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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Rissho Kosei-kai President Nichiko NiwanoThe Belief in Putting Others First

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

About the O-Higan Ceremony

In March we celebrate the O-higan ceremony in the week of the vernal equinox. The origins of this Buddhist ceremony, marking attainment of the other shore, lie in the ancient Sanskrit word paramita. In China this was transliterated, and later brought to Japan, where it is read haramitsu.

Haramitsu means reaching the other shore, in other
words, attaining the realm of enlightenment, the highest state, perfection. Since reaching the other shore means leaving the world of delusions and crossing over into the realm of enlightenment, it can also be expressed simply with the single character for “to ferry across.”

Since ancient times, O-higan has been a Buddhist ceremony unique to Japan. Although some people say that Buddhism, born in India, has from the beginning never had services for ancestor veneration, giving thanks for the lifetime deeds passed down from one generation to the next, from our ancestors to the parents who bore us and raised us, is only natural from the perspective of the Buddhist worldview based on the doctrine of dependent origination.

Furthermore, going further into the past than just to our ancestors in tracing our roots, we will arrive at the One Great Life that is the origin of all life. In this sense, we can say that
Buddhism does indeed include ancestor veneration, and that by venerating our ancestors, we are brought to the realization that we are all caused to live as manifestations of the One
Great Life.

Happy to Bring Joy to Others

At the time of O-higan, many people visit their family tombs. However, since O-higan celebrates crossing over into the realm of enlightenment, its significance is not limited to
visiting tombs and chanting sutras. Through approaching the realm of enlightenment, we can achieve great happiness. One practical way to do this is through bodhisattva practice.
Bodhisattva practice benefits others by bringing them joy (wishing for the happiness of others), which is based on donation, the first of the Six Paramitas (Perfections). Donation―giving something to others―includes being considerate and compassionate.

We are apt to view things relatively and to make distinctions between ourselves and others. However, when we can bring happiness to others, we too become happy. Although our physical appearances may differ and we may have different personalities, such happiness is proof that we are all connected through our roots in the One Great Life.

The pleasure we feel from bringing joy to others stems from our realization that all things are manifestations of the One Great Life and thus are caused to live.

The Foremost Ancestor Veneration

One verse of the Nirvana Sutra states, “Although I myself have not yet reached the other shore, I will ferry others across first.” This means that even though one may not yet have
attained enlightenment, one can still help others to reach their goal of enlightenment. Indeed, Zen master Dogen described aspiration to buddhahood as giving rise to the wish to “ferry others across.”

This means, for members of Rissho Kosei-kai, the practice we consider important of putting others first. Putting our own wishes aside, we seek to make others happy through their encounter with the Dharma. By leading our lives with this spirit of compassion and consideration, we can feel true joy and a real sense of purpose in life.

The devotional service that should bring the greatest happiness to our ancestors is to conduct our lives in such a way that we bring joy to other people. Taking advantage of the week of O-higan, let us be diligent in pursuing the spirit of putting others first.

March 2009
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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