【Firstly, embrace and own the teachings: then putting them into practice is essential 】
As we welcome October, the days should be in the “cool season of autumn (shuurei no koh)”… unlike other years, however, autumn in New York took its time to arrive this year. It is only in the last 4-5 days that the autumn season, when we feel the pleasant fresh winds, had finally come.
Now, together with the arrival of autumn, we observe one of the major rites of Buddhism, Higan-e, which is one of the traditions in Japan, not practiced in other countries.
Buddhism started in India, and was introduced to Japan through China, and the Korean peninsula. Although we call Higan-ea Buddhist rite, the tradition to visit the grave during this particular period is unique to Japan.
It is said that Prince Shotoku, under whoBuddhism flourished in Japan, was the first to conduct the Higan ritual.
Higan means to “go to the other shore” – that is to attain the state of enlightenment and parinirva, or to reach the state of experiencing true liberation. The word Higanis derived from the Sanskrit term “paramita (to go to the other shore).”
To be swayed by various phenomena in our daily lives, feeling lost and suffering in the world of reality – in other words, from “this shore” – to go to the “other shore.” Or we can consider this as designated time to practice with aspiration to go to the other shore.
Every year in spring and autumn, at least twice a year, we should be keep this “intent” in our hearts, wholeheartedly visit our ancestors’ graves, be grateful for the “life” we have received, and at the same time bear in mind how to use this “life” we have been given.
Concretely, this means to put into practice the Six Paramitas (Six Perfections).
Six Paramitas are donation, keeping the precepts, forbearance, diligence, meditation and wisdom. These are the six virtues to put into practice.
When my sister and I were young, my mother would always tell us a story on the days when special Buddhist services – such as Urabon-e or Higan-e – were held. The story was “The Spider’s Thread,” a children’s literature by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.
In those days, when my sister and I lay under the futon at the end of the day, my mother would often read such tales of old Japan to us. “The Spider’s Thread” was one of the stories she repeatedly read over and over to us.
One day, Shakyamuni was walking by the edge of a lotus pond. The lotus flowers were white as pearls and an indescribably delicate fragrance rising from them filled the air.
When Shakyamuni looked down through a clear patch of water between those lotus flowers to the depth of hell which was at the bottom of the pond, he noticed a man named Kandata. This man was a criminal who had committed many wicked deeds, such as murders and robberies.
Shakyamuni, however, remembered that Kandata had once acted with kindness. One day, when Kandata was walking through a thick forest, he saw a little spider and was about to crush it to death with his foot. But he spared the spider’s life saying, “Even a little creature such as this has life.” As reward for his one good deed of kindness, Shakyamuni wished to liberate Kandata from hell.
Shakyamuni took a spider that was nearby and gently lowered its thread down to hang in front of Kandata who was suffering in hell.
When Kandata saw the thread, he grasped the thread and joyfully started to climb up.
He looked down at one point and saw other criminals from hell climbing up behind him.
Oh no! This is terrible! I’m in a fix! If the thread breaks because of all these people’s weight, I also will not be liberated. So he shouted loudly, “This thread is mine and only for me! Get off! Get off!” At that very moment, the thread snapped and Kandata fell into hell again.
Every time our mother told us this story, she would admonish us saying, “First, think of others. Such attitude is important.” Then she added, “If your attitude is: ‘As long as I’m fine,’ caring only about yourself, the Buddha will be saddened by your attitude.”
Now as an adult, when I consider this “Spider’s Thread,” which I had heard since I was very young, there are various things that come to mind.
First, that Kandata was a criminal, but he also had a compassionate heart and buddha nature. All sentient beings have buddha nature. Also this story illustrates how the egoistic attitude of “as long as it is what I like” will drive us to our ruin, and makes us aware of how important it is to have consideration for others.
With everything, even with things that anyone obviously can understand in theory, when we are actually facing our problems, are we able to put into practice the teachings we have always being taught?
On September 13, during his guidance at the Invocation Ceremony for Gohonzon, President Niwano said, “If you take weaving as an example for the Truth of Universe, the “warp” would be the teachings and the “woof” would be the practice. It is only when we have both, we can start to become liberated.
We have all encountered the truly great teachings. Let us give life to these teachings by embracing and owning them.
After all, it is only when “we put the teachings into practice” that we can start to become liberated.
New York Center Minister