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

Together With Others, Make a Lighthearted Effort


RKINA Pres. Nichiko Niwano

Like a Tree Shedding Its Leaves in the Autumn

“E’en the cherry tree / sheds and scatters all its leaves / when they have turned red.” This is how the poet Yosa Buson (1716–84) described the flavor of this time of year when the season turns to autumn. In Buson’s poem, the description of the leaves of a cherry tree changing color and falling earlier than those of other varieties of trees is superimposed over the scattering of the splendid cherry blossoms of spring, and it is striking how the cherry tree earnestly fulfills the life it has received.

Incidentally, when we work even harder or exert ourselves at something, we use such phrases as “labor at” or “make an effort.” Maybe that is why, when we hear the phrases, “single-mindedly labor at” or “make an effort,” we feel as if they must describe something that is bone-breaking or painful. In practicing the faith as well, there are some people who, in spite of themselves, feel overwhelmed when they come in touch with the fervor of those who say, “Make an effort, make an effort, I will keep on making an effort until I die, and if I am reborn, I will make an effort again.”

However, I think that making an effort does not intrinsically mean that you should overexert yourself or to continue to work hard while enduring suffering.

The Japanese word for “effort,” shojin, is composed of two Chinese characters, the first of which, “sho,” originally meant polishing grains of rice to remove the outer layers of husk and bran. From this we can infer that “effort” indicates a “pure and unadulterated”—that is, an authentic, straightforward—way of life. Also, this same Chinese character, sho, has the nuance of “essence” or “fundamental energy,” so the phrase “let’s make our best effort,” which we often say to one another, can be understood meaning, “let’s get right to developing our own pure, essential powers.”

Thinking in this way, the workings of nature, such as the cherry tree’s leaves turning red and falling as described in the poem cited earlier, are all examples showing us what effort means. Furthermore, as we, too, are part of the unceasingly creative, ever-changing effort of nature, we could say that our own effort means that we are striving “to live according to the laws of nature,” which is none other than “right effort,” which is itself one practice of the Eightfold Path.

Encountering Your Original Self

However, unlike trees, we human beings sometimes show our self-centered egos. We have our own measuring sticks for such things as our likes and dislikes, and good and bad, so that at times we become unable to honestly accept the phenomena occurring before our very eyes. At those times, finding ways to make your mind follow the truth is equal to “making an effort.” This kind of ingenuity, in other words, the way to make an effort appropriate to the circumstance, has been explained and revealed by Shakyamuni in various expressions.

For example, there are these lines of verse that were included in the Suttanipata and other scriptures:

Faith is the seed I sow,
Discipline is the rain.
Wisdom is my plow,
And modesty is the shafts.
The soul is the rope with which they are tied.
Introspection is the blade and pole of my plow.
I restrain my deeds and my words, am moderate
in my meals, never partaking in excess.
I weed by preserving the truth.
Gentleness removes the oxen’s yoke.

Through the attitudes of “modesty,” “introspection,” “restraining [your] deeds and [your] words,” “never partaking in excess,” “preserving the truth,” and “gentleness,” you reflect upon your own selfish mind, which occasionally shows itself, and while performing self-reflection and remorse, you return to your original self. However, none of these are supposed to become an overly zealous undertaking. Instead, why not try practicing that, for yourself as well as for the people around you, make you feel lighthearted?

Being even a little more careful with your words creates harmony, and being gentle with others relaxes their minds. Eating in moderation is easier on the body, something that all of you know from experience.

I once saw, just as if traced from these lines of verse, vows by a member titled “Vows to Pass Each and Every Day with the Mind of Right Effort,” in a passage published in a Rissho Kosei-kai periodical. It read, “I will do things that bring people joy, . . . I will become someone who everyone can like, . . . I will conduct myself so that I am not ashamed of myself, . . . I will be gentle and kind to people, . . . I will become someone who never gets angry.” He spoke of the joy of walking the Buddha Way while saying things to himself again and again, every day, and performing introspection from time to time. I think this is the joy of encountering your original self through effort. Then it goes without saying that your original self is none other than the buddha-nature.

From Kosei, October 2018


Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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