Each of us meets many people in our daily lives, and the key to happiness lies in how we relate to them. If we can practice amicability in relationships with people we meet for the first time, and also with those we see regularly, then we ought to be that much happier.
A poem by Matsuo Basho (1644 - 94) reads, "Someone wears a rush mat in a springtime of flowers." The usual interpretation of this poem is that on a beautiful spring day in Kyoto the sight of a beggar wearing a rush mat reminded Basho of the distinguished Zen priest Shuho Myocho (1282 - 1337), who for twenty years was "combed by the wind" (wandering the country), and Basho thought the man wearing the rush mat might also be a devout priest who had renounced the world. Basho may have had an even more profound insight. He may have sensed something sacred deep in the heart of the mat wearer.
Here is another poem by Basho: "Looking closely, I see a shepherd's purse blooming on the hedge." Sticking out of a common hedge, even the lowly shepherd's purse, a flower one would hardly stop to look at, revealed something of the nobility of life to Basho's eye. In this way of seeing, one does not merely look at a person's surface and decide that they are good or bad. Instead, one looks into a person's depths to find the nobility of life that is linked to the Buddha. When one does this, one discovers respect for the person. The same is true of things. When one stops to wonder why a particular thing exists, one can only assume that the great source of all life causes things to exist as they are. Moreover, when one considers the deep karmic connection that brought the thing into one's hands, one must feel deep love and veneration.
There are undoubtedly some who would say, "What is the point of all this respect?" There may even be some who think that, after all, it is merely idealistic. This, however, is a narrow point of view, and if we lack respect for all things, society will not attain true peace. What would happen if people did not respect others at all? They would think nothing of cheating, intimidating, and harming others, and conflicts would proliferate unabated. If one does not respect others, one cannot trust them. If one cannot trust others, one is always on guard. In such a situation, those with power use it against others; those without power use lies and deception to protect themselves. Neither has a moment of peace.
The same is true of products. Without respect for its products, a manufacturer thinks only of profit. The consumer uses the product and throws it away before it wears out. For example, in Japan one sees abandoned cars along the side of the road, and if this problem grows worse the planet will one day be covered with waste, and people would have no place to live.
I may seem to be going too far, but isn't this the way the world seems to be heading? The reason there is less respect today for people and things is that people look only at the surface of things and do not attempt to see their true value. We tend to judge people only by their academic background, ability, or position, as if to determine whether they might be of benefit to us. Even those who look a little deeper seem to consider only personality - whether someone is friendly and a suitable companion. As long as one judges others only with such an egocentric standard of values, it is impossible to feel true respect.
The reason we are swayed by this shallow way of seeing things is that we are so busy in our daily lives that we have no spiritual breadth. It also seems that there are faults in our education: too much rote memorization, and little attention to teaching students to think for themselves.
It is here, in my opinion, that religion becomes necessary. Religion makes us study things more deeply. It restores our hearts to their original purity. A person with faith venerates all humanity, respects things, and reveres life itself. When people respect one another and physical things, human harmony is created, the relationship between people and things is set right, and peace of mind and happiness result.
In a collection of lectures titled Kokoro ni Tane o Maku (Sowing Seeds in the Heart), by Daigaku Hanaoka (1910 - 88), known for his Buddhist stories for children, we find the following anecdote:
One day I guided a group of young parishioners' wives around Kyoto. Toward evening we decided to eat supper near Kyoto Station and went into an inexpensive restaurant. When the simple meal of chicken and egg on rice was brought, we put our palms together in prayer and began to eat. After we finished our plates without leaving a single bite, we again put our palms together and gave thanks.
When we went to the counter to pay our bill, the fiftyish owner of the restaurant said, "It's not necessary to pay." When we asked why, he replied, "I've been running this restaurant for nearly thirty years now. I've cooked all these years hoping my customers were enjoying the food. But today, for the very first time, someone has shown true gratitude for the simple meal I prepared, and a group of twenty people at that. Nothing could make me happier." Tears welled up in his eyes as he spoke.
I believe that Hanaoka's and his parishioners' gesture of gratitude for a plain meal was merely a natural expression of their Buddhist faith that everything that comes to hand is provided by the Buddha. Whether it is a person or a thing that one is thankful for, putting one's palms together expresses a gratitude that cannot be put into words.
When people begin to greet one another respectfully, a certain warmth inevitably arises. It is not just a matter of form, but rather that, from deep in the heart of the person so greeted, there comes forth something worthy of respect.
Treating all people and things with reverence fills our hearts with harmony, peace, and happiness.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.