||LIFE THROUGH THE POWER OF THE BUDDHA
Life Through The Power Of The Buddha
THE POWER OF THE BUDDHA
- 108 Mini-Essays of Meditation -
(c) 1994 by Yehan Numata
The Buddha's Wisdom is broad as the ocean
and His Spirit is full of
The Buddha has no form but manifests
Himself in exquisiteness and leads us with
His whole heart of Compassion
1 Human Beings
Hard is it to attain birth as a human being;
Hard is to life of mortals.
In the long history of the earth, human beings appeared more than two million years ago. Now, the population of the earth exceeds five billion.
This might seem a very large number, but if you compare it to the numbers of other living things on earth, it is extremely small.
We were fortunate to be born as humans. If we live out our lives like other living things, living only to eat and to leave descendants, being human will have no meaning.
We cannot live our lives twice. No other person can take our place in living. Thus we want to live in such a way that we can say, "It was good that we lived." When, eventually, circumstances are such that we must leave this life, we will die. So let us savor this day.
Among the six states (Jpn. Rokudo) through which we are said to transmigrate is the state of animals, which includes birds and insects.
It said that if a person who was born as a human does not keep moral laws and does not believe in the law of cause and effect, he or she will be born in this animal state and have to suffer a long time.
You might think that this idea discriminates against animals; but in reality, it does exactly the opposite.
In the famous Jatakas, the stories of the former lives of Shakyamuni, he appears as all sort of animals and practices various good deeds. As a result, he is born into the world as a human with the name Gautama Siddhartha. So this way of thinking insists that even animals, if they make the effort, can be born as humans, attain enlightenment, and become Buddhas.
Thus, Buddhism considers human and animals equally. If they think this way, we can feel great compassion towards animals.
 Rokudo: Literally, six ways, six lower states of existence i.e., hell, the realms of hungry spirits, animals, asuras, men, and heavenly beings. (Refer to chapters 56-61).
 Transmigrate: Rin-ne in Jpn. Humans are reborn into one of six states of existence according to their karma
The Lotus Sutra says, "Grasses, trees even land, all become Buddhas." The reason is that it is believed that everything that exists in the world, without, without exception, possesses Buddhas Nature and therefore has the potential to become a Buddha.
True, the Japanese words used in Buddhist vegetarianism, "shojin* ryori" (vegetarian cuisine), "shojin age" (fried vegetables), etc., refer to foods made out of plants. It seems therefore that a clear distinction is made between plants and animals.
Although there is a precept against killing, one cannot help but eat some plant life in order to live. The precept serves as a warning against killing animals and fish, which are closer to humans.
If we consider this matter in a modern way, it can be understood that when a person who is eating mostly vegetables as food exerts himself for enlightenment, those vegetables become the flesh and blood of the person and support the mind and body. In this manner the plants progress towards becoming a Buddha.
*shojin: In Japanese, the word literally means diligence. In a Buddhistic sense, it means to be diligent i one's efforts to attain enlightenment. In common usage it refers to abstinence from eating fish and meat.
4-a The Head
There is a Japanese saying, "Head to the north, face to the west." this refers to the fact that when Shakyamuni Buddha the founder of Buddhism, entered Nirvana, he was lying down with his head to the north and his face to the west.
Because of the historical event, even today in Japan when someone dies, it is customary for the deceased to lie with his or her head to the north. Many Japanese, being superstitious, dislike sleeping with their head to the north. But in actually, we say, "keep your head cool and your feet warm" For people living in the northern hemisphere it is better to sleep with their heads to the north, which is the cold direction, for sake of their health.
For instance, if we face some problem and our heads are hot, we calm down if we cool down our heads. It is not good to keep your head hot.
In the head are the brain, which is most important to a person, and the eyes, ears, nose, and tongue, which are the most important of our sense organs.
Even though the head is important, if we concentrate only on it, we will become, before we know it, bigheaded people. We must be very careful on this point.
4-b The Head
A variation of the Japanese saying, "Head to the north, face to the west," is, "Put your head to the north, face west, an lie down on your right side." This means, when we put our heads to the north, and the face west, the body naturally will be lying on its right side. If we lie in this position, the heart is not burdened, and we will sleep quietly.
