Nurturing and Developing Virtue
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Wisdom and Compassion Become One
One incident that attests to the character of Founder Nikkyo Niwano is the occasion of how he cleaned the toilet on a train. Once when he was traveling by train on an official trip he took a long time returning from the rest room, so his male secretary went to check on him and found that he had been busy cleaning a dirty toilet.
Good deeds such as that, which are done without anyone knowing about them, are called behind-the-scenes virtues, and the good deeds that are well-known to people at large are called public acts of virtue. We members of Rissho Kosei-kai are taught the importance of accumulating behind-the-scenes virtues.
Buddhism involves the teaching of wisdom and compassion. Realizing the Truth is the essential element of wisdom, and sharing this with others is an act of compassion. Whenever this wisdom and compassion are united one can be said to be in the realm of the Tathagata, the realm of the Buddha.
Accumulating and embodying virtue is actually the bodhisattva practice leading one toward this realm of the Buddha.
Buddhism is also known for the teaching of self-realization, and that it clarifies the Truth and reveals the path to liberation. In other words, one of the distinctive characteristics of Buddhism is its implicit faith in wisdom. For example, when we study the Dharma of dependent origination and learn that all things contribute to supporting our lives, we cannot help but feel grateful for everything we see and touch. Our hearts are then filled with the desire to share this joy and gratitude with other people. Through such experiences we come to understand that Buddhism can be defined by grasping that true wisdom includes compassion.
We often talk about accumulating virtue. From the use of that phrase we are apt to think that virtue is something that can be stored up or increased, but in chapter 12 of the Lotus Sutra, "Devadatta," we find the phrase "accumulating merit, and heaping up virtue." In this case, "heaping up virtue" means that repeating good deeds over and over again, practicing them from moment to moment, enriches the heart and mind and allows us to experience joy and serenity.
The Daily Practice of Virtue
Kegon priest Myoe (1173–1232) wrote, "People who speak of other's faults are themselves without virtue." Certainly it seems to be true that to emphasize another person's mistakes is unscrupulous and unvirtuous, but more essential here is Myoe's point that the reason people do not recognize the virtues of the person whose faults they criticize is that they themselves are lacking in virtue.
Trying to see the good in other people and discovering the virtue in them is the thought process in which wisdom and compassion are united. When we are able to maintain that point of view, we are making significant progress.
On the contrary, however, when we cannot recognize other people's virtues (that is, their essential goodness), we are in the state of having lost our humility, and our eyes of wisdom have become clouded.
If we become aware that this has happened to us, we should call to mind the meaning of benefiting others and putting others first. In other words, we should turn our attention to the good points of others, and return ourselves to the mindset of wisdom and compassion.
We should nurture virtue in our daily lives and embody it in every way. This is also true to the concept in Zen training stipulating that—whether walking, standing, sitting, or sleeping—everything we do becomes Buddhist practice. Zen master Dogen (1200–1253) taught of the Three Minds that demonstrate the right attitude toward a monk's temple duties, which can also serve as a guidepost for our daily lives: the mind of joy that rejoices in other people's happiness and performs every task with gratitude; the mind of nurturing that meets each task with due consideration; and the great mind that observes everything calmly. I think these three also sum up the virtues of Founder Niwano, the 106th anniversary of whose birth ceremony we will soon celebrate.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.