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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Filial Respect and the Buddha Way

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

Nichiko NiwanoThe Buddha's Heart - Our Treasure

The following anecdote comes to us from the early Edo period Zen master Bankei (1622–93), who preached Zen teachings to ordinary citizens in everyday language. A monk once came to Bankei
and said to him, "I was born with a quick temper.
No matter how much instruction I receive from my teacher, nothing seems to help. How can I cure my quick temper?" Bankei calmly replied, "Well, go on, then, show me your quick temper right here and I
will cure you of it." The monk then replied, "I can't,
as I don't have it just now. Something has to set
off my temper unexpectedly. There has to be some sudden cause." At that, Bankei let out an angry roar.

"If it takes some cause for your quick temper to appear, then it is not due to something inborn. No matter who one's parents may be, they can only provide their child with the heart of the Buddha, which is the same for everyone. There is nothing
else that parents give to their newborn child. Because of your own expectations or biases, you exhibit a quick temper. By saying that you were born with it, you are placing the blame for your own difficult problem on your parents, and that is the worst form of disrespect toward them!

In Rissho Kosei-kai, the three pillars of our daily practice are respect for one's parents, ancestor appreciation, and bodhisattva practice. Bankei's anecdote gives us another chance to learn that it is important that we express gratitude toward the parents and ancestors through whom we have received this precious gift of life—the Buddha's heart.

Regarding filial respect, I am reminded once again of the morally instructive poem by the Japanese agricultural expert Ninomiya Sontoku (1787–1856), which I have mentioned before:

My mother and father,
And their mothers and fathers, too,
Reside in me.
So I respect myself,
And revere myself.

Regarding our indebtedness for receiving life through the long chain of our ancestors' lives, there is no greater expression of respect for parents and ancestor appreciation than to put into greater play and further refine the heart and mind of the Buddha, that is, the buddha-nature that we all receive at birth, and lead our lives by allowing it to shine forth with all its intrinsic light.

Giving Our Parents Peace of Mind

A direct linking of the spirit of the diligent practice of Buddhism with filial respect and ancestor appreciation is not much in evidence in the original form of Buddhism that evolved in India. As you may know, Buddhism followed the old Silk Road from India to China and the Korean Peninsula, and then crossed over to Japan. During this evolutionary process, Buddhism benefited from a unique path of development. In China, Confucianism provided it with a testing ground and a rich source of cultural exchange, and in Japan, it was further influenced by Shinto as well as Confucian learning. Thus, Buddhism took root in Japan in ways that were easily accepted by the Japanese. And in the process ceremonies such as funerals and rituals to express reverence for one's ancestors and thinking that stresses filial respect and care for parents came to be assimilated as part of Buddhist practice. Bankei, in the anecdote I mentioned, clearly emphasized that filial respect toward their parents is the right path that children should tread.

In Rissho Kosei-kai, we place importance on reflecting on actions that may be disrespectful toward our parents, because being thankful for the kindness and generosity received from those to whom we are most closely related—our own mother and father—is the starting point of our Buddhist faith in expressing gratitude for all the blessings we have received and continue to receive.

We could examine the relationship between Buddhism and filial respect from a cultural perspective. But putting aside such a cultural examination, we can see that filial respect is basic behavior of humanity, and at the same time it can be considered the diligent practice of Buddhism. I think all of us have had this experience personally. Of course, very few people, myself included, can say without hesitation that they always have been faithful practitioners of filial respect.

Precisely because I caused my parents to worry about me when I was young, I deeply reflected on my behavior when I read in the Analects of Confucius that since parents are always anxious about their children, for children to give their parents no cause to worry is an example of filial respect. Therefore, through the responsibilities that have been assigned to me, I have tried to conduct myself from day to day by always keeping in mind how I could ensure that my parents would have peace of mind.

The summer season will soon bring the Bon festival in Japan. Let us make heartfelt offerings to our ancestors, and also strengthen our vow to lead our lives in such a way that we give peace of mind to everyone that supports and sustains us—whether they are our relatives or not—by further studying the Buddha's teachings, putting them into practice, and sharing them with others.

July 2011
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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