In the Service of All Life
In order to go on living, from time to time we must procure the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. Regarding this matter, Buddhism teaches us “to seek them through correct means of living.” This is “right living,” the fifth practice of the Eightfold Path, and it applies to those of us who live in contemporary society by telling us, “make your livelihood through the right work.” However, it is difficult to determine, from among the various kinds of work, which types are correct and which are not. Therefore, what does “right” mean in the case of “right work”?
Someone taught me the phrase, “The farmer is in the service of the crops, the cowherd is in the service of the cows, and the teacher is in the service of the children.” The two Chinese characters of the word “work” (Jpn., shigoto) are written as “in the service of” and “something.” “In the service of” means to follow a noble form of existence. Therefore, the persons or things that make up the substance of your work should be thought of with respect, reverence, and gratitude, and you should take up the role or task you are given with all of your might. Such an attitude demonstrates, in my opinion, the meaning of “right.”
Furthermore, Dr. Ko Hirasawa, who served as president of Kyoto University from 1957 to 1963, once wrote: “In the morning, start your work with ambition and enthusiasm. In the evening, when that day’s work is done, you should have gratitude, and as the tension unwinds, with quiet joy, you will feel like putting your hands together reverently toward all things in the universe” (Ikiyo kyo mo yorokonde [Let us live today with joy], Chichi Shuppansha, 1995). The feeling of putting your hands together reverently before all things, this thought of gratitude, is the foundation of our right living—not only in the case of our work, of course, but across every aspect of our daily lives. When you have this feeling, you can let go of any thought of complaint or dissatisfaction, and joyfully immerse yourself in whatever task you see before you.
The Right Way to Live Your Life
I think we can say that the right way to live life is not limited to work, but refers to making our best effort to do whatever our everyday lives put before us. This includes housework and child-rearing, of course, and taking care of someone else or even being cared for, which is, at that time and for that person, a role that has been given to him or her by the gods and the buddhas—in other words, this role is what the universe has decreed for him or her and to gladly accept it and joyfully practice it is none other than right living.
Shakyamuni wished that “All living beings in the universe have happiness, tranquility, and live in peace and comfort.” Although we may think that this is some out-of-reach, major undertaking, that is not at all the case. We are all capable of making a contribution to the happiness of all life, if each and every one of us, by not being negligent in even one tiny frame of our daily lives, are diligent in the right way of living. By doing so, our efforts form a great wave with the power to build the world of Shakyamuni’s wish. The reason this happens is because all of us are connected, in matter and mind, to all life around the world, like a fine web.
Incidentally, in thinking about the Eightfold Path, the following words of Hajime Nakamura (1912–99), a Japanese scholar of Indology and Buddhology, caught my eye: “Right view is the beginning of practice and it is also the end. You must always be sure to never stray from right view” (Genshi bukkyo no seikatsu rinri [Ethics of life in early Buddhism], Shunjusha, 1995).
We are apt to wonder whether or not we are capable of attaining each of the virtues of right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, and this month’s theme of right living. However, the basis of all of them is right view, which means seeing things just the way they are, and as the Japanese monk and scholar Jiun Sonja (1718–1804) asserted, “If you aren’t seeing right, everything else is darkness.”
Rissho Kosei-kai Cofounder Myoko Naganuma, while devoting herself to the liberation of our members, often gave them strict advice, such as “Don’t sleep late in the morning.” I think that she was telling us that the Buddha’s teaching shines forth only when we apply ourselves to the basics, and that faith is the very stuff of living life, each and every day. On September 10, we observe the memorial day of Cofounder Naganuma.