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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
Phone: (323) 262-4430
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Advancing to Enlightenment

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

President Nichiko NiwanoNurturing the Will to Live

December is an extremely significant month, because it is when we hold the ceremony marking Shakyamuni’s attainment of enlightenment. It is also an important month because many people at this time review their conduct throughout the year that is ending and renew their determination for a better year ahead.

Since the days of Shakyamuni, Buddhist communities have attached importance to the practice of self-reflection. When we stray from generally acceptable behavior, or say or do something that hurts another person, we engage
in self-reflection by acknowledging our mistake to our friends and making amends for it. In Rissho Kosei-kai, too, it is customary that when we do something wrong, we should truthfully admit it,
and in the presence of the sangha, confess and sincerely apologize for it. The merit of self-reflection is that it gives us an opportunity to free ourselves of attachments to vanity and face, and when we talk openly and without reservation about our errors, we are able to feel at ease. Doing this also brings us the positive energy to decide to do the right thing and the unexpected courage that helps us break through any obstacle or problem we are facing.

When I first began visiting Dharma Centers and found myself worrying about what to talk about before the sangha members, Founder Nikkyo Niwano advised me to talk about whatever positive steps I had resolved to undertake, because once I spoke about them in front of other people, I would feel compelled to follow through. So that one should come out
of one’s shell, to perform self-reflection before the sangha members is a creative act that nurtures the will to live.

Incidentally, when we cling to our own foolish behavior or mistakes, self-reflection can become painful and trying for us, as we are sometimes dominated by negative emotions, such as feelings of being worthless.

In the Lotus Sutra, it is written, “Sit in meditation and contemplate the true nature of things.” Everyone has both good points and bad points, and our true nature as human beings is our unlimited potential to do both right and wrong. Furthermore, the true nature of this world is
as a nondualistic realm in which our sense of values to distinguish good and evil, and pure and impure, is not valid. Without leaning too much one way or the other, we should reflect and accordingly make amends where necessary, look unflinchingly at our own strengths, and continue to use them in our practice of our faith. This is the true form of self-reflection that leads us to a brighter tomorrow.

A New Life Begins

Regarding a lack of faith in oneself and the tendency to be fixated on one’s shortcomings, Zen master Dogen (1200-1253) taught, “Do not belittle yourselves because you think you are truly ignorant.” He went on to explain, “Regarding those who realize this yet still do not practice the faith, when will they practice it? By being diligent, they will certainly become buddhas.”

Self-reflection is the practice that helps us ascertain whether we are being diligent in our progress toward enlightenment. Therefore, Dogen teaches us that when we become aware of something that is not sufficient in us, we should honestly acknowledge it and strive to be

If we think we are not grateful enough, then we should express more gratitude, and if we realize that we lack consideration for others, then we should show more consideration. What matters most is that in every situation we should continue to put into practice what we have realized. This is the attitude of using self-reflection to advance toward enlightenment.

The founder said about self-reflection, “Developing the ability to lay bare your own shortcomings and failures becomes a springboard for change.” Speaking openly about our faults and reflecting on them, we feel relieved and at ease, as if a thorn has been plucked out of a finger. We become cheerful and sincere, and our way of life changes—in other words, through self-reflection, we are able to get a new start on life.

Since people cannot be forced to self-reflect or be grateful, however, those acts must come spontaneously. Just as the Lotus Sutra contains the verses, “I guide living beings and free them of their many attachments,” so we should serve as good encounters for people who
have difficulty finding the Way and share the Dharma with them, maintaining a positive outlook so that we can encourage still one person more, of their own accord, to start out on the path to enlightenment.

To be engaged in this activity is also part of our own important effort to follow the Way, as we set our sights on becoming buddhas in our lifetime, just as Shakyamuni manifested for us in his physical form. Let us be diligent together, with the wish for all of us to attain enlightenment in our lifetimes.

December 2010
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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