The Vow of Humankind:

Talks by Shin'ichi Hisamatsu

FAS Society Journal, Winter 1988-89, pp.7-14
Translated by Chris Ives from Hisamatsu Shin'ichi Chosakushû, Vol. III, pp. 250-262. Originally presented as talks (teikô) at Weekly Meetings in 1952 at Senbutsuji temple, Kyoto.

Become fully compassionate humans


Today I turn to the next section of the Vow of Humankind, "become fully compassionate humans." The previous section, "calm and composed, let us awaken to our True Self," refers to our becoming highly composed and awakening to the True Self, and this is a matter of one's own self-interest, self-discipline, or self-cultivation. Yet, if it is merely our discipline or cultivation, it is incomplete. We are living communal and social lives, so we must take other people into account. For this reason our being highly compassionate and having a merciful heart in response to others are required.

This approach usually amounts to love. A human being possessing love makes other feel its warmth, whereas not possessing a heart of love is truly lonely. No matter how complete one's practice or cultivation, a person unconcerned about others is an extremely cold human being. Moreover, viewed from a certain angle, such a person has not truly completed his or her practice. Having a fully compassionate heart in relation to others is necessary for completing one's practice. Without having a desire to somehow have others pursue practice or be saved, an individual cannot be deemed to have completed practice or even really pursued it. For this reason, such concern for others constitutes one type of practice.

Even in religious practice, some feel it is too difficult to consider other from the start, from the point in time when one is involved in one's own situation. This feeling is widespread even amongst those who are earnestly pursuing practice. It is understandable for people to think that when one is practicing hard for oneself and putting complete effort into practice one cannot afford to worry about others, or that as long as one earnestly pursues one's practice there is nothing wrong and no need to worry about others. This attitude, however, amounts to self-interest devoid of altruism and such discipline becomes very cold. One's practice must include a heart that yearns for others to practice and to be saved along with oneself. True individual practice contains a concern for others. Selfish practice, however, differs greatly from this. Becoming concerned with others only after completing one's own cultivation fall short of the true spirit of practice. Being concerned about others from the start brings warmth into one's own cultivation. Although this seems quite difficult, it is essential.

In Buddhism, practice, self-benefit, and the benefit of others constitute an indivisible whole, as indicated by the practice of "the fulfillment of self-benefit and the benefit of others." This approach reflects the attitude that one's practice is conducted for the sake of others. When we discern this, we see that it is not the case that one practices for oneself but, rather that one practices for others. Practicing not for oneself but for the benefit of all sentient beings is what comes first here. In the past, when I practiced I felt that my practice came first and that practice done for others came later. It seemed unthinkable that one starts working for others without first engaging in one's own practice, so I believed I first had to practice for myself. But I did not understand the vow, "However innumerable living beings are, I vow to save them," which is the first line of The Fourfold Great Vow:

However innumerable living beings are, I vow to save them;
However inexhaustible the passions are, I vow to extinguish them;
However immeasurable the Dharma is, I vow to master it;
However incomparable the Buddha Way is, I vow to attain it.
I really couldn't comprehend the first line at that time, so in effect I read this vow form the line, "However inexhaustible the passions are, I vow to extinguish them," thinking that I could in no way say "However innumerable living beings are, I vow to save them" as long as I had not exhausted my own passions. Whenever I read The Fourfold Great Vow, in my heart I would leave "However innumerable living beings are, I vow to save them" for later and begin with "However inexhaustible the passions are, I vow to extinguish them." Though at first I considered this the proper attitude, as I thought about it my true feeling became apparent and I gradually realized that "However innumerable living beings are, I vow to save them" must come at the beginning.

I realized that one's study and discipline must be done for all people. The starting point of practice is where one's salvation and the fulfillment of the Buddhist path are practiced for the sake of the vow, "However innumerable living beings are, I vow to save them." Prior to self-benefit comes the benefit of others; this is something we must discern. Self-benefit and the benefit of others run parallel from the beginning and are interwoven all along the way. Practicing for oneself is for the sake of others, and practicing for others is for one's own sake. We must not simply secure our own practice and also the practice of others -- we must go a step further and reach the point where practice for oneself is in no way different from practice for the sake of others. This is a very exalted thing for human beings, and when this kind of spirit exists in a society it make the society a truly warm one. This kind of love is crucial in religion.

Christianity asserts that "God is love," for God's essence is love. It is even said that love is God. This is very important. We cannot reach this understanding through mere knowledge or morality. Forgiving sins and loving beyond considerations of good and evil is something transcendent of the domain of knowledge and morality. In the context of morality, a moral heart always acts justly; it censures evil in others and praises just action. In terms of moralism, those who perpetrate evil must be punished. And for this reason a moral heart cannot forgive sins. Forgiving sins, forgiving evil, loving evil people, seeing evil people as dear; all of these are impossible in morality. In morality the evil person must be punished. A heart which views an evil person as dear never emerges; in fact, morality cannot begin to comprehend such a heart.

Seeing an evil person as dear or pitiable is, metaphorically speaking, parental love. To a parent, even a prodigal son is dear. In this affection functions a truly compassionate heart. From the outset there appears in such people the heart that pities evil people, cannot endure this situation of evil, and wants to do something about it. Such people strive to do something positive; they sympathize with the person who has done evil, feel compassion for that person, without any sense of hatred. This kind of magnanimous heart exists in parents, although outsiders cannot understand it. When we become the evil person's brother or sister our attitude changes greatly, and when we become parents we embody the heart that sees a prodigal son as exceedingly dear.

In a way, this attitude transcends reason. It is similar to what Shinran means by "Even a good person attains rebirth in the Pure Land; how much more so an evil person." These are usually taken to be immoral words. The notion of going to paradise seems directed toward evildoers. The idea that an evil person is the most appropriate religious awareness is viewed as a teaching created in response to wrongdoers. Many believe that these words reflect the depth and vastness of Amida Buddha's mercy. In Christianity, the God of love forgives inborn sin, so-called original sin. God shoulders the burden of all humans' fundamental sin. Because the situation of humans is piteous, God expiates our sins -- there is atonement. How exalted and warm is such a heart! Rather than saying this heart feels love toward a virtuous person, we must say that this heart is a vast, deep, and warm heart. The presence of such a heart warms the world, and the more people there are with such a heart the brighter, warmer, and more just the world becomes. It is in this regard that, independent of any punishment for sins, the final outcome of this love becomes moral. The situation of evildoers is not a matter of saving them through reproachment for their sins; rather, a person evil beyond salvation is forgiven. There is a person who forgives and through this person's existence human beings change. Even those who cannot change when treated form a moral standpoint exhibit deep conversion and spiritual development through the forgiving of sin from a standpoint transcendent of morality. This kind of love is for humans something that is necessary prior to morality; it is demanded from the very beginning.

Sometimes we encounter the expression, "The water is pure, but in it live no fish." People who stand solely in a moral standpoint are pure and clean but have no tolerance, no great, warm heart with which to forgive evildoers. Just as pure water is cold, such a person's heart is certainly cold. Good people can abide in this cold water where evil actions are sought out and reproached, but there is no place for evil people. Of course, what I am proposing here is not mere forgiveness of sin; rather, through forgiveness, an evildoer is saved and his or her heart is changed. This is very important in the human world. In Buddhism, the fully compassionate heart is considered crucial, as reflected in the saying, "The heart of Buddha is Great Mercy." In a like manner, Christianity says, "Love is God's nature."

Certain people contend that love will not be needed if we improve society. That is to say, love is necessary because society has many faults