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Just as the planet Earth and each of the other planets must move in its own predetermined orbit, so human beings must abide by certain rules and principles. By keeping these principles, we ensure our own freedom. In other words, freedom requires self-control. Without standards by which to measure things, our societies could never function with any semblance of order.

Offer people an ambitious goal that will most certainly be difficult to achieve and they will have you away: "You are being too idealistic." Yet it is precisely because we have ideals to strive for that we can make progress. Wen we have ideals, we can measure ourselves against them and see where we are lacking.

In Buddhism this progression toward an ideal is referred to as shojin (effort), or the constant striving for perfection.

We cannot yet journey to the stars, but we can variegate the dark oceans of night thanks to the stars' brilliance. We all need a compass to guide us in this world; that is why I think it is so important to venerate the Buddha, who shows us the model of the ideal human being.

The more we learn about this ideal, the more we realize how immature we are and how far we have to go. This realization can be humbling. Without such a high standard, however, we would be quick to assume that we have perfected ourselves therefore could do no wrong when pushing our ideas through. "The fool who recognizes his own foolishness is wise. The fall who believes himself wise is a true full," says the Dhammapada. Human growth, I believe, requires that we never forget our own shortcomings and that we always be straightforward and honest.

Mahayana Buddhism places more importance on the process by which we strive for a goal than on attainment of the goal itself. The French writer Andre Gide (1869-1951) pointed out how extraordinary it can be to continue doing the same ordinary things in the same ordinary way, day in and day out.

To do the same things everyday without tiring of the routine, to repeat even one thing over and over everyday; the point is that we should concentrate on improving the things and situations with which we come into contact instead of always seeking better things and better conditions.

Concentrate on the here and now. Think of your present job, for example, as something you have been fated to do. Treasure what you have and you will find peace of mind. The German economist Max Weber (1864-1920) referred to work as a vocation, a calling from God. The Shinto religion also refers to work as an office or mission that the gods have entrusted to a person. It does not matter what our work is. What is important is that we strive, through our work, to be of service to others.

Nikkyo Niwano

Buddhism for Everyday Life

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