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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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President's Message

The Mind of Reverence and the Mind of Shame


RKINA Pres. Nichiko Niwano

Advice from the Buddha

This month, let’s examine right action, one of the practices of the Eightfold Path. Right action is defined by a dictionary of Buddhist terms as right deeds or proper actions. It also indicates the correct form of the body’s actions, which comprise one of the three actions of body, speech, and mind. In fact, “right thinking” (mind) and “right speech” (speech), which are discussed in the June and July issues of this journal, are the two other components of “the three actions.” They indicate the correct form of the mind’s actions and the correct form of speaking.

What kinds of things, then, are right actions of the body? According to a Buddhist handbook, they are three: not killing, not stealing, and not engaging in sexual misconduct.

To quote the Dhammapada, “Everyone trembles before violence and everyone fears death. Compare yourself to others and you will not kill them or cause them to kill.” Indeed, if you think about yourself being killed, having something stolen from you, or being in the position of suffering from improper sexual conduct, you could never do such things to someone else.

Shakyamuni realized the way of liberation from the sufferings we experience in this world. He thoroughly perceived the causes of suffering and identified the three precepts regarding the body—not killing, not stealing, and not engaging in sexual misconduct—as the means to avoid causing suffering. Therefore, I think it is natural that we accept these precepts not as an admonishment but as advice that helps us live each day brightly and joyfully, like Shakyamuni giving us warm advice, saying, “If you never forget this, you will be able to live easily and peacefully at home and in society.”

Right Action Is a Matter of Course

Right actions of the body are “not killing living beings,” “not stealing things,” and “not getting involved in improper sexual relationships.” Certainly, there is no mistaking that these are right, as killing and theft are matters that even the law addresses. Even so, if we are told that a list of prohibitions saying “you should not . . .” constitute right action, we may feel that right action is, psychologically, a very high hurdle. If that’s the case, before we start feeling that we must keep the precepts, we should become people who, at all times, naturally, “cannot help but act in a way that avoids causing suffering (right action).”

In order to do so, the key phrases are “the mind of reverence” and “the mind of shame.”

As Buddhists, we revere the Buddha and are diligent in pursuing our vow to become like the Buddha. However, in doing so, we often notice our own shortcomings.

This is, according to Masahiro Yasuoka (1898–1983), a renowned Japanese authority on Eastern thought, “your mind of reverence, in other words, the mind that tries to advance to an even slightly higher spiritual state and approach greatness. Thus, it is the mind, at the same time, that makes you reflect upon yourself and feel ashamed of your shortcomings.” What saves us, however, comes next. Yasuoka goes on and writes the following words.

“Self-reflection is to continue being concerned about yourself, disciplining yourself, and admonishing yourself”—in other words, if you give rise to the mind of reverence and the mind of shame, you are apprehensive of your own shortcomings and become careful that your actions are in line with the wishes of the gods and the buddhas. We can also interpret this as meaning that if we take refuge in the Buddha and his teachings, then we can become human beings for whom right action is a matter of course.

Furthermore, it is also said that the mind of reverence and the mind of shame are connected to the human instinct to seek progress and improvement. If this is the case, then for those of us who are about to forget ourselves and stray from the path, these two minds are what bring us back to an authentically human way of life.

We could even say that “right actions” are actions that are supported by both the mind of reverence and the mind of shame, and that those two minds and those actions are—from the day-to-day relations of human beings to the relations of nations—important in building peace in all of them. I think they manifest a great power right now in any situation in which we are apt to lose sight of the Buddha’s Way.

From Kosei, August 2018


Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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