I CONTINUED working hard at the pickles business. In August, 1934, when my second daughter, Kyoko, was just nine months old, Mrs. Iizuka, a midwife who lived near us, called to ask if I would not join a religious organization known as Reiyu-kai. I said something to get rid of her. But she replied, "I have come to you as an emissary of the Buddha. If you do not listen to what I say, something may happen to you within the next week or ten days." Going on preparing vegetables for pickles, I thought, "What's she gabbing about?"
Mrs. Iizuka added, "Well, I hope nothing happens. But if it does, go to see Mr. Sukenobu Arai, an outstanding teacher, who lives at number twenty-four Niiyama Street." She drew a map showing me how to get there. Paying little attention, I quickly forgot what she said.
Exactly one week later, my second daughter fell ill with a very high fever and lost consciousness. Nearby lived a pediatrician from Keio University Hospital. When I consulted him, he diagnosed the infant's case as Japanese sleeping sickness and said she could be in grave trouble unless she was hospitalized at once.
But we could not afford to hospitalize her. After exhausting all other possibilities, I decided to call on Mr. Arai. I joined Reiyu-kai at once and began to offer reverence to the spirits of my ancestors. In practically no time my daughter's condition improved. To me, this was proof of the merit of Reiyu-kai. My second daughter was less bright than her older sister in primary school. But she made great strides forward in middle and high schools and graduated with good grades. She has been healthy ever since her infantile fever and shows no traces of having been seriously ill.
But the thing that impressed me about Reiyu-kai even more than this startling proof was the Lotus Sutra. Mr. Sukenobu Arai, one of the most outstanding teachers in the organization, was very learned in Chinese and Buddhist classics. He had conducted his own course of research on the Lotus Sutra. His merits were so great that he was honored even by Mrs. Kimi Kotani, then president of Reiyu-kai. Although his chapter was but a small part of Reiyu-kai, people from the entire organization came to hear Mr. Arai's lectures on the Lotus Sutra.
In my part of the country, Buddhist sects revering the Lotus Sutra were not as popular as Jodo Shu, Jodo Shinshu, and Zen. In fact, the Lotus Sutra was not held in high esteem. Naturally, because of my unfamiliarity with the great text, Mr. Arai's lectures on it overjoyed and elated me.
The rokuyo system and name interpretation were interesting but not entirely effective in relieving suffering. At best they were effective - though not always completely - in eighty-five percent of all instances. In other words, fifteen percent of the suffering people remained unaided by them. Nor had the Shugen-do system proved perfectly effective. Some people were not cured by it. Some were cured physically while their deep suffering and spiritual wounds went unattended. Furthermore, I was never convinced about spiritual powers that could not be understood by the person exerting them. In my own vague way, I constantly sought a rule that would save everyone, a rule that was not mysterious, but was convincingly based on reason and was clearly regulated and systematic.
Listening to lectures on the Lotus Sutra, I realized that I had found what I had been looking for. The Lotus Sutra was the perfect net in which to save everyone in the world. Physically and spiritually it could help both the individual and all of society. I was profoundly shaken by what I had learned. The impression made on me was of astonishing, vibrant freshness. It has remained fresh for over forty years. During that time, I have not missed reading the Lotus Sutra a single day. And the text has lost none of its subtlety, none of its ability to reverberate in my heart and sink deeply into my spirit. On the contrary, the more I read the sutra, the more impressive and profound it seems. Is there another teaching with this power? Is there another book that can be read with amazement and growing emotional impact every day for forty years?
Since I feel more indebted to Sukenobu Arai than to any other person, I must devote some attention to the way I met him and the way I studied with him. On the day of our first meeting, it was pouring rain. In the morning, I made my rounds with the pickles wagon for about two hours. Then, returning home and asking my wife to take very good care of our ill daughter, I went to Mr. Arai's house. I was drenched from the waist down when I arrived.
Passing through the gate, I saw a small, elderly man washing his hands at a stone garden-basin by the veranda. After an exchange of greetings, I explained why I had come; and he invited me into the house. He led me to the bedside of his wife, who was ill with a cold. I was shy about going in as wet as I was. But he told me not to worry. Five or six sheets of newspaper were spread on the tatami for me to sit on, while Mrs. Arai raised herself in bed and helped me fill in the application forms for membership in Reiyu-kai and kindly explained the rules to me. I later learned that Mr. Arai spent almost the entire day every day reading the sutra and writing posthumous Buddhist names. He engaged in very little guidance work, and his wife handled most of the administrative tasks.
