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Cultivating the Fields in Our Hearts and Minds

Cultivating the Fields in Our Hearts and Minds
by Nichiko Niwano

When Rissho Kosei-kai marked its sixtieth anniversary in 1998, President Niwano introduced the members' new objective: Cultivating the Fields in Our Hearts and Minds. That means applying the Buddha's teachings in our everyday lives, which is nothing other than the guiding spirit behind Rissho Kosei-kai since its founding.

One day in the sowing season, Shakyamuni was standing holding an alms bowl near a field owned by a Brahmin, where hundreds of plows were yoked to oxen and food was being distributed among the workers before the plowing got under way.

plowingThe Brahmin said to Shakyamuni in a petulant tone: "Samana [Recluse], we plow the fields and sow seeds to obtain our daily meals. Why do not you also cultivate the fields for your food?"
Shakyamuni quietly replied: "Brahmin, I too cultivate and sow seeds, and thereby acquire my food."
Not understanding what these words meant, the Brahmin repeated his query. "Samana, we have never seen you cultivate a field. Where is your plow? Where are your oxen?"
Shakyamuni replied with the following verse.

Faith is the seed I sow,
Discipline is the rain.
Wisdom is my plow, and
Shame is the shafts.
The soul is the rope with which they are tied.
Introspection is the blade and pole of my plow.
I restrain my deeds and my words, am moderate in my meals, never partaking in excess.
I weed by preserving the truth.
Gentleness removes the oxen's yoke.
Diligence is the ox that carries the load, and
Tranquillity is the place to which it goes.
It moves forward without faltering, and arrives at the place where there is no lamentation.
This is how [the field] is cultivated to give fruit to immortality.
One is freed from all suffering by means of this cultivation.

Greatly moved by Shakyamuni's words, the Brahmin vowed allegiance to the Buddha then and there and entered the community of believers as the Buddha's disciple. It is in this way that Shakyamuni awakened people to the importance of cultivating their hearts and minds.

The verse quoted above provides many lessons in the importance of cultivating our spiritual natures. I would like here to reflect on some of the most important factors: the seed that is sown, wisdom, introspection, and gentleness.

Faith Is the Seed I Sow

seed sproutingIt is important in life to sow seeds of happiness in the heart. These are the seeds that dictate how each and every one of us lives. Shakyamuni said: "Faith is the seed I sow."

A seed is the life of a plant in concentrated form. In other words, it is life itself. The seed that is sown in a person's heart is the precious life of that person, the kernel of what makes life worth living. Everything that is needed to guide a person to happiness is concentrated within this seed.

For members of Rissho Kosei-kai, the seed by which we can attain true happiness is faith in the Buddha's teachings. The Buddha sought to save everyone and we should embrace the truth that he preached. By treasuring and fostering this faith, we can transcend even the fear of death, as indicated by the words, "to give fruit to immortality," and free ourselves from all suffering.

Every person has his or her own individuality. As we cultivate that individuality, we come to harvest many things: caring for others, a warm heart, a supple mind, a mind that holds dear and respects others. We live in happiness when we strive to cultivate our own hearts and minds and establish faith there.

Cultivate with Wisdom and Introspection

Shakyamuni said: "Wisdom is my plow." A plow is used to turn the soil in preparation for planting. Wisdom is the plow of the heart and mind.

To know the truth that is the wisdom of the Buddha is to recognize transience. With the plow of wisdom we are able to recognize transience and thereby cultivate the fields in our hearts and minds.

The wisdom of the Buddha, to put it simply, is to see things exactly as they are. When we see the world with this wisdom, we see that everything in it is constantly changing, never remaining the same even for a second. We also see that everything is related to everything else, that every existing thing supports another. Transience and its representation in every individual, nonself, are the form of things exactly as they are. We cultivate our hearts and minds to be able to see this reality.

We rejoice and we sorrow while only looking at the surface of things. The children don't listen; my spouse isn't making a real effort; that person is too demanding--complaints like these arise because our focus is fixed on only one aspect of the situation. We are blind to the whole reality.

Instead, we should strive to rid ourselves of our narrow perspective so that we may see things as they appear through the eyes of others. We should endeavor to see the whole, to see all sides, for that is the first step to wisdom.

Our lives are transformed when we are able to see things as they truly are. The person who once did nothing but complain learns to accept everything with thanksgiving.

Shakyamuni next said: "Introspection is the blade and pole of my plow." The blade of the plow digs into the soil and the pole is used to control its movement. The metaphor is an important lesson in correct introspection and self-reflection.

"Reflection" is often used to describe the way in which we look back upon our various deeds, but the introspection that is referred to here encompasses not just reflection on one's deeds but on the entire self. This means looking at our inner self as we change--human beings are constantly changing--and acknowledging that good and evil exist within us.

Through this kind of introspection we become able to acknowledge, for example, that we can never insist in an argument that we are completely in the right. We are humbled by the realization that there is evil within ourselves, too. If we dig even further down, we come to see that there is a great life that sustains us. We come, in other words, to kneel before the Buddha. Humility is an important virtue for humanity.

To cultivate our hearts and minds is to direct our attention from what is outside ourselves to what is inside. Human beings tend always to be looking outside themselves. When we suffer, we assume that we can escape this suffering by changing the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But, in fact, you cannot resolve the problems outside yourself without first resolving the problems that lie within.

If we look within ourselves we will come to realize that we exist thanks to the support of others. That is the turning point at which we come to recognize the truth, the doorway that leads to relief from suffering.

Gentleness Evokes Sensitivity to Life

In the verse quoted above, I find especially moving the line "Gentleness removes the oxen's yoke." Picture the oxen relieved of their heavy load as the yoke is removed from their backs. The obvious meaning of the metaphor is that humanity is relieved of its suffering. But what really moves me here is the way the line reveals the Buddha's great kindness. "You have worked well this day," he seems to say, "now rest." I sense in this passage a single life shared by the Buddha and the oxen.

We should, of course, always try to be gentle toward others. But even more important is sincerely caring for others - as the Buddha cares for the oxen--supported by a sense of oneness with the lives of everything around us.

Gentleness is like a tightly wound ball of yarn that has unraveled. This is what happens when a formerly self-centered person comes to realize the joy of serving others. We are able, when our hearts and minds are relaxed and "unraveled," to become one with others, to care for others, and to foster warm relationships.

I remember helping to cultivate the fields when I was young. I learned then that there is a great difference between soil that has been cultivated and that which has not. Uncultivated soil is hard and infertile. Well-cultivated soil, on the other hand, is soft and easy to turn, and can absorb a great deal of water and fertilizer. In the same way, the well-cultivated heart and mind are soft, gentle, and free from attachments, ready and willing to absorb everything.

We resent it when others seem to be doing nothing while we toil at our work. This is a self-centered view that assumes that we live solely by our own efforts. We cling to the self and are obstinate in our criticism of others, which causes friction to occur.

Society maintains the narrow-minded view that we live by our own endeavors. But as once self-centered people strive to cultivate their hearts and minds, their egos give way to the realization that each of us owes our existence to many, each of us is sustained by the Buddha.

Shakyamuni Buddha teaches us that we live not by our own strength but as part of the interrelationships of everything around us. We awaken to this fact when we come to be gentle and see things as they are, and thus our way of thinking is greatly converted. To cultivate the heart and mind of each and every individual, we first must start with our own hearts and minds. Cultivating the heart and mind is at the core of Buddhism, which teaches us that by doing so we will learn the purpose to our lives.


 

 
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