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Making Ourselves the Light

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA president NiwanoStanding on Your Own Two Feet

A well-known story relates that, shortly before Shakyamuni himself entered nirvana, he spoke to his disciple Ananda as follows:

"In this world, make yourself an island and depend on yourself, do not depend on others. Make the Dharma your island, and depend upon the Dharma, do not seek other refuge."

In this world, in which all things are constantly changing, the "island"—the place of certain refuge—is oneself, relying on the Truth and the Dharma. This means making oneself one's place of refuge and leading life with the Dharma as that place of refuge. In other words, this is the teaching "Make yourself the light, make the Dharma your light," the words "island" and "light" being different metaphors to express the same concept.

Shakyamuni also said, shortly before he spoke those words to Ananda, "I have already expounded the teaching in its entirety." On the basis of this he taught, "Lead your life by relying on yourself alone and on the Dharma for refuge." Shakyamuni, who did not think of himself as someone special, was saying, "It is important that you not depend on me, and by all means, with cognizance of the Dharma, each of you should lead your life standing on your own two feet."

Put differently, Shakyamuni's teaching is so straightforward and rational that anyone can understand it. And when we think about it from this perspective, we could say that we are already leading lives in which we are making ourselves the light, without always being aware of doing so.

The Importance of Realization

For instance, we customarily perform sutra recitation every morning and evening. We do so of our own volition, by making ourselves our place of refuge, and repeat the practice again and again, which is another form of making ourselves the light.

Also, our bodhisattva practice that brings people happiness, performed in the spirit of putting others first, is also the practice of making ourselves our place of refuge and making the Dharma our place of refuge. In doing so, it is important that we not be distracted by insignificant matters and that we rein in the tendency of our hearts and minds to be self-centered. In that sense, too, we are leading our lives by firmly depending on ourselves.

In hoza, we sangha members (good friends in the Dharma) improve our hearts and minds, become aware that we are all trying to do only as we please, and then try to change our hearts and minds. In the course of repeating this process, we put our hearts and minds in order, and each of us can overcome our suffering and hardship.

Looking at this from a different angle, making the most of each person's strengths, immersing ourselves in the work in front of our eyes, and making others happy are all part of leading a way of life making ourselves the light. While I do no want to boast about my own family, my third daughter recites the sutra with a clear, carrying voice, so she always helps me when I have the role of leading recitation. This indicates thateven in such ordinary daily occurrences there is something that can be called a light.

It is possible that some people may have the impression they are being abandoned as they learn the teaching of not depending on others. All of us are caused to live and cause others to live, however, so therefore it is natural that we cooperate and support one another.

Still, it may not always be the case that there is someone nearby upon whom to depend. In that regard, Shakyamuni teaches us, "Everyone is invested with the individual capability to overcome suffering and hardship, without depending on others." In other words, we are, from the beginning, already liberated, but because we are still growing, we do not realize it.

Shakyamuni's wish is that we quickly realize this, and understand the Truth and the Dharma and quickly awaken to it so that we can become people who are able to cope with any situation.

Soon, we will mark the anniversary of Shakyamuni's attainment of enlightenment. Let us continue to be diligent so that we are able to lead our lives by making ourselves the light.

December 2011
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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