I believe that life is practice and discipline from beginning to end. By practice and discipline I mean doing everything wholeheartedly - both physically and mentally - and repeatedly.
First, let us look at the matter of repetition. By repetition I do not mean simply doing the same thing again and again. What I mean bears similarity to the thread of a screw. When I look at a screw from the end, the thread appears as concentric circles, but seen from the side it spirals upward. As a result, as you turn the screw with a screwdriver, it bores its way in.
It is said that the way to master haiku is to compose a hundred a day. In baseball, they say that the only way for a reserve player to become a regular player is by the continued practice of swinging a bat a thousand times a day. Repetition deepens experience and wisdom, and is the fundamental way to build character.
It is the same way with work. No matter how monotonous the task, if you do it time and again wholeheartedly, each time you will make visible progress. At the very moment you awaken to that improvement, you will feel the will to work. At many places of work, the same task is repeated day in and day out. Some people grow weary of the monotony, losing interest in their jobs and the will to work. Whenever you feel that doing the same job every day is boring, I hope that you will recall the Japanese maxim for the tea ceremony, "One meeting, one chance." Become aware that the work before you is work that you will never encounter again in your entire life. It is true that, even if you do nothing today, tomorrow will come, but "tomorrow" is no more than a place on the calendar. If, on the other hand, you approach each day with the attitude "Today I will do today's work," then you will meet up with fresh work the following day. That day your day will be worthwhile.
By continuing in a single line of work, an engineer and a salesman will steadily develop their own essential competence, and will simultaneously cultivate pride and confidence in their work. Moreover, though they themselves may think of their jobs as just a means of earning a living and keeping food on the table, they are also building something very important - their characters.
Our age is in love with "instant" things, and we are becoming disinclined to devote time and steady labor to any single purpose. All the more because of this tendency, doing something over and over carefully and thoroughly will shine forth conspicuously.
The scholar of Japanese letters Hanawa Hokiichi (1746 - 1821) is credited with the immortal accomplishment of writing the Gunsho Ruiju (A Classified Collection of Japanese Classics) of over 1,500 volumes, which took him forty-one years to complete. Told by the blind acupuncturist Ametomi Sugaichi that to complete a major achievement during one's lifetime one needed the protection of the gods and buddhas, Hokiichi vowed to recite the Heart of Wisdom Sutra a million times. He made the vow at the age of twenty-seven, and from then until his death at the age of seventy-six he intoned the sutra a hundred times a day, not missing a single day, making a total of 1,935,000 repetitions.
A million times is easier said than done. The Heart of Wisdom Sutra is comparatively short, so a hundred recitations a day is possible, but a hundred every day without fail is a very strict practice and discipline. To intone the sutra 1,935,000 times is of great significance.
And now let us discuss the matter of doing something wholeheartedly. I have personally had the experience of copying the ten scrolls of the Chinese translation of the Threefold Lotus Sutra, a scripture of well over eighty thousand characters. Secluding myself in the mountains of Hakone, I finished in fifty-five days. Before then I had without fail read and recited the scriptures each day, but as I copied them in my own hand, attending to the spirit of each character and each phrase, I experienced anew the merits of the sutra penetrating my soul. I will never forget that sensation. That is what it means to do something wholeheartedly both mentally and physically.
Recently, I hear, many Japanese college students do not take notes at lectures but merely buy copies of someone else's. I wonder whether they really learn much that way. I have serious reservations. Yoshida Shoin (1830 - 59), a philosopher and educator, said that half a reader's effort ought to be devoted to making notes of essential points, since reading alone is insufficient for a full understanding of something. Taking notes deepens one's understanding.
When Katsu Kaishu (1823 - 99) was twenty-six, his sword master told him that the future would not be an age of swords and that Japan needed Western-style coastal defenses. Katsu therefore resolved to study Dutch scientific works, then the only ones available in Japan. However, since his family was poor, he could not afford to buy a Dutch-Japanese dictionary. Instead, he borrowed one, made his own quill pen, and copied all fifty-eight volumes word for word. Moreover, he made two copies: one for himself and one to sell, and out of gratitude gave the proceeds to the lender of the dictionary. Above all, he felt that he would learn all the more by making two copies. It took Katsu a year and a half to complete the two copies, between caring for his invalid mother and looking after his younger sister. It can be imagined how great an impact that effort and tenacity had on the remainder of his life.
Even ordinary people can accomplish something of great value if they devote themselves to one particular thing wholeheartedly and repeatedly.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.