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International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Giving Recognition and Praise to Others

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoPraising Life

We usually praise people for their outstanding qualities. But how do we measure these “outstanding” qualities?

Ordinarily, when we give people recognition and praise them as outstanding, we are referring to their strong points such as passing difficult examinations, being a fast worker, displaying good personal characteristics, or excelling at some sport.

Yet, Shakyamuni praised Devadatta, the man who tried to take his life, calling him “my good friend.” And believing that Angulimala, a man who was feared by people as a bloodthirsty murderer, could be transformed spiritually through religious discipline, Shakyamuni accepted him as his disciple.

Although Shakyamuni’s way of seeing things may differ from today’s social norms, those accounts provide important insights into giving people recognition and praising them.

Generally speaking, to praise means “being deeply impressed and expressing admiration.” From that perspective, it does not seem possible to praise someone who has tried to kill you. On the other hand, to praise in Buddhist teaching is to “praise the virtues of the buddhas and bodhisattvas.” In light of this, that Shakyamuni did not fail to praise a man who had committed such evil deeds could only mean that he saw in that person the shining virtues of the buddhas and bodhisattvas.

In evaluating and judging people, we cannot ignore their deeds, their words, and their character. However, if we become obsessed with such thinking, we are apt to forget the important perspective of the buddha-nature, the very thing worthy of our praise unconditionally. For us students of the Buddha Dharma, giving people recognition and praise is actually giving praise to the life we see in others, isn’t it?

In reality, though, we rarely notice this deeper meaning. Even so, for instance, when parents look at their children, or when supervisors evaluate staff members, or even when friends are doing something together, while always maintaining an attitude of looking for the outstanding qualities in others, they should never forget that all of us share the same life that is intrinsically endowed with the virtues of the buddhas and the bodhisattvas.

Know-how or Speaking Well Is Not Required

Regarding praise or admiration, particularly as a technique, much is being made of this recently. Indeed, personnel and childrearing manuals in Japan are full of the positive effects of praise. Many of them quote a phrase of the Edo era monk Jiun (1718–1805) as a wise saying supporting the positive effects of praise: “Unless you show them what to do, let them hear how to do it, let them try, and give them praise for their effort, people cannot grow.” However, a close reading of his words shows that the important point is that those doing the teaching and those being taught continue to develop together.

Praising others is opening your heart to them. We are told that it is important to praise others, but a stubborn person usually cannot manage even a few words of commendation. The feeling of sincerely giving recognition and praise to others leads to opening up of each other and building harmonious relationships. In this sense, giving recognition and praise is not actually done only for the sake of others, as it could be called one of the practices of refining one’s own self.

I think it must have been in 1965. Back then, when I was facing some difficult problems, I undertook fasting for the first time. I had just finished the eight days of fasting and gradually increased my meals at the fasting practice hall, and had returned home. I got into the bath, when suddenly my father, Founder Niwano, also came into the room. “Let me wash your back,” he said, and while he washed the back of his son, whose body had lost much weight, he said, seemingly without any particular meaning of praise, “The skin on your back has become very smooth.”

It was not unusual in Japan for father and son to spend time together in the bath, but for us, it was a rare event. I feel that from this experience, I came to understand, even a little, what is important in giving recognition and praise to others. It is not know-how or words well spoken, but ultimately can be summed up as respecting the sanctity of your own and others’ lives and hoping from the bottom of your heart that the other person will continue to grow and develop.


July 2017
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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