Presidents Guidance

from Kosei
May 2020

Calmly and Peacefully

Zentaro of Iwami: A Pious Devotee

There once was a man called Chikashige Zentaro, from present-day Hamada City, Shimane Prefecture. He lived during the later part of the Edo period and was said to be a pious devotee (Jpn., myokonin) of the True Pure Land sect of Japanese Buddhism. Such devotees were said to be as pure in character as a white lotus flower.

When Zentaro was young, however, he behaved so badly that the villagers called him Bad Taro the Caterpillar. Eventually, he awakened to faith in Amida Buddha and people respectfully called him Zentaro of Iwami.

One day, a friend of the faith came to see Zentaro. This friend had given Zentaro lodging for the night when he went to pray at the sect's head temple in Kyoto. Zentaro greeted him with a smile, but the friend suddenly called Zentaro a thief and rebuked him. He said that Zentaro had stolen a kimono and taken it away with him.

Although Zentaro had no recollection of doing this, he politely apologized, saying, "Well, that was a bad thing to do." He handed his friend enough money to cover the cost of the kimono, adding, "I don't have much here, but at least I can give you some mugwort dumplings to take to your people at home." He wrapped some mugwort dumplings that had been placed as offerings on the altar and gave them to his friend as a gift.

This friend of the faith returned home and started to eat the mugwort dumplings with everyone there. A young woman working in his house looked downcast, however, and wouldn't touch the dumplings. The man asked her, "Why aren't you eating?"

She confessed her wrongdoing: "I told you that Zentaro stole the kimono, but I took it."

If you were in Zentaro's position, how would you accept this situation and how would you respond?

Joyfully Following the Buddha Way

If it were possible, we would rather not associate with someone who blindly accuses people and makes selfish assertions without listening to what others have to say, like the man in this story did. Furthermore, it is usually impossible to calmly accept being treated like a thief.

In this sense, I have nothing but admiration for Zentaro's response. However, why, without even trying to explain himself, was Zentaro able to accept the situation?

I think it must have been due to Zentaro's absolute faith that he could "leave everything up to Amida Buddha" because he knew he'd done nothing to be ashamed of and that Amida Buddha watches over everything. In this way, with a calm and peaceful mind, he could accept the situation.

To quote a Buddhist poem, "The person criticizing and the person being criticized / Are sitting together on the same lotus dais." In other words, all people are equal before the Buddha--therefore, Zentaro might have thought it would be petty of him to insist on his innocence (correctness) and get the better of his friend in an argument.

"Encouragement to Hold Firm" in the Lotus Sutra includes these lines of scripture: "Unsparing of our bodies and lives, / We will care only for the unsurpassable Way." These verses express the firm determination of the faithful, but I think that "unsparing of our bodies and lives" does not merely mean "be unsparing of your own life." Instead, if you are aware of the miracle of having been born and being alive right now on this earth, you can no longer be attached to the ego that says "all that matters is that I am okay." You will realize the importance of being grateful for the connections that sustain your life and cause you to live.

"We will care only for the unsurpassable Way" means that when we have opened our eyes to gratitude for those connections, we want to share our feelings of gratitude with as many people as possible. Those of us who have awakened to such feelings of gratitude through the teachings of the Lotus Sutra must step forward to share these teachings with others and together experience the joy and gratitude of being alive.

However, I do not think this means that you should try to change or persuade other people. It is good enough to joyfully practice the Buddha's teachings and interact with people pleasantly, as this may lead someone else to be awakened to the gratitude for being alive right now.

The preceding anecdote about Zentaro is called "Dharma Teaching with Mugwort Dumplings." The pious devotee Zentaro, whose kindness spoke to the young woman's conscience, makes me think about what it truly means to be faithful followers who lead calm and peaceful lives.