Scientific and technological progress has made Japan incomparably more prosperous and convenient than it was half a century ago. Nevertheless, it does seem that our view of the world has become singularly self-centered.
People tend to think that the self is the most important thing, but in reality they do not seem to be taking such good care of that self. Rather, there seem to be more people who are wasting the precious self, perhaps because they think that the self is merely the physical body, so the best way to live is to fulfill one's desires. However, the true self is hardly so insignificant. The Buddha justifiably did not disparage self-esteem. A collection of short sutras quotes him as saying:
The whole wide world we traverse with our thoughts,
And nothing that anyone finds is more dear than self.
Since the self is so very dear to others,
Those who know the love of self
Must harm no other person.
The lesson here is that those who love themselves must love others. If one would live in a way that sets great store by the self, then one should not think only of one's own self, but earnestly value the self of others.
It may appear that as we take care of ourselves we absolutely ignore others. To the contrary, there are many who go through life envying, resenting, and showing enmity toward others. They are hardly taking care of themselves in the long run. What they are doing is wasting the self. It may sound paradoxical, but if one really places a high value on oneself, then one will love others.
Gempo Yamamoto (1866 - 1961) was known as the modern Hakuin (1685 - 1768), after the priest who revitalized Rinzai Zen Buddhism. A certain person came to him and complained of being too weak to work. Yamamoto admonished him severely, saying, "It is not that you lack strength. What you lack is virtue." Whenever Yamamoto stayed at an inn he would arrange fellow travelers' slippers at the bath entrance and even fold their nightwear and bedding for them, constantly performing unnoticed acts of kindness. This is what is meant by having a high regard for yourself and the people around you.
Japan's feudal period was one of obedience to authority. In contrast, the age of democracy may be characterized as one of understanding and cooperation. And it is said that the final age of human society will be one of loving others and respecting harmony. This is not to say that such an age will simply happen; rather, it is up to us to establish it.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that he believed that what is possible for one person is possible for all. It may be that loving others is something only a very few people can devote themselves to. Yet, however few such people may be, since there are some who can leap into that elevated sphere, it must be possible for everyone. Hence I would like to propose that self-love be broadened little by little.
Even those who feel that they have their hands full just thinking about themselves should try to give similar consideration to their own parents and brothers and sisters. This is comparatively easy to accomplish. There are, of course, homes where even this cannot be done and which are filled with rancor, but if one simply allows oneself to be kind, then one will naturally be as considerate of friends and colleagues as of family members. With an open heart accept their self-love, endeavoring to develop relationships in which one can share both their joys and sorrows. This is surely hard to accomplish at a single swoop, but one can put it into practice one small opportunity at a time.
Next, expand your concern to the town where you live. For example, you can tidy up the small park near your home, or if you see that the gutters are filled with mud, talk the situation over with others and work together to clean them. In this way, gradually extending the parameters of self-love soon becomes a habit, and your concern will extend to encompass all of society. Just to give another small example, if you go into a lavatory on a train and find the rim of the toilet bowl dirty, wipe it for the next person. To give a larger example, you might contribute to or take part in a campaign to help refugees or plant trees. The sphere of your active concern will expand and deepen.
Were self-love to open outward, the joy and sadness of all humankind would meld with one's own. If there were an increase in the number of those who could not distinguish between others' feelings and their own, then surely the ideal society of love and harmony would be right before our eyes.
If you are convinced that you must rid yourself of self-centeredness, you will probably feel resigned and tell yourself you simply cannot. As the Buddha said, we must recognize that others also have self-esteem and identify with it. If you first try to be of even small service to others, you will feel good. To that degree your heart will be cleansed. As you come to feel pleasure in making others happy, you will gradually cease to be self-centered. As you widen your concern to a broader world, your self-centeredness will, on its own, fade away.
Broaden your self-love to love for your family, the people in your community, and finally all humanity.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.