President’s Message for January
Like the Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect
President, Rissho Kosei-kai
The Spirit of Placing Your Palms Together and Revering Everyone
Happy new year to you!
I hope that together we will repeatedly perform good deeds and make this a beautiful, prosperous year. In order to do so, let’s consider anew what good deeds are.
This year marks what would be the eight hundredth birthday of Nichiren (1222–82), according to the traditional Japanese method of determining age. He once wrote this in a letter to a disciple: “The heart of the Buddha’s teaching is the Lotus Sutra, and the study and practice of the Lotus Sutra is explained in the chapter ‘The Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect.’ You should think very, very carefully about the reason that the Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect revered people. It is because Shakyamuni’s original vow, his long-cherished desire, is to teach people how to behave and have the right attitude—the Way of humanity.”
Therefore, we can interpret chapter 20 of the Lotus Sutra as showing all of us who study and practice the Buddha’s teachings the basis of our way of life and what constitutes good deeds in the context of our daily lives.
As you know, the Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect placed his palms together respectfully before everyone he met. Then he praised them, saying, “I deeply revere you. I could never find you unworthy of respect or put myself above you. For all of you are practicing the bodhisattva way and all of you will become buddhas.” No matter how terribly he was mistreated for doing this, he endured it without looking down on, becoming angry at, or hating people. Even as he retreated to safety from people’s scorn and violence, he devoted himself to the practice of revering them.
This chapter explains teachings that are centered on heightening our awareness of buddha nature and practicing bodhisattva deeds, while Never Unworthy of Respect’s actions of placing his palms together respectfully and revering everyone can be called a model for all who have faith in the teachings of the Buddha. However, we should not get stuck on the superficial action of placing our palms together respectfully. I think that looking very, very carefully at what the Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect really did, deeply pondering the spirit infused in the phrase “he merely practiced bowing respectfully to people,” experiencing it, and performing that flesh-and-blood action naturally leads to good deeds.
Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect and the Poem “Undefeated by the Rain”
Obviously, we cannot live without the sun, water, and air. Broadly speaking, expressing gratitude for such things is, for us, an important practice of expressing reverence. One way of expressing reverence is to not complain about the weather, and one method of placing your palms together respectfully is to use water carefully and not waste it. We could even say that not complaining to other people, not expressing displeasure or dissatisfaction, and not speaking ill of or getting angry at others are also the practice of placing your palms together respectfully and expressing reverence—and that to do so is to revere and believe in the buddha nature of other people, which is our duty as human beings.
In other words, each of our familiar patterns of action, behavior, and speech is a practice that expresses our personal way of placing our palms together respectfully and expressing reverence. Through them, not only do we heighten our awareness of our own buddha nature, but we also help those we interact with raise their awareness of their buddha nature.
Japanese children’s writer Kenji Miyazawa (1896–1933) wrote a poem called “Undefeated by the Rain.” Here is an excerpt: “Called useless by all / Neither lauded / Nor a burden— / Such is the person / I want to be.”
This passage expresses how Miyazawa, who was influenced by the Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect, wanted to live his life. Rereading this poem alongside the teachings of chapter 20 of the Lotus Sutra, I am even more impressed. I feel that in his poem, Miyazawa—who lived his faith in the Lotus Sutra—has put the essence of this chapter into simple language, and therefore, even if his poem is read by people who have no connection to the Lotus Sutra, they can readily understand the Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect’s way of living—in other words, the actions and attitude of a bodhisattva.
The poem also includes the lines “Free of desire / Never angry,” which need no explanation, and “Observing all things / Dispassionately,” which demonstrates the mindset of putting other people first. The line “Shedding tears in time of drought” is none other than a prayer for compassion to comfort those facing sufferings or hardships that are beyond human power to help.
I would like all of us to make an opportunity to thoroughly experience this poem.