President’s Monthly Message
Forbearance Is Not “Putting Up With Things”—Forbearance, Part 1
President, Rissho Kosei-kai
Our Minds Possess the Power of Forbearance
When something difficult or disagreeable happens, we may want to look away or run away from it, but we cannot always avoid the people and the hardships we encounter.
I succeeded to the presidency of Rissho Kosei-kai in 1991. From the following year, I spent ten years “visiting relatives” to form a personal connection with members all over Japan. I also traveled to overseas Dharma centers to meet my Kosei-kai family members there. At one point, I was left alone on the large stage of a large venue to speak before some 10,000 people. As someone who has an aversion to making public speeches, this was very difficult for me and I felt like running away. Back then, there were more than a few moments like that.
However, as I grow older and look back on things, I can see that the experiences that felt difficult at the time have made me who I am now. This is not a change from aversion to skillfulness, but rather the realization that as the years have passed, I have changed how I accept what I thought of, in my younger days, as a series of trials that I had to put up with and endure.
When we change our point of view, our minds possess the power to endure and accept even those things that are so difficult and disagreeable that they make us feel angry—and even employ them as a support to live.
“This sutra . . . can make one who is angry aspire to forbearance,” is written in the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings. This passage teaches us that one merit of people who have learned the Buddha’s teachings is that they have a mind of tolerance that can endure when feeling emotions such as intense anger or hate. What I find important in this passage is the phrase “makes one aspire.” This teaching is not forcing us to suppress our feelings of anger or put up with things. Rather, it shows us that our own buddha nature gives rise to spontaneous feelings of perseverance. I therefore feel liberated by the phrase, “makes one aspire.” By no means is forbearance teaching us to put up with things.
As in the saying, “delusions and awakening are two sides of the same coin,” your mind that wants to swear at people and resents a difficult situation does, on the other hand, summon forth your own buddha nature. At such times, we possess the power of forbearance to positively accept and deal with even the most difficult situation because the Buddha has given us his stamp of approval—and that is something awe-inspiring, for which we should be grateful.
Acknowledgment Leads to Forbearance
Someone wrote that forbearance “depends on the premise of accepting and acknowledging,” and that certainly is true. Whether we are trying to overcome our anger toward and hatred for people or our feelings of aversion to and dislike of our surroundings and circumstances, we must first accept and acknowledge the person or event in front of us, which will lead to the spontaneous practice of forbearance in our daily lives.
The Lotus Sutra tells us that the Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect made a sign of respect to everyone, saying, “I could never find you unworthy of respect. All of you will become buddhas” and although those people hurled abuse at him, the Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect accepted and endured it all. Underlying the attitude of endurance seen in this passage is the mind of revering other people’s buddha nature and accepting their individuality, which I think is an important point of the Lotus Sutra.
Accept and acknowledge your situation. That puts you at ease. When we think we are enduring something, it becomes difficult, but if we accept the situation for what it is, our feelings of deficiency, dissatisfaction, anger, and hatred subside, and our thoughts of it being difficult and disagreeable diminish. Prince Shotoku (574–622) wrote, in the Seventeen-Article Constitution, “Do not become angry because others think differently than you do. You and others are all ordinary persons and you both possess wisdom and foolishness.” Indeed, when both parties acknowledge that they have wisdom as well as foolishness, their anger should naturally subside.
While in some cases it may happen right away, as I mentioned earlier, the merit of forbearance may only be realized with the passage of time and the accumulation of many experiences. And as long as forbearance is a diligent practice of the bodhisattva, I think we must not forget that forbearance, as a function of compassion, has the aspect of benefitting others.