As Japan has come to assume a greater role in international affairs, its people have placed greater importance on ability in foreign languages and on professional knowledge and skills. These are indisputably significant, but does it not seem that there is something even more important, namely the possession of a certain "mirror" with which one can view one's way of life?
We have various desires: to be found sexually attractive, to obtain a better lifestyle, to succeed in business, to attain positions of honor and distinction, to raise our children to be respectable members of society. Desires such as these - for self-improvement--are manifold and entirely reasonable. However, if one becomes enslaved to such desires, then one may lose sight of the right way to live. Therefore one must be extremely cautious.
The delusions that lie concealed in the depths of the human heart are not easily extinguished. The eminent, virtuous priest Saicho (767 - 822), finding this to be the case, humbly referred to himself as "Low-down Saicho," and a holy man like Honen (1133 - 1212) disparaged himself as "Grumbling Honen." This self-awareness in and of itself is priceless. Too often those who are conceited enough to think themselves virtuous never improve spiritually.
If we were to negate all human desires, we would be left with a mere shell of humanity. Buddhism says that human beings possess 108 delusions, so even if one hoped to make a clean sweep of them all, it would be well-nigh impossible. On the contrary, one's whole spirit might be caught up in the impossible task, and one would find oneself in a great predicament. Yet Mahayana Buddhism teaches that these same delusions are means for progress along the road to enlightenment. For example, while the agony of lost love may drive one person to heavy drinking, it may lead another to write a superior novel. Aggressive enterprise may lead a person either to break the law or to contribute to a whole nation's prosperity.
Now then, how might these delusions be put to good use? I believe that the foundation for this may be found in the Eightfold Path preached by the Buddha. Following his enlightenment, the Buddha first expounded the Dharma to the five ascetics in Deer Park, at Sarnath, and preached the Eightfold Path, consisting of right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right living, right endeavor, right memory, and right meditation. If one set out to practice all eight from the very beginning, one would very soon abandon the attempt as impossible. As a first step, let us consider putting the first three into practice. As one endeavors to see, think, and speak rightly, the remaining five naturally follow along in good order.
The terms "right" and "rightly" mean thinking and behaving in ways consistent not only with reason and ethics but with the two truths "All things are impermanent" and "Nothing has an ego."
"All things are impermanent" means that everyone and everything is constantly changing. The sun and the innumerable other heavenly bodies are incessantly metamorphosing; the subatomic particles that constitute all matter change from moment to moment. Neither our bodies nor our environment are exempt from this law of change. For example, Japan's lifetime employment system, so often pointed to as a special feature of Japanese companies, is slowly undergoing a change. More and more workers change jobs in pursuit of work where they may make better use of their abilities, and even large corporations have begun to hire people in midcareer. Furthermore, there are continuous changes in management styles, from a stress on applied technology to an emphasis on basic technology, from the pursuit of efficiency to a quest for creativity.
"Nothing has an ego" means that all things are interconnected and that nothing exists entirely in and of itself. If you but reflect for a moment, you will immediately recognize this to be true - from the movement of the stars in the heavens to your own small existence.
If one will see and think of things "rightly," in accordance with these two truths, then one will never be mistaken. If one cannot establish this foundation, then one will merely cling to the self and end up seeing everything with oneself as the center. Thus engrossed in self-interest, one will succumb to selfish desires, want more and more, fall into frustration, behave according to whims, and cause annoyance to everyone.
If one does become able to see and think in accordance with these truths - "All things are impermanent" and "Nothing has an ego" - then one will not be inclined toward the self-centered way of life. One will be able to see oneself objectively, and in the light of the surrounding phenomena one will be able to see into one's heart.
The Buddha once asked his son, Rahula, "Why do you think people look at themselves in the mirror?" Rahula replied, "I believe they want to see the pure and the impure, the good and evil aspects of their own faces." The Buddha nodded his approval of Rahula's reply and warned, "That is true. Just as one looks at the purity and impurity of one's face reflected in a mirror, it is important that human beings themselves observe that which is done by their bodies, mouths, and hearts."
It is only by the act of observing, as if looking at one's reflection in a mirror, the way in which the body behaves, the words one utters, and the thoughts one thinks that one obtains the key to a better life. If one does this, the wretchedness of selfish desires will be reflected in that mirror, and one will judiciously bring them under control and endeavor to change them into something more pleasant. This is the road to purifying the soul; this is the practice by which one can change delusions into a force for good.
Rather than try to rid ourselves of delusions, we should examine them carefully and consider how to make good use of them.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.