Giving Praise to Others
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
A World of Praise
At a gathering the other day, I gave a speech in which I said that when a parent grasps a child’s personality and praises its good qualities, the child’s moral sense continues to develop. The Japanese educator Nobuzo Mori (1896–1992) said, about fostering a positive attitude in children, “If you praise a child 90 percent of the time and scold 10 percent, then you are still not giving enough
praise.” Regardless of their age, when people are praised and made to feel more confident, they become more enthusiastic in their attitudes.
Even in the profit-seeking business world, fostering a culture of praise in which, regardless of their seniority or position, employees applaud each other’s strong points is an important means for stimulating an organization.
Certainly, in any organization, when individuals doubt whether all its members deem them useful or recognize their value, their spirits will fall. This is because when people are praised—in other words, when they are given recognition and approval by others—they will maintain a positive attitude and better develop their own distinctive character within the organization.
In Japan, prevailing custom makes a virtue of humility, and therefore many people are not comfortable giving or receiving praise. However, the practice of praising others is in accord with the heart and mind of the Buddha.
This is clear when we consider the full title of The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, which symbolizes a splendid world in which the beautiful lotus flower blossoms and sends forth its fragrance, and we are allowed to live in that wondrous world.
Thus the Buddha praises this phenomenal world, which of course means that each and every one of us is also worthy of praise, and here we see the reason that the Lotus Sutra is referred to as the teaching of giving praise.
There is also the teaching of the “wondrous existence beyond absolute void” that supports all existence. In the light of the magnanimous worldview of Mahayana Buddhism that welcomes everyone’s birth into this world and praises everyone’s existing in the here and now, it is natural that we recognize, respect, and praise the people in our everyday lives.
Refine Each Other's Character
If we only praise people randomly, however, that may raise suspicions that we really do not understand them. If we want to help other people develop, then we must appropriately grasp their good points. Dr. Ko Hirasawa (1900–1989), a former president of Kyoto University, said, “Education is research into how to best give people praise.” That is how difficult it is to take hold of and appreciate a person’s strong points.
Thinking about how we should go about this, we should for the time being avoid making relative judgments about other people, such as saying, “Such and such is good” or “Such and such is bad.” Zen master Dogen (1200–1253) left us this poem:
In spring it is the cherry blossoms,
In summer, the song of the cuckoo,
In autumn, the bright moon,
And in winter, the chilly glimmer of snow.
Following what Dogen expresses, first of all we should hold the viewpoint that all existence is wonderful, just as it is. Then, when we look at other people from this perspective, their particular strengths, in other words, the core of their personality, comes into view. At the same time, we should never forget to feel reverence for others. Before we begin searching for words of praise for our children or our colleagues, or for anyone in fact, we should call to mind the attitude and behavior of having reverence for them. Then our words of praise will resound most eloquently in their hearts.
On the one hand, praise leaves some people feeling ecstatic, while on the other hand, severe criticism may make some people fall into a state of depression. One way of thinking, however, is that things are perfectly balanced in this world if half of the people praise you and half offer criticism. Therefore, when someone offers you praise, you should balance your thinking by realizing that there might be someone else who dislikes you. And if someone criticizes you, then be grateful that you can develop because someone was willing to give you a push. There can be no doubt that this way of thinking gradually leads to spiritual richness. This is the way in which we can all help each other, refine one another’s character, and grow and develop together.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.