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Buddhism for Today
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The Brilliance of Our Senior Citizens

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoAll Are Originally Wonderful

Today in Japan, there are some 16.41 million people over the age of seventy-five, who are commonly called koki koreisha (latter-stage senior citizens). I am one of them. A wonderful letter that I received not long ago pointed out that, by changing the word koki (latter-stage) to a homonym meaning brilliant and shining, latter-stage senior citizens are actually brilliant, shining senior citizens. In other words, after age seventy-five, people can be all the more bright and brilliant—that has a cheerful feeling and conveys an image of happy, active seniors.

However, “brilliant, shining seniors” are not necessarily active and sprightly people, which presents us with a rather delicate problem.

“In spring, the flowers. In summer, the cuckoo. In autumn, the moon. And in winter, theglistening snow, clear and cool.” This is a famous poem by the Zen master Dogen (1200–1253). This poem expresses how each of the four seasons, in and of itself, exudes its own distinct brilliance. These are all involved in the working of nature, and each is wonderful in its own way.

From this perspective, being bright and brilliant suggests much more than activities in the spotlight, and it is important even in our senior years, the so-called late autumn of life, that we are able to honestly accept things for what they are at each and every moment.

In other words, to say nothing of those who remain robustly healthy and active, all those who turn their eyes toward the fact that they are existing in the here and now and are aware of the brilliance reflected in that fact, and are grateful for it, are in the truest sense, bright, brilliant seniors.

The haiku poet Fusei Tomiyasu (1885–1979) wrote the following verse: “At last, being alive is enjoyable, / In the spring of my old age.” Running through this verse is the sentiment of having realized something important that could not be understood in the spring or summer of life. This verse certainly expresses the mindset of a bright, brilliant senior citizen.

The Brilliance of Bodhisattvas

On the one hand, old age has a brilliance not found among younger generations, but undeniably the reality is that it entails suffering. Not only for the elderly persons who must receive care, but for some of those people who are caring for elderly family members as well, the phrase “brilliant, shining seniors” may sound like whitewashing the dilemma of mounting worries about an expensive, exhausting situation, which they have nowhere to let out.

However, while your heart is occupied by difficulties and complicated feelings that are hard to express and you grumble about the situation, at the same time you wish the person requiring care would get better. At the bottom of your heart, you want to do everything possible to help. And what is calling forth in you such profound consideration is, without a doubt, the fact of a family member in need of care. Therefore, I think that such a family member who serves as a cause, lighting the lamp of the caregiver’s mind of compassion, is deserving of the description “shining brilliance.”

For instance, we must never forget that even someone who is bedridden can become a brilliant, shining bodhisattva, serving as the plow and the hoe that cultivate the field of the hearts and minds of the people around him or her. As Founder Nikkyo Niwano once said, “I want to live the kind of life that is, in and of itself, an offering,” how we are leading our lives can be one form of such an offering.

Of course, just as the scholar of Oriental philosophy Masahiro Yasuoka (1898–1983) said, “The secret to never growing old is to continue to be passionate about learning, the arts, and religious faith,” when we lead lives that are actively engaged in study that is put to use as a contribution to society, we are leading lives that are an offering of a senior citizen’s brilliance.

Of course, it goes without saying that our Rissho Kosei-kai Dharma centers and our Sangha have firmly laid the groundwork for this. The teachings of the Buddha that we learn at our Dharma centers are put to work in our homes and communities. That gives each of us a reason to live life fully and brings joy to everyone around us. For us, it is natural to help each other and call out to one another, filling our Dharma centers with kind consideration. Seeing such brilliant, shining senior members at a Dharma center, I am sure that they are serving as models for younger generations, and that they are playing a vital role in their communities.


September 2016
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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