The Feeling of Being Alive
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Turning Hearts and Minds to the Here and Now
By habit, from the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night, we tend to pay little attention to how we spend most of our time. Many people probably go through the day without really noticing their own actions, and start the next day as if it were something to take for granted.
While this may not be a great problem for us, the fact is that recently, whenever I hear such comments as “I don’t really know the joy of life and the feeling of being alive” or “I don’t understand the meaning of life,” it makes me think of what leads to the joy and feeling of being alive in the midst of daily lives that we are likely to spend without paying much attention. In a book by Phra Yuki Naradebo, a Japanese monk practicing at a temple in Thailand, I found this fascinating account:
“I am awake, but I do not get up right away. First, I try to notice the position of my body. I try experiencing the feeling of getting up.
“I breathe in deeply. The morning chill passes through my nostrils. While I watch this flow of air, I take in the sensation. As I breathe, my diaphragm gradually expands my chest. While I observe this movement, I experience the sensation of being in the here and now.”
When we similarly observe our actions, one by one, there is always something to become aware of. For example, when we walk barefoot, the sensation of the bottoms of our feet touching the ground may make us experience a feeling of oneness with our planet Earth. Or, being careful not to step on any insects that may be crawling on the ground, we may think of the preciousness of life. By becoming aware of such things, we feel that we are alive, and everything we encounter becomes the object of our gratitude and love.
In Buddhism, the here and now is important. Happiness is found in knowing thankfulness for the life we now have, and living our lives gratefully. We are always able to experience it. This depends, of course, on how we manage the state of our hearts and minds. We human beings tend to awaken to gratitude and come to know happiness through painful, difficult experiences. However, if we can turn our hearts and minds, even a little, toward our own here and now and observe it, then we can experience joy and inspiration as a real feeling of being alive.
Savoring the Joy of Living
In our society, there are some people who undergo truly painful experiences that make them despair of the world, and who experience only pain in continuing to be alive. We cannot expect an optimistic response from such people when we speak of “savoring the joy of living.” Even so, if someone close to us is in such a state and we want that person to get better, then we might try asking him or her to do something that will not be a burden.
Making other people happy makes us feel the purpose of life and fills us with the power to live. Founder Nikkyo Niwano said, “We human beings work in order to make those around us comfortable.” He further told us that when we do our best to work from such a sentiment, it is actually we ourselves who are going to enjoy what we do. This is, in addition to the joy of having something to which we can devote ourselves, none other than the feeling of happiness we can experience by being appreciated by others and making them happy.
In Rissho Kosei-kai, when something needs to be done, we often use the phrase “allow me to do it” instead of saying, “I’ll do it.” This is, in a sense, an important phrase that contributes to the feeling of being alive. When we say, “allow me to do it,” we are showing humility. That we can say this is precisely because of our awareness that we are caused to live, thanks to our connections with all things in the universe. Every time we use this phrase, we have the chance to feel gratitude, which means that we can always be humble. Therefore, “allow me to do it” is a phrase of profound meaning.
This month, we observe the anniversary of Shakyamuni’s entrance into nirvana. Just as Shakyamuni continued his journey of sharing the Dharma right up to the time of his entering nirvana, I hope that we will also never slacken in our efforts to make the most of the present moment and savor the great joy of living.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.