Seeing Things As They Really Are
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
The Chance to Change One's Frame of Mind
Happy New Year, everyone!
As a new year begins, our reactions to things also seem new. This is partly because, according to the traditional Japanese way of thinking from ancient times, each of us becomes one year older on January 1. The start of a new year therefore is an excellent opportunity to change how we feel about many things. The Japanese New Year season is rewarding because almost everyone feels a renewed sense of purpose and is determined to move forward.
In fact, however, this opportunity to change one's frame of mind will be wasted unless we really do change the way we look at and accept things. Even if we suppose that we will be able to change our way of living in the new year, we will discover that doing so is hardly a simple matter.
In one sense, it is only natural that we tend to let our feelings become involved in how we regard the things that happen right before our eyes. To give an example, this tendency can be symbolized by how we look at flowers: when they are in bloom, we have pleasant feelings and comment that they are pretty and make us feel happy, but when they begin to fade and their petals scatter, we feel a bit sad and think it is a pity and we miss them.
When such emotions come into play, at times they can actually sow the seeds of suffering. It is important therefore that we accept things flexibly and sincerely and, if possible, without letting our emotions become too involved so that we see things as they really are.
There is no phenomenon to which the Dharma does not apply. The laws of impermanence and nonself apply to all things, and we are living and are caused to live by the Dharma from one moment to the next.
By learning and experiencing this Truth and the Dharma, and coming to accept all phenomena sincerely and flexibly, we will understand that the blossoming of flowers and the falling of their petals reflect the true aspect of all things, and that there is nothing that involves joy or sadness in this. We can lead our lives without allowing phenomena to stir up our emotions unnecessarily.
The Light of Joy Shines on Us
A discourse by Zen master Ikkyu (1394–1481) and his disciple includes the following statements: "Court ladies are as beautiful as the Goddess Benzaiten" and "But beauty is only skin deep." Certainly that is true, but seeing things this way from the perspective of the Truth and the Dharma may seem rather cold in comparison to ordinary human feelings. Shakyamuni teaches us that "by destroying egotistical viewpoints, we can also transcend death." When the law of impermanence is firmly accepted in our hearts, we can even come to accept death as part of the natural course of events. And yet, the fact is that even if we human beings can understand this in our minds, many of us cannot come to terms with it emotionally. That represents the difficulty of seeing things as they really are.
In particular, when people around us are struggling or suffering, we cannot simply say that is a manifestation of the Truth and the Dharma. This goes without saying for people who wish to cultivate the mind of benefiting others.
The Buddha's teachings of wisdom and compassion, in other words, involve the wisdom of seeing the truth while at the same time interacting compassionately and with consideration for others. That is why we should perceive the phenomena occurring before our eyes as they really are, and cultivate the mind of consideration for others and think of the happiness of our own selves and others—for that is the lifestyle of the bodhisattva, to which we aspire.
As I have pointed out, nothing is by nature sad or joyful. In the Buddha's teachings, we can find a way of seeing and accepting things that deeply enriches our hearts and minds.
For instance, as represented by the symbol of the lotus blossom, human beings cannot put forth a "beautiful flower" unless we have experienced sadness, pain, and difficulty. Conversely, from the standpoint that such experiences are necessary in order to make such a "flower" bloom, when facing adversity we can see a light shining ahead of us by believing that we are able to put forth a "beautiful flower." This, too, leads us to recognize the Buddha's teachings as they really are. In that way, changing to a frame of mind that accepts everything with a positive attitude is itself something of great merit—the merit of living in harmony with the Dharma.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.