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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Putting Our Palms Together

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

The Attitude of Following the Dharma
President Nichiko Niwano
Happy New Year!

With our hearts full of hope and gratitude as we wish each other a successful year, let us be cheerful, joyful, and diligent.

At every New Year’s season, following the
founder’s example I do my first calligraphy of the year. I select two subjects for this and the results are mounted on two hanging scrolls. One of the subjects in recent years is gassho, meaning placing
the palms together in prayer. The act of placing the palms together in this way is inseparably connected with faith, and since we Buddhists follow the principle of revering the buddha-nature in others, the spirit of the act is just as important for lay practitioners as it is for monks and nuns.

Placing the palms together in prayer does
not seem to have its origin in Buddhism, however.

Someone once wrote about the act of placing the palms together “We have, since ancient times, put our palms together to pay homage to the gods and the buddhas, and when we do this, we are engaging in spiritual communion with the gods and the buddhas.” In fact, a clay figurine of a seated figure with hands clasped in prayer and eyes raised to heaven was excavated at a Jomon era (about 14,000 B.C.E. to about 400 B.C.E.) archeological site in Japan. So placing the palms together must be an extremely ancient form of prayer.

In Europe, people say that placing the palms together is communicating with God. In all parts of the world, the aspiration to follow the Absolute, the Wondrous—in other words, the Truth and the Dharma—leads people to spontaneously place their palms together.

From another perspective, it can be said that when people place their palms together they
become truthful and return to their basic humility.

Placing the palms together—calming the mind by bringing the left and right hands together
in the center of the body and closing the eyes to gaze inward—creates a sense of balance in all of the organs of the body. This could be considered a basic position that promotes our physical and mental health.

Placing the Palms Together Before Others

Whenever the founder met other people, he placed his hands together before them. We members of Rissho Kosei-kai — good friends in the Dharma — also usually greet one another by placing our palms together. We do not need to reevaluate the importance of placing our
palms together in this way, but we need to ask ourselves if in our everyday lives we are placing our palms together before the people nearest us, our friends and immediate family.

Some people can pray before images of the Buddha but not before other people. And some people may say they would never even dream of placing their palms together before the members of their own families.

Shakyamuni never gave preferential treatment to any member of his own family. He accepted as disciples those relatives who wanted to become followers. He respected all members of his family equally.

Children are not the personal property of their parents, so it is important that all family members place their palms together before each other as a first step in respecting and appreciating their individual personalities.

The Bodhisattva Never Despise, who appears in the Lotus Sutra, reverently placed his palms together before everyone he met, telling them, “You will certainly become buddhas.” This practice of revering all symbolizes the substance of the enlightenment attained by the
Buddha — the realization of the preciousness of all things.

We ourselves are not the only ones who deserve respect. Of course, so do the members of our families, but so does everyone else who has received the precious gift of life. In other words, the fundamental principle permeating all living beings is mutual respect. Placing
the palms together in reverence is the form that only human beings are able to perform to manifest the spirit of mutual respect.

Therefore, a world in which everyone placed their palms together in this way would be a world free of conflict. Placing one’s palms together is the simplest, most immediate religious act, and helps to achieve peace and harmony. At the same time, of course, it is not necessary for us to insist upon the form of placing the palms together. What matters most is that we offer
reverence to people in a spirit of mutual respect, truthfully follow the Dharma, and place our palms together in prayer before the gods and the buddhas.

The underlying meaning of this act of placing one’s palms together is that this simple act could grow into a religious movement which would reflect the basic essence of Buddhism.

All over the world, people are calling for lasting peace. Each of us, all of us, one by one, fully realizing the spirit of placing one’s palms together and regularly following this practice can be of profound significance.

January 2010
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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