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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Revering Ourselves

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

The Meaning of Bowing
President Nichiko Niwano
There is an old proverb that says, “Pinch yourself, and you will know the pain of others.” The meaning of this is that when we ourselves experience suffering, maybe for the first time we can recognize the suffering of other people. In other words, no matter what the subject is, we can understand it best if we experience it for ourselves.

Buddhism teaches us, “Difficult is it to be born as a human being”―to receive the gift of life and be born into this human world is very rare and almost miraculous. When we ourselves feel, deep in our very bones, gratitude for this fact and the preciousness of life, we spontaneously feel welling up within us the realization that the life of every other person is just as precious as our own. We then have to respect others, and no longer are able to deny their importance.

Even if we think we understand this, however, we tend to be critical of and be influenced by those around us, and often end up complaining that life treats us unfairly or that we never have enough.

“To revere oneself” may sound arrogant, but in fact that is not the case at all. When we can place our palms together reverently toward ourselves, aware of the sanctity of life, we can also sincerely honor the Buddha with our palms placed together toward him, and also become better able to pay reverence to other people.

“The first principle of bowing is to express respect for others and, at the same time pay reverence to ourselves by exchanging bows with others,” in the words of a well-known Japanese writer. When we greet others and they return our greeting, it is an indication of mutual respect. That is the solemn meaning of the act of bowing.

Zen master Dogen (1200- 53) stated, “Learning the Buddha Way is learning one’s self.” By that he meant that because the Buddha Way is the path along with the buddha-nature unfolds and develops, clearly knowing that one’s buddha-nature is one’s true self is knowing the Buddha Way.

Not Denying Others

In one of the sutras, Shakyamuni states, “We may search everywhere, but we will never find anyone as dear as ourselves.”

This statement comes after the following conversation between King Pasenadi of Kosala and is
wife, Queen Mallikah.

When asked by the king, “Mallikah, is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?,” the queen
responded, “No, there is no one dearer to me than myself.” She asked the king in return, “And is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?” To which King Pasenadi replied, “No one exists who is dearer to me than myself.” Soon after, the king told Shakyamuni about this conversation, and Shakyamuni made the following comment.

“We can search everywhere but will never find anyone dearer to us than ourselves, and this is true of other people as well. This is why people who truly love themselves shall do no harm to others.”

Not harming other people means not to deny them. Our own existence and that of other people is, after all, a manifestation of the one life that is the buddha-nature. Therefore, when we look deeply into the roots of the lives of ourselves and others, the sanctity of ourselves and others becomes apparent to us, so we can no longer do harm to others or cause them grief.

The Christian religion teaches, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and it is
basic human nature that when we ourselves feel happy and elated, we cannot help but wish that those around us will experience the same happiness and joy.

While we may understand that we ourselves are worthy of respect, however, we also become aware that we are not perfect. We notice the faults and shortcomings of others because we ourselves have similar failings. We cannot see in others what we do not have in ourselves.
That is why Shakyamuni also tells us, “When you know that you love yourselves, do good.” To
“do good” means to respect and revere one another.

In other words, it is most important not to be influenced by the opinions of others and to be prejudiced about what is good or bad, or strengths and weakness of other people, and to view everything as objectively as possible, focusing on the positive aspects.

In our daily lives, when we seem to be losing sight of respect for the lives of ourselves and
others, the existence of the sangha, that is, our good friends in the Dharma, will surely give us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves anew.

May 2010
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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