Reminiscences of Founder Nikkyo Niwano

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Chapter 1: Smile

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A Smiling Face

In March of 1988, Rissho Kosei-kai celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding. Former United States President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn visited Founder Niwano at the Horin-kaku Guest Hall of Rissho Kosei-kai headquarters in Tokyo at that time. After enjoying a chat, they went into the main hall where a photographic exhibition of the organization's past 50 years was on display. Mr. Carter said to Rev. Niwano, "From the photographs of the founding period, I can see that you have always had a smile on your face, even in your younger days."

When people who met Founder Niwano anywhere in the world spoke about his personal magnetism, they always referred to his smile, saying such things as: "He has a smiling face to which people are drawn unconsciously" and "His radiant smile communicates warmth instantly." They often spoke highly about his smile. A frequent reaction was that it seemed to call forth a response beyond words from the hearts of others.

There are people who yearn to have such a smile themselves. "The Niwano smile" was a term often used by Japan's mass media. Rev. Niwano exemplified a life filled with joy, shown by his own smile. This series of reminiscence begins with episodes involving his smiling face.

Shakyamuni Wore the Broadest Possible Smile

"When I am teaching the Dharma, I would be happy to continue all day long or even overnight," Founder Niwano often said. Teaching the Dharma to members, Rev. Niwano was always happy and deeply absorbed in the task. The more attentive the audience was, the wider his smile became.

It is said that Shakyamuni Buddha smiled radiantly when his disciples asked him good questions. "You have raised a very good question! I was just going to talk about that!" Saying this, he then smiled. "In the Lotus Sutra," Rev. Niwano pointed out, "Shakyamuni Buddha himself answered the question with great joy. He praised the question not only once, but twice saying, 'Excellent! Excellent!' Then Shakyamuni Buddha broke out in the broadest possible smile. His face beamed with joy." When Rev. Niwano said this kind of thing, he himself broke out in a gleeful smile.

Rev. Niwano was often visited by people from the mass media to obtain interviews. One day, the editor of a Japanese quality monthly magazine visited him at the Great Sacred Hall at the headquarters complex in Tokyo, accompanied by an interviewer. The editor was impressed by Rev. Niwano's open-minded frankness and endearing manner. He seemed to feel the warmth of the founder's personality. "Facing Founder Niwano is just like sitting in front of a mirror," he said. After the interview, he revealed that through listening to Rev. Niwano's talk about faith, he felt as if his imperfections and bad attitude were being reflected in a mirror. Before leaving, he expressed interest in Rissho Kosei-kai by visiting the Great Sacred Hall and the Horin-kaku Guest Hall.

At about this time that same editor was invited by an American university as a visiting lecturer. He felt some anxiety about going and about taking his family. Later, it was said that he had been able to decide to do so with confidence after having the opportunity to meet with Rev. Niwano. A few years later, he happily related to a Rissho Kosei-kai staff member, "My son said to me not long ago 'It's good to see you smiling so much these days, Dad.'"

With an Innately Pure Heart

young girl visits Great Sacred HallOne day a young girl came to the Great Sacred Hall as part of a group pilgrimage of parents and children and had the opportunity to meet Rev. Niwano. She asked him, "How can I achieve such a radiant face as yours?" The founder responded, "Since all human beings are children of the Buddha, if one grows up with an innately pure heart, one can always have a smiling face like the Buddha. On the other hand, if one behaves selfishly, that will also show up on one's face." Speaking to the girl, Rev. Niwano emphasized the need for being honest.

"The first of the so-called 'Ten Suchnesses,'" he explained, "is 'such characteristics.' Characteristics appear in outer features, so that if you keep your innate honesty, you will always have a smiling face."

"Needless to say," he said, "personal honesty requires complete truthfulness and trustworthiness. However, as Shakyamuni Buddha says in chapter 2 of the Lotus Sutra, 'Skillful Means,' 'In the midst of the bodhisattvas, frankly putting aside skillful means, I teach only the supreme way.' These are words having the very deep meaning of 'going straight to the ultimate truth.'"

Rev. Niwano also often quoted from the same chapter, saying, "Your hearts should be filled with great joy, for you know that you too will become buddhas." "Great joy," he would say, "is a sign of an inner thankfulness and the smiling face is its outward expression."

Founder Niwano also taught that even after entering the religious life, one's facial expression would not be transformed immediately. But, he said, "if you are determined to set your mind on doing good for others, then without making any specific effort your expression will gradually become soft and gentle. Since your face is fully exposed and seen by others, it can be said to be very useful. It may be better to show your face as it is, rather than hiding it from others. Even when you are straining or struggling to be patient, if you always practice maintaining a gentle and smiling face, that will gradually lead to a more pleasing facial appearance. That is a kind of religious practice, isn't it?" This also applies to smiling.

The Power of Laughter

Medical experts say that if one laughs, the blood vessels relax and one's blood pressure goes down. The muscles of the chest and heart also relax and in effect become younger. An old German proverb says, "Laughing once is more beneficial than taking medicine three times."

In Rev. Niwano's words: "This is because our inner joy and gratitude can be expressed in our smiles. We feel more refreshed than after drinking medicine three times, and thus we can become healthier." He also pointed out: "The first of the six bodhisattva practices is 'giving.' Among giving practices is what we call wagen-se in Japanese, having a smiling face. Together with aigo-se, being generous with kind words, it softens the attitudes of people around one and brightens all of society."

Founder Niwano's good friend, the late Most Venerable Etai Yamada, the 253d head priest of the Tendai Buddhist Denomination who lived for a century, often said that the virtues of laughing and smiling offer benefits not only to oneself, but also to many others. "By laughing once, one can become a year younger. Becoming angry once makes one a year older."

When arriving at the Great Sacred Hall each morning, Rev. Niwano would pat the heads of the babies and small children waiting with their mothers while smiling expansively. The mothers, who had been anticipating his arrival, were greatly pleased. This kind of warmth always widened the circle of the Sangha, or community of believers. There are members of Rissho Kosei-kai who say, "I joined the organization because I was moved by the founder's pleasantly smiling face." "From now on," he would say, "let us live with smiling faces as well."

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Kosei - The Gift of Life. The Power to Live.

This series of articles was originally published in Japanese in 2000 under the title Kaiso Zuimonki: Egao no Ushirosugata.

Copyright © 2008 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.