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Luminosa Award Commemorative Address
Focolare Movement Luminosa Award for Unity
July 2004

Nichiko Niwano
President, Rissho Kosei-kai

Once again, I would like to sincerely thank all of you for selecting me for the Luminosa Award.

This is the second time this year that I have had an opportunity to speak before my very dear friends of the Focolare. Last April, I was invited to the Mariapoli Center on the outskirts of Rome, Italy, to participate in the first Focolare-sponsored Buddhist-Christian Symposium, where I delivered the keynote address, "Compassion in Everyday Buddhist Life." My topic today is "The Spirituality of the Lotus Sutra," about which I would like to share some personal observations.

In Buddhism, the teachings are so numerous that there are said to be 84,000 doctrines, all of which are essential to bring us to happiness. If people cannot understand Shakyamuni's teaching until they finish studying all of the doctrines, however, then most of them will barely be able to grasp it by the very end of their lives.

I think it may be necessary to make Shakyamuni's teaching simpler and clearer. Among his many teachings, then, which is most important, which is the one, more than any other, that he wished we would understand? Having thoroughly pondered this matter, I believe it is the Dharma of impermanence. I am convinced that impermanence is the first principle in Buddhism and the source and substance of Shakyamuni's awakening.

Impermanence means that everything in the world goes on changing, without stopping for one moment. In Buddhism, we say "All things are impermanent" as an expression of all creation being alive. Buddhism sees sand, stones, rocks, the seas, and the mountains as living beings. Our bodies, too, change from one moment to the next. The cells of the entire human body are in a metabolic state and are constantly being regenerated. Minerals are repeatedly altered by the forces of weather and erosion. No object is fixed and unchanging; only the Dharma of impermanence, which says all things change, is itself never-changing.

Furthermore, of all the things in the world, there is not one that exists alone independently. All things exist in a state of mutual dependence in relation to other things. We are able to live here and now thanks to the interlocking connections of everything in the universe--other people, of course, as well as sunlight, water, air, plants, and animals. We live our lives in the midst of innumerable interdependent connections--that is, "inexhaustibly accumulated causes and conditions"--and it is impossible to separate from them even one person's life.

Our lives, which change from moment to moment, are lived--that is, are caused to be lived--in the midst of unlimited connections to all existence. This is the actual state of affairs; when we closely examine this aspect of true reality, beyond the naive interpretation of ourselves as individual lives, we can realize that everything is part of the one immense cosmic life. This is how Buddhism gives great meaning to the world in which we live. And this is the awareness that ourselves and others are one body, that ourselves and others are united, that we are all brothers and sisters.

We have received life in this world as human beings. Many people take this fact for granted. However, when we stop and think about this, we have to admit that we were not born into this world of our own volition and power. Indeed, only through a power much greater than human volition have we received life. To quote a poem,

Mankind can make an atom bomb
But cannot make a single cherry petal.

This poem tells us metaphorically that receiving life in this world is a rare occurrence that happens through the workings of a power greater than our own.

At the same time, each of us has an individual personality. Each of us exists in this world as only one person; we cannot change places with anyone else. When we look at each other comparatively, we see differences--people are tall or short, they have low or high energy, they are studious or not--but essentially, each and every one of us is a person of his or her own kind, equally worthy of respect. Impermanence, which I mentioned a few minutes ago, also means that no two things are the same--that is, each difference is invaluable. Therefore, we revere the life we see manifest in each other, join our palms in prayer before it, and worship it.

Beyond superficial differences, we revere each one of those who are sustained by the one immense cosmic life. There is a Buddhist teaching that says, "Mountains and rivers, grasses and trees, all without exception will attain buddhahood," and similarly, transcending distinctions between living and nonliving beings and revering everything in the world expresses a realm that is, in fact, the realm of the Lotus Sutra.

As the title of the Lotus Sutra, formally the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, states, this realm is, by nature, full of wonderful lotus flowers. Rather than looking at each person's individual character or features as flaws or judging them negatively, by revering them we can live together in harmony.

Chapter 20 of the Lotus Sutra, "The Bodhisattva Never Despise," explains the importance of putting our palms together in worship before others and revering them. Bodhisattva Never Despise would put his palms together in worship and pray before each person he met, saying "You will become a buddha." This might seem strange, shocking even, to people who were unaware that they themselves were worthy of respect. Some people became angry and told him, "What you say is deceitful!" and even threw stones at him.

However, all people, through perception of the Dharma, become awakened people (that is, they become buddhas). Therefore Bodhisattva Never Despise, by saying "You will become a buddha," was calling out to people because of his desire that they gain awareness of the Dharma and open their eyes to what is worthy of respect within themselves. If we can realize that our own lives are precious, then we can also become aware of the preciousness of all life. From this comes respect for one another and the foundation of a world of harmony. Bodhisattva Never Despise's putting his palms together in worship before others and revering them is said to be the most representative expression of Shakyamuni's spirit.

