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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
Phone: (323) 262-4430
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President's Message

Living Brightly and Cheerfully


RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoMake Yourself the Light

The morning of the first day of the year is called gantan and the Chinese character for tan resembles the appearance of the sun as it rises above the horizon. The year begins with the brisk sunlight of New Year's morning freshly invigorating our bodies and minds as we welcome the New Year. Well, then, how do all of you hope to live in a year with such a beginning?

I think that we all have our own ideas and expectations, but one thing we all have in common is that we want the year to pass brightly and cheerfully.

In order for that to happen, there is something we must absolutely not forget. Namely, just like the sun that gives us the energy to live, we ourselves should be bright and cheerful so that we make other people feel peaceful and bring them joy. At times, a person is given encouragement from others or starts to feel at peace because of another person's brightness. But what is most important, I think, is to live brightly and cheerfully on your own.

However, there seem to be some people who sigh and say, with resignation, that it is difficult to be cheerful unless you were born with a sunny disposition. Even so, you should never give up trying.

In Buddhism, there is a teaching that says, "Make yourself the light; make the Dharma your light."

"Make yourself the light" means that you should live your life by making yourself your own light, which means that you have a backbone that makes it possible to lead an unswayable, confident lifestyle. And that backbone is the unwavering faith that all people, including yourself, are living, here and now, precious, irreplaceable lives, while your gratitude for the life you are now living is the oil necessary to keep lit the lamp that serves as your "backbone."

"Make the Dharma Your Light"

Once, there was a Zen priest called the "Legless Priest." When the war ended in 1945, he was twenty-five years old and stationed on the Korean Peninsula. From there, he was sent to an internment camp in Siberia, where both of his feet were lost to frostbite, and they had to be amputated from the knees down. It is hard for us to imagine the hardships he suffered as a disabled person before he returned to Japan and the difficulties he faced after he returned to Japan at age twenty-six. However, when he was twenty-seven, this man, Rev. Doyu Ozawa, experienced what he describes as "a flash of light" in his mind. Realizing that "I suffer because I compare myself to other people," he set forth his thoughts.

"That I was born twenty-seven years ago is the origin of my mind that makes such comparisons. I will quit thinking that I was born twenty-seven years ago and I will make today the day of my birth just as I am: a man without legs. The person born today is completely brand new. Therefore, I have just been born today!"

From that day forward, his motto was, "I have just been born today." Therefore, he kept in mind that he should always be cheerful and certainly express his gratitude by giving thanks. He was able, with a kind face, to pursue a life by walking in the Buddha Way.

In order for us to live brightly and cheerfully, the important thing is what we set in place to serve as our backbone, whether or not we were born with a sunny disposition or into fortunate surroundings. For us Buddhists, it is the Buddha Dharma, as the Zen priest Ozawa shows us so clearly. This means living with the Dharma as the light of your lamp-that is, "Make the Dharma your light."

Looking at this from a different perspective, we can say that real brightness and cheerfulness come forth when we break through suffering and hardship, and in order to break through suffering and hardship, what is important is having a way of life fixed as your backbone, as was just mentioned, as well as the resolution to focus your mind and not let it be swayed by idle thoughts.

The haiku poet Kyoshi Takahama (1874-1959) wrote this forceful New Year's poem:

"As the year changes,
We too all change,
So let's go forward."

As this poem tells us, let each and every one of us renew ourselves and with a clean mind and a pure heart, look forward to passing the year brightly and cheerfully.

From Kosei, January 2018

sunrise in winter


Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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