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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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You, IóWe Are All Buddhas

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoLiving Beings and the Buddha Are One and the Same

When Shakyamuni’s birthday is observed on April 8 every year, bathed in the warm spring sunshine we pay homage by pouring sweet tea over the statue of the child Buddha enshrined in the hanamido (flower altar), and celebrate the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha.

On such an occasion, many people renew their vow to be diligent in becomingmore like the Buddha.

At such times, however, the thought may arise from somewhere in your mind that the gap between yourself and the Buddha is so great that becoming a buddha is just a distant goal. You may also think that although you do good deeds, you could never live your life always being wise and compassionate like Shakyamuni.

The verses, “Living beings are intrinsically buddhas. This is just like water and ice. There can be no ice without water, and were it not for living beings, there would be no buddhas” appear in Zazen wasan (Praise of seated meditation) by Zen master Hakuin (1685–1768). Hakuin meant that living beings and the Buddha are at one with each other. In other words, that because living beings and the Buddha are essentially one and the same, there are no buddhas apart from living beings.

Furthermore, Venerable Mumon Yamada (1900–1988) of the Rinzai Zen School has said that the verse “Living beings are intrinsically buddhas” is the fundamental principle of the Buddha Dharma, and “If you truly understand this verse, then it would be no exaggeration to say that you have fully grasped the whole of the Buddha Dharma.” It may be that in one sense, in order to convey this idea to others, many people have, over the course of many years, used one method after another to add layer upon layer of skill to teaching and guiding.

We normally believe, “I am just an ordinary person, quite different from the Buddha,” or, to put it in different words, that ordinary people and the Buddha are entirely separate, and we take it for granted that we ourselves cannot become buddhas. But this is not the case. Our hearts soften when we smile and exchange greetings with people; our own hearts ache when we know of someone else’s pain or suffering; and we feel happy when we see someone else’s happy face. These reactions are precisely because we living beings and the Buddha are one and the same and because ordinary persons like us and saints are not two separate entities. Our daily practice aims to always pursue the Way based on this realization.

Know Your True Self

Buddhas are, therefore, people who have realized that they are buddhas, and this means that they have realized the sanctity of their own lives and have come to know their true self.

However, just as Shakyamuni tells us, “All living beings possess the wisdom and the virtuous sign of the Tathagata, but do not realize this because of their delusions and attachments,” we are unable to free ourselves from our shackles. About this, a Zen priest of long ago used the following scheme to remind himself that he and the Buddha are one. He would call out to himself, “Hey, master,” and reply “Yes, sir,” and then ask himself and reply to himself: “Are your eyes open?” “Yes, they are,” “Don’t lose sight of your true self,” “All right, I won’t.” And such Buddhist poems as “Think not that parting clouds make it light, for the moon is always there in the sky, shining,” tell us that when the clouds of delusions and attachments are cleared away from our minds, we become aware of our own inner light.

Speaking personally, in my own case I call out to myself, “Hey, Nichiko” and respond to myself to encourage self-realization. It is fun to give this kind of method a try. Also, just as in the expression, “Buddha-seeds sprout through karmic connections,” you also feel cheerful when you hear kind words of encouragement coming from members of the sangha (friends in the faith), such as those spoken during hoza sessions, for instance, and come into contact with kindness and cheerfulness not found in yourself. That happens because your buddha-nature is responding to them. In a manner of speaking, this is because a buddha is preaching the Dharma to a buddha, and together they are seeking the Way. In the words of Zen master Ryokan (1758–1831), “All living beings have the same oneness as ordinary persons and saints do, and they all have the buddha-nature. When you pay homage to all living beings as intrinsically buddha-body, you are a person who is advancing toward becoming a buddha.”

Know your true self. Realize the oneness of living beings and the Buddha. These form the theme of our lives. Just as the Buddha Way is described as the supreme Way, however, it is human nature that once we begin to understand the Way, we cannot help but be more diligent in pursuing it endlessly. For a living being with a mind, this is the working of the buddha-nature.


April 2016
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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