Shakyamuni lived in India, in the northern hemisphere. In his day, people did not know that the earth is round and that there is a southern hemisphere too. If people living in the southern hemisphere point their heads in a northern direction and face west, they are lying on their left sides.
That would not be god for health. Thus for them it should not be, "put your head to the north, face west, an lie down on your right side." put your head to the south, face east, an lie down on your right side."
Actually this can be applied only to living persons, not to the dead. You do not need to be too concerned.
5 A Peaceful Face and Loving Words
A peaceful face and loving words are one of the practices of compassion. This means that when we are with someone, w should have kind face and speak warmhearted words.
The feelings of a person always appear on his or her face. They are expressed by a smiling face, an angry face, a crying face, a saddened face, a rejoicing face, or a melancholy face. Truly, a person' face changes in a thousand ways and reflects the multitudinous phases of life.
"Charity reflected in a peaceful face" is one of the practices which are called the "seven types of giving which require no wealth:" There is nothing to soothing to our minds as a peaceful face.
True, the face is only one part of the head, and the eyes, nose, and mouth are in it. The ears are also turned forward. The face serves its purpose in only one direction; it is useless in the other three directions unless you are turn your whole face.
Accordingly, in order to express the compassion of the Buddha and Botthisattvas in a concrete form, Buddhists came to make statue that face every direction at the same time, such as Eleven-faced Kwannon.
There is a proverb, "Eyes speak just like a mouth". Whether people are joyful, sad, or suffering, their eyes always truly express their emotions.
There are people who speak looking steadily into the other person's eyes, and there are those who try not to look into the other person's eyes while speaking. But I think that if we do not look into the eyes of the person to whom we are speaking, we cannot understand the true mind of the other person.
Among the "seven types of giving which requires no wealth" there is one called "eye dana." When many people are together they should, as much as possible, have kind and gentle eyes to exude a feeling of kind thoughtfulness. If we have sharp, threatening, or piercing eyes, the mind of every person who is at the gathering becomes cold, an true peace and harmony cannot reign.
Not lowering one's eyes, but looking gently at the other person with kind eyes -- might not this be something akin to the Buddha's mind?
If i say "a nose is not liked if it is high." will Caucasians, who generally have high noses, get angry?
Surely there are differences. Some noses are high or flat us sharply or unshapely, but the function of the nose is to smell. Its shape or height has nothing to do with it.
Many religions seem to attach importance to smell, and the interior of al religious building is filled with a good fragrance.
In Buddhism, too, because of the influence of Hinduism, when we decorate an altar enshrined with a statue of Buddha, we burn incense almost without fail. The reason is to purify the sanctuary and at the same time to purify our minds and bodies, which are filled with passion.
In other words, by burning expensive incense, we are trying to create a religious atmosphere and express a feeling of respect for the object of worship. Therefore it is necessary to burn the best incense that we can afford.
We should never use incense that is cheap and has an unpleasant smell.
It is said that the Buddha, who awakened to the truth of this world and attained the state of enlightenment, possessed supernatural powers which are called either the "five supernatural powers" or "six supernatural powers." Among them there is one called the "heavenly ear," the ability to hear everything, however far and however faint the sound or voice.
If our ears possessed such a supernatural power, it would be unbearably bothersome. Furthermore, we would not be able to select which sound or voice we would hear and which we would not.
However, the supernatural sense of hearing we are talking about here means the power to understand the voice of people's suffering. and sorrow and save them. It truly symbolizes the great compassion of the Buddha.
And we human beings, too, need to listen attentively to other people's words. We should not forget that it is important to have an ear which listens to others, and not to just insist on our own opinions
I heard that in what was called the "Kind Words movement," an effort was made to say, as much as one could, such wards as:
Good morning. Thank you.
Excuse me. I am sorry.
It is said that what is most lacking in modern society are such expressions. Just how important these words are in our daily lives can be understood if one has had the
experience of being so greeted even once.
In addition to the phrases I mentioned at the beginning are the words:
I shall receive this food gratefully.
I finish this meal with gratitude.
See you later. I'm back:
Good night. You must be tired.
These phrases, too, make human relationships much more pleasant. The mouth can become the cause of misfortune; but on the other hand, it can become the cause for happiness.
