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Buddhism for Today
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Wasting Time

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoIn the Harmony of the Universe

Many of us think that spending the whole day lolling around and doing nothing is an example of wasting time. We think that we should not squander the slightest bit of time but keep busy. We believe that is a meaningful way to spend our time, and that wasting time is no different than wasting life itself.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger (4 BCE–65 CE) left us the words “Live every day as if it were your last.” From ancient times, it has been widely felt that it is important not to waste time and to spend each day with this attitude. When we think about wasting time in light of the infinite expanse of the universe, however, what we see is a much broader, more relaxed point of view that is not shackled to time.

A book discussing the Buddha Way tells us that getting up in the morning and going to bed at night are all manifestations of wonderful workings. Our everyday lives are at all times maintained by the workings of wonderful forces. At this very moment, we are caused to live in this realm of great harmony within the infinite expanse of the universe, which is sustained by the unrestrained activity of that wonderfulness.

The wonder of the origin of the universe, the wonder of our receiving life as human beings here on our planet Earth that is replete with all elements that support the existence of living organisms, and the wonder of being caused to live right now, in the midst of the great harmony of the infinite expanse of the universe—thinking about how time is spent from this broad perspective, I feel that I should not say, based on my own narrow thinking, such things as “That is a waste of time” or “That is reckless indulgence.”

Doing nothing but lolling around may appear to be nothing else but laziness. Speaking in terms of the essence of the Buddha Dharma, however, we can perceive that not a single human being, thing, or phenomenon is without purpose. Just as in the expression, “The essence of the Dharma is neither deluded nor awakened; there are neither ordinary persons nor saints,” when we do not look at things from the egoistical perspective of making distinctions between ordinary persons and those considered saints, we can sense the great workings of the gods and the buddhas.

Perceiving Wonders

Well, then, for us human beings who live in this realm of harmony, what does it mean to “waste time”?

The Lotus Sutra teaches us that we all “have been born in this world with a wish.” It also teaches us that this wish is to bring happiness to as many people as possible. In other words, as members of this realm of harmony, and so that all of us can lead happy lives, we were born, and are caused to live, in order to maintain this harmony. Then, what we may call “wasting time” is, above all, words that hurt other people and self-centered attitudes that consider only what is good for oneself. An athlete has said, “Time is a part of life,” and perhaps in that sense, wasting time may indeed be considered wasting life.

While we may not know it and may be unaware of it, however, we are apt to waste life. I have learned that feeling keenly the impermanence of life, we can understand clearly that we should be grateful for being alive now and that realization gives rise to the aspiration to be diligent. Merely passing time aimlessly without the realization of the wonder of being alive now—and gratitude for it—may lead us to behave in ways that disturb harmony.

Zen master Dogen (1200–1253) wrote, “Reflect upon your own body and mind that will transmigrate in the realm of birth and death, and thereby give rise to the aspiration of the bodhisattvas who pray that other people will find happiness first.” Dogen is here arguing that when we contemplate impermanence and the wonder of the infinite expanse of the universe that sustains our world in exquisite balance, then as people who are building harmony, we must respect one another and lead our lives by getting along with each other.

In Japan these days we are welcoming the arrival of spring, when new plants and flowers sprout and bud. That we cherish the plants and flowers and enjoy them means that we have the sensibility to contemplate impermanence and the wonder of life. That is also an opportunity to recognize the importance of leading life to the fullest in the here and now.


April 2017
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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