It is said that a top manager's most important job is to decide on appropriate courses of action. The nineteenth-century statesman Katsu Kaishu contradicted this, however:
People often talk of plans and aims, but of what use are they? Broadly speaking, world events cannot be foreseen. Though one may set up a net and wait for birds to fly into it, what can one do if they fly over it? Though you make a square box for me and try to put everything under the sun inside it, there are things that are round or triangular. Trying to fit these into a square box is very difficult indeed.
I myself am the sort of person who tends not to make plans. When I do, they are usually sketchy, rather directionless outlines. Especially in work like that of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP), in which various religious leaders from all over the world cooperate, one can hardly make a plan and just push it through. It is just like trying to fit too many round, triangular, and square objects into one container. Through the activities of the WCRP, I have encountered many different kinds of people and experienced how adherents of various religions can overcome their differences to unite in one spirit.
Encounters with such people have made me realize that a certain element is common to all group members. It may arise from a natural desire for peace. Many whom I have met and worked with are not usually argumentative, easily angered, or covetous; around them spreads a bright, peaceful realm. If these people were not like this, they would not be able to contribute to world peace. Their qualities are absolutely indispensable to society.
In trying to build harmony little by little in the world around us, I believe that the single most important thing is to develop our sense of human unity.
Even spittle, while it is in the mouth, arouses no disgust. We swallow it without a qualm. Yet once we spit, in a flash it turns into something that seems unclean. When strands of our hair, which we normally take such good care of, become entangled in a brush or form a coil at the bottom of a sink, we want to avert our eyes. This is because the strands of hair no longer seem part of us. While they are part of us, we think nothing of them. In the moment they become separated, unity is lost and they become unpleasant even to look at. "Ours" has become "other."
I therefore believe that one may define love as a sense of oneness. A strong feeling of oneness is at work in a mother's affection for her child. When a baby seems to have an upset stomach, some worried mothers will even smell or lick its feces to find the cause. In their sense of oneness they feel no disgust. This sense of oneness occurs not only between parent and child, but also between lovers and married couples. When we feel it toward many people and eventually all things, we have acquired the compassion of the Buddha. In chapter 3 of the Lotus Sutra, "A Parable," the Buddha proclaims:
Now this triple world
All is my domain;
The living beings in it
All are my sons.
Everything in the world, everything in the universe, is the Buddha's, and everything that lives is the Buddha's. These words of the Lotus Sutra express the epitome of oneness.
We must never think of ourselves and others in confrontation, but think of all others enveloped within the self as one. This may seem a truly distant goal, but by trying to approach it a step or two at a time, humanity will be lifted up.
When Yasunari Kawabata (1899 - 1972) received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1968, he began his acceptance speech by reading a poem by Dogen:
In the spring, cherry blossoms, in the summer the cuckoo.
In autumn the moon, and in winter the snow - clear and cold.
He then tried to explain the Japanese spirit and show how it has sought harmony with nature rather than confrontation.
The Zen master Mumon Yamada (1900 - 1988), the leader of the Myoshin-ji school of the Rinzai sect, in Bodaishin o Okoshimasho (Let Us Aspire to Buddhahood), said of Kawabata's speech:
The first draft was titled Nihon no Bi to Watakushi (The Beauty of Japan, and I), which he altered in the final draft to Utsukushii Nihon no Watakushi (I of Beautiful Japan). He noted in the final draft that the title might seem presumptuous, but there was deep significance in his use in the final title of of rather than and. Kawabata also said that to speak of beautiful Japan was to speak of himself, and that unless he spoke of the Japan that nurtured him, he could not speak of himself. He and beautiful Japan were not separate, but one; hence of rather than and. And belongs to Western thought; of, in which two things are perfectly in tune, belongs to Eastern thought and the Japanese sensibility.
This explanation that of represents the Japanese sensibility made me completely reexamine my thinking. The Japanese have long held a conception centering on of. Whereas the Western home has been made of thick stones as protection against nature, the Japanese home has been of nature, with space between the pillars. Not sharing the Western idea that humankind has dominion over nature, the Japanese feel part of nature and try to live in harmony with it. The Japanese have never considered matter and spirit as separable. They know that things have a spirit and that true happiness and peace come from being in harmony with things and uniting with them. On this foundation, Buddhism fostered an even deeper consciousness of the idea of of.
The sense of oneness in the spirit of of, which sees the self and the other as one and the same, is, in a word, compassion. When we approach people in that spirit, the realm of happiness and peace grows. Some people may wrongly think that no ordinary person can enter that realm; but anyone who does volunteer work is already approaching it. Ordinary people think of caring for the elderly as a hardship, but the kind of person I refer to does not see it that way. The problem of care for the elderly arises only because people think of the elderly as separate, in terms of "me and old people." Those who willingly care for the elderly think of them as "our old people," and are glad to do it.
International disputes often go to extremes, and dissent and confrontation often end in deadlock. What will break the deadlocks and open up the future of the human race is this spirit of oneness. Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 - 1964), independent India's first prime minister, who had deep ties with Japan, said that the mission of Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest man of our time, was to wipe away the world's tears. Nehru said that though we may be too weak to achieve that goal, we cannot proclaim that our work is done as long as tears and anguish remain in the world.
There is no doubt that we are of one another. When this sense of oneness shines its bright light on the world, first in one dark corner, then gradually wider and wider, it will light up the entire world.
Seeing yourself and others as one and the same, that is, having a sense of the unity of all people - that is the Mahayana spirit and the essence of any true religion.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.