot say that I have conquered this, but as I have learned the Buddha's teachings, my sense of discomfort has gradually diminished.
As in the old poem, "How sad that the newborn child / Gradually comes into knowledge / And grows distant from the Buddha ", the more we acquire worldly knowledge, the more we compare ourselves to other people, become set in judgmental thinking, and convince ourselves of our personal dislikes and lack of ability.
According to the Buddha's teachings, however, the lives of all the people in the world are equally worthy of respect, and therefore what really matters is that each of us shines forth the light of the life we have received.
Making comparisons between others and ourselves is meaningless, and also unnecessary. Buddhism describes this world as saha-world, or the land of suffering. Furthermore, Shakyamuni teaches us that as long as people are alive, they experience suffering and that in this world, things often will not go as we wish. By learning the wisdom of the Buddha's teachings, we can remain calm and composed when we encounter things we dislike or are not good at; we can even change our feelings into acceptance of such experiences as steps leading to our spiritual growth.
When we think that suffering and pleasure are two separate, distinct things, we want to have pleasant experiences only. But just as our own lives consist of both birth and death, so, too, are suffering and pleasure fundamentally parts of the same thing. Suffering is the seed of pleasure, and so the joy of overcoming thoughts of suffering far exceeds any joy attained without suffering. Unpleasant or painful experiences temper our minds and hearts to accept things that will be hard to deal with, and therefore they are the seeds of our spiritual growth.
Discoveries That Come from Practice
In this season, which follows closely on the start of Japan's new fiscal year, many people are having new experiences in the workplace, at school, or in their local community that confront them with things they are not good at or dislike doing. Some of these people would like to turn and run away from them, if possible. However, thinking that something is unpleasant or disagreeable only increases one's suffering. And besides, when we consider that this feeling of aversion derives from the ego that wants to do as it pleases, we can see that it is merely another dimension of our likes and dislikes.
I spent my childhood in the mountainous area of Niigata Prefecture, and once walked barefoot on the snowy winter roads. As long as I was curled up warmly at home, I felt like never venturing outdoors. But, when I finally did go outside, walking barefoot made my feet so cold at first that my toes tingled. After walking for a while, however, my feet warmed up, and before long the warmth spread through my whole body.
In my child's mind at that time, I thought I had conquered the cold by fully experiencing freezing temperatures. There are many things in our daily lives that we think are difficult to deal with. They actually reflect nothing more than our preconceived notions and needless worrying, which we can overcome once we go ahead and do them. Once we do so, unexpected new discoveries and joys await us.
Once, when a Zen master was asked by a disciple, "How can I avoid the heat and the cold?" the master replied, "When you start to feel cold, make yourself experience freezing cold, and when you start to feel hot, make yourself as warm as possible ". This interesting anecdote tells us that when we make ourselves deeply experience something we dislike and push through with it, the desire to run away from it disappears. Instead of scheming
When we know that the experience of suffering and the experience of joy are both necessary to cultivate our buddha-nature, we will be able to embrace even things that we thought were hard to confront.
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.