I once knew a young man who had been a navy pilot trainee when World War II ended. He then aspired to become an artist and took any job he could find to help pay his expenses. This young man told me the following story.
In the confusion following the end of the war, he despaired more than once, losing all faith in himself and in the people around him. Thinking that there was no hope for him, the young man determined to end his life. After wandering about looking in vain for a place to kill himself, he took an overnight ferry. He planned to fling himself overboard in the middle of the night when the other passengers were sound asleep. But as the young man approached the deck, he found someone already there, someone who, it appeared was about to jump into the water.
Instinctively, the young man grabbed the would-be jumper from behind. "What can you be thinking?!" he cried. "You can always make a new start in life. You are not the only unhappy person in this world, you know. If you die now, you are only going to bring sorrow and pain to others." At the moment he spoke these words, the young man realized how foolish he had been to conclude that death was the only choice open to him.
"Compassion does not end with benefiting others [as you will be repaid eventually]"goes an old Japanese saying. I have heard that some people today wrongly interpret this maxim to mean that we should not demonstrate too much compassion for others because it will only spoil them. It is true that the more compassion we are shown, the more we begin to feel entitled to all the attention. But if we really think so highly of ourselves, then we should be treating others with the very same respect that we feel we deserve.
Saicho (767-822), founder of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism, wrote, "To forget oneself in giving service to another is the ultimate in compassion." The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra also says, "Birds flock to the tree bearing delicious fruit." In the same way, people gather about the virtuous person who always thinks of the happiness of others.
When we think of others' happiness so much that we forget ourselves, we discover our own bliss. This is the most direct way to happiness.
If you are running a business, for example, you will make all-out to satisfy your customers. Once such efforts become thorough, you will be able to take pride in your job, which will cause an immense power to well up in you. Then your work can focus not on how much you can make people buy but on how to please them so that they will come back again and again. I often hear people belittle their company by saying that it is insignificant and unknown. But it does not matter whether the firm they work for is prestigious or not. What matters is the quality of their work.
Nishikawa Joken (1648-1724), a scholar during Japan's Edo period, compiled a set of guiding principles for townsfolk in a book entitled Chounin-bukuro (The Merchant's Bag of Wisdom). Here is one example.
The merchant must at all times be humble. Humility does not end with being courteous
to people, however; humility also is demonstrated by respecting the laws of nature.
Business is more than using money to buy things and sell them at a profit. We must
regard the heart of good business as a striving for balance. It is the true merchant who
estimates the amount of goods needed, or trends in the market, and who does not
make an excessive profit, but buys something where it is plentiful and sells it where it is
short, and thereby serves the nation by distributing everything under Heaven.
That is the way of the merchant; and that is the meaning of service. The merchant house of Mitsui has experienced more than three hundred years of prosperity because it has never wavered from the way of the merchant and has always sought to serve its customers well. Another axiom, this one from the house of Mitsui, goes like this: "Business is like a target--aim at it with decorum and good order and you will not miss."