On that day, because she was ill, Mr. Arai himself conducted introductory prayers for me. I was accompanied by Mrs. Waki Ogawa, who later remarried and, as Mrs. Abe, was later an important member of the Nagasaki Church of Rissho Kosei-kai. Mr. Arai enthusiastically read the Lotus Sutra and recited the sacred protective mantra for us. From that time, my daughter Kyoko began to get better. In one week, the sickness that the doctor had pronounced dangerous was completely cured, leaving not the slightest trace. Obviously, I became a devout believer and attended meetings of the Arai Chapter regularly.
Training at those meetings consisted of readings of the Lotus Sutra and chantings of the sacred mantra by a person capable of these duties. Then Mr. Arai sat at a low table in front of the Buddhist altar and delivered lectures on the Lotus Sutra. Often his speech became so impassioned that he stood and walked about. His remarks were filled with the Truth and with a power to touch the heart. Nor is this surprising; Mr. Arai himself had been saved from a grave illness by the sutra.
At the age of fifty-one, he had been suddenly paralyzed. He lost the abilities to walk and to speak. In addition, he suffered from a bad liver and impaired eyesight. As he lay in bed one day, with trembling hand, he took a pencil and wrote to his wife, "Bring me my copy of the Lotus Sutra."
At a nearby temple he had been given a copy in Chinese, which was easier for a person with his eyesight to read than was a Japanese version with its mixture of Sino-Japanese ideograms and Japanese syllabary characters. It seems likely that, for a long time, he had realized that the Lotus Sutra is the paramount sutra, the one whose virtues are immense. Mr. Arai's wife was weak but, like the obedient old-fashioned wife she was, held the sutra in front of him and turned page after page when he signaled to her that he had finished one and wanted to go on to the next. He persevered diligently this way until he had read the entire ten fascicles of the Threefold Lotus Sutra.
When he had finished, a miracle occurred. His illness literally vanished. He rose and was able to move about freely. He told us that at that time he realized the greatness of Shakyamuni Buddha and the boundless virtues of the Lotus Sutra.
Although Reiyu-kai almost totally ignored the Lotus Sutra, some of its top leaders attended Mr. Arai's lectures. But not all of the people who came to the meetings were interested. Many of them went home after the incantation of the sacred mantra and the devotional services. Only about fourteen or fifteen regularly remained for the lecture. At about the time that our course had gotten as far as the chapter entitled "Tactfulness," the president of Reiyu-kai remarked that any one engaged in such study was a fool; the high-ranking leaders stopped coming, and attendance dropped to four or five people.
I was the only person paying ardent attention to the lectures. I had the impression that Mr. Arai was talking directly to me all the time. Once he told me privately that he would think the lectures worthwhile if no one came but me. From that time on, I visited him every day, taking no time off for the summer Bon festival, the busy season at the end of the year, or even the first day of the New Year holiday. He was burningly eager to teach the sutra; I was burningly eager to be taught. We agreed with each other like lovers; we attracted each other like the north and south poles of two magnets. Famous for his taciturnity, he was willing to talk all day when I came. If I had questions, I did not hesitate to bring them up. He always seemed to have been waiting for them and launched sparkling arguments around them. Bringing us tea, his wife often looked at us with an expression that said, "I give up on both of you." Under these circumstances, I continued attending Mr. Arai's lectures for a full three years.
Three months after I began studying the Lotus Sutra, my eyes were open. Courage welled up from the bottom of my heart. Until then, I had tried to help as many people as possible, but my efforts had been half a kind of amusement. Now the time had come to be completely sincere.
Two of the teachings with which I came into contact during this period suited my personal feelings exactly: the way of compassion of the bodhisattva - helping others and serving everyone in the world - is the true meaning of Buddhism; and the ability of the lay believer both to save and to be saved. The spirit of valor that I felt welling up in me would no longer permit me to accept the halfway measure of devoting myself to business and giving only spare time to religious activities. On many days, I neglected my shop and ran about doing religious work. Soon what small savings I had were gone, and I had to resort to pawnshops. I caused my wife a great deal of worry. A very hard-working, ordinary housewife, she lacked my kind of religious faith. It is not surprising that she complained about the way I did things. In spite of the fact that the number of our children was growing and work was very pressing, I often dashed out on what I called missions of aid. Even when at home, I spent most of my time reading the sutra. In addition, other members of our religious group called frequently; and my wife had to talk to them and treat them kindly, even though I lacked time to sit down and have a quiet discussion with her. It is only to be expected that circumstances of this kind should have caused her to complain. In my heart, I understood. That is why I never fought or complained. Nonetheless, I did not give in, but adhered firmly to my mission as a man of faith. "You're perfectly right," I would tell her. "But I'm an emissary of the Buddha." And with a remark of this kind, I would immediately go out on religious work.
