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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Our Smiles Can Open Minds

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA president NiwanoBenefits of Laughter

When talking to other people, no matter how passionately we speak, we cannot reach them if their minds are tightly closed. Someone once said that such a mind is like "a bowl turned upside down."

Nothing can get into an upside-down bowl. So first the other person's mind, which is like that bowl, must be turned right side up. To make any heart-to-heart communication possible, both persons must open up about their innermost feelings. At such times, laughter and humor often can play a large role.

This is why, from long ago, many noted priests as well as men of letters have taught us something important by including satirical or humorous anecdotes into their lectures and stories that might otherwise be stiff and formal, making their listeners or readers chuckle and thus turning the bowl of the mind right side up.

Jippensha Ikku (17651831), the popular Edo period writer of the work known in English as Shank's Mare, left us this comic verse as his dying words: "Without further ado, I take leave of this world, so with the departure of the incense smoke, farewell!" And the Zen master Ikkyu Sojun (13941481) composed the following verse that humorously expresses the truth of birth, old age, illness, and death: "So we are born and so we die. This is the same for Shakyamuni and Daruma,* and for the cat and the ladle, too."

Laughter and humor open the hearts of hardened people, bring harmony to human relationships, help us accept and overcome difficult realities, and make our thinking more gentle and flexible.

In fact, Dr. Viktor Frankl (190577), who survived being sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis, suggested to his fellow inmates that they tell each other one funny story every day to make each other laugh. It may have been this laughter that gave them the strength to go on living.

When people are faced with troubles or hardships, humor and laughter are like a window letting in a beam of light. Humor loosens our heartstrings, encourages us to relax, and gives rise to liberation.

Smiles Show Consideration

Some people, however, are not adept at taking the initiative in telling jokes or making others laugh.

As a matter of fact, I am one such person. I used to leave home every day with a frown on my face, so one day my wife gave me this advice: "Before you leave, look in the mirror and try to smile." Thanks to developing this good habit, I feel much less self-conscious about smiling in public and I now have more rewarding relationships with other people.

Mention of smiling reminds me that I was impressed by a scene from last year's FIFA Women's World Cup Final in Frankfurt. When at last the final play was at hand, all the members of the Japanese team, their faces beaming, formed themselves into a circle. Their smiles broke their tension, relaxed their muscles, and let them exercise their full potential. We should all follow the example of Nadeshiko, as Japan's women's soccer team is known, developing flexible strength, and go through life with smiles on our faces.

Even if at first we do not feel like smiling, by making a conscious effort to do so we will soon find that smiles come naturally to us. And then, because the body and mind are closely interrelated, our mood will brighten and our outlook become more positive. A smile carries with it the message "I'd like to be your friend," and helps build harmonious, warmhearted relationships.

Furthermore, smiling is itself being considerate: the "donation of smiling peacefully" is one form of practicing compassion and a form of donation that everyone can do, even without substantial financial resources.

In this season, the mountains are aglow with the arrival of spring. And we, too, should glow with bright smiles, our minds relaxed and flexible. We should never forget to smile since smiling is a source of kindness and consideration, and we should continue, cheerfully and joyfully, to be diligent in our practice.

May 2012
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing


Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.


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