Living Together, Here and Now
Because We Practice the Faith, We Are Buddhas
Soon, on April 8, we will celebrate the birth of Shakyamuni. According to one Buddhist legend, upon his birth, Shakyamuni proclaimed, “I alone am honored in heaven and on earth.” This legend praises Shakyamuni, and I accept it as the foremost expression of the essence of Buddhism.
Some people have described Shakyamuni’s proclamation upon being born as expressing that he is one of a kind in this world. But every person, not only Shakyamuni, has an irreplaceable, precious existence from the moment he or she is born. Therefore, Shakyamuni’s proclamation conveys the core Buddhist teaching: to be aware of the preciousness of our own lives.
Buddhism also teaches people how to liberate others from suffering—from that point of view as well, this proclamation is imbued with profound meaning. Shakyamuni realized the true Dharma and, based on those teachings, we are liberated from suffering. In turn, we liberate those around us.
In light of the long history of Buddhism, I can’t help but think about how many people have liberated themselves by liberating others since Shakyamuni’s era. Human beings are really wonderful.
However, just as Shakyamuni also told us, “We are not born as saints—we become saints by our deeds.” Our human dignity is refined by our daily deeds. Zen master Dogen (1200–53) used the phrase shusho itto (“practice is awakening”) to say that training is not a method of awakening—instead, diligent practice proves that we have attained awakening. In other words, diligently applying the Buddha’s teachings to how we lead our daily lives serves as proof that we are buddhas. Deepening our compassion through this practice is the Buddha Way.
Like a Spring Breeze
Chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra, “The Former Deeds of the Bodhisattva Medicine King,” shows the importance of using one’s own body to practice the teachings of the Buddha and thereby cause many people’s minds to aspire to Supreme Perfect Awakening.
Plainly speaking, by putting others first, you transcend thoughts of self-interest. Then, when you use your entire mind and your words to show consideration for others, your practice of the faith becomes your own joy and happiness and you also become a bright light leading to the liberation of all living beings.
More specifically, some people have professed that serving people is their training in the Buddha Way. An eighth-century Indian monk named Shantideva said that diligence means manifesting, through action, the mind of compassion—and that doing so is none other than Buddhism. Buddhist scholar Hajime Nakamura (1912–99) said that “merely knowing religious teachings means nothing. They must be embodied somewhere in the actions taken by our physical bodies.”
Of course, knowing the teachings is not without meaning, but the concrete action of reaching out to someone in need is surely the best way to liberate them from suffering.
Furthermore, the joy of receiving this kind of warm thoughtfulness may be the catalyst that awakens someone to the preciousness of both their own life and others’ lives. Even a single compassionate act can become the means of turning someone’s mind toward the truth. Such compassionate skillful means may be the starting point of sharing the faith, which fulfills Shakyamuni’s wishes. In this terrible time of the coronavirus pandemic, above all else, this kind of compassion is especially needed.
However, in order to practice these compassionate skillful means, it’s important to “live our own lives as humbly as possible,” as Shantideva also said. In this sense, we must not forget to lead lives of simplicity by being satisfied with as few things as possible and being grateful for whatever comes.
To quote a poem, “Would that my body / Could become / A spring breeze / Blowing gently / At the gates of the sad” (Nobutsuna Sasaki, 1872–1963). Thinking about the suffering of all people who are living here and now, I am waiting for the day when, like a spring breeze, we can bring them refreshing compassion.