The great root of human unhappiness is the mistaken idea or illusion that the physical body is the self. As long as this illusion exists, care for this physical body comes before everything, and one's first thought is always for its satisfaction. People other than this self are always secondary, and so it happens that, with so many acting the same way, people take from each other and push each other around. The result is endless unease, anxiety, and pain.
If humanity is to be rescued and if society is to be truly at peace, the illusion must be destroyed and replaced by awakening to the truth of the buddha-nature in all people. Certainly it is desirable to try to make people better by regulating their everyday attitude and conduct, getting them, through teaching, to leave off bad things and do what is right, but this method alone will never be effective. Only when there is awakening to the truth of the buddha-nature will the urge to do wrong disappear, for the awakened individual is incapable of doing what is ugly or shameful.
Such awakening does not stop with the individual, moreover, but goes beyond in that there is awakening also to the basic truth that all are one with the great life-force of the universe. Thus, out of a welling up of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, people are able to get along together.
This chapter illustrates this principle in relating the history of a bodhisattva of the ancient past whose name was Never Despise. Never Despise, by the single repeated act of revering the buddha-nature in others, achieved the enlightenment of a buddha and brought numerous others to that same enlightenment. This Bodhisattva Never Despise, whenever he saw someone else, was in the habit of saying, "I do not despise you, for you will become a buddha." He was, in a word, seeing straight through to the buddha-nature. But people did not understand him, were angered by his stupidity, and threw rocks at him and beat him with sticks. Never Despise, though, only retreated and from a distance called back to his persecutors that they would be buddhas.
From steadfast practice of this one act, the Bodhisattva Never Despise was able, as death was near, to perceive the universal and human truth set forth in the Lotus Sutra: to gain awareness of his own infinite life. Through countless rebirths he preached this truth, and at last he became a buddha.
It is made plain here that this bodhisattva was none other than Shakyamuni himself in a previous life. In other words, Shakyamuni himself became the Buddha by virtue of awareness of the buddha-nature of all human beings and by persevering cultivation of this awareness.
This cultivation began simply as reverence for the buddha-nature in others, but when these others finally began to be aware of their buddha-nature, the bodhisattva began to preach this truth as doctrine. We ourselves must watch and learn from this. Setting out from recognition of and reverence for the buddha-nature in all people, we must move on to preaching the doctrine of the truth and cultivate the buddha-nature in society at large. From just such active effort as this may the individual's understanding be deepened and the world made a better place.
Like the Bodhisattva Never Despise, we must continue this effort long and earnestly with unchanging faith. It will never do, because there are no immediate results, to give up after a little effort and to throw in the sponge in despair at the state of the world. Neither oneself nor the world will be saved this way.
Human nature is everlasting and imperishable, and so with firm determination we must continue the great work through countless births and deaths. This is yet another lesson taught by the example of the Bodhisattva Never Despise.
Copyright by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.