Awakening people to themselves6 min read

Since the war the state of the Japanese people has changed. Under the new Constitution, the attitude to the family, which before was the centre of Japanese life, has been altered, and the Emperor, previously regarded as supremely sacred, has become a symbol. It is easy to see that politically this democratization, by transferring to the people the sovereignty hitherto vested in the Emperor, has made the responsibilities of the people much greater. In brief it means that rights and duties must be properly observed, and the individual’s position vis-à-vis his township or village, and also vis-à-vis the country, must be rightly understood and accepted. It is a mistake to think of democracy as a sort of present from America; it means an awakening of the people to themselves. In such an awakened community each exerts himself for the good of all. The Bodhisattva path, where the individual labours for others rather than for his own good, can be considered the basis of democratic government also. But since the war we see mainly a degeneration of morals, with people thinking that self-realization lies in satisfying their instinctive desires. The general attitude is to laugh at mention of the public good, and pursue selfish ends, indifferent to public abuses. As time passes, the wonderful human sympathy which was a part of Japan is reviving, but with things as they are now it is nonsense to speak of democracy. It is the rule of violence, the rule of barbarism. Morality arises from reflection on self. When we begin to realize that each day of life is worthy of honour, then a great and moral society can be formed. Democracy cannot develop properly among a people who simply act by instinct, unreflectingly, unashamed of unrighteousness and sin. To forget shame is to forget one’s own true heart, the Buddha of truth in one’s self. It comes from failing to respect one’s own nature as a human being.

If there is self-awakening among individuals, morality will of itself spread to those above and those below, and democracy in the new Japan will be on a firm basis. If the people are not self-awakened, then however much the government is reformed and the Cabinet reshuffled, the state will never be right. The foundation of a really civilized state can only be developed from self-awakening of the individual through spiritual convictions.

To do everything for others and forget self is a special Buddhist doctrine. “Till all beings have been carried across to Nirvana, I will not become a Buddha. . . .” The main point of the Bodhisattva path in Mahayana is the vow that though in my whole life I do not become a Buddha, I will lift up all others to Buddhahood. Since the war, democracy has been proclaimed in Japan, but in fact this wonderful teaching has been known in Japan well over a thousand years. But when shame was forgotten, this spirit too was forgotten. It means to throw away self and work for others, and the real glory of it is when it is done without thinking consciously about it.

In the Shobo Genzo classic of Zen master Dogen it is said: “To attain the Buddha way means to attain self. To attain self means to forget self. To forget self means to realize the truth of everything. To realize that truth means to drop off body and mind from one’s self and the self of others.” He does not say “other people” but “the self of others.” There is self in others also. It is not rejecting others and looking on their sufferings with indifference. The self forgets himself, losing himself in the self of others. Now one’s self and the self of others vanish, and one attains wholly the world of truth. The trinkets of wealth or position or family disappear, but the real treasure of the Buddha heart begins to shine out. When in each that light shines out to meet the other lights, the rebuilding of Japan can take place in the light. To know of another’s pain must be to take it as our own.

In the Kegon Sutra, it is related that the god Indra was on a mountain looking out. A goddess came and covered his eyes, but so strong was his power of vision that a third eye burst out between the brows. One day as he stood on the shore, he saw by the power of that third eye countless beautiful gems sparkling. In one was reflected the light of a second, and in that one again was reflected back the light of the first gem. The light of innumerable gems, reflected and again reflected back two, three, four times in each other — their beauty illumining each other is taken as a simile of the Net of Indra. And if in our democracy the hearts of the people open to reveal the Buddha light and in the same way illumine and reflect each other, then the country where such people live will be a model to the world.

With democracy came a tidal wave of “free thinking,” but freedom never means acting selfishly and wilfully. Each has his own path, but that does not mean to act only selfishly. If we take the human body as an illustration, we cannot digest with the lungs or eat through the nose, but each has its own role, and following the prescribed course within those limits constitutes its freedom. “The bird flying as a bird, the fish going as a fish.” When we get on a train, its direction and departure and arrival times are determined; our freedom is in making use of it. It is the same in our whole life. We cannot disturb the order which is at the very heart of freedom.

Again, when they speak of equal rights, it must not be an envious levelling down. The Emperor is called a citizen, but lie differs from us in that he is a symbol of the state. In that capacity he has no obligation to pay taxes, but on the other hand he is not free to marry just anyone, nor can he enter commerce. He would not be permitted to open a department store if he wanted to. Then, for instance, when we pray for the perpetuation of the Imperial line, it is clear that his position is quite distinct from that of us ordinary people.

From the Buddhist point of view, real greatness is in releasing the Buddha light. As one reaches this grand state he sees it in others also, and when others bow in worship, he himself bows to them. Harmony lies in taking a step back into humility and self-effacement. When the Buddha heart prompts this step back, the light of peace becomes manifest, and a democracy filled with love comes into being.

We should resolve to build the state rightly out of virtuous lives based on spiritual realization of the selfless Buddha heart, namely the Buddha heart of Zen, and so realize the happiness and fortune for which men long. Weapons may stave off for a time the dreaded Red ideology, but to entrust ourselves to a democracy which merely cloaks the arrogance of some political “boss” would equally be the end of all hope of peace and prosperity.