Counting the Times We Feel Truly Grateful
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Suffering Transformed into Joy
As nearly everyone knows, water is chemically
composed of hydrogen and oxygen. Well, then,
how is the human body formed?
I will leave the scientific answer up to specialists, but as we are nourished by the lives of various plants and animals, I think the right answer is that our bodies are formed thanks to innumerable other things. In other words, we are able to live thanks to the uncountable blessings we receive and thanks to each and every one of those connections. We could say at the same time that every human being serves as a connection to support other lives.
We usually do not think about such matters, however, and we are apt to complain or express resentment over even minor things. Although this is obvious in the light of the law of impermanence, when we cannot accept changes that we find disagreeable, we take them on as suffering.
Buddhism teaches us that, "All forms are themselves emptiness." That is, phenomena themselves are neither positive nor negative, they are zeroes—"emptiness." When we reset the mind that is thinking of hardship, sadness, or suffering to zero and make a fresh start, we can take a new view of the phenomena occurring before our eyes and see them for what they are, thereby finding a way to calmly accept them. For instance, suffering leads to joy and a reason to live, sadness gives the heart room to grow, and we can transform our hearts and minds in such a way as to say "thank you" even for a grudge that we hold. Because the root of such transformation is awareness of the truths of dependent origination, impermanence, and emptiness, we could even say that through our study of the truth, our sensitivity to joy increases.
Gratitude in Action
With the last days of the year fast approaching, there will be many opportunities to reflect on the passing year. When we do so, we should take a neutral viewpoint by avoiding the tendency to see things as fixed and static, so that we can find many seeds of gratitude for which to express our thanks and welcome the new year.
The Edo period poet Tachibana Akemi (1812- 68) wrote many poems that began with the words, "How pleasant," such as these
"How pleasant / To get up in the morning and see / A flower that was not there the day before has bloomed." "How pleasant in the autumn, / When the rice bin is full, / To know that the coming month will be all right." As these poems demonstrate, when we become grateful for things that are so often taken for granted in our daily lives, and when we similarly make a habit of feeling happiness in doing so, complaining and dissatisfaction are automatically reduced. I myself, in my study of the Buddha's teachings, came to reflect upon my many complaints and to realize that by changing my point of view, I could find many things to be grateful for, and this realization itself is, above all else, something for which I am indeed grateful.
In this way, when our feelings of thankfulness and gratitude pour forth, they can be directed toward other people in the form of consideration and kind, warm-hearted words. This is because, when we touch on the truth, it brings forth the realization that oneself and other people are, from the beginning, one and the same, and we therefore cannot help but show affection toward other people. Consequently, practices that benefit others, firmly rooted in such thinking, come back to us like the swing of a pendulum. Like the saying, "Think of others and they think of you," whatever we send forth definitely will come back to us.
Saying "thank you" and showing gratitude through our actions makes people happy, and in turn leads to gratitude being shown to us. Because such interactions fill our own hearts and those of the people around us with warmth, they make our lives happier and more meaningful. The practice of benefiting others through sharing the Buddha's teaching in particular has the great power of creating cheerful lives. The reason is that, as I have noted, the Buddha's teaching shines a bright ray of light called gratitude, even into the heart of a person that is submerged in darkness.
In any case, when we remember our blessings, let us begin by calling to mind those who are nearest to us. Watching a grandchild grow—how grateful one is. And being able to think so—how grateful for that. Indeed, we could say that everything in life comes from these small sources of joy and happiness that can be found in everyday life.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.