The Japanese poet Saigyo (1118 - 90), known for such works as his Sankashu (Mountain Cottage Collection), left us this verse: "The lotus blooming, / The waves beating / On the shore - / My mind hears them / As the preaching of the Dharma."
The poem means that from the sound of waves and the lotus, which pushes up its stem from within muddy water and puts forth with a slight popping sound a beautiful blossom unsullied by the mud, we can learn the Buddha's teaching.
The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma (the Lotus Sutra) is one of the sutras that preaches the Dharma through the symbol of the lotus blossom. As representative of such sutras it has given people encouragement and joy in life since ancient times by a verse that cites the lotus as an example of being untainted by worldly things.
Chapter 12 of the sutra, "Devadatta," contains the profound verse, "If they are born into the presence of buddhas, they will be born from lotus flowers," which teaches us that even bad people who have the opportunity to hear the Buddha's teaching can reach a state of purity untainted, like the lotus blossom.
From this, we can also receive a powerful message from the Buddha, teaching us that, even if we are experiencing severe circumstances in which many things seem almost unbearable, once we believe in and accept the Dharma, the negative aspects of our lives will be transformed into positive ones.
The life of the lotus blossom lasts a mere four days. It opens with an audible sound in the early morning and between late morning to midafternoon it closes (depending on the day's temperature). It repeats this for three days, and on the fourth day its petals drop off. I am struck by the purity of the lotus blossom, and its being unsoiled by the mud in which it grows, as a solemn example of the truth of impermanence.
Pain and suffering exist in every era. The symbolism of the lotus blossom seems all the more profound, however, in an age like ours of many trials and difficulties. For the lotus flower to bloom beautifully, the mud from which it springs is needed. What does that teach us?
The mud can be likened to the trends of our times and the events that bring us pain and suffering. Not giving in to such trends or being dejected by such events is like keeping ourselves unsullied. But, then, even when the world seems so filled with tragic happenings that we want to express our unhappiness aloud and when so many things that occur seem to be to our disadvantage, if we change our way of looking at events and accept them as manifestations of the Buddha's teachings and important lessons for us, then all of our hardships can become rich spiritual nourishment. That is what the Buddha teaches us through the symbolism of the lotus blossom.
Precisely because we ourselves experience pain, we empathize with the hardships of other people. Our failures and setbacks might be the working of compassion, teaching us humility. Even sickness can be an opportunity to foster the spirit of being grateful for being caused to live here and now. In other words, like the lotus that thrusts a great circle of a blossom from muddy water in which it grows, the experience of suffering allows human beings to also blossom in their feelings of true joy and gratitude.
Incidentally, the Lotus Sutra verse mentioned earlier, which reads, "And are as untainted with worldly things as the lotus flowers in the water," is preceded by the words "They [sons of the Buddha] have ably learned the bodhisattva way." In order to lead our lives like the lotus blossom it is important that we follow the bodhisattva practice by which we diligently study the Buddha's teaching. A great example of such a bodhisattva is Nichiren, who risked his personal safety to promote his understanding of the Lotus Sutra. His life was certainly not an easy one.
However, all of us are capable of being welcoming and cheerful toward the people we encounter, like lotus blossoms bathed in sunlight, and can create a pleasant atmosphere like a refreshing breeze fragrant with the perfume of the blue lotus. In other words, "I, together with other people, cheerfully."
Day after day, full of energy and good cheer - if each and every one of us has such a positive attitude, we will without fail build the basis for a happy society for ourselves and other people.
Nichiko Niwano is president of Rissho Kosei-kai and the Niwano Peace Foundation, a president of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, and special advisor to Shinshuren (Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan).
This article was originally published in the July-September 2010 issue of Dharma World.
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