People who thoroughly understand and diligently practice Buddhism invariably influence others in ways exactly suited to the individual and the situation. They can guide others to salvation because their own thinking is unconstrained and is attuned to the needs of the moment. We should examine our actions in daily life to see whether they manifest the power to influence others. Acquiring the ability to influence others by example should be a goal of our discipline.
None of us is perfect. We all have shortsighted aspects and fixed thought patterns. We all tend to allow ourselves to become obsessed with certain things. But such obsessions fetter the mind, preventing the unconstrained thought that changing circumstances demand. Thus we should attempt to discover and eliminate mental baggage that restricts our freedom of thought.
Self-interest and fixed ideas become mental bonds. For instance, we frequently calculate our own advantage or worry about what others will think of our words or actions. We try to impose on other people our own fixed notions of such things as the behavior we consider properly masculine or feminine. We brood so over our failures that we cannot start over again. All these are examples of mental bonds.
Occasionally a wife may be so busy with the children, housework, and other duties that all she can think of is what she considers to be her husband's obligation to help her. Obsessed with such thoughts, she will probably fail to realize that her husband too is very busy. She may express her dissatisfaction in her attitude or in quarrelsome words.
A person obsessed in this way loses sight of the simple truth that when others too are busy, one must bear one's own responsibilities. On the other hand, someone free of such obsession understands others' circumstances and is not only comfortable when busy but also ready to lend others a helping hand when necessary. Warm understanding prevails between husbands and wives who are free of mental bonds in this way.
The restoration of mental freedom must begin with self-reflection, which in turn means keeping our minds flexible and open to other viewpoints.
Since they convey our thoughts, words are extremely important in enabling us to exert the kind of influence the occasion demands. Our speech must be sincere, because neither the most gentle nor the most severe words can produce the desired effect if they are not bolstered by genuine concern for the other person.
Furthermore, our words must be gauged to others' situation and frame of mind. Teaching a first grader lessons designed for a sixth grader can only cause the child to reject the education and lose interest in learning because the material is too difficult. On the other hand, earnestly presenting first grade material to a sixth grader can only cause the pupil dissatisfaction and frustration.
Salvation is possible only when there is close rapport between the giver of advice and the recipient. Only if the recipient agrees wholeheartedly with the advice given will he or she want to follow it.
My fellow members of Rissho Kosei-kai are all diligent in their daily religious practice so that they can exert a truly liberating influence on others. Assiduously performing devotions, participating in hoza counseling, and accepting advice from those with greater experience, we should strive to be always mentally fresh and to have the kind of faith that enables us to guide others to true salvation and happiness.
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All the events that occur around us bear a close relation to our own state of mind. Consequently, without becoming obsessed with events, we should strive to discover the fundamental causes of phenomena and to perceive our relation to them. This means cultivating the habit of self-reflection. Someone who tries constantly, day after day, to develop this habit will be able to find appropriate solutions to problems and will be able to act and speak correctly on all occasions, thus improving situations immeasurably.
Symbolized by the lotus which blooms and bears fruit at the same time, the Buddhist teaching that cause and effect are simultaneous and inseparable means that both cause and effect are reflections of an individual's mind and that all future phenomena already belong to the present.
As an example of how attitudes influence cause-and-effect relations, let us suppose that a husband returns home very late and that he did not call to say he would be delayed. The wife who reacts selfishly, thinking only of the time she has spent waiting, will be angry. Her anger will reveal itself in harsh or frosty words, which can have unhappy consequences. Any apology she may manage to wring from her tardy husband under such conditions is certain to be nothing more than lip service.
Pointing out another's faults calmly, in that person's best interest and in the hope that the failings will be remedied, is a good practice. Generally, however, we human beings cannot remain calm in trying situations.
If the wife in our example had thought not about having been kept waiting but about the heavy workload forcing her husband to be late or about the eagerness to get home that prevented his taking time to telephone, the words and attitude with which she greeted him would have been different. From her welcome, her husband would have understood that she believed and trusted him, and he would have apologized sincerely for his tardiness. The good relations established between husband and wife in this way would have a beneficial effect on relations among all the family members.
Since we are imperfect, our minds tend to be fickle. But being able to observe one's own mind calmly, unemotionally, exerts a regulating influence on the phenomena of the future.
We must therefore constantly observe our own mind, reflect on it, and come to understand our reactions under various circumstances.
With this enlightenment, we can begin changing our attitudes so that we become people capable of caring for others and of feeling gratitude. Moreover, we must do our best to point out to people looking for easy solutions the true way to solve problems.
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It should be our goal to be people who, not dominated by their surroundings or the conditions in which they find themselves, live always looking toward the future and who are therefore an inspiration and an encouragement to those behind them.
Although most people in Japan today have adequate housing and clothing and enough to eat and are therefore free of the sufferings of poverty, many make themselves miserable by drawing disheartening comparisons with neighbors' situations or with their own past condition. For instance, one family feels inferior for not owning a wide-screen television when all its neighbors have one. Someone is embarrassed to wear the same clothes all the time while a neighbor always dresses in the latest fashions.
Obsessed with their circumstances, such people are like manic-depressives, whose feelings soar to the skies with a slight good turn in fortune and sink to despair at a small setback. Such people not only suffer themselves but, because of their mercurial moods, also inflict suffering on their families. This state of affairs comes about because these people see only branches and leaves and magnify them out of all proportion. They ignore the trunk and roots that nourish the tree of life. The trunk is morality and ethics, which enable people to live up to the best of which they are capable. The roots are the Buddha, the gods, and our forebears, who together have given us life and who work unceasingly for our improvement.
Someone once told me the story of the late Doyu Ozawa, a Buddhist priest revered by all who knew him as an embodiment of the compassion of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World. At the age of twenty-five, while a prisoner of war during World War II, Ozawa suffered frostbite so severe that both his legs had to be amputated. While in a hospital after his return to Japan, he was suddenly enlightened to the truth of his plight: "Suffering comes from comparing ourselves with others. I have been born without legs this very day."
In short, Ozawa affirmed his existence as it was at that moment and then, rising above his suffering, set out to create a new life for himself. As he realized, refusing to accept reality and trying to flee reality do not contribute to personal growth or to the solution of our problems.
People of faith should remember that a grateful spirit supplies energy for progress. In the words of the late Haruchika Noguchi, a proponent of holistic medicine: "It is important to believe that you already have what you want. . . . The very words you use to express a wish to be rich, healthy, or happy confirm that you suffer the opposite-poverty, sickness, or sorrow. You are fixing images of these negative things in your mind."
Noguchi's words are true. The craving for health is proof of obsessive concern over illness. The wish to be happy confirms our belief in what we presently perceive as unhappiness. Driven by such cravings and wishes, we cannot attain true health and happiness.
Buddhist scriptures say that it is not easy to be born as a human being and that it is difficult to encounter the teachings of a buddha, a perfectly enlightened being. Born into this world as human beings, we are endowed with great vitality. As believers in the teachings of Buddhism and other religions that expound life's true meaning, supreme happiness is ours. An even greater treasure is the knowledge that everyone born into this world is blessed with the potential to attain buddhahood, that is, to achieve perfect enlightenment. Truly, just as Noguchi says, we already have what we want.
If we keep all this in mind, we will not be distressed by deficiencies in our lives or even by what we perceive as poverty. Instead, we will be able to lead optimistic lives filled with gratitude.