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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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President's Message

Speaking Eloquently

 

RKINA Pres. Nichiko Niwano

The Power of Words

The Bible’s Gospel of John begins with the famous phrase, “In the beginning was the word.” Certainly this phrase suggests that through the use of words, our human hearts have developed and progressed, doesn’t it?

The “heart” that we human beings are given at birth—that is, the unvarnished emotions and thoughts that make a person—develops through our use of words in order to communicate with and express ourselves to others.

While this attests to how great the power of words is, on the other hand, the poet Shuji Terayama (1935–83) points out that “what modern people are losing is not such things as ‘talking to each other,’ but rather, ‘being silent together.’” It could be that the evolution of the mind does not keep up with the development of words, or that the mind atrophies, for in many cases words are used as weapons to hurt others.

So, while the power of words is great, instead of talking a lot, it may be more important to take time to reflect upon ourselves in silence. What we talk about and how we communicate—including being silent together—are important parts of building better relationships.

Learning from Purna

In chapter 8 of the Lotus Sutra, “The Assurance of Buddhahood Given to the Five Hundred Disciples,” Shakyamuni praises Purna, who is said to be foremost among the teachers of the Dharma, saying that “no one but he can so eloquently explain its doctrines” (that is, no one but Purna has such great ability to use and demonstrate the power of words). The words of Purna—who single-mindedly transmitted and taught the Dharma due to his “desire to make these people happy”—must have strongly resonated in people’s minds.

In regard to how we should transmit the Dharma to people, the scripture teaches that we should bring joy to people’s minds, understand that everyone we engage with has his or her own way of interpreting things, and make important points readily understandable, which seem to be things that people are capable of doing.

Eloquence does not mean that one has to be extremely knowledgeable and intelligent, or that they must speak as smoothly as water running down an upright plank. What is more important is a gentle attitude—which often makes the people you’re talking to smile automatically—and exchanging words full of consideration. By doing this, the words you speak will naturally become kinder and easier to accept, and they will be well received in the minds of the people you talk to.

When you feel for the people you are talking to and communicate with consideration for their feelings as well as their circumstances, the words you choose will, I think, demonstrate a power equal to that of Purna.

However, there may be one area where we feel that the hurdle is high: communicating with people in a manner that makes important things readily understandable. The novelist Hisashi Inoue (1934–2010) wrote, about the way to use words, “make difficult things simple and simple things, profound,” and it may be that from Shakyamuni’s time down to the present day, the basics of communicating with people has not changed very much.

However, it is one thing to say we understand this, but speaking so everyone can readily understand what is important when undertaking the dissemination of the Dharma is, nevertheless, difficult. In this regard, there are two helpful quotations from Inoue about how to write an essay: “simply and in easily understandable words” and “write in your own words about what you alone can write.”

If we talk about our personal experiences, we can speak in our own words. Talk frankly about the inspiration and realizations you have experienced. Since no one is perfect, even if you do not fully understand the teachings, speaking of what you yourself do know—with feelings of gratitude and happiness—will communicate important things that can be readily understood by anyone.

What inspirational experiences have you had this year? Now, what important things are you going to communicate to other people?

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From Kosei, December 2019

 


Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.


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