There is a saying, "If you want something done, ask someone who is busy." It might seem more logical to ask someone who is not busy, but such a person is often neglectful. There are many books of advice for men and women in business and others on how to manage time and make the most of the twenty-four hours of the day, but I would like to take a slightly different approach.
Some people say they are simply too busy for community service, the peace movement, or their faith. They have convinced themselves that time is an absolute, that there are only twenty-four hours in a day and sixty minutes in an hour, and that nothing can change this. The Lotus Sutra tells of the bodhisattvas who were so engrossed for eons by the Buddha Sun Moon Light's preaching of the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law that the time seemed as short as the time it took to eat. The phrase in the Lotus Sutra is "listening to the Buddha's preaching and deeming it but the length of a meal." In other words, time is relative.
The same is true of space flight. According to the theory of relativity, if astronauts traveled away from the earth at slightly less than the speed of light for 2,500 years, what on earth would appear to be 2,500 years would be for the astronauts only a fifty-year period. If a newborn child had set off in a rocket at the time of the birth of the Buddha, it would now be an adult turning fifty. Such an incredible situation is theoretically possible. Even without resorting to such a difficult theory, I am certain that everyone must have had the experience in daily life of time seeming short. Half a day laughing and talking in pleasant company seems to pass in a flash, but a boring day feels very long. An unpleasant task that you do not want to do takes hours and hours, but it is easy to make headway with a pleasant task in a very short time. Time seems long or short depending on one's attitude.
Nichiren (1222 - 82) was the most discipline-oriented Japanese Buddhist priest, and sought a way to human salvation based on the Lotus Sutra. In 1261, while he was in exile at Ito on the Izu Peninsula, he wrote in his Shion-sho ("The Four Debts of Gratitude" - that is, to our parents, rulers, all living things, and the Three Treasures):
For over 240 days, from the twelfth day of the fifth month of last year [when this exile began] to the sixteenth of the first month of this year [today], I have been able day and night to practice the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. Because for the sake of the Lotus Sutra I am placed in this situation [exile], whatever I do - whether I am walking, standing, sitting, or lying - I live by the sutra daily with my whole self. What greater joy than this could there be for someone born human in this world? . . . [Exiled like this] I in effect read the sutra even though I do not remember it, and live by it automatically even though I do not read it.
Just before this passage, Nichiren confesses that for the previous six or seven years, though he had earnestly believed in the Lotus Sutra, he had been preoccupied with study or worldly affairs, and that he had been able to devote time each day to reading only one chapter or chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra (the daimoku). Of course, throughout those years Nichiren must have spent day and night with the Lotus Sutra. Yet placed in the special situation of exile, he became palpably aware of his devotion to the Lotus Sutra, and experienced a fullness of the spirit that he had not previously known.
I myself have felt that most poignantly. After Rissho Kosei-kai was established, for example, I had not a moment of my own. Though I had gone to bed at two in the morning, I would have to get up at four to make my rounds delivering milk. No sooner had I returned home for breakfast than someone would come and ask me to visit their seriously ill neighbor. I would hurriedly finish breakfast and then go to the sick person's bedside to chant the sutra. After he or she improved, I would return home only to find a large number of believers awaiting me. It was always like that.
Amazingly, being so busy never seemed to me the least bit hard. That is, the Buddha was not giving me a moment's rest, and when I realized that, I truly felt my courage grow a hundredfold. When Nichiren writes, "I live by the sutra daily with my whole self. What greater joy than this could there be for someone born human in this world?" I believe it is this state of mind he means, this momentary sense of the fullness of life.
The great English painter of water and seas, Joseph Mallord Turner (1775 - 1851), once went to a lake with some friends. He sat on the bank all day gazing at the water. From time to time he would throw a pebble into the water and like a child marvel at the ripples it caused. A friend asked him, "You're always grumbling that you are so busy you don't have enough time to paint, then you come all the way out to the lake here and don't paint at all. Why not?" Turner replied, "True, I have not painted today, but I've been sitting here looking out over the lake. I have learned a lot about the ripples, the light, and the changing of the colors. Rather than make sketches, I have spent the day quite memorably." In other words, Turner's spirit burned at its very brightest on that day.
That is the way time is. Some people live eighty years and their lives are very uninteresting. Others live only thirty and their lives are substantial and full. There is all the difference of heaven and earth between one day passed meaninglessly and one day lived to the full.
Attitude determines whether the time seems long or short and whether we make full use of it.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.