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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Rissho Kosei-kai President Nichiko NiwanoThe Importance of Knowing One's Self

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

The Role of Religion

These days, the Internet can bring us knowledge, news, and entertainment from around the world. We can be in contact with other people, even in faraway countries, with complete ease, which is truly convenient.

With the amount of available information constantly growing, however, sorting through it all keeps us busy. When people become busy, they can lose sight of what is essential to themselves and tend to become careless in their ability to critically examine the quality of all this information and to determine its value. Furthermore, when our concern about affairs outside ourselves grows, we become likely to neglect our precious inner lives. Precisely because we are living in such an era, it is especially important that we really know ourselves.

We could say that Shakyamuni’s motive in leaving his royal home was to learn to know himself. It is no exaggeration to say that religion plays an essential role in attaining this knowledge of self.

Incidentally, in the many languages of the world there are various ways to express the concept of one’s own self. The Japanese word jibun is considered to do this extremely well.

The ji of jibun means refers to being individual or unique. But no matter how unique someone or something may be, people and things exist in relation to other things (in Buddhism, we speak of others’ selves), and form part of a whole. One’s self is unique, and at the same time it is a part, one’s own portion, of the whole.

We human beings have independent existences and, at the same time, we have relationships with the selves of others, and thus also have a relationship with the whole. Because the sum of these relationships is a perfect whole, the concept of “one’s self” has many deep layers of meaning.

Over the years, much food for thought has been developed from the idea of self contained in the following words of Zen master Dogen: “To learn the Buddha Way is to learn one’s self. To learn one’s self is to forget one’s self.”

The Zen master’s understanding of Buddhism can be found in the phrase, “All existence is the buddha-nature,” which means that everything existing in the universe is a manifestation of the buddha-nature, the Life from which all things spring. Taking this into consideration, when we reflect on the meaning of Dogen’s phrase, we will realize that the idea it conveys is "Learning the Buddha Way” is to learn the buddha-nature, in other words, discerning what is meant by the buddha-nature. Similarly, “to learn one’s self,” meaning to learn about one’s self, is to learn about the buddha-nature and since one’s self is a manifestation of the buddha-nature, the Life from which all thing spring, we are caused to live in a world in which the buddha-nature that pervades all existence is unfolded for us. By his words “to forget one’s self,” Dogen exhorts us to recognize that we are one with the buddha-nature. I think you can agree with this if you think about the fact that when we sleep well, we are unaware that we are sleeping and thus forget about being asleep.

We have covered a range of aspects of this broad topic, from “knowing one’s self” to “learning about one’s self,” and it may have been a little difficult to grasp, but let us open our eyes to the buddha-nature, the Life from which all things spring and together walk the Buddha Way.

October 2008
From “Kosei” October 2008 Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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