I was part of a small team of religious workers, including Waki Abe (whom I mentioned earlier), Mr. Arai's wife, and her daughter Masako. We often did guidance work and other tasks for the organization. Since they were happy to have a man who was well-versed in the Lotus Sutra and who could talk persuasively, they often asked me to accompany them in visiting the ill or in doing other work. This contributed to my wife's discontent.
Not long ago, I heard that Mrs. Abe had laughingly told people, '"In those days, when I came to Tokyo and called at the Niwano house, Mrs. Niwano would say to me, 'If you want my husband all that badly, take him. I'll tie a ribbon on him for you."' My wife is supposed to have admitted saying this, and Mrs. Abe is said to have replied, "I should have taken you up on the offer."
Of course, it is easy to laugh about it now. But in those days, I was a source of great irritation to my wife. And the same kind of thing continued steadily for twenty years. Even though it was in the name of service for others, I realize that I brought her unhappiness and am sorry.
My ability to analyze accurately the troubles of the ill and the poor by means of the rokuyo system, oriental astrology, and name interpretation heightened the effects of our guidance work. Since Mr. Arai was more a scholar than a specialist in guidance, he frequently told me to handle such duties. After about seven months of this kind of activity, I was selected as an assistant director of the Arai Chapter of Reiyu-kai. Serving with me as an assistant director was Mr. Koda, who was my senior in the group by many years and was editor of the organization bulletin. Since Mr. Arai was old, he generally sent me on missions of liaison with the headquarters. Frequent contacts during the course of this kind of work enabled me to acquire a wide and deep knowledge of Reiyu-kai and its teachings in a relatively short time. But in my eagerness to become more familiar with the teachings and to devote myself to guidance work, I neglected business. Though such negligence runs counter to what is expected of a Buddhist layman, I was unable to restrain my burning passion to seek the Truth and to serve others in the compassionate spirit of the bodhisattva. Then I came up with the idea of changing my business to one that would leave me plenty of free time, while giving me an opportunity to meet a great many people. After considering a number of proposals, I decided on a milk shop. Without further hesitation, I made the change and opened a milk shop in Fujimicho, Nakano Ward.
In the milk business, early-morning and evening deliveries took care of the pressing duties, and the rest of the day was free for religious work. By cutting down on meal time, I was able to hurry about on these tasks until as late as midnight. From the standpoint of a person who calculates nothing but his own personal profit, my course of action must seem very foolish. But I think that importance is frequently found in apparent folly. In ultimate terms my belief is that serving others is the fundamental qualification for true humanity and that allowing the maximum number of people to know the desire to serve is the way to produce a truly happy and peaceful human society.
If everyone pursued nothing but his own selfish ends, society would become a machine without lubricating oil. It would soon cease to function and would ultimately explode from overheating. The spirit of service is the lubricant needed to bring happiness and fulfillment to the individual and lasting peace to the whole world. This seems a remote ideal to some people. A dream for the future. But I do not agree. On the contrary, I think it is the image of a world that can be realized in the relatively near future.
The person who makes up his mind to devote himself to the service of others suddenly feels relieved and happy. He is no longer burdened with selfish desires. The daily things that cause grief cease to bother him. Bonds dissolve; he is free. This feeling alone is wonderful. I suspect this is the way a man who becomes a priest feels. But to experience it, one need not renounce the world. Resolving to serve others and to devote oneself to the interests of mankind produces the same effect and is infinitely more valuable.
The desire to serve--the meaning of the Buddhist spirit of the bodhisattva - is the kind of lubricant that can, even in small droplets, make the running of the great machine of society smooth and sure.
One of the good customers of my milk shop was the Saitamaya, a small store in Hatagaya Honcho, Shibuya Ward, that sold ice in the summer and baked sweet potatoes in the winter. The shop prospered, but the woman who ran it was always pale and sickly. She spent much of the time in bed in a room behind the shop and seemed to be getting worse. One day, as the time she spent in bed began increasing, I said to her, "You look very ill. What's the matter with you?"
"Oh, you're the milkman aren't you? Well, I've got a weak heart and a bad stomach. I'm in generally bad shape."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Have you been sick a long time?"
"Pretty long. Ever since I was a young girl."
"Is that so? Tell me, do you have any religious belief?"
"I'm a member of Tenri-kyo."
"That's fine. But tell me something else. Do you pay reverence to your ancestors?"