Among the things listed as actions that practicing Buddhists should not commit are the so-called "ten evils." Among the ten, there is.one called "two tongues."
This corresponds to what we call "double-tongue." It means to speak differently about something, according to the person whom you talk to. It may result in the break-up of people's relationships: Also this word is used in the sense of telling a lie.
Sometimes it becomes connected to folk belief. There is a Japanese saying, "If you lie and fall into hell, the devil will pull out your tongue."
However, according to the work Teachings Essential for Rebirth in the Pure Land by Genshin; it does not end once the tongue is pulled out. After it is pulled out, a new tongue grows immediately and, will be pulled out again. The process is repeated as long as the person is in hell. Therefore, to be double-tongued becomes the cause of very great suffering.
Not to be double-tongued means to make one's true intention and actual action one, and not to say something different depending upon the person spoken to. We must be very careful on this point.
There is a Japanese saying, "As soon as it passes the throat, we forget how hot it is."
There are two uses for the human throat.
One is as a passageway for food and drinks, and the other is as the organ which controls breathing and the voice.
Because it is the organ midway between 'the mouth and the stomach, or the mouth and the lungs the throat seems to be considered less significant than the stomach or the lung. But the vocal cords and even the Adam's apple* are in the throat. I think we can say that it is a very important place.
Moreover, if inflammation or other problems occur in the throat, we have coughing spells and even find it dif xcult to speak. Anyone who has experienced this even once can well understand it.
In other words, the throat is like the hardships we undergo as we travel on the highway of life. If we forget the hardships that we have endured, digestion will not take place; and digestion alone-makes life worthwhile.
*In Japanese Adam's apple is called "nodo botoke" with the characters meaning "throat Buddha." The origin of this word is that when a man's body is cremated, the remains of the Adam's apple resembles a person sitting with his legs tucked under.
The Buddha's physical characteristics include what is called the thirty-two marks. One of them is: "between the fingers of the hand and the toes of the foot there are thin membranes.”
Think of the webs that water birds have on their feet. Why is such an odd thing so attached?
The reason is that when one tries to scoop up water, water leaks through the fingers. But the Buddha's hands have this web, so that not even a drop of water; leaks out. In the same way, he saves all humankind without leaving out anyone. This kind of hand symbolizes this fact.
Moreover, man has only two hands and therefore cannot do many things at the same time. But because the Buddha is equipped with a Countless number of hands, he can do many things at one time. Statues such as the Thousand Harlds Kwannon (Goddess of Mercy) were created to show this ability.
There is an expression "to extend a helping hand." The hand, when it is extended, gives others a feeling of relief and a feeling of trying to cling to it.
There are many who; when they were children, used their ten fingers on both hands to count from one to ten.
And it may be that there are persons who, when it comes to more than ten, become flustered and add their toes, too.
At least in the case of fingers, pet names are given to each one. The Japanese call them the parent finger, the pointing finger, the middle finger, the medicine finger, and the small finger. Moreover, I fondly remember that in a children’s song we also called them the father finger, the mother finger, the brother finger, the sister finger; and the baby finger.
Today, the number of children in each family has been greatly reduced. There are nuclear families wherein less than five fingers are sufficient to count all members even including oneself. Yet unless all five fingers help each other, adequate work cannot be accomplished. We can realize this really well when we see people living and working together, supporting' each other.
When we realize that how inconvenient it becomes if even only one person is missing, we realize that man can never comfortably live alone. Then the thought of gratitude to others wells up.
I wonder when human beings became able to stand on two feet. Even today, while animals walk on four feet, only humans can walk on two feet. Therefore, humans can use their two hands fully.
Of course, the anthropoid apes and several other kinds of animals can stand and walk on two feet. Yet they are not able to use both hands as cleverly as humans.
Feet not only support our bodies but also move us around freely. It is true that today, when we have automobiles, electric trains, and aircraft, we are able to move faster than ever; but only the feet can be moved by the will of man himself.
Because man cannot walk very fast, the supernatural power called the Buddha's "supernatural feet" was imagined: But nowadays with our various means of transportation; we can certainly say that everybody possesses "supernatural feet."
What we should not forget is that, "Even a journey of one thousand miles starts with a single step."
15 The Body
From the moment we are born until we die, we all nurture. our bodies and cause changes in our bodies.
