Is it possible to endow a robot with the common sense of a human being? This has become a subject of great interest in the continuing development of android robots. State-of-the-art robots are said to be superior to humans in terms of memory and data processing. However, if only one aspect of knowledge is emphasized, a robot may also make an extreme judgment, such as that it is acceptable to kill people for the sake of peace. For a safety valve to check such recklessness, we have discovered the necessity of some kind of common sense or emotion. Nevertheless, endowing a robot with common sense has proved extremely difficult. A systems engineering professor at Hosei University, Toshiro Terano, explains, "This is because common sense is the accumulation of human knowledge over thousands of years."
To see clearly the true cause of all events, that is, the origin of existence, is to possess genuine common sense. A famous phrase in the Lotus Sutra, "in character upright, in mind gentle," refers to someone who is honest and flexible enough always to accept the truth; in other words, someone with flexibility of mind.
To understand the importance of flexibility, let us observe the functioning of the hand. We can see that unless the wrist and fingers are able to move supplely, one cannot improve, for example, one's playing of the piano or violin. The same is true of needlework, handicrafts, and artwork. If the body is not limber, then it is doubtful whether one can improve one's skill in baseball, wrestling, judo, or any physical activity. The reason for this is that if the arm, the hip, or the wrist is not supple, then it will not be able to move in the way it is supposed to in theory.
Spiritual flexibility is even more important. Christ said, "Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth." This may be taken to mean that one who is flexible enough to accept the truth can build a new world.
It seems that, in many cases, once people reach a certain position in life, they become self-righteous. They are dogmatic about their own ideas, position, or appearances, and are unable to change. In disputes between individuals as well as nations, a deadlock occurs when people are so attached to their own beliefs or positions that they lack the breadth of mind to make mutual concessions. Just how much this inflexibility hinders the progress of societies and human happiness is hard to measure.
Dr. Sakuzo Yoshino (1878 - 1933), a professor of political science at the University of Tokyo and an advocate of Japan's prodemocracy movement in the early twentieth century, wrote a book concerning his expectations of his students. He wrote that while it was important for them to seek out the truth and advocate their principles, it often happened that once they became convinced of a truth, they tended to close their minds to other approaches. "What I want most of my students," he wrote, "is openness to truth. . . . The student's approach to the quest for truth must be not only passionate, but also inconsistent. To prevent misunderstanding, let me explain what I mean by inconsistent. I mean that students must constantly strive to be right and that they must be prepared to change their minds if the need arises." This is flexibility of mind.
Undoubtedly, some would reject Dr. Yoshino's view, saying it might be all right for students, whose role is to pursue the truth, to be inconsistent, but that people in positions of responsibility cannot afford that. Normally, we think that inconsistency means a willingness to compromise under pressure. But Dr. Yoshino advocates inconsistency in the sense of honesty, bravery, and open-mindedness, which are essential for progress.
Inability to make that kind of headway is caused by preoccupation with appearances, which have absolutely nothing to do with essential qualities. In adhering to such meaningless things and hesitating to take a first step even though one has discovered the right path, one is unable to rid oneself of delusion, and leaves others trapped in delusion as well. Nothing could be more foolish.
Oneself and one's family, work, position, and belongings - all are important. However, when one is freed from these self-centered fetters, a larger world opens up. If one is liberated from these things, the heart becomes lighter and invigorated, and one begins to live for others. How may one be liberated from such captivity? Yamamoto Tsunetomo (165 - 1719) wrote in Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves), a book on the way of the samurai, that one does this by dying. But that will not do.
There is a delightful story about Zen Master Fugai Honko (1779 - 1847) and a horsefly. When Fugai was the priest of a deteriorating temple in Osaka, a wealthy merchant came to talk with him about problems that weighed heavily on his mind. Fugai showed absolutely no interest in the man's plight, but instead watched intently as a horsefly flew against the window and fell to the floor. Again and again it flew against the window and fell. The merchant could bear it no longer and said sarcastically, "The Reverend seems extremely fond of horseflies." In reply Fugai mumbled, "That horsefly seems fully determined to go out that window. Although this dilapidated temple has big holes everywhere, it keeps flinging itself against the window, convinced that it's the only way out. But it is not only the horsefly that is to be pitied."
We all believe that our way of thinking is right. One needs that sort of confidence, but if one becomes enslaved to it, one misses out on a larger world. By humbly admitting that there might be other, better approaches, one is freed of such entrapment.
I would like to recount another story, about Eisai (1141 - 1215), the founder of the Rinzai sect of Japanese Buddhism. A poor man came to the temple Eisai founded in Kyoto, Kennin-ji, and entreated Eisai, "My family has had nothing to eat for many days. My wife and three children are on the verge of starvation. Please help us." As things would have it, however, the temple was also very poor and there was nothing to give the man. By chance, however, some copper was left over from the nimbus of a statue of the Buddha Yakushi (Medicine Master), and Eisai gave it to the man and told him to trade it for food. Later some disciples expressed doubts about the propriety of giving the man something as important as a piece of a buddha. Eisai replied, "In one of his previous incarnations as a bodhisattva, did not the Buddha cut the flesh of his own body to feed sentient beings? Would it not be in keeping with his intentions if we gave the entire statue to help people dying of starvation? If I am cast into hell for committing this sin, then so be it. I am only eager to save the starving."
Each time we cease to be consumed by something, we become able to see a better and more correct path. It is by these means that compassion overflows. When we persist in defending only one view, do we not lose sight of the path of universal truth, which gives life to both ourselves and others?
Each of us always ought to cultivate the flexibility of mind that is prepared to part with the "small self." If only we do that, the true path will of its own accord come into view and we will be able to follow it meekly. And true salvation will be consummated.
The rewards of being flexible enough to accept unpleasant truths include spiritual growth for the individual, and social progress for the community.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.