"Actually, what with one thing and another, no. I don't."
"I thought you didn't. You ought to."
Then I started trying to convince her to become a member of Reiyu-kai. But she was stubborn and, stopping just short of telling me to shut up, refused to pay attention to what I had to say. Still, I did not give up. Each time I delivered milk, I brought the subject to her attention. Finally she said that, if I was all that serious about it, she might think of joining.
But that was as far as she went. Naturally, I took care of applications for her; but when I asked her to submit a list of her ancestors' posthumous names as is prescribed by Reiyu-kai, she hesitated, even though the names were recorded in a place where she could have obtained them all in a single day. After three days of waiting, I lost patience and wrote to her family for the names. In another three days, the list arrived; and I personally entered them in Reiyu-kai's register of the names of all the members and the names and death dates of their ancestors. On that day, the proprietor of the ice and sweet-potato shop felt much better than she could remember feeling and got out of bed. I was as happy as if her good fortune were my own. I remarked to her, "There, see how much better you feel. Now you must pay a call of gratitude." Then I took her to the Arai Chapter of Reiyu-kai.
In Reiyu-kai's system, the person introducing a new member acts as a spiritual godparent. After entering the group, the new member is obliged to pay a call of gratitude to the chapter and the godparent. In this case, I was the godparent; but thinking the whole thing silly, she would not visit me to express thanks. I did not take the matter too seriously and laughingly said, "All right. There's nothing to be done about it. I'll pay respects to the guardian deity for you."
According to the story, as I heard it later, on her return to her home, she found her nephew, whom she had invited to come from the country to work in her shop, writhing in agony on the floor with a pain in his stomach. She quickly brought him a doctor, who immediately diagnosed appendicitis and said that an operation was required at once or it would be too late. But operations, even for appendicitis, were serious in those days, since there was no penicillin. The proprietor of the shop said that she could not consent to surgery without the approval of the boy's parents. The doctor ordered her to get approval by the evening and, in the meantime, to apply ice packs to the boy's abdomen. If she did not abide by his instructions, her nephew's life would be in danger.
Then she suddenly remembered the brusque way she had reacted to her responsibilities as a new member of Reiyu-kai and hastened to send a boy for me. I heard the messenger out and decided to go. But there was one problem. Our third daughter had just been born, and there was no one to look after our second daughter, Kyoko, who was still very small. I resolved the difficulty by strapping Kyoko to my back and then hurried to the ice shop. When I learned the entire story, I spoke to the proprietor in a severe voice for the first time in our association. "You are getting only what you deserve. You were cured of your sickness. Still you refused to make a call of thanks to your spiritual godparent and to pay your respects to the guardian deity. Your ingratitude is being shown to you in the form of your suffering nephew."
She lowered her eyes. I continued, "Now make up for what you have done by joining me in reading the Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue." She knelt behind me as I read the long sutra and recited the sacred mantra. As we did this, the pain in her nephew's stomach steadily decreased until it was gone and no operation was needed.
On the following day, the doctor was unable to locate the swelling that had been caused by the inflamed appendix. His pressing on the boy's stomach produced no pain. Shaking his head, the doctor said, "This is the strangest thing I've ever seen. How can it have happened? The appendicitis seems to be gone now, but it can recur. Take good care of the boy." But the sickness never returned, and that boy, Hiroshi Naganuma, was later one of the directors of Rissho Kosei-kai. She thanked me. That was good, but what she said afterward was bad: "How much do I owe you?"
For the second time, I spoke sharply to her. "Do you think money is the only important thing? Believe me, that is no way to think. Money is beside the point. It's good to give, because acts of charity are part of our Buddhist practice. But giving must not be an exchange. I mean you must not offer money because a sickness has been cured or because you want a sickness to be cured. That is not charity. It is not giving. The best thing for you to do, the greatest donation you can make, is to give your selfish and stubborn person completely to the Buddha."
At last my words had effect. Her eyes were open, and she was a different person thereafter. She went to the Arai Chapter of Reiyu-kai daily. She heard lectures on the Lotus Sutra and enthusiastically took part in the services. Even more surprising than her attendance at these meetings was the vigorous way she went about carrying the teachings to others. With a force and strength that seemed impossible in a woman who, until recently, had lain in bed, pale and wan, day in and day out, she devoted herself to guidance activities. On a single day, working together, she and I converted nearly fifty new members. Her industriousness and dedication astonished even Mr. Arai. The woman of whom I am speaking was, of course, Masa Naganuma, who was later to be known in Rissho Kosei-kai as Myoko Sensei.
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