When we put our palms together and pay homage to the gods and the buddhas, we often wish that things were going a certain way or that we could obtain something we want. Of course, we often pay homage to give thanks or because we are happy, but we are more likely to pray when we want to be granted something.
Every year on December 8 we observe the ceremony commemorating Shakyamuni's attaining enlightenment and achieving buddhahood, a day that is profoundly meaningful. One sutra says that on the morning of his full and perfect enlightenment, Shakyamuni remarked, "How wondrous, how wondrous! All living beings, without exception, are equipped with the Tathagata's wisdom and his virtuous attributes." (That is, what a wonderful thing it is that all human beings can attain the same wisdom and compassion, the same spiritual treasure, that is no different at all from what has been realized by the Tathagata.)
To me, these words are the perfect expression of Shakyamuni's strong emotion upon realizing the most important element of human life.
What he realized is the fact that we all receive the gift of life thanks to a marvelous series of conditions, and therefore we are all sustained in our life in this world. And when he realized this fact, Shakyamuni joyfully cried out, "How wondrous!"
In other words, Buddhism began from this feeling of deep emotion. Going back to the roots of our faith, we see that what matters most for Buddhists is being able to accept all things with gratitude and as a source of inspiration.
It seems clear that Shakyamuni did not rejoice because his wish was granted or because he obtained what he asked for. He teaches us that receiving the wondrous gift of life - this single great thing - should already be enough to inspire us.
When we open our eyes to this fact, we cannot help but undergo a transformation from praying to have our wishes granted to paying homage to express our respect and gratitude.
The Importance of Looking Within
The great priest Nichiren, who left us the words, "You must promptly discard your false faith," with the purpose of admonishing his contemporaries, teaches us not to get mired in small, selfish desires but instead to lead our lives according to the Dharma.
When we encounter some personal misfortune or a problem that seems insurmountable to us, however, it can seem only natural that as a last resort we turn to the gods and the buddhas and ask for help.
For example, Rissho Kosei-kai members voluntarily offer sutra chanting to pray for the safety and well-being of those who have fallen ill or have met with an accident or other calamity. The sentiment of wishing that things go well is our effort to shine at least a glimmer of hopeful light into the hearts of people who feel swamped in suffering and by extension provide them the strength to help alleviate their suffering. In doing so, what is most important is that our eyes, which usually look outward, are turned inward.
With the phrase eko hensho, Zen master Dogen admonishes us to shine the light of wisdom into ourselves and look within. In other words, in paying homage to the gods and the buddhas, we need to take advantage of the opportunity to look carefully at ourselves and realize that we are blessed. Such introspection can be called a merit of faith.
The greatest virtue of human beings is the ability to realize the preciousness of our own lives as well as the lives of others. Through this realization - experiencing a second birth, so to speak - we can lead lives of great worth and value. I think that therein lies one of the most essential points we can learn from the Buddha.
It is said that long ago, when something seemingly impossible occurred, the expression used by people to give praise to the gods and the buddhas is the origin of the Japanese word arigatai (grateful). I hope that we can also pay homage to the gods and the buddhas by always praying gratefully, which becomes possible when each of us realizes the Truth that we are caused to live thanks to all things.