Though the physical elements that make up the body are very complicated, the food and liquids which we consume every day naturally nourish the body.
Accordingly, people work to secure food to sustain the physical body. But if we only work for that, we are not at all different from other animals. As we all know, man does not live by bread alone.
We should not forget the reason that man maintains the body and keeps healthy. The final objective should be to think about such questions as, "why does one Iive?"
If we eat simply in order to live and to sustain the physical body, perhaps we will not suffer spiritually. But unless we realize the meaning of our lives as human beings, we are merely "worthless human-waste-producing machines."
16 The Sun
Even today, many Japanese observe the custom of pressing their palms together toward the sun that comes out of the eastern sky on New Year's Day, calling it "the first sunrise." From the primitive era to modern times, the sun has been the most important object of worship for humankind.
The shinto goddess Ama-Terasu-Ömikami (Great Goddess Who Shines in the Sky), who is enshrined in Kötaijingü in Ise province as the ancestor of the Imperial Family, is literally a Sun Goddess, and the Dharmakaya Buddha in Shingon Buddhism, Mahävairocana Buddha*, is also a Symbol of the sun.
Furthermore, the name of Amida Buddha, who is the object of worship in Pure Land Buddhism, comes from a Sanskrit word meaning Limitless Life and Limitless Light. This concept would not have developed if people were not conscious of the sun, the source of light.
The sun itself has, of Course, no consciousness; but if the sun were to die, the earth would have no heat and light, and everything would die. If we realize this, it is natural that we are filled with thoughts of gratitude toward the sun.
·Mahavairocaoa Buddha, Jpn. Dainichi Nyorai.
We usually live without being conscious of the air
However, when we have some trouble with our respiratory tract, or when we climb a high mountain, or when we do strenuous exercise, we frantically try to inhale. For the first time we understand the value of air.
The concept of emptiness, which Buddhism teaches, tells us that there is no true substance. But in reality, because there is no substance, various kinds of forms can exist or appear as phenomena. This is wonderfully explained in the words of the Heart Sutra: "Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form."
In the Japanese language air has the clever name, "kuki"(which contains the word for emptiness). Because it does not have substance, we do not readily realize its existence. But when we really need it, it surrounds us and maintains our lives. Moreover, when we exhale air, it is changed into something else, i.e., a non-breathable gas. Yet it becomes breathable again (by the power of plants, etc.) and supplies us with oxygen.
Let us offer our heartfelt gratitude to this vaporous thing which has no substance.
The river keeps on flowing; yet it is not the original
water. The bubbles floating on stagnant water
disappear and appear again, never staying for long.
In-this world, people arid their homes are also like that.
If we look closely at the flow of river, though the water seems to flow continuously and majestically from the distant past into the far future, the same water never flows in the same place again:
The volume of flowing water changes every day according to the amount of rain and snow that falls: And in a few decades, the river bed may change.
Water is an indispensable element for all living things. If we do not drink water for even a few days, we will die.
The preciousness of water can be truly felt the first time water runs out. But it,is necessary for us to realize it before that happens so we will use a drop of water very carefully.
The teaching, "In the realm called hungry demons, if we try to drink water, it changes into fire," is a warning that should never be ignored.
'Hojoki: Japanese classic by Kamono Chomei.
It seems that in the past, people did not pay much attention to such things as the three essential nutritional elements or taking too rnuch salt and so on: They just ate and drank.
The reason was that securing daily food was all that they could do. They could not think of anything else. Also they did not have the scientific knowledge to analyze the composition of food and liquids.
Much time has passed since "nutritional balance" came into vogue. In order to live healthily and to live even one day longer, it is necessary to pay attention to what we eat. If some nutrients are missing, symptoms of illness will almost certainly appear.
Nutrition is important, not only for good physical health, but for a person to live respectably as a human being.
The teaching called "Middle Way" in Buddhism means "balance." It shuns going to extremes.
There is a haiku poem:
The root is divided for transplanting;
From now on bloom on your own!'
This instruction was often given by the parents to the chiId at the child's wedding reception, teaching him or her how to live from then on.
Until then, each child lived comfortably under the protection of the parents. The wedding provided the opportunity for the child to become independent. Now the times had come for the bride and groom to make the soil in which their own tree would grow nicely, blossom, and then bear fruit and seeds for future generations.
