In Japan, recent growth of interest in religion is prompting people to speak of a "religious boom" or a "new age of religion." For both young people and people of mature years, the present turning to religion for help takes the form of fascination with mysticism, fortunetelling, psychics, and miracle workers - an indication of the insecurity people feel in their lives.
Young people look for salvation through the agency of some supernatural force rather than through their own efforts. The present state of affairs is reminiscent of the conditions prevailing in Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1336), when many people seeking salvation turned to the teachings of the Buddhist priests Nichiren, who advocated chanting the daimoku - that is, proclaiming one's faith in the Lotus Sutra--as a meritorious practice, and Shinran, who taught the merits obtained from the nembutsu, or chanting the name of the buddha Amitabha.
The wish that deities, buddhas, or exceptionally gifted people would use their great powers to bring people happiness is natural and common and has its own meaning and importance. Nonetheless, few religious believers, least of all Buddhists, expect deities or superior humans to guarantee their happiness.
Buddhism incorporates four basic elements - doctrine, practical action, faith, and proof - and relies on the mind for wisdom and the body for action. Thinking deeply about and practicing the teachings of Buddhism are what guide people to salvation. If we fail to analyze our thoughts and acts and merely hope for deliverance through mystical or psychical powers, we will not appreciate religion's salutary nature.
Chanting the daimoku and invoking Amitabha are devices employed by two great religious leaders at a time when abstruse Buddhist philosophy must have been incomprehensible to most people. Furthermore, the daimoku and the nembutsu express the essence of Buddhism and represent profound faith.
It is the nature of religions to explain all things in the universe and teach people how best to live and relate to one another. Religious teachings help people in the depths of suffering improve their thinking and behavior, showing them that the way to enlightenment and happiness is through diligent self-improvement in the light of those teachings. Mysterious external powers may bring temporary peace of mind, but as Buddhism teaches, a firm foundation of spiritual improvement and stability is necessary for salvation.
Insecurity and suffering are always with us. Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, observed the social disorder around him and saw that people were striving desperately to escape from suffering. He sought deliverance from suffering through religious discipline. Eventually he was enlightened to the means of attaining true relief from sorrow.
I think causes of anxiety are probably more numerous now than in Shakyamuni's time. We are deluged with more information than we can assimilate and are worried by such threats to peace and well-being as nuclear weapons and environmental pollution. Young people who feel helpless in the face of their problems experience a deep longing for a great saving power, and thus many of them turn to religion for the mystical help they crave.
The nature of our times makes it extremely important for those guiding the young, especially parents, to study religious truth sincerely, practice what they learn, and have firm faith so that they can offer young people the right kind of guidance. Because of their superior receptivity, young people learn very quickly if they clearly understand the fundamentals. They are certain to build hopeful, active, creative lives if they have adult models who, firm in a faith filled with happiness and gratitude, put their faith into practice.
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Jiun Onko (1718-1804), a noted Sanskrit scholar and priest of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, concisely described the fundamental attitude required for helping young people grow spiritually and mature: "First show them how to do a thing by doing it yourself. Then explain the task in words and have them perform it. But if you do not praise their efforts, they will not grow and mature."
To help young people mature, it is necessary to set them good examples. They develop by observing and imitating parents and elders, who should explain a task clearly to them and let them try doing it repeatedly. With repetition, the young learn valuable lessons and make progress.
Even after demonstration, explanation, and repeated trials, however, they are still likely to make mistakes, since they may not have understood everything. But criticizing them at this stage is inadvisable, since that might discourage them, stifling their potential and crushing their initiative. Thus praise is important. However discouraged they may be, the young are usually willing to make another try after a little praise.
Jiun no doubt meant that repetition of all the steps in the educational process best helps the young develop and mature. Unlike modern education, which tends to overemphasize intellectual training, Jiun's formative process develops character and a humane personality.
Education cannot develop nonexistent capabilities; it is meant to stimulate those that do exist. Young people, although psychologically immature, have great potential. Helping them develop it requires a parental affection combined with the compassion described by Jiun, as well as the generosity to praise their good points even when scolding seems in order.
The right conditions are needed for sound development. A tree grows well when it has fertile soil, water, and the proper amount of sunlight. Young people's potential can be realized when their ability to learn is developed through the compassion of their instructors.
The ordering of teachings in the Lotus Sutra may also be the sequence best suited for the instruction of young people. The first chapter of the sutra is a dialogue between the bodhisattvas Maitreya, known for compassion, and Manjushri, known for wisdom. The final chapter deals with Universal Virtue, known for practice of the Buddha's teachings. Thus the Lotus Sutra proceeds from the practice of compassion to the seeking of wisdom and finally to the finding of supreme happiness through understanding the nature of all things.
In educating the young, it is extremely important to begin by teaching them with compassion. Compassion is the source of the wisdom instructors need to overcome all obstacles in the guiding of youth.
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Although people generally choose the quickest, most efficient path to a goal, we should remember that some tasks must be addressed slowly and painstakingly. Parents and teachers should avoid haste and always take a comprehensive view of things.
Some knowledge should be imparted at an early age - including such fundamentals of social harmony as consideration for others, proper greetings, table manners, and courteous speech. Since these fundamentals are basic to our daily lives, they should be taught correctly at the appropriate stage in a child's psychological development.
I would like to comment on three points in teaching young people proper behavior. First, it is necessary to know when and where to correct faults. Sometimes it is necessary to correct a fault immediately. If those responsible for education allow themselves to cling to anger over young people's continual serious misbehavior but fail to correct the young people when the time and place are right, that anger may keep them from getting along well with their charges. Further, their continuing anger may be ignited by even minor instances of misbehavior.
Second, intimacy should not lead to excessive severity. It is easy to reprimand those close to us, but we must realize that intimacy can intensify the shock of reproof. In other words, married couples, parents, and children must respect one another's feelings and be courteous to one another. It is difficult but important to remember that even intimately related people must be courteous toward one another.
Third, it is vital to realize that words are not the only means of education. Example plays a great role. Observing the behavior of their parents and elders, young people naturally emulate them.
Thorough, patient training develops people who exemplify the best of which human nature is capable: people who are moved by beauty, greatness, and nobility, who strive passionately to attain their ideals, and who are sympathetic to all living creatures. We must believe that all human beings possess lofty qualities that must be revealed and developed.
Correction must not be mere punishment but must always reflect high ideals and the belief that the people being corrected can learn from their mistakes. Great patience may be necessary. As the old proverb has it, the longest way round is the shortest way home.
People are adept and inept at different things and mature at different rates. In educating others we must always recognize these differences, clearly discern what can be taught at once and what requires more time, and always suit teaching and correction to the person, time, and place.