Presidents Guidance

from Kosei
September 2020

The Mind of Being Sad Together

Feeling Others' Sadness as Your Own

Let me begin by sharing some lines from the poem "Together" by Ryoichi Wago, a poet and teacher of Japanese language at a high school in Fukushima Prefecture: "Your tears / Teach me / Things, / People are weak, / People are sad, / People are hurting. / However, / There is warmth: / People think of people, / People love people, / People cry for people. / Both you / And me / Are lonely. / But / Both you / And me / Are living / Together."

When we encounter someone who has had a painful experience and is grieving, we should, just as described in this poem, think of that person, weep together with him or her, or hold his or her hand while offering encouraging words such as, "Any time you need me, I'm here for you." We are capable of empathizing with other people's suffering because we are born with a tender and considerate heart that does not exist in other animals.

I think that this empathy develops further as we experience the painful, sad feelings that come along with living, aging, being ill, and facing death. If you are a person with faith, you may be able to understand other people's sufferings and sadness so well that you feel like they were your own. This is because, to borrow the words of the mathematician Kiyoshi Oka (1901-78), "The essence of religion is to understand the sadness of others and to yourself feel that sadness as well."

This essence is revealed to us in the closing lines of chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, "The Life Span of the Eternal Tathagata": "How can I cause living beings to / Embark upon the unsurpassable Way / And quickly accomplish embodiment as buddhas?"

Drawing Out the Buddha-Nature in Yourself and Others

Every year around September 7 or 8 comes the day called Hakuro (literally, "white dew"), which takes its name from the morning dew that forms on flowers and plants. The dew glistens in the sunlight, but it also has the impression of the ephemeral, as is evident in the Japanese saying, "this world is but dew."

However, the lines from chapter 16 above convey to us the Buddha's earnest desire and hope that, although we live in an impermanent world that we think is as ephemeral as dew, no one stays lost in grief and everyone will awaken to their buddha-nature and be liberated from suffering. Furthermore, this shows us, who are bodhisattvas, a way of life that helps people.

A good example of helping someone in a painful predicament is found within the well-known legend of Shakyamuni and Shuddhipanthaka.

Shuddhipanthaka, who had an extremely poor memory, was unable to recall a single line of the teaching, even after three months as a monk. His older brother, who had already become a disciple of Shakyamuni, rebuked him, telling him that he should leave and go away. However, Shakyamuni saw that Shuddhipanthaka was lost in grief and lamenting his own foolishness, so he handed Shuddhipanthaka a broom and told him to clean the surrounding area every day while chanting, "Sweep away the dust, sweep away the defilements."

Over time, as Shuddhipanthaka could remember these words, he realized and was impressed by the importance of cleansing the mind. He ended up becoming an esteemed disciple of Shakyamuni.

Shuddhipanthaka's mind was liberated and his grief and despair turned into joy due to the great compassion and empathy of Shakyamuni, who helped Shuddhipanthaka by believing single-mindedly in his buddha-nature.

Earlier, I mentioned the "impermanent" world, but we have continually received life and died again, and as part of this cycle of birth and death, we are alive here and now. This means that while our past experiences include both positive and negative things, we are living the same eternal life as the Buddha.

What is universal to us all--who contain both good and bad qualities--is the same unshakable essence: buddha-nature. Therefore, it is important that we interact with each other in ways that bring forth our buddha-nature and that of others, especially so our practices may provide joy to those suffering from sadness.