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Buddhism for Today
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Do Not Do What Is Wrong

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoWhat Is Wrongdoing?

From childhood we are often told, “Do not do what you have been taught is wrong.” Why should we not do something we are told is wrong? Furthermore, to begin with, what exactly does it mean to be wrong?

As is written in the Dhammapada: “Do something wrong, and afterward you will regret it.” In other words, avoiding to do something you know is wrong means you can pass your days without regret. Some people may think, “Oh, is that all this is
about?” But by passing your days without regret, you will always be in a cheerful frame of mind and every day of your life can be enjoyable and fulfilling. There can be no greater joy than this.

Nevertheless, it can be rather difficult to pin down exactly what wrongdoing means. Definitions of the terms “good” and “evil” may change, depending on the person using them, the period in history, and the karmic connections. That is why many philosophers since ancient times have found them hard to define, saying that they are beyond human conceiving.

It has been said, however, that goodness means following a course that fosters life and that evil means going against the flow of life. Simply put, words and deeds that accord with the Truth, or the Dharma, imply goodness, while those that disrespect the sanctity of your own and others’ lives are evil. Also, the reason that Shakyamuni said, “Those who know the preciousness of their own selves, let them not connect themselves to evil,” is because awareness of the sanctity of life is at the root of not doing something wrong.

From this perspective, the ten evils taught by Buddhism are all actions that do harm to the sanctity of your own and others’ lives. They include: to unnecessarily take life; to steal from others; to become involved in immoral sexual relationships; to use language that is duplicitous or flattering; to speak ill of others, tell lies, or cheat; to cherish fierce desire or anger; and to hold wrong views.

Such behavior, in nearly all cases, causes people to hold a grudge, or makes people angry or sad, and is bound to bring about regret. In order to live without regret, do not do what is wrong—that is an ironclad rule of life.

On the other hand, the Edo-period Shingon priest Jiun Onko (1718–1804) said that “the ten good deeds are the practice hall of bodhisattvas.” In other words, not committing the ten evils means for us studying the Buddha Way and putting it into practice, and that itself is “the Way of humanity.”

Doing Good Deeds

Although we understand that we should not do what is wrong, sometimes we may tell lies or become angry. We cannot say absolutely that there is no chance that, without knowing it, we somehow hurt other people, or that accidentally, we might even be responsible for the death of someone. That is why Shakyamuni has given us the concrete teaching of not committing the ten evils, and thereby encouraged us to always be able to realize the sanctity of our own and others’ lives.

“Do not do what is wrong” brings to mind the verse of the precepts of the seven buddhas that sums up Buddhist thought. The first line of the verse, “Do no evil,” is in most cases read as a command to refrain from committing evil deeds. Zen master Dogen (1200–1253), however, interpreted this line as meaning that if you walk the Buddha Way and live with awareness of the sanctity of your own and others’ lives, you naturally will not do what is wrong. In other words, the phrase “do no evil,” rather than being a warning that we should not do what is wrong, is a phrase that shows us our true nature; that is, if we are truly aware of the sanctity of our own and others’ lives, we will do only good deeds. You will do nothing wrong precisely because you have realized what is important to you as a human being, thanks to having made a connection to the teaching of the Buddha. We cannot help but think of the peace of mind that ensues.

As for the people who have committed wrongful acts, just as in the saying, “those who are capable of evil are also capable of good,” once they return to their senses, they are more capable of walking the bodhisattva way than other people, with remorse that serves like the working of a springboard.

Finally, I would like to mention another saying of Shakyamuni’s. “If an action brings about no regret, and can be done happily and joyfully, that action embodies goodness”—so let us spend each day of our lives cheerfully and joyfully.


March 2016
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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