Dogen, founder of the Japanese Soto Zen Sect, said, "This life and this death are none other than the life of the Buddha." Although we usually see ourselves as unawakened, deluded people, in fact, Dogen teaches us that our lives are the life of the Buddha. The source of all existence in this world is the Buddha. Dogen tells us that there is no distinction between us and the Buddha, we are essentially one.

Since our lives and the life of the Buddha are one, human greed and delusions as well as wisdom and compassion, all are manifestations of the life of the Buddha. After all, it is only because human beings have torments that they awaken the bodhisattva spirit within themselves in order to bring any desperate resolution to those torments. There are many Rissho Kosei-kai members who--prompted by their sufferings and torments--have reflected upon themselves, become aware of the cause of suffering, and begun to live in accordance with the Dharma. These Rissho Kosei-kai members often tell me that it is thanks to their suffering that they are who they now are. Generally speaking, we can hardly imagine being thankful for suffering, but in fact, gradually we can accept it this way.

When people follow the Buddha's teaching, they can be aware of the cause of suffering and illusions. And then they can accept the day's events gladly as sermons of the Buddha. This allows them to become one with the life of the Buddha and begin to have a happy life, free and unfettered.

When I look at today's society, I think it has become a place in which many people have superficial values, judge things according to their own self-centered criteria, and fluctuate between hope and despair. They are inclined to take a diametrically opposing viewpoint of everything from start to finish, thinking themselves to be absolutely correct and other people to be wrong. As all of you know very well, such a self-centered attitude triggers many problems on the level of the family, the community, the nation, and the world.

Prince Shotoku, remembered for laying the foundation of Japanese Buddhism, wrote, in the Seventeen Article Constitution, "Together, we are merely ordinary men." By this he meant that neither he himself nor other people were awakened, perfect beings. That is, there is no one who understands everything about this world. If other people make mistakes, then don't we also make mistakes? It teaches us the importance of introspection. If we look deep within ourselves, we see that we have goodness in our hearts, but we also have ignorance, anger, and greed. And above all, it teaches us that a world of peace and nonconfrontation is brought about through sincere introspection, asking ourselves if the root of all evil that destroys peace does not exist within ourselves.

I mentioned a moment ago that the realm of the Lotus Sutra lies in revering all life, and then I referred to the importance of realizing that we are one with the life of the Buddha. But now I will talk about why it is indispensable that we reflect on our being deluded. At first glance, you might find this rather contradictory, but the truth is that only when we are aware of these two aspects can we lead a life that follows the true wish of the Buddha.

In Buddhism, to say that some people are awakened does not indicate that they are special forms of being or superhumans who have gone through repeated religious training but indicates that they have opened their eyes to the reasoning of the Truth.

The fabulist Kenji Miyazawa, who had profound faith in the Lotus Sutra, said, "Until the entire world is happy, a single person cannot find happiness." In this case, "the world," in plain terms, means eternal time and unlimited space--an expression of the entire universe. Putting it in different words, in the course of time eternal, the salvation of all people is our own salvation. Through the compassion rooted in the Buddha's wisdom, people are led to salvation which at the same time is our own joy and salvation. That is truly the original and essential wish of the Buddha and the central component of our spiritual growth.

The Lotus Sutra also explains the "birth wish," that is, the desire we have to receive life as human beings. The Lotus Sutra teaches us that we have wished to be born in this world in order to do our part in bringing salvation and happiness to all living beings. Opening our eyes to this "birth wish" brings thoughts of compassion welling up from the bottom of our hearts. Thus the goal of our lives, the mission we received at our birth into this world, becomes clear.

Leading a life at one with the original and essential wish of the Buddha is intrinsic to human beings. Overcoming conflicts with others and turning our sights to a world in harmony--this is the essential wish of humanity.

Six years ago, upon the sixtieth anniversary of the foundation of Rissho Kosei-kai, I proclaimed a general goal for members, "Cultivating the Field of Our Hearts and Minds." The strong implication of this goal is looking closely within our own hearts and minds. All of the problems occurring in this world are manifestations of the human heart. No matter how much we may try to change phenomena, changing phenomena alone will not solve the problem at its source. I believe that we will arrive at true peace after we have first cultivated the field of our hearts.

Today, I was given the topic "The Spirituality of the Lotus Sutra." While I do not know how well I have addressed the topic, I am grateful to have this opportunity to share with you some of my personal observations.

I would like to conclude by once again thanking you for bestowing upon me the Luminosa Award and for the precious connection that Rissho Kosei-kai has had with Focolare over the course of many years.

Thank you very much.


 

 
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