Regardless of how good the genes in the seed may be, the seed will never sprout unless it is actually sown in the earth. Similarly, if it is divided from the parent root, but never put into the ground, the plant will die.
Moreover, if the new soil is not fertile, then even if the new root was separated from a strong parent root, it will not produce offspring. Therefore, the process of becoming independent and the making of new soil requires careful attention.
When these positive efforts are combined, then, for the first time, a beautiful flower blooms and produces seed for future generations.
*Soil Jap. Dojo
I understand that phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen are called the three essential elements of a fertilizer. But in reality, the essential elements are not necessarily the same for all plants. Accordingly, if we make a mistake in the fertilizer used, we cannot grow the things we expected no matter how hard we try.
Nowadays, chemical fertilizers are generally used. But in former times Japanese farmers used natural fertilizers, such as compost, human excrements, and the manure of chicken and other animals. If we just want to make plants sprout and grow, perhaps we do not need to be so nervous. But when we grow plants which become food for man, such as vegetables or fruits, we cannot expect good results if we neglect the careful use of fertilizer.
The same thing can be said about people. Just to bear and rear a child may not be difficult; but to nurture a capable person who can play an active role in society, one must give various types of education and training. Such nurturing can perhaps be likened to the use of fertilizer. If we make a mistake in its use, we might risk creating a ridiculous person.
It seems to me that since mankind started to use fire, human life has been changed completely. I think that even before man became able to start a fire by himself, human beings knew about the existence of fire because of mountain fms that were started by accidents or volcanoes. But when they became able to handle it as they wished and to cook food with it, they realized how convenient it is.
However, although it is useful, fire can turn into terrible thing that bums and destroys everything if it is misused. This fact has not changed at all even in this modern age, when science and culture have developed to such great heights. There is no way to calculate how much damage has been done by conflagrations.
The anger that exists in our mind, too, is similar to fire. If we do not control it, it can sever all human relationships. Between countries, it can generate wars.
However, the same fire of anger that lives in the human mind can also burn up the impurity called passion. By getting rid of all desires, one can attain "the state of enlightenment, the complete calm."
The movement of air is a natural phenomenon. The same wind that becomes a storm can become a gentle wind that sends us cool breezes.
Some people think that wind is caused by God's will.
Some imagine that it is due to a "wind-god."
Whether it is a gentle wind in hot summer or a typhoon that hits in autumn, the wind itself does not have any will to do anything. Only people who receive its impact feel happy or unhappy. I suppose they think this to be God's will.
If there were no wind, many plants would be unable to reproduce because there would be no medium for dispersing pollen. Carp flags* or other flags would cease to flutter.
One famous Zen koan asks, "As for the flag that is moving, is the flag moving or is the wind moving?
For the answer someone said, "What moves is the mind of the man who is watching."
This shows that the manner in which we perceive the wind changes man's understanding of it.
*A carp flag is the carp shaped pennant which is raised on the boy s festival day, May 5th. wishing the boy will bravely make his way up in the world Iike a carp swimming up the river
Ever since mankind first appeared on earth and looked at the countless stars that flicker in the sky, people have imagined various things about stars.
Nowadays, with the development of astronomy, the true nature of stars has come to be understood to a certain degree. Yet we cannot think that the day when man can reach the stars, which are many hundreds and thousands of light years away, will come easily.
Among stars there are differences between fixed stars and planets. Moreover, it seems that there are those, such as the earth, which have an atmosphere in which living things exist. Stars have been classified into constellations, and some have even been given nicknames. Furthermore, people do divination by stars. When we consider these facts, we See that stars are an eternal riddle as well as a kind
of dream for mankind.
If we look at the stars, which are vastly older than we are, we should concentrate our minds and realize how extremely small and insignificant human beings are. We should come to realize that each moment should not be wasted.
When human beings learned for the first time that the earth is spherical, perhaps man wondered: "Then how is it that people who are on the other side do not fall off ? "
The story of Newton seeing the apple falling from the tree and realizing for the first time that the earth has gravitation is well-known throughout the world. Yet even today, when science has advanced so much, gravitation still remains a mysterious phenomenon.
