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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Filial Piety and Bodhisattva Practice

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoIt Is Never Too Late for Filial Piety

Respecting our parents and looking after them demonstrates our filial piety. And as we are told by the proverb, “When you feel like performing your filial duty, you may no longer have parents,” the general idea is that we should take care of them while they are still alive.

For many of us, however, it is quite difficult to take care of our parents while they are still in good health. That may be because we feel awkward or embarrassed about performing our filial duty, or because somewhere, in the back of our minds, there is something akin to the wishful thinking that our parents will always be in good health. As a consequence, many people only come to fully realize how great a debt of gratitude they owe to their parents after their parents have died and then regret not having performed their filial duty while their parents were still alive. However, I believe that it is never too late to perform our filial duty toward our parents.

As I wrote before in the pages of this magazine, “Let us lead our lives in such a way that we give peace of mind to our parents and ancestors” (“Filial Respect and the Buddha Way,” July 2011). To describe that more concretely, we should be very attentive to every element of our lives. Each day should be spent cheerfully and joyfully. We should sincerely do things that bring happiness to other people. If daughters and sons are leading such lives, then their parents, even after they have passed away, will have peace of mind. Therefore, it is never too late for filial piety, and it goes without saying that for parents who are still active and well, nothing brings them greater joy than knowing that their children are living honestly and doing things that bring happiness to the people around them.

Of course, praying before your ancestors’ graves and your family Buddhist altar is, in and of itself, an act of filial piety. This is not simply because you are putting your hands together before your parents or your ancestors, but because those actions are themselves proof that you are evolving as a human being who can express gratitude toward the source of your own life.

“Filial Piety Is the Source of a Hundred Deeds”

Explaining the teachings expounded in the Lotus Sutra in terms of our everyday lives, Founder Nikkyo Niwano taught us the importance of three things—filial piety, revering our ancestors, and bodhisattva practice. According to this interpretation of filial piety, since it is directly linked to revering our ancestors, we could put these two together and even say that filial piety and bodhisattva practice constitute the whole of Rissho Kosei-kai’s teachings.

What, then, is bodhisattva practice? It is following the Buddha’s teachings, such as making donations, keeping the precepts, and forbearance; being considerate of other people; and doing things that bring happiness to the people around you. Changing perspective, people who find happiness in the happiness of others are called bodhisattvas, and the pillar supporting the heart and mind of a bodhisattva is gratitude for having been granted this precious life.

In light of this, let us revisit the discussion of how we approach filial piety. If we look at a concrete image of our filial piety, which is living our daily lives attentively and leading a lifestyle that sincerely brings happiness to others, through the context of bodhisattva practices, we come to understand that filial piety, revering ancestors, and bodhisattva practice are basically one and the same. And the common denominator of all three of these is being grateful for the life we are now living.

To quote a Chinese proverb, “Filial piety is the source of a hundred deeds.” This means that filial piety is the foundation of all good deeds. Gratitude toward the parents who gave us birth is the foundation of filial piety and therefore, the platform for all good deeds is gratitude for life itself. Indeed, this proverb teaches us that gratitude for life has the power to create a world of good.

Our custom in Rissho Kosei-kai is to start our year from December 1, and so we are about to begin the year that will mark the eightieth anniversary of our organization’s founding. This month, I talked about the theme of “filial piety and bodhisattva practice,” which are important in our organization. I hope that through them, you can reevaluate the starting point of your own life and take a fresh look at the state of your own faith. With that in mind, I hope that you will think deeply about sharing the Buddha Dharma with as many people as possible, which is the basis of bodhisattva practice, and thereby experience, along with other people, the joy of being alive.


November 2017
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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