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Buddhism for Today
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Saying "Thank You" with Sincerity

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

President Nichiko NiwanoRespecting Ourselves, Revering Our Ancestors

July is the season of the Bon festival, when many Japanese return from the cities to their hometowns and visit family graves.

The age-old Japanese custom of visiting the family grave is an expression of our debt of gratitude, since we recognize that it is thanks to our ancestors that we exist here and now.

The agricultural expert Ninomiya Sontoku (1787-1856) of Japan’s late Edo period (1603- 1868), struck by the continuity of life traced down through his ancestors, wrote the following short didactic poem: “My mother and father, and their mothers and fathers, too, reside in me. So I respect myself, and revere myself.” He teaches us in these words that the best way to express gratitude to deceased parents and ancestors is to revere and respect our
own lives.

As our way of showing that we are grateful for being given life as a link in a long chain of lives
from our ancestors, there is certainly no higher expression of this than respecting and revering our own lives—the most recent link of succession from their lives. When we think in this way, the time for remembering and honoring our ancestors gives us an opportunity to take a fresh look at our own lives.

Visiting the family grave and expressing gratitude to those ancestors is, thanks to established
custom, comparatively easy to do. Yet for many people it seems to be very difficult to utter even the words “thank you” to living family members who are before their very eyes.

Take the Initiative in Saying“ Thank You”

People are not always able to say “thank you” sincerely, even when they receive an act of kindness or an expression of goodwill from someone, if they are experiencing some trouble or their minds are occupied with something else. Once we have rid ourselves of self-centeredness, of a desire to show off, or of suspicions and distrust, words of gratitude will then come naturally, and from being grateful harmony with others will develop.

Furthermore, offering words of gratitude is a way of showing respect for other people and acknowledging their humanity. This is one and the same with the feeling we demonstrate by putting our hands together reverently before other people. So when someone does a favor for us, we should immediately acknowledge it by saying “thank you” to them.

To accept someone’s kindness and goodwill gratefully can be said to be an embodiment of the
minds of the Buddha and the bodhisattva. That our words of gratitude can put a situation at ease is due to the praise of the gods and the buddhas, who proclaim “good! good!”Therefore, regardless of what we may personally think in certain circumstances, it is important that we always say “thank you,” because doing so brings happiness to others.

Moreover, when we find ourselves the target of angry or unpleasant words, if instead of responding in the same way we could say, “Thank you for saying so,” the atmosphere might change completely.

We would feel more relaxed and be able to comfortably accept the situation.

In this regard, the single Japanese word to express thanks, arigato, truly has extraordinary power. The origin of the word is the expression used by people from ancient times to thank the gods and the buddhas for bringing about something that seemed impossible, arigatashi. For this reason we can say that the Japanese word arigato has a greater depth of meaning than most words to express gratitude in foreign languages.

In this world that functions according to the law of dependent origination, many things remain
unknown and mysterious to us. And yet our gratefulness to the gods and the buddhas continues. Furthermore, as propounded in Zen Buddhist tradition by the term “Beyond the Buddha,” we human beings must never forget our feelings of gratitude and humility for being able to walk the infinite path leading to the wisdom of the Buddha.

According to the Suttanipata, Shakyamuni said, “To be humble and polite in manner, to be grateful and content in a simple life, not missing the occasion to learn the Dharma―this is the greatest happiness.” He is telling us that there can be no greater joy than respecting the lives of ourselves and others, aiming to improve ourselves while never forgetting to be humble, and accepting whatever may occur with a smile and “thank you.”

Even among members of a single family and in different organizations, large and small, relations among people these days often seem to be characterized by friction and discord, leading to feelings of helplessness. Just remembering to always say “thank you” can release feelings of warmth and tenderness. Let us all agree to take the initiative in making this a regular practice.

July 2010
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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