Look Up to the Heavens, Feel No Shame in Doing So
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Do You Have a Guilty Conscience?
In Japan, during the holiday season surrounding the end of the old year and the start of the new year, many of us have frequent opportunities to gather with other people. At such times, we usually share some snacks. When sweets are served, they seem to be everyone’s favorite, but they come in many shapes and sizes. Which one do you reach for, a large one or a small one?
You might suppose that the bigger the sweet, the better, but I think that most people tend to reach for one that is comparatively small, because we feel ashamed to behave in an openly greedy way.
Although this is an extremely simple example, we Japanese people, from long ago, have developed the mental attitude of avoiding doing anything one would feel ashamed of or feel guilty about, expressing it with the phrase “have a sense of shame.” At a school that I know, “Have a sense of shame” is a motto for student discipline. In other words, the foundation of human education is to learn a way of life that brings no shame upon one’s conscience.
Even so, we are sometimes defeated by the temptations of greed and do things for which we, as human beings, should feel ashamed. Of course, among us, there are some people who feel no shame at all about telling lies or engaging in wrongdoing.
However, just as Buddhism teaches the theory of the Mutual Inclusion of the Ten Realms, everyone has, within his or her heart, an “I” with selfish desires as well as an “I” with honesty and integrity. We human beings simultaneously can have the self-centered, shameful heart—like that of the realms of hell and hungry spirits—as well as the heart of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, full of compassion, which allows us to take joy in devoting ourselves to other people.
This reminds me of a stanza from a poem by Hiroshi Yoshino (1926–2014): “Passing day after day, / And failing day after day, / These two things / Are we doing as one?”
Because the poem uses the same kanji character for both “passing” and “failing,” it layers the meanings of the two words, showing us that we cannot live life without ever failing. Therefore, it is important that we always reflect upon and ask ourselves, “Do you have a guilty conscience?” and return to the heart of the buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Smiling for Everyone’s Sake
It is said that smiling affects one’s health positively by raising the body temperature and strengthening one’s immune system. Smiling also has a harmonizing effect, allowing friendly relations with everyone around you. If you wear a sour face, people will feel unable to open up with you. But no matter how difficult the circumstances are, if you can accept things with a smile, that is the first step toward creating an area of harmony.
In his famous poem, “Ame ni mo makezu” (Undefeated by the Rain), Kenji Miyazawa (1896–1933), a poet and author of children’s literature, wrote of his hope that “Without desire, / Never angry, / And always smiling quietly— / I want to become / Someone like that.” Miyazawa also wrote, “Until the whole world becomes happy, there is no happiness for the individual.” This is based on the phrase of the Universal Transfer of Merits mentioned in the Lotus Sutra—“So that we, with all living beings, / Together accomplish the Buddha Way”—and is therefore connected to his wish that everyone should become happy.
This is why Miyazawa was always mindful of never being greedy or angry or hating other people. While he hoped for the happiness of everyone, Miyazawa probably naturally came to embody a bodhisattva-like lifestyle of “always smiling quietly.” Smiling is one form of diligence that makes you personally happy, and which at the same time is an act that stems from the wish that everyone be happy.
People who are not Rissho Kosei-kai members often praise us, saying, “Members of your organization all have pleasant smiles.” That is something to be grateful for, of course, and these must be the smiles of bodhisattvas that arise from the spirit of the universal transfer of merits. We might also say that our smiles are inherited from Founder Niwano, the one hundred and tenth anniversary of whose birth we celebrate this month.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.