It seems as if each and every human being has a unique way of living, yet in another way everyone seems very much the same. For example, while desiring to place importance on their own feelings and individuality, the majority of Japanese feel that they are alike in sharing a middle-class lifestyle. When it comes to the essential quality of all phenomena, we must remember that everything - not only human beings, but also grass and trees - consists of a single, all-pervading element.
However, the manner in which this element is manifested varies. No two people are exactly alike. By becoming aware of these differences, we can know what makes each person's way of life unique. On the plains and in the mountains, the cedar forests are a deep green. In autumn the oaks, maples, and sumacs tint the mountains yellow and red. The eulalia heads flow in silver waves. The bellflowers put forth their lovely violet blossoms. And the bases of large trees are covered with blankets of incomparably beautiful moss. This is what in Buddhism we call jinen honi, the spontaneous working of the universal law, and because of it the beauty of nature increases in radiance. Each thing has its own individual beauty, and all things interact harmoniously. How would it be if each flower and plant were to insist on equality in size, color, and character? Our world would become characterless, and furthermore, would gradually die. For example, if all the plants were to soar toward the sky and become evergreens, the sunlight could not penetrate to the undergrowth, the nutrients in the soil would be depleted, and all the trees and plants would die. That is why there is such a complex, diversified distribution of plants in nature today.
Perhaps human beings have forgotten that they are all essentially equal and that, at the same time, everyone has their own individuality. I wonder if we press for equality in name only and whether everyone has the unnatural desire to become a large evergreen.
There is a Japanese proverb about a crow that tries to imitate a cormorant. In the same way, when one loses sight of one's own uniqueness, everything gets turned around. On the other hand, some people become negligent in the belief that they are worthless. This, too, is shirking responsibility.
Each human being is blessed by the gods and buddhas with a role that only he or she can carry out. It is a pleasure to watch a carpenter plane lumber or a gardener prune trees. Each time I see such people at work, I am impressed with their skill, and I feel refreshed. This is the beauty of being oneself. In this big, wide world there is a place that only you can fill. By doing your best, you live in a way that is worthy of the role you are entrusted with, and fill the place that only you can fill. You are neither pressured nor constrained by anyone else. As an old saying goes, when one concentrates on one's work and does one's best, "Food will be on the table, and the sun will rise." If one is satisfied with what follows, one gains peace of mind.
We are constantly measuring ourselves against expectations others have of us. Men try to be manly, women womanly; teachers try to be good teachers, and students good students. On the job, some people try to be, for instance, good bank clerks or good trading-company employees. Recently it seems that fewer and fewer people cling to these admittedly ambiguous standards and that more and more people have come to believe that the best way to live is to do as you wish. Their reaction against professional standards may be due to their feeling constrained by the requirement that they fit into one single mold, but this seems to me a grand illusion. It might seem that one can live as one likes if one is free from having to measure up to expectations, but this does not mean that there is any great goal to be achieved this way. Rather, is it not often the case that one is simply swayed by the small, insignificant self? Instead of giving way to self-indulgence, if one devotes oneself to improving one's abilities, one will surely be able to realize one's potential. In the process of realizing your potential, your individuality grows beyond the bounds of imagination. On the job or among neighbors, those who devote themselves fully to allotted tasks are entrusted with ever-expanding responsibilities.
Some people will not be ignored. They cannot help acquiring popularity, position, and reputation. Moreover, they have a good moral influence on the people around them. Shigesaburo Maeo (1905 - 81), who was a speaker of Japan's House of Representatives, wrote about Sada Iwamoto, his respected teacher at the prestigious First Higher School. Iwamoto taught philosophy and German. In class he would loudly and vigorously scold students, and he was so strict in grading examinations that of a class of forty students, almost half would fail. Despite this, after his death his admiring students raised a monument to him at the temple Soji-ji in Yokohama. In the passage where he tells of this, Maeo writes, "And now fifty years later I have completely forgotten my German, and I remember nothing of the outline of philosophy that I studied except the opening lines. But I acquired a devotion to scholarship, and it is impossible for me to measure just how well that has served me over the years."
I am not alone in feeling that Iwamoto was an excellent teacher.
From a different perspective, Japanese people certainly ought to be acutely conscious of just how important it is for all things to remain true to themselves. With pollution-related diseases, the worsening of the quality of our air and water, and the degradation of our land, forests, and seas, we have become painfully aware that our very existence as human beings is threatened when things stop conforming to the laws of the universe. In our hearts we entertain fears of what it would be like for humanity to lose its humanness.
Being true to oneself is not a matter of coercion, but is rather a spontaneous way of living that proceeds from knowing the laws of the universe.
Be aware that you are assigned a role that only you can play, and you will be true to yourself.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.