President’s Message for April 2020
Transcending a Biased View
President, Rissho Kosei-kai
The Bias of Thinking “I Am Right”
Most of the time, we don’t believe that our thoughts and actions are wrong. Even if someone points out that we’re expressing a one-sided view, we don’t think we’re looking at things in a prejudiced or biased manner.
On the other hand, just as we humbly believe the words of someone who is always kind to us, we reject the opinions of a critical person, don’t we? We tend to place importance on our own emotions and circumstances when it comes to how we see and perceive things. It goes without saying that this is a narrow, self-centered viewpoint. If we allow this viewpoint to intensify, attachments and biases like “my idea is right” and “my judgment isn’t wrong” become stronger, while our ability to see things correctly becomes weaker.
So, while we’re reflecting upon such viewpoints, let me introduce a passage from the Lotus Sutra that will motivate us to broaden our perspective. In chapter 12, “Devadatta,” we find these words: “I attained Perfect Awakening and extensively liberated living beings. All of this is due to the good friendship of Devadatta.”
In this key passage, Shakyamuni expresses to the Sangha his gratitude to Devadatta, who had been so hostile toward Shakyamuni that he had even tried to kill him. I interpret this passage as playing the role of a switch that can change our minds and turn our viewpoint completely away from our own biases and toward a broader perspective.
Single-Mindedly Believing in Buddha-Nature
It is said that when the horizon at the bottom of the deep darkness began to turn white and the morning star sparkled upon him, Shakyamuni attained enlightenment. At that moment, Shakyamuni’s mind must have reached the middle sky, become one with the universe, and grasped great Truth.
Perhaps he saw things from a cosmic perspective; perhaps the sparkling light of the morning star was mirrored in the light shining forth from his own and other people’s buddha-nature. Either way, in that instant, Shakyamuni’s eyes must have seen the reality of the world just as it is—in other words, the buddha-nature embodied in everything that sparkled and shined beautifully.
In addition, I think that even as Shakyamuni was being directly confronted with the harsh reality of the accusations and attacks from Devadatta, he also raised his heart to the middle sky and faced him with a broad, great mind. In that moment, the self-centered mind of seeing Devadatta as “a bad person who tried to hurt me” switched to the great mind that believes in buddha-nature and can only put hands together reverently and pay homage to all. Therefore, how could Devadatta, who prompted that change of mind, be anything other than a “good friend” to Shakyamuni?
If you take the perspective that all things embody buddha-nature, you will not hurt or argue with people based on a biased point of view. Before you criticize others, if you have the chance to recall that, “Oh, they, too, are none other than buddha-nature,” you will not have to worry about having a biased point of view.
However, believing in buddha-nature does not mean seeing only the good in others. It means revering other people in their entirety as buddha-nature itself. I think that while we single-mindedly believe in the buddha-nature of all people, we continue to evolve by confronting contradictions and difficult problems.
As the Buddhist thinker Shuichi Maida (1906–67) said about “believing”: “In this world, some people are suspicious of others / and find fault with them, / saying that those people do not believe them. […] By believing other people / other people will believe in you— / And this is called the great way of belief.”
There is no going back to our childhoods, when we didn’t have so many unnecessary preconceptions. At the very least, however, on the day of the festival celebrating the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha—when we pay homage to the statue of the newborn Shakyamuni enshrined in our Dharma centers for the occasion—it is important that we regain our innocent, unblemished hearts and deeply reflect upon the buddha-nature of ourselves and others.00