A sonouta, or spiritual poem, by Master Shinjo Ito reads:
Though human, we are bodhisattvas
When we dedicate ourselves for others.
So just what are a bodhisattva’s practices? A Nirvana Sutra passage advises us to put the needs of others before our own and always act in the spirit of being a “great vehicle.” With the determination to behave with this mindset and put it into action, we can become bodhisattvas ourselves. Each person’s practice is unique, but we can discern what it means for each of us individually and carry it out by engaging in self-reflection.
An ideal should be something we build with other people rather than force upon them. Try to be a foundation for others, communicate well, and help one another. You don’t have to do anything special: it may be small actions like cleaning up a classroom or public place, preparing the office before others arrive for the day, tidying up after they leave, or even just listening sincerely and carefully to what others say. By making these small efforts in our everyday lives, we can heighten our aspiration for enlightenment and come closer to awakening ourselves.
The repeated process of self-reflection followed by action that incorporates our insights into our daily lives helps us approach our own ideals. Self-reflection may also generate regrets about the past. But when that happens, we simply need to react quickly and resolutely, with a determination never to repeat our mistakes. By enriching this experience through the application of our insights in daily altruistic practice we can further polish our own behavior and bring forth the radiance of a bodhisattva within our own lives.
At the recent Lantern Floating in Hawaii, HH Shinso Ito wrote the English words “Mother Ocean” and the characters “摂受” (Jpn. shoju, meaning embracement) upon the lanterns that were set afloat on the sea. She wanted everyone to know that when we offer consolatory prayers based on the Nirvana teachings we include all beings—past and present—as well as mountains, rivers, plants, and trees. The Buddha embraces all forms of life with loving compassion. The buddha realm of permanence and bliss is inclusive of all life—down to the smallest creature—and everything is interrelated. Nothing exists independently from others.
One other topic this month relates to a situation in Shinnyo-en’s history known commonly as the Dharma Crisis. In this particular event, similar to many events we have witnessed throughout history, a religious leader was questioned or challenged as to his or her convictions, practices or actions. Master Shinso Ito and the then named, Sangha of Truth, the early identity of Shinnyo-en, were brought under questioning by the Japanese government related to sanctity and conformance to religious doctrines of approved organizations at the time. While the Dharma Crisis itself could be subject to an entire podcast, this month we examine what instigated the event and how it was dealt with in the context of Master Ito’s own bodhisattva practice.
The original charges asserted were brought by a person within the Sangha who had achieved a position of great responsibility and stature within the organization. He was well-educated in the scripture, and was considered a dharma teacher and educator by the Sangha. But this person was, as all of us are, a human. As his status increased in the organization, he made incorrect and improper decisions in his relationships with others in the Sangha, and used his position to create opportunities to increase his own self-importance and power. His high-ranking position in the Sangha brought into question the purity of the Sangha’s practices. After all, how can one regard an organization as pure, if its own leadership does not demonstrate purity?
When confronted by Master Ito as to his conduct, he immediately resigned but did not admit any responsibility nor apologies for the lives he had altered. Those same individuals were the ones who supported Master Ito’s innocence of the charges by the government. After the Crisis period was over and Shinnyo-en regained its stability, very little was ever mentioned to lay followers about who this person was, nor how he came to his position. But internal practices were put into place throughout the organization to educate each person of leadership about their responsibilities to others and how human nature can lead us to the wrong ideas and the wrong actions.
If you have the opportunity to inspect one of the original carved wooden plaques bearing the Shinnyo-en characters in Japanese, which were hand-sculpted by Master Ito himself, you would discover a small and unique annotation on the reverse sides which when translated reads, “With prayers for the future enlightenment of O-san.” It is this “O-san” who was the person who initiated the charges in the Dharma Crisis. Master Ito, with his own hand, carved these words as his own advocacy for forgiveness and acceptance of the person who would have been most responsible for destruction of the Sangha, or in simple terms, his enemy. The teachings remind us that every single person and living thing has a Buddha-nature. It may be buried beneath layers of karmic dirt that has accumulated over years of neglect, but it is always there. Helping others reveal this nature, and with it a universal sense of peace and balance, starts with your own compassion towards what you, as a human, may not perceive as likable or desirable. We all have within ourselves, as humans, an “O-san” like nature. It is when we acknowledge that it exists and care more for others that the “O-san” qualities diminish and fade.
This was the principle of Shoju, or true embracement, in actual practice by Shinnyo-en’s founder. As he always felt one should set behavior by one’s own example in life, he thus demonstrated his own path to enlightenment and life as a boddhisattva through his actions. We can do the same both in practice, and spiritually through our requests for “Osegaki” (or Spiritual Purification) wherein we remember our ancestors, forgive them for their mistakes and misgivings, and learn to incorporate these changes in behavior to help reduce or eliminate them from both our own lives and those who depend upon us.
- Women’s History in the Making: Her Holiness Shinso Ito Travels the World To Promote Peace and Religious Harmony (thexenotimes.wordpress.com)
- Memorial Day Lantern Floating Hawaii (beyondhonolulu.com)