The path to our own happiness and the path to making others happy are one and the same. When we completely dedicate ourselves towards the well-being of others, our individual path to happiness begins to unfold before us. True joy results from single-minded devotion in this endeavor of gladly striving to give joy to others. Religious practice does not mean passively asking for blessings to make up for our shortcomings; rather it is an active process of spiritual growth that results from walking the path revealed before us each and every day. Hoping for a positive result without walking such a path is like anticipating the harvest without having planted any seeds.
Instead of spending our time as we like, thinking only of ourselves, to follow the Shinnyo Teaching means to dedicate our time to others and benefit them as well. That’s when we discover true freedom, and our lives become radiant. The joy of practice comes from stepping forward to make others happy in whatever way we can. If you think, “I may be unable to do much, but at least I can do this,” “I can help my family or those around me in this way,” or, “I can give of myself in service somewhere,” then keep that thought close to your heart and don’t let it slip away. The secular and the religious life are wholly compatible.
How, then, do we practice in a balanced way? With the Teaching as the common denominator, we can start to see beyond our usual way of doing things, appreciate how others have overcome problems, draw upon the wisdom they have cultivated, and broaden our own perspective as we discover other ways of seeing the world. Regarding other people’s concerns as our own and identifying with their experiences enables us to take a fresh look at ourselves. When we look at those around us, we might even see the way we used to be. When we gather and meet, we should listen to each other with humility and share our thoughts and experiences. We can then rediscover the goodness, warmth, and compassion inside of us that we may have perhaps long forgotten. There are many who could benefit from your advice and experiences that when shared with others, often shows the commonality that lies between all of our lives.
The melody of the Goreiju, or mantra of Achala’s Benevolence and Liberation, has been described as an evocative, spiritual tune, both melancholic and sweet, and yet not an elegy. The pitch rises and falls with a slow, certain rhythm, turning the Shingon dharma chant into a melody that naturally brings tears to our eyes. But what is the origin of this particular melody?
Back in 1936, when the founders of Shinnyo-en first embarked on their spiritual path, their year- old first born son who was born on a bitterly cold winter night had begun showing signs of illness. Their house was full, day and night, with people asking to be cured of illnesses and seeking other prayers to be answered. They busily spent their days conducting prayer rituals and guiding the practitioners in meditation, but at night had their hands filled caring for their critically ill son. This was at a time in Japan just after World War I, when poverty was wide-spread and starvation and hunger abounded since most of the precious resources had been consumed during the long years of battle. Every night his mother would chant the words of Achala’s mantra with a soft melody similar to a lullaby, or children’s song, and their son would finally look relieved and settle into sleep. This melodic gift, borne from a mother’s love for her suffering child is what we have come to know as The Goreiju, or spiritual mantra.
Their first son passed away a mere 22 months into his life, and exactly 100 days after the founders had committed themselves to a life of spiritual commitment. How would you receive this kind of painful experience if you had just committed to a different life? Would you be deterred from your chosen path? In this moment of pain that only a parent who loses a child can know, the founders witnessed the exchange of their child’s life and the emergence of a melodic mantra that seemed to touch people’s hearts and unifies their spirits. They saw how the never-ending turning of the wheel of life teaches us to treasure the fragility of life, and that every moment is precious. By giving the Goreiju to the rest of the world through Shinnyo-en, the founders also wished to encourage us to give the same compassionate feelings for others, reminding ourselves that the suffering of others is what we can change through our daily actions.