How does one educate and cultivate oneself as a human being? It is my belief that the most adaptable means of spiritual cultivation is the teachings of Buddhism. It is attitude that makes a person happy or miserable. Since attitude can change, anyone can become happy. That is what Buddhism teaches. Even in the matter of world peace, if the spirit of each individual becomes filled with peace, then the world will of its own accord become peaceful.
Some will say that changing one's attitude in such a way is very difficult. But it is easier to change one's attitude than it is to change matter. Let us say that we have some wood. Even if someone tells us to turn it into iron, there is no way we can comply. However, if someone notices that we are easily angered and suggests that we keep our temper, we would not consider it impossible. We would consider it a definite possibility once we had made up our mind.
Ingen (1592 - 1673) was the Chinese Zen master who founded the Obaku sect of Zen Buddhism in Japan, and there is a well-known anecdote about him. While traveling along a deserted mountain path, he was suddenly accosted by robbers who threatened him and demanded all his money. Turning his purse upside down, he complied with their demand, saying, "Here is all the money I have," and went on his way. After a short while he returned to where the robbers lay in wait. "Earlier I said that what I gave you was all I had, but then I remembered the gold coin I had received from some parishioners and had tucked into my waistband. Since I have taken the vows of a priest, I cannot tell a lie, so I have returned. Here, please take this coin, too." On hearing these words the highwaymen all fell immediately to their knees and prostrated themselves before the priest. They condemned their old habits, asked to be accepted as disciples, and renounced their worldly lives. The meaning of this story is that although one may not even be trying to change oneself, the heart can easily be transformed by some very small opportunity.
Let's consider another example. From the final days of the Tokugawa shogunate to the early days of the Meiji period, Hara Tanzan (1819 - 92) was renowned as a Zen priest and served as a superintendent of the main Soto sect academy. He studied Confucianism in his youth at an official academy of the Tokugawa shogunate. Hara was betrayed by a woman with whom he had developed an intimate relationship, and he intruded into her home with the intention of murdering her. She was not at home. Determined to wait until she returned, he flipped through a book that was at hand and his eyes fell on a passage that admonished against sexual passion. As he read on he became unable to bear his own folly. He fled the house and never approached the woman again. He thus avoided the sin of the murder he had intended to commit, and in due course he was able to follow the path of a disciple of the Buddha. His heart changed in an instant because of a book he had just happened to take up.
There are many such examples we might cite. Though attitudes may seem hard to alter, in reality they are easily transformed. Changing the physical, where it is possible, requires considerable effort; changing the spirit can be done in a moment.
Do our actions automatically change when our spirit does? The Chinese thinker Sun Yat-sen held that knowing is difficult but that doing is easy. Normally, we think the opposite is the case; that is, we are convinced that knowing is simple but that doing is difficult. For instance, the great T'ang dynasty poet Po Chu-i once traveled through the West Lake district. Hearing that there was a priest of great virtue named Niao-k'e who used to practice meditation in a tree in the mountains, Po Chu-i went to meet him. He inquired of the Zen master, "What is the essence of the teachings of the Buddha?" Niao-k'e replied, "Do no evil, do all that is good, purify your mind. This is the teaching of all the buddhas." Po Chu-i laughed and said, "Even a child of three can comprehend such a teaching." Niao-k'e replied, "This can be understood even by a child of three, but it is difficult even for an old man of eighty to practice." Po Chu-i was left speechless and on the spot became a disciple of the Zen master.
This story shows that although one may understand something with one's mind, it is difficult to act on that knowledge. "Be strict with oneself and tolerant with others." "Be calm in adversity; be indifferent in prosperity." "Do what is good for the company." Even though we may understand these exhortations intellectually, there are many things that are not so easy actually to carry out.
Sun Yat-sen, however, claimed that this is not true. He said that doing is much simpler than knowing. Perhaps it is true that once one really understands what one should do, putting it into practice is simple. Moreover, if one doesn't practice, then one really does not understand. I constantly feel that this is the case.
Accordingly, I always hope that many people will be guided in what they do by the valuable teachings of the Lotus Sutra, one of Mahayana Buddhism's most important scriptures. Once they fully understand its teachings, they cannot help changing for the better and naturally following the right path.
The Lotus Sutra teaches that all people may become buddhas. It is because they do not perceive this that they suffer, are tormented, become covetous, quarrel, and head down the wrong road. One of the seven parables in the Lotus Sutra is that of the gem hidden in the robe. A poor man visited the home of a good friend. The friend entertained the poor man cordially with food and drink, and as a result the man got quite drunk and fell asleep. Just then, the friend was called away on some business. Hating to awaken the sleeping man, the friend quickly sewed a priceless jewel into the lining of his friend's clothes and left. When the poor man awoke and found that his friend had gone out, he decided that there was nothing else to do but leave the house, too. He resumed his wretched life of wandering and his struggle for food and clothing, relieved to obtain whatever income he could. A long time passed, and one day the man met his old friend along the road. The friend looked at the man's wretched condition and said, "Such foolishness! On the day we last met I sewed a precious gem into the lining of your clothes so that you would be able to enjoy a comfortable life. But look at you now!" For the very first time the man became aware that he possessed a valuable jewel.
We, too, possess a jewel that we do not take notice of--the priceless jewel of the buddha-nature. If we could only become aware of this, our hearts would change in an instant.
Anyone who really want to improve their attitude can do so in a moment.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.