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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
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The Ties that Bind Families

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA president NiwanoThoughts When Eating Melon

Since the disaster of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami last year, I often see and hear the Japanese word kizuna, meaning in English ties or bonds that connect things and people. It is used to refer to the ties of sympathy all Japanese feel for the victims of the disaster. At the same time, frequent news reports about the sad deaths of elderly people who lived alone make me think about the real meaning of "family" and "ties."

I'll begin with the meaning of family. The traditional Japanese view of the family is imbued with the age-old East Asian concept of filial piety, which calls on children to respect their parents and serve them well. The parents, of course, are expected to love their children and treat them well in turn, and this mutual affection binds them together. That Rissho Kosei-kai places importance on showing respect for one's parents and making offerings and expressing reverence for one's ancestors is not unrelated to this Japanese view of the family.

In Japan, the influence of Confucian thought, with its emphasis on filial piety, and the teachings of the Buddha, which have compassion at their core, have blended over time, and it seems to me that most Japanese have come to consider an ideal family as one bound by ties filled with the love and respect inherent in these religious and cultural traditions.

The poet Yamanoue no Okura (660733), whose work appears in the Manyoshu, Japan's oldest collection of poetry compiled in the eighth century, left us this verse describing the affection that parents have for their children: "When eating melon, my children come to mind. When tasting chestnuts, I miss them all the more. How is it that they come to me? Flickering before my eyes, they do not let me sleep in peace." Probably when the poet is away on a trip, the taste of his children's favorite foods reminds him of his affection for them, and with his children's faces floating before his eyes, he finds it difficult to fall asleep. This emotional state, described in poetry as ancient as the Manyoshu, is the essence of close family ties.

Threads of Respect and Affection

The concept of filial piety is demonstrated by the continuation from parents to children, from those who are older to those who are younger, and so on. Asian philosophy elucidates this concept with the adage, "My happiness and well-being are gifts from my ancestors, and the fortune or misfortune of my children and grandchildren depends on my everyday deeds." When we consider the bonds we have with our parents and grandparents, or with our children and grandchildren, we should rededicate ourselves to expressing our gratitude and reciprocating the kindnesses we received.

Of course, this does not change in the nuclear family that is common today, but a family in which three or four generations are living together is a rare environment that truly enables its members to cultivate a sense of gratitude. Since the family can be considered a microcosm of society, it has many positive aspects, but there can also be numerous complications in a large extended family.

Even though that is the case, we should gladly accept these complications. While some people may think of them as ordinary family problems, the challenges that arise within a family can offer us the best means for developing our humanity.

When we think about the family situation this way, even though the views of parents and grandparents may sometimes be annoying to the younger members of the family, and even though the older generations may sometimes feel as if their children or grandchildren come from outer space, living together on a daily basis provides many opportunities for learning how to better understand people with different life experiences and from a generation different from our own. Encountering such complications truly does provide the material that helps to develop the human heart. Furthermore, as the poet and novelist Takuboku Ishikawa (1886- 1912) confessed in a verse, "Today all of my friends seem to be more important than me, so I bring home flowers and speak closely with my wife," it is one's own family members who listen to and commiserate with the troubles we cannot talk about with anyone else.

In other words, by cultivating one another's minds and showing one another kindness, family members spin threads of respect and affection that are genuine family ties. Then, in a home full of consideration and gratitude in which, for instance, the husband regularly performs daily sutra recitation and the wife does not fail to be sympathetic and speak considerately, these ties are never broken.

However, we should not think that such ties exist only among immediate family members. Rissho Kosei-kai's Dharma centers form the nuclei of regional communities that create bonds of consideration with their neighbors, regardless of whether or not they are members of the sangha. Such approaches as friendly calls by members upon people who are living alone in their neighborhoods are bodhisattva practices that prevent people from feeling isolated and bring liberation to both body and mind. Such actions bring people together with the ties that result in true peace of mind.

And of course, showing real consideration for others in such ways is a perfect example of the practice of compassion.

July 2012
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing


Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.



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