I remember learning in school when I was small that the gravitational power of the moon is one-sixth that of the earth. But when we saw the astronaut who reached the
moon jumping around, perhaps many thought, "Ah, that was true."
Though we cannot See gravity with our eyes, yet we can prove its existence because of various phenomena. There are countless things like that. However, the fact that this Person called "I" was born with my present form cannot be proved by any method. It is the result of an inconceivable set of circumstances. When we realize this, we realize for the first time the preciousness of human life.
In the well-known story, Adam and Eve do not feel any shame about being naked until they eat the forbidden fruit. However, as soon as they are enticed by the snake and eat the fruit of wisdom, they hurriedly place fig leaves on their bodies.
Among all animals, only human beings wear clothes of their own free will.
If clothes were worn only for the purpose of staving off cold, it would seem that when it was hot, one would take off all clothing. But even then a Person wears something. Is
it perhaps from a feeling of shame?
But it is not only that. As we understand from the words "dress up," the purpose of clothes has gradually changed, so that we wear more expensive and more splendid things and deepen our desire for them.
There is the phrase, "three robes and one begging bowl" which applies to monks. In other words, monks are allowed only a minimum of clothes. Even lay people should think carefully about this point and be discreet about wearing clothes that might stimulate emotions.
It seems that among animals there are some which store food for the future. But perhaps there are no other beings that preserve so much food as people.
Often we say, "We work in order to eat." But if that is the only reason, surely it is Same with "hungry demons" (in Buddhism), and there is no meaning in living as a human being instead.
Of course, if we do not think about the future at all, and are solely preoccupied with eating today, then again, the meaning of being a human is lost. If our mind is only concerned with eating, the primary objective "We eat in order to live" will be lost. Before we know it, we will end up making our cravings more intense.
Today, when people continuously wish to eat delicious food, they do so unnecessarily and end up shortening their lives.
I think that it is necessary to think about the reason why monks diligently practice eating only once a day and rethink the reason for eating.
Even birds and animals build nests for themselves and their offspring. People, too, become serious about building a home, It is a kind of instinct and not at all peculiar.
However, it is said, "To sit up one needs half a mat, and to lie down one needs a whole mat." However big and Fine a house a Person may have, a human only needs a little space. If we forget this, we may have the illusion that to have a more gorgeous, more luxurious house is to be happy; and one's whole life may become twisted to that purpose.
In the past, a Zen monk lived in a space ten feet Square. For minimum living that much space was considered enough.
No, even more, these spiritual practitioners slept on boulders, stayed overnight under trees, and taught us that the original purpose of a house is to stave off rain and dew.
To live one's whole life with the Sole goal of owning a house is truly a pitiful thing.
29 The Sea
If I say that our obligations to our parents are deeper than the sea and higher than a mountain, young people today may mock me.
"Quit your nonsense. I have no recollection of asking my parents to give birth to me. It was the result of them doing what they liked. If they had to give birth to me at all, I wished they had given me a slightly better life. " I suppose there are many who thinks this way.
Regardless of whether or not our obligations to our parents are truly deeper than the sea, it seems to me that the sea is truly amazing.
Accepting all sorts of water and waste that flow into it from countless rivers on land, the sea still has the same taste everywhere on earth. It is really beauftiful. Moreover it produces all living things. It nourishes mankind and all other living things.
True, in the twentieth century, as the result of man's having striven too much with technology, he has let pollution flow into the ocean, pollution which chokes mankind. If people continue to pollute and destroy the sea, I am afraid that man will soon reap retribution.
There is a famous poem that goes:
Far away in he sky beyond the mountain
Lives hapinss. So people say.
It seems to me that people feel that there is no true happiness where they live. Only beyond mountains does some kind of happiness seem to be waiting.
I need not relate to you the story of "The Blue Bird of Happyness" to tell you that happiness exists where I am living rather than someplace far away. If we do not realize this, we will wander around endlessly searching for Hapiness.
In Japan, the term "Mountain God" still remains from old times. Mountains were objects of worship. Perhaps the reason was that mountains provided man with various things. But when you climb mountains, you have to consider it a serious undertaking or else you might get lost or meet disaster.
In Japan there is a legend of a mountain on which people abandoned their aged parents. If we desert our old parents, we should keep in mind that eventually we ourselves will also end up beeing cast away.
To be continued...