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If I recall correctly, Mahatma Gandhi said that even the agnostic is religious if he acknowledges that he is just part of a whole. Most people never realize this truth. It is that lack of awareness that causes so much suffering.

The word ecology, used so often these days, comes from the Greek words for "house" (oikos) and "logic" (logos). Earth, in other words, is like a house, and ecology is the logic whereby everything on this planet exists in harmony. That idea is the same as the Buddhist doctrine that nothing has an ego. People who lives close to nature know with their whole physical beings that they are not separate entities but are one with their environment. The Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan, believed that everything came from the gods and was to be shared equally. They took only what they needed of the flesh of a hunted deer and draped the carcass on a branch for the owls to eat. They also left meat in bamboo thickets for the foxes and badgers. We need to rediscover this kind of humility.

The woodsmen of Hida, in Japan's Gifu Prefecture, used to apologize to the tree they cut down. They sprinkled rice wine on its trunk and called out loudly as they cut it down. "I shall cut you down now, " as a warning to the gods of the mountain. The ancient Japanese had a deeply rooted respect for all living things; they acknowledged and were grateful for the life they were given by all things around them. I think that this ancient perception is reflected in the Japanese translation of the English word love as omoi, meaning "to think of" or "to care for."

Far back into a distant past which we did not yet exist, and far into a future well beyond our limited life span--forever within the infinite continuity of time--we owe our existence to so many people and things, too many to enumerate. Our existence is closely related to everyone and everything around us. What someone else does or says affects us even as whatever we think or do must surely affect others.

Selfishness stems from a refusal to acknowledge human interdependence.

And when things do not go our way, we become angry and suffer. "No carpenter," goes an old saying, "builds the fiery cart of tribulation. Only the self creates its own vehicle of pain, and only the self rides this pain."

Gratitude wells up within us when we realize how we are supported by those around us.

Once we become aware of how much we owe to everyone else, we cannot help beginning to think first of others and changing the way we live. Suddenly the world is brighter and everything seems to work out for the best. We become like the car that has been struggling to make its way over a rough and rocky road; suddenly we hit pavement and the going is smooth as silk. We do not achieve this all by ourselves. We owe such happy change to the warm support of others.

The Japanese concept of karmic connection expressed in the word en is believed to come from the Sanskrit word pratyaya, which has been translated into English as "belief," "faith," or"proof." It is incumbent on us to strive to make all the en, or connections in our lives, good connections. And the only way to do that is to prove our faith and sincerity.

No matter what our work, the most important thing is to apply ourselves with single-minded conviction. For example, by responding to a customer's complaint with one's whole mind and heart, we win greater trust than before. Experienced workers see customer complaints as a chance to really prove their worth. This same kind of thinking is what defines the good leader. People will gladly follow a person whose motives are sincere and pure.

A renowned fifteenth-century Buddhist priest, Rennyo, rightly observed that it is easy to see others' failings but that we can be blind to our own. A famous proverb says the same thing: "You cannot awaken others if you yourself are asleep." We cannot move others if we do not first mend our own ways. It is said that Abraham Lincoln felt that after the age of forty a man was responsible for his own face. We would do well, in our forties, to concentrate our energies on remolding our own character.

Nikkyo Niwano

Buddhism for Everyday Life

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