A Daily Example, For Which We Are Always Grateful
There is a clear personal memory which both Founder Nikkyo Niwano and his son, Nichiko, write about in their respective autobiographies. The incident occurred in the early 1940s.
"I remember a field day at the school of his (Nichiko's) older sisters," wrote Rev. Niwano. "I participated in a parents' obstacle race consisting of running a little way from the starting line, picking up and putting on a mask, and then raising a sandbag to the shoulders, before running on to the finish line. I have strong legs; and at that time my work made me accustomed to lifting and carrying. When I won the race, Koichi (Nichiko's name in his youth) was so delighted that he called out, 'My father came in first! My father came in first!' It made me happy to see how proud he was." (Lifetime Beginner: Kosei Publishing Co., 1978)
Here is how the son described that same incident. "I recall very clearly seeing my father dash ahead of all competitors in a bale-toting race to win first prize. I do not remember what my sisters did that day, but father's taking the prize is deeply emblazoned on my memory." (My Father, My Teacher: Kosei Publishing Co., 1982) In the founding days of Rissho Kosei-kai, Rev. Niwano was so devoted to his dissemination work, day in and day out, that this may have been the only chance the two ever had for a "father-and-son day." Soon after, the "ten years in Suganuma" period (1944 - 54) began and the Niwano family, except for the founder, had to live in a remote village in Niigata Prefecture because of the founder's religious practice. The opportunities to be together for Rev. Niwano and Koichi were few because of this physical separation.
Actually, it was in the autumn of 1960, after several years had passed following their return from living separately in the countryside, before the whole Niwano family were again able to live together in the same house, in Tokyo. One day the editorial staff members of the Rissho Kosei-kai periodical Kosei visited Nichiko for an interview. Besides studying at a university, Nichiko was then practicing kendo (Japanese swordsmanship) and had attained the third level. His father, Rev. Niwano, was himself accomplished in judo and had experienced some exciting episodes during his naval service before World War II. And, most likely because it was his son's first interview, Rev. Niwano also was present. In the yard, the photographer asked Nichiko to assume various kendo poses, saying, "Would you please thrust your chest out a little more and stand up very straight?"
Kendo begins and ends with a salute. Accordingly, Nichiko's fine posture, known to everyone these days, was already rather good, and no one remembers why the photographer would have made such a request. But just at that moment Founder Niwano was standing a little behind the photographer, watching his son. When the cameraman asked Nichiko to stand up straight, the one who reacted promptly to the request was the father rather than the son. Founder Niwano thrust out his chest out and threw his shoulders back, straightening his posture as if he had been called to attention. It is well known that during World War II, when he had been drafted into military service, Rev. Niwano always kept a photo of his son, Nichiko, in his breast pocket. Such a display of affection as this caused everybody to smile at the father so identifying with his son.
A year after the Ceremony of the Inheritance of the Lamp of the Dharma in 1991, Nichiko succeeded to the presidency of Rissho Kosei-kai from his father and he made a series of dissemination tours called "shinseki-mawari" (visiting relatives). Following his year-long schedule of tours, covering 130 sites in the entire nation, he finally returned home one evening. At the front door, just as he was about to enter, a voice from inside called out to him, "Please wait a moment."
Curious as to what was up, he waited outside, wondering. Then the voice inside said, "Please come in."
"When I stepped inside, I found Founder Niwano, my mother, my wife and daughters, all sitting side-by-side in the entrance hall, welcoming me with clapping hands and saying, 'Congratulations.' I had not even expected that the founder was with them to greet me. All through my dissemination tours, no idea that my family might be missing me, or that they might be concerned about me, had entered my mind. But seeing this welcome, I felt just how much they had been concerned for me in their hearts, and I was touched."
This story was recounted by President Niwano in response to an interviewer's question some days later.
The wooden buildings of Japan's 2,000-year-old Grand Shrine of Ise in Mie Prefecture are reconstructed every twenty years. In October 1993, Founder Niwano attended for the second time the ceremony for the transference of the symbol of the deity Amaterasu Omikami housed there to its new home. President Niwano also attended. Of course, it was the first time that he was invited, since he had succeeded to the presidency only two years earlier in the ceremony marking the Inheritance of the Lamp of the Dharma.
After the symbol of the deity had been solemnly carried from the former main sanctuary to the newly constructed one, all the participating religionists moved there as well. On the previous occasion two decades earlier, Founder Niwano had walked vigorously, with a quicker step than most of the others. This time, however, he was nearly ninety years of age, so he walked up and down the steps less easily and was just a little unsteady. Suddenly someone quietly approached from behind to offer a helping hand. Founder Niwano looked up at the face and saw it was his son, Nichiko. (They were of just the same height, but the founder was bent as he walked the stairs.)
Later, in saying, "I was guided by my son's hand," Rev. Niwano expressed his joy to those around him, so that what had been a private experience between the two men was made known to others as well.
When President Niwano spoke at the morning gathering of staff members of Rissho Kosei-kai headquarters at the Horin-kaku Guest Hall in June 1996, his remarks included the following comments:
"This year Founder Niwano is going to be ninety years old. He is still quite healthy, and he still assumes the role of leader in our daily sutra chanting at home, morning and evening. Blessed as he is with longevity, we are always grateful to see him as a daily model for our lives. My eldest daughter, Kosho, recently had her first child, a daughter, so that now at home we are again able to hear a baby's cry. My youngest daughter is now twenty-three years old, which means that it has been more than two decades since we have heard a baby cry in our house. A ninety-year-old and a newborn - four generations are now living under one roof. We are blessed this circumstance and the great variety of experiences we enjoy through their presence."
This series of articles was originally published in Japanese in 2000 under the title Kaiso Zuimonki: Egao no Ushirosugata.
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