Let’s Return to Our Starting Point
From One to Ten and Back Again
Sen no Rikyu (1522–91), founder of the Senke school of the Japanese Way of Tea, wrote didactic poems describing his understanding of the tea ceremony. In them, we recognize many lessons common to those who seek the Way, such as, “Practice means learning things from one to ten, / And then going back to the beginning.”
When we’re beginners in the faith, we’re taught many things by our seniors, we seek out and learn the teachings for ourselves, and we gradually make the Buddha’s teachings our own. When we join a Dharma circle (hoza), we’re inspired by others’ stories of being liberated by the Dharma and we feel more motivated to seek the Way. We also become more aware of our own shortcomings and become diligent in our practice. The repetition of this process is the definition of “seeking the Way.”
However, as we get used to this process, our initial enthusiasm and desire for seeking the Way may diminish as we start to feel like we already know it. We tend to lose sight of the original purpose of our faith, which is to continue refining ourselves.
Instead of saying you’ve learned ten things and that’s good enough, tell yourself that when you’ve learned ten things, that means it’s time to go back to the first thing and review it. By doing so, you’ll notice something you didn’t notice when you first learned it, therefore moving closer to the true meaning of the teaching. I think this is the meaning of Rikyu’s poem.
Similarly, in the Lotus Sutra’s concluding chapter, “Encouragement from the Bodhisattva Universal Sage,” we’re taught the importance of always returning to the starting point—which in turn perfectly summarizes the entire Lotus Sutra.
In his later years, Founder Niwano often mentioned the “four requirements” that appear in chapter 28. This is because these four requirements cover all the teachings of the Lotus Sutra—from the introductory chapter on—in easily understandable language. Believing we are safeguarded by the buddhas, performing many good deeds, practicing together with friends in the faith, and practicing consideration for others as we pray for the happiness of society as a whole—these four requirements are our starting point and the basis of our seeking and believing in the Buddha Way.
The Mind of the Way and the Mind of a Child
Although we can understand the importance of returning to the starting point to deepen our learning, in reality, some of us may be unable to continue daily sutra recitation with the enthusiasm we had as beginners. The phrase “love the Dharma” is attributed to Zhiyi (538–97), the fourth patriarch of the Tiantai (Jpn., Tendai) school of Chinese Buddhism. This phrase means seeking the Dharma with a pure, innocent mind. Zhiyi interpreted the “encouragement” of “Encouragement from the Bodhisattva Universal Sage” as “loving the Dharma.”
The earnest wish to hear the Buddha’s teachings is like the feeling we have when we fall in love with someone—when we want to know more about them (the Dharma), walk together with them, and pursue them with a pure mind. In order to return to the starting point of faith and diligently practice it, the desire to seek the Way must be a dynamic force, like falling in love.
That said, however, when it comes to caring for our daily lives in this world, sometimes we may struggle to maintain at full measure our devotion to the faith. In order to live, we can’t ignore profit and self-interest, which may make our neglect of diligent practice unavoidable. Even so, as long as we don’t forget the pure, innocent desire, like that of young children, to create a good society for everyone and be happy together, we can always return to the feelings we had when we were beginners. In other words, it’s important that we don’t lose both the mind of the Way (道心, doshin) and the mind of a child (童心, doshin).
The word “encouragement” means “to make others feel enthusiastic about something,” but in “Encouragement from the Bodhisattva Universal Sage,” those who practice the teachings of the Buddha are praised with the words “well done” and by having their heads stroked. Similarly, when we are engaged in the daily practice of the Buddha Way, the Buddha is always warmly watching over and encouraging us.
With this in mind, even steadfast, diligent practice gains momentum and becomes enjoyable. By returning to the starting point, we realize that sutra recitation, hoza sessions, and interactions with our fellow sangha members are all joyful events that encourage us anew.