This essay is part of a continuing series of translations from
a volume of
inspirational writings by the late founder of
Rissho Kosei-kai. Dharma
World will continue to publish
these essays because of their lasting
guidance for the practice of one's daily faith.
Could Shakyamuni have suddenly appeared in the world, not connected
in any way whatsoever to the history of the universe and of humankind,
and become enlightened to the true Law as it appears in the Lotus
Sutra? Such a thing is beyond the realm of the possible. The true Law
must have existed since the moment the universe came into being. Those
who lived in the distant past, however, did not know the Law; they
lived without understanding what they were doing, as their instincts
Because instinct is based on the fundamental delusion that the
physical body is the actual self, as consciousness developed within
human beings, instinctual desires gradually increased, and consequently
human beings came to experience all kinds of suffering unknown to other
living beings. For humanity this is the great contradiction and
tragedy. Unless this contradiction can be resolved, human suffering
will only worsen. Nevertheless, humans cannot retrogress to being
instinctual beings like birds and mammals. Rather, they must, as
consciousness develops, look for a means of extinguishing the
sufferings that arise from that consciousness.
What is necessary for us to accomplish this? There can be only one
means: to learn the true Law and align our way of living along the path
of the truth and the Law using the human wisdom that has developed.
There is no other way. If someone had not become aware of this way and
shown it to humankind, nothing could have been achieved. Necessity
opened the path; responding to this necessity, Shakyamuni appeared in
the world and attained enlightenment. It is no accident that he was
born into this world; he appeared because it was necessary for
humankind that he do so. By means of Shakyamuni's enlightenment, the
true Law, which had existed as an established fact from the distant
past but which had not been grasped by anyone, was made clear for the
Western thought, to put it simply, derives from a careful division
of things one from another and a keen analysis of the component parts.
This played an important role in the development of science and
technology. The other side of this coin, however, is that somehow or
other the human intellect too became highly compartmentalized. If our
minds are excessively segmented, no scientific or technological
advance, and no material culture, however highly developed, is going to
bring people happiness. On the contrary, confrontation and contention
can only get worse.
At this juncture, what is more important than anything else is to
realize the truth that humankind is fundamentally part of all the
things that exist in the universe. This is a way of thought that has
existed in Asia from ancient times. "One is all; all is One." In the
West, God and humankind are strictly differentiated as separate
existences, but Eastern sages understood that they formed a single
existence. Zazen Wasan (The Song of Enlightenment) by Hakuin (1685-1768) begins with the words:
All living beings are essentially buddhas.
They are like water and ice:
Without water there is no ice,
Without living beings there are no buddhas.
Not knowing how close the truth is,
They seek it in distant places.
They wander in impermanence.
They are like one who cries out in thirst in the midst of water.
Like the son of the rich man who wandered lost among the poor.
According to Buddhism, all things in the universe derive from an
all-encompassing "emptiness." Even the most advanced modern science is
of the view that the ultimate source of material existence has not yet
been fully explained, but ultimately there could be a kind of single
elementary particle that could be sustained to exist in a vacuum of a
highly complex structure. Emptiness, elementary particle, and vacuum
are words that suggest the material, yet actually they describe life
itself. It is that very life which causes the existence of all things,
including human beings, and allows all of them to function in the
This life that we call the great life force, the great radiance, the
great adornment, in other words, the Buddha, fills every corner of the
universe. Doesn't this indisputably mean therefore that human beings,
who are one part of this great life force, are fundamentally buddhas?
What we know as the buddha-nature is not something with which only
human beings are endowed. Grasses and trees and the very earth itself,
together with water and air, all possess the buddha-nature, and thus
the possibility of attaining buddhahood. In other words, we are all
inhabitants of the Buddha's world, all are the Buddha's children who
strive together to achieve the realm of happiness and joy. Thus we
should think of the buddha-nature as our own true form, existing within
the stream of life that flows through the three periods of past,
present, and future.
What do we mean by the expression "opening and revealing the
buddha-nature"? I have so far been making use of explanations of all
descriptions, but here I would like to come directly to the heart of
the matter, which is "rebirth." Of course, I am referring to spiritual
rebirth, or a change of heart---that is, becoming aware that we are
living within eternal life.
Unless the true self is established, a person lives only
heteronomously, just like flowing water, and does not create energy
capable of acting freely and unrestrictedly outward. All living beings
wish to act freely; this can even be said to be the meaning of life.
Human beings in particular have as their essential quality free action
and the ability to create what has value. If we do not understand
clearly the nature of this essence, this "real self," and establish it
deep in the mind, we cannot experience true human fulfillment and joie
de vivre or be said to have attained true relief. What Shakyamuni
wanted finally to teach is this, for he desired to bring us to the
clear realization that though our mind and body are, being phenomena,
highly unreliable, we have as our essence the firm and undying
Many people, though, have no knowledge of their own essence and are
either swayed by ever-changing forms of the body and environment and go
from one emotional extreme to the other or find satisfaction only by
completely denying the defilements.
The way that large numbers of people are capable of following and
that can bring society as a whole relief can be narrowed down to
knowledge of the human essence (the buddha-nature). By this means we
realize that our essential attitude is to work positively for all
people and society, not seeking our own happiness alone, and act freely
and unrestrictedly to create the Land of Tranquil Light in this world.
To realize this is to become one with the Buddha.
It is important that we always remain aware that we have been given
life and are sustained by the Buddha, and we should try to live our
lives in that knowledge. By doing so we ensure happiness both for
ourselves and for others. When we are imbued with such a positive
spirit, it becomes impossible for us to do evil. Just as a carving
knife that is in regular use is sharp and free of rust, constant action
for good makes evil an impossibility. The defilements themselves are
transformed into positive and valuable functions. For example, the
defilement that leads a person to want to become rich will function as
good by transforming into the effort to excel in one's work. This is
the state that is called "the defilements themselves are indivisible
To know our essence, to realize our buddha-nature, is to illuminate
the world, to become a person of worth who works for society in a
variety of ways.
This article was originally published in the October-December 2008 issue of
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