Imagine that your stomach is empty and there is a single rice ball. However, everyone around you is just as hungry as you are. Well, everyone, what would you do with it? Some will put other people first. Others will share it. And yet others might, from extreme hunger, begin snatching it away from each other.
Saicho (767.822), the founder of the Tendai denomination of Japanese Buddhism, said that the highest form of practicing compassion is to “forget the self and benefit others.” As Buddhists, we should let others eat the rice ball first, but there is a side to us that cannot readily let go of our desires.
That may be true, but we innately have the potential to experience joy and happiness that go far beyond the fulfillment of our wishes. The face and appearance of a happy person is the switch that turns on such sensitivity in us.
A woman who took presents to a Seniors’ Day event at a nearby facility was told by one senior, “I can’t accept a gift from someone I don’t know.” The woman replied with a request: “I want to share in your good luck of living a long life, so would you rub my head?” The senior then rubbed her head until her hair was completely disheveled. When then asked to accept the gift as a thank-you, the senior did so with a beaming smile and told the woman, “Thanks.”
This episode proves that the joy we receive from doing something for others is greater than the joy received when someone does something for us. At the same time, this story shows us that when our action leads to someone else’s happiness and joy, it can make life more meaningful.
An ancient Indian text says, “From doing good deeds for others, you should expect no repayment, no praise, and no reward. Why is this? Because doing so is nothing more than for one’s own pleasure.” When we give benefits to others, we experience a happiness and joy that cannot possibly be had otherwise, transcending any form of praise or calculation of profit and loss.
The Joy of Being Considerate of Others
No matter how much we may be thinking about the other person, however, if we ignore his or her feelings and circumstances, we may come off as smug. In some cases, our efforts to help will end up being unwanted and irritating.
Today Cofounder Myoko Naganuma is still called “the compassionate mother” of Rissho Kosei-kai because she was so fervent in showing consideration to others that when she saw someone in need, she could not stop herself from reaching out to that person. Founder Nikkyo Niwano said of her, “In every situation, she would appropriately and promptly grasp the feelings of the other person. When someone seemed to need something, she would generously give it to him or her. . . . She possessed a manner of guiding others that was always adapting to the circumstances while meticulously taking care of the details.” Because Cofounder Naganuma had herself experienced more of the sufferings of illness and poverty than most people, she could truly understand how suffering people felt. Her sense of oneness with them gave rise to her consideration for them and enabled her to quickly grasp with just the right timing what lay deep in their hearts. Although it is not easy to do, we also want to cultivate our own consideration for others.
Even if we are not capable of the same degree of consideration of others as she was, or even if the other person does not accept our thoughtfulness, we still can get great joy in discovering that we ourselves have hearts that enjoy giving to others. Besides, we should feel relieved knowing that, by being able to put others first, we are also ridding ourselves of greedy desires. For example, even if the offer to help is not heartfelt or the show of compassion is insincere, when these actions are repeated again and again, we will feel joy, and our hearts and minds will be inspired and grow.
The feeling of being refreshed and the joy that we receive from making others happy through donations made with our bodies, hearts, and minds, giving freely of ourselves, as well as donations of material things, make us feel like continuing to do more practices of consideration. Then, whenever we are practicing consideration, we can more fully experience the joy of being alive.
Nichiko Niwano is president of Rissho Kosei-kai and an honorary president of Religions for Peace. He also serves as an advisor to Shinshuren (Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan).