Without Making Distinctions
From the time we wake up in the morning until the time we go to bed, we unknowingly divide our many actions into important and not-so-important ones, don’t we? We can’t neglect sutra recitation, but family greetings tend to become halfhearted . . . and so on.
“The single most important thing is your mind today, in this moment.” So declared Zen master Dokyo Etan, a.k.a. Shoju Rojin (1642–1721). But getting up in the morning, getting dressed, washing our face, greeting our family members, and, after that, performing sutra recitation, going to work, and discussing business—each and every one of these actions is “the single most important thing.” In other words, we should thoroughly devote ourselves to each of these actions and approach them all with the same thoughtfulness.
However, doing so is difficult, not only because we’re busy, but because we make distinctions about things. In truth, everything we do has significance and value, but we think some things deserve more effort, so we pay more attention to them. Or we decide that we can let some, conveniently for us, “slide by”—but they then become expressions of insincere words and actions, don’t they?
I was taught the phrase “there is no ranking the beauty of flowers.” If we look at things without any superficial judgments such as likes and dislikes, we can accept them all as important and meaningful.
The “shoju” in Shoju Rojin is a translation of samadhi, which means leaving behind your own thoughts and concentrating your mind on one thing. In order to concentrate on the actions of “today, in this moment,” we need to forget about what is convenient.
Thinking of Other People
Now let’s consider living thoughtfully from another angle. To take an example from my home, in winter it takes some time for the hot water to start flowing, meaning that cold water comes out of the faucet for a while. So, instead of letting it go to waste, we collect it in a container and use it for the humidifier. This kind of resourcefulness—not letting even a small amount of water go to waste—is an example of one small action that can lead to living thoughtfully. And this is true not only of water: paying a little attention to things we usually don’t notice can lead to making better use of them.
Even activities like reading poetry that uses forms such as tanka and haiku can train us to pay attention to the moment in our everyday lives and focus our mind on our surroundings.
Here is a poem by Tachibana Akemi (1812–68): “When new leaves come out, / No matter what mountain you look at / Or what kind of tree you see, / What a beautiful sight to behold.” This cheerful poem reflects the current season. Observing the colors and changes of the four seasons, as this poet does, can lead to feeling happy in our ordinary lives and nurturing the mind of cherishing and valuing this time right now.
However, if we only have a vague notion of what living thoughtfully means, we’re apt to be swept away by our habitual lifestyles. How can we make our behavior and actions, at all times and in all places, become naturally thoughtful?
Chapter 24 of the Lotus Sutra, “The Bodhisattva Wondrous Sound,” describes the many samadhis attained by the Bodhisattva Wondrous Sound. The basis of every one of these samadhis is a bodhisattva vow, such as, “I will liberate not only those people with whom I have a connection, but also those with whom I do not yet have a connection,” or “just like a torch lighting up its surroundings, I will shine forth upon people the bright light of wisdom.”
In other words, whether we make a vow to help someone nearby or to bring happiness to someone in a distant land, we can’t help but live our lives thoughtfully when we devote ourselves to performing even a single action like washing our face.
This is a state of mind in which we can accept everything we see as “a beautiful sight to behold,” and as long as we do so, our days will always be full of feelings of happiness.