During the coffee break at a study seminar of the Japanese Committee of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP/Japan), a senior leader of our organization came up to me and said with feeling: "I was watching Founder Niwano from the back of the room. He was sitting in the first row, listening very attentively to the lecturer and taking notes from time to time. When the lecturer came down from the stage, Rev. Niwano went up to him and politely bowed to him. He seemed to be thanking him, and talking about his impressions of the presentation. Rev. Niwano was one of the founding figures of the WCRP movement and was of a great age, as well as being the most senior of those present, but he looked very modest. His attitude is always the same. It never changes."
This man served for many years as a Japanese parliamentarian. Wishing to devote himself to bodhisattva practice, he changed the course of his life to a religious one and would visit a Rissho Kosei-kai church every day, eventually becoming a leader of the church to which he belonged. He was also an associate member of WCRP/Japan and made every effort to travel each year from some distance by bullet train to its New Year's gathering held in the Horin-kaku Guest Hall at Rissho Kosei-kai headquarters complex in Tokyo. He said that his reason for doing this was that "I always look forward with joy to listening to what the founder has to say as he greets the beginning of the new year."
May I Have Another Cup of Tea?
Whenever a ceremony or event was held in the Great Sacred Hall also located at the organization's headquarters, Rev. Niwano would wait in a back room connecting to the sacred platform in the hall before delivering his sermon. One day he was there as usual, talking with some people. A woman served him a cup of tea. On that day, also as usual, he held the cup by clasping it in both hands. Bringing it up to his lips, he drank from it. Then he kindly said to the woman, "This is very delicious tea. Could I have another cup, please?" Everyone smiled. The woman put his cup on a tray and withdrew to the pantry. Removing the cover of the Japanese-style cup to pour in some more tea, she was surprised to see the inside of the cup. It was clean and dry, indicating that perhaps there had been no tea in it from the beginning. Astonished, she touched the cup. It had no trace of warmth. She realized that she had served Rev. Niwano an empty teacup, perhaps due to nervousness or to being in a hurry. She was embarrassed and now doubly tense. Contrite, she poured another cup of tea and served it to the founder. He very happily enjoyed the "second" cup and continued talking with other people as though nothing unusual had happened.
Moved by the thoughtfulness of Rev. Niwano in doing this so that no one would be aware of her mistake and to make it possible for her to return home with a sense of satisfaction that she had done what she wanted to do well, this woman must have related this incident herself with a feeling of self-reproach for her carelessness. No one else could have known of the incident, yet it was widely circulated.
The Curry and Rice in Our Home Is the Best in Japan
"Ten years ago or so, I was working as home help at the founder's house," a young woman who is now married and an active member of Rissho Kosei-kai told me. "One day, the rice that I had cooked was much too hard. In response to my apology, Rev. Niwano smiled pleasantly and said, 'Hard rice is good for the teeth because we have to chew it well.' The next time, I tried to make the rice softer. But since I used too much water, the result was that the rice became too soft. Again I apologized. This time, too, the founder didn't scold me or complain. On the contrary, maintaining his smile he said, 'Soft rice is good for the stomach.' His generosity and warmth allowed me to feel very relaxed. Reflecting on my own normal attitude toward others, which was far different from his, I realized that an attitude which can bring a sense of relief to others is very important."
She also told me another story. "In the family there was one member who was very good at cooking curry and rice. While enjoying it with the others, Founder Niwano praised the cook wholeheartedly, saying, 'Your curry is number one in Japan, and that means it is number one in the world.' He always brightened his surroundings. He would never refuse whatever was being served, always taking at least a hearty taste. Making others happy was his natural behavior."
Can We Lift That Car?
This is a story told by Rev. Niwano's driver a few decades ago. "Founder Niwano is a man who cannot ignore the situation when others are in trouble. One day when I was driving him somewhere, we passed a man in trouble because one wheel of his car was stuck in a ditch. Rev. Niwano suddenly asked me, 'Can we lift that car out of the ditch if we try together?' Lightheartedly I answered yes. 'Then stop the car,' he said, 'and let's go back and do it.' I was surprised and disconcerted, while he promptly walked toward the other car. Working together, Rev. Niwano, his secretary, and I were able to lift the car safely out of the ditch." After brushing away the dirt by rubbing his hands together, Rev. Niwano then went off in his own car as if nothing unusual had happened. The owner of the other car certainly must had been startled, however.
This series of articles was originally published in Japanese in 2000 under the title Kaiso Zuimonki: Egao no Ushirosugata.
Copyright © 2008 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.