Presidents Guidance

From Kosei,
February 2023

What Happens to Other People Also Happens to You

Being Aware of Arrogance and Self-Conceit

I think that many people have a common desire to live long and healthy lives. In reality though, as we get older, every time we feel our years, get sick, or face someone’s death, we may become overwhelmed, depressed, or pessimistic.

The Heian-era poet Ariwara no Narihira (825–80) commented on this in his final poem, which expresses sadness and regret for his own conceitedness: “You must take this road / Leading to the end— / So had I been told. / Alas, I did not think / That day would come so soon.” No one wants to accept that aging, illness, and death will come to them. It may be human nature to wish that such things will only happen to other people and never to ourselves. It is recorded in ancient scripture that even Shakyamuni, in his youth, looked at the elderly with shame and revulsion, saying “Although I, too, must age, it does not suit me,” and when he saw sick people, he worried that “illness does not suit me.” When he saw people dying, he was similarly filled with worry, shame, and revulsion.

However, Shakyamuni reflected upon such thoughts, which were due to arrogance stemming from the youth, health, and life he had received. Proud to be young, spoiled by good health, and taking life for granted without even trying to understand its meaning, he pointlessly despised aging, illness, and death. Realizing the fallacy of such thinking, he reflected upon his own arrogance and haughtiness and left us his admonition against them as “the three kinds of arrogance” described in the scripture.

People often say things like “When you’re young, it’s okay to be a little reckless.” That does not mean though, that just because it is your life, you should do whatever you want with it. Shakyamuni teaches you that because the life you have been given by the gods, the buddhas, and nature is finite, it is important to quickly realize its wondrousness and preciousness, and always live—to the fullest—the life you have received.

A Truly Healthy Lifestyle

Ariwara no Narihira died when he was about fifty-five years old. When I was that age, I often said such things as “This is my year to go, go, go!” because fifty-five is pronounced go-ju-go in Japanese. But when I think about it now, I suppose that being proud of my good health was my own arrogance. Sure enough, these days it takes me longer than expected to get dressed to go out, and I am often painfully reminded that I am getting old, while thinking to myself “This isn’t supposed to happen to me.” Since I have experienced the difficulty of continuing on from day to day while not feeling very well due to such conditions as back pain, I have come to fully understand what a blessing it is to enjoy good health. Also, as I closely observed Founder Niwano’s gradual decline, I had a vague idea that I would age too; in reality, as I have grown old, I have certainly come to accept that aging, illness, and death are pressing matters for me personally.

With experience, we are said to gain a better understanding of other people’s feelings, especially their sadness and suffering. This is the meaning of maturing as a human being and, in my understanding, also means that we are getting closer to the Buddha. Therefore, it is important that we quickly realize the truth about life and that it is precious.

When Ananda openly wept at the prospect of his teacher’s entering nirvana, Shakyamuni resolutely conveyed the truth to him, saying “Ananda, do not cry. That which receives life must surely die.” However, a witty expression may make it easier for us to learn and accept the truth about life, such as this poem by Zen master Ikkyu (1394–1481): “What has been born, / Must someday die. / On the whole, this is true. / Even for Shakyamuni and Bodhidharma. / Even for the cat and the spoon.” Whichever you prefer, accept this truth about life as your own, and live each day with gratitude and joy. Doing so, whether our lives are long or short, is the meaning of a truly healthy lifestyle for those of us who want to enjoy good health. That is something I would like to consider anew, along with all of you, during this month in which we observe the anniversary of Shakyamuni’s entering nirvana.