The more life offers, the more we want, until there is no end to our desires. We should not only use things to make life more pleasant, but respect the life of each thing we use and be grateful for all things. Unless we cultivate this feeling of gratitude, someday the world will surely be destroyed.
Hotei is one of Japan's seven deities of good fortune. His plump, smiling face is perfect for a deity of fortune and prosperity. Hotei is the Japanese name for Pu-tai, thought to have been a Chinese Chan (in Japanese, Zen) priest of the Later Liang dynasty, revered as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Maitreya. Hotei always has a large sack close at hand. Since he is a deity of good fortune, most people assume he is a kind of Santa Claus with a bag full of valuable things to divide among us. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am told that the sack is full of carefully sorted leftovers. Hotei is not a deity who brings good fortune, but rather a Chan priest who taught the virtue of frugality.
There is a deep significance in that. If one desires good fortune, one should waste nothing. This is the way of life Buddhism has traditionally taught since the Buddha's time - that wisdom is being satisfied with little.
The Buddha was first moved to seek the Way by his realization that no one escapes the sufferings of old age, sickness, and death. Yet even earlier, we are told, he had a formative experience when he saw small birds prey on insects that had been turned up by a plow. He thought deeply about why living things eat each other, and in the course of his spiritual training and discipline, he attained a much broader view of this issue. This view is evident in the first of Buddhism's five basic precepts for lay people, which is not to take life. Above all, this means not taking human life, but in a wider sense it means not taking any form of life thoughtlessly. The wasteful use of things is also a way of destroying life. All things, including the food we eat and the tools we use, have a life of their own. When full use is made of a life and it completely manifests its value, it has, in the Mahayana sense of the phrase, "attained buddhahood." Throwing away things like leftovers without making full use of them is therefore a way of destroying life.
Since the Industrial Revolution, we have used machines and energy sources like petroleum and coal to manufacture goods in large quantities, and without our being fully aware of it, mass production has come to spur mass consumption. As a result, we have lost the spirit of taking care of things and have become irresponsible in how we use them. This sin of taking life thoughtlessly will always rebound against us.
What is now sharply pressing the advanced nations to reconsider their behavior is the law of entropy, which is one of the two laws of thermodynamics. Einstein asserted that this was the first law of all science. In simple terms it means that matter and energy move only in one direction--that is, they are transformed from the usable to the unusable. In other words, as we use the raw materials and energy sources of our planet, their quantities decrease. The only things that increase are waste products.
By using precious resources and energy, advanced countries try to make products that are useful. But if one looks just below the surface, one can see that what we are really doing is converting what is usable into something unusable. If the current situation continues, the planet's resources and energy will be exhausted, and humanity will eventually be ruined.
Prof. Jeremy Rifkin addresses this problem in his book Entropy: A New World View:
Adherents of Eastern religions - and especially the Buddhists - have long understood the value of minimizing energy flow-through. . . . The Eastern religions have long claimed that unnecessary dissipation of personal energy only adds to the confusion and disorder of the world. Ultimate truth, according to Eastern doctrine, is arrived at only by becoming one with the world around you. This can only be accomplished by entering into a unified relationship with the rest of nature.
Professor Rifkin says that in Japan, one of the world's most highly industrialized nations, Buddhism and Confucianism are the most influential philosophies. Japan therefore respects the law of entropy. He says that in the course of its remarkable economic development, Japan has been the first country to deal effectively with the problems of pollution.
The other law of thermodynamics, the law of energy, is that the total sum of the material and energy in a given system is fixed, and cannot be spontaneously increased or diminished. Moreover, matter may change in form but not in substance. This is identical with the truth of "voidness" expounded by the Buddha. It can be found in the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings: "All laws [phenomena] were originally, will be, and are in themselves void in nature and form; they are neither great nor small, neither appearing nor disappearing." The Buddha expounded this more than 2,500 years ago, so we can see that in reality he was also a great scientist.
Nevertheless, some Japanese still think of Buddhism as obsolete and irrelevant to the country's prosperity. They ignore its teaching of the wisdom of being satisfied with little. Quite to the contrary, this teaching has great significance for human survival. Now is the time for reaffirming it.
The wisdom of being satisfied with little is the key to both individual and human happiness.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.