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Developing Your Own Distinctive Traits

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoVery Much Like Oden

It may be a little out of season, but whenever I hear the term “distinctive traits” I am somehow reminded of the popular Japanese cold-weather dish oden, in which a variety of ingredients are simmered together in savory stock in a single pot. The ingredients usually include sliced daikon radish, deep-fried tofu, hard-boiled eggs, and others that would be unfamiliar to most non-Japanese. Cooking together in the one pot, the various items bring out the special flavor of each as they develop their own distinctive traits. I think the pot of oden is similar to society in general and our individual lifestyles.

Incidentally, when we speak of distinctive traits or personality what we mean in many cases are the outstanding talents or strengths of an individual. Of course, those may be worth special attention. But if that is all we have in mind, then we would also be saying that people who have no exceptional talent also have no distinctive traits or personality. Some people do not know what their own distinctive traits are. They lack self-confidence and suffer from low personal esteem. Many of them may be overly concerned about their perceived lack of distinctive personality traits, and think about this obsessively.

As I am also someone who has worried considerably over finding the answer to the question, “What am I?” I can well understand how it feels to be frustrated and troubled by this. However, while realizing your own distinctive traits can certainly be difficult, you might not be able to determine them even if you shut yourself alone in a room and ponder the subject.

If you really want to know yourself, I think it is good to get out and interact with other people, such as enjoying some physical activity together. In that way you can find something that you genuinely like doing and can feel confident about. In other words, your distinctive traits are revealed through various encounters.

Let us return to the discussion of oden. None of the ingredients in the dish has a very strong flavor or aroma. They are rather plain. But after they have been simmered together in the same pot, the fish cake’s fluffy texture comes to life, the daikon radish’s tart sweetness is drawn out, and each ingredient’s distinctive traits and what we might call their personality are developed. We could say that each of them has distinctive traits that are in large part revealed by the interaction in the oden pot.

The Savory Stock Is Decisive

Fumiko Hama (b. 1945) has written a poem called “The Flower in the Field.” It reads:

“Simply standing there, / It gives rest to an insect. / Simply swaying there, / It releases its fragrance. / When the wind blows, / Its seeds scatter. / One leaf, one flower, / Living / In one fixed place. / And inside that ring of petals, / Is the full circle of life / Of the flower. / All the more so with people— / Simply being a friend is happiness. / Simply being a parent is noble. / Simply being a child is a source of gratitude. / Simply being a husband, / And simply being a wife, / Is touching.”

We are like the flower described, not only in our innate abilities but in the fact that just by existing we are already developing our distinctive traits—and this is true of each and every one of us. Through this realization, not only regarding your own self-esteem, but when you consider other people, too, you will be able to have the rich perspective of knowing that simply being a friend equals happiness.

This is not merely a technique, such as regarding someone’s weaknesses as strengths, but rather genuine praise for someone as a person of consequence who has weaknesses as well as strengths, and a warm regard that supports that person’s whole being. In the end, your distinctive traits are, ultimately, produced by your own nature and therefore, the fact that you already have eyes and a mind that allow you to see things honestly is, I think, one of the distinctive traits intrinsic to us as human beings. Engaging in bodhisattva practices without self-interest for the sake of society and of other people is also a distinctive trait that we can develop ourselves. An image something like this comes to my mind: our distinctive trait of
showing consideration for others absorbs the essence of the savory stock from the pot of society and brings out its fully profound human flavor.

I think that in this sense, the decisive factors that bring out the distinctive traits of ourselves and other people are like the savory stock in the pot. It is made up of our brightness, our kindness, and our warmth. However, in order to ensure that the stock is always well seasoned, we must never forget to be diligent each and every day.


May 2016
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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