Never Despise Others
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
All Are the Life of the Buddha
In the Bodhisattva Never Despise chapter of the Lotus Sutra, as I think you well know, the phrase “I cannot despise you” appears. In the context of our daily lives, what does it mean to not “despise” people, in the concrete terms of our behavior and attitude? In the first place, why is it important that we do not despise people—usually this is something that we think of as going without saying, so let us give it some consideration.
As Zen master Dogen (1200–1253) articulated that “all existence is the buddha-nature,” we learn from this that everything in our world, to say nothing of us as human beings, is, in and of itself, the buddha-nature. We are, all of us, the life of the Buddha.
Zen master Ikkyu (1394–1481), regarding just how worthy of respect our existence as human beings is, declared, “All living beings are no different from the Buddha. What separates them from the Buddha is just an illusory thought.” If we were aware of this, respecting and revering other people would be our natural attitude.
Some of you might think, “I cannot believe that someone like me, who has not accomplished much, is the buddha-nature itself,” or “I hate certain people and I am sometimes greedy, so how can anyone say that I am the same as the Buddha.” However, such reflections upon oneself can be called signs of something deeper from within. In fact, they are themselves the workings of the buddha-nature and proof that each of us is none other than the life of the Buddha.
In the Flower Garland Sutra appears the phrase, “At the time of the first aspiration to the Way, true awakening has already been attained.” This means that at the moment one gives rise to the mind of seeking the Way, one has already realized true awakening. Now, as you read this, each one of you is becoming aware that you yourself are worthy of respect as well as also giving rise to the mind of revering others.
Cautioning Against Being Too Familiar
Then, what is important in order to make a connection between such awareness and the practice of daily life and to not “despise” other people? It is, even regarding those with whom you have a very close relationship, not forgetting the necessary self-regulation and not ignoring good manners, in other words, cautioning yourself against becoming too familiar and candid.
People usually don’t speak rudely to others on their first meeting, but even in the case of a close relation it is desirable that one does not speak roughly but uses proper speech, and talks politely to the other person. As much as possible, we should observe other people’s strengths and praise them. Of course, we should never forget the spirit of putting our palms together reverently. Such things build harmonioushuman relationships. At first, even if our minds do not go along, if we are always showing the form, doing this will of its own accord influence our minds and we will make our own the Bodhisattva Never Despise’s attitude of never despising others.
On the one hand, you might say that because you hold another person in high regard you are strict in your feelings about that person. At those times when you wish that someone would grow and mature, it is important to reflect on yourself and ask whether you are seeing the person before you as “the life of the Buddha.”
If you do so, then you will not use the sort of sharp words that you are apt to say when your emotions run high, which might hurt the other person’s feelings, and you will be able to calmly persuade him or her of what you feel needs to be comprehended.
Speaking and behaving in this way is nothing other than the spiritual progress of each and every one of us, and furthermore, it is an opportunity for the people we come into contact with to become aware of their self-worth—such exchanges are the interactions of minds that function as desired for us as honorable human beings.
Even so, as much as we think that we are respecting the other person, sometimes we must endure and show tolerance. Fortunately, we have opportunities that allow us to reflect on our attitude, such as morning and evening sutra recitations. By following the example of the Bodhisattva Never Despise’s practice of putting his palms together in reverence, in the morning you vow to “pass the day in the spirit of putting my palms together reverently,” and in the evening you can reflect asking yourself, “Did I not look down on someone today?” and look forward to the next day. I think that such steady practice is the foundation of a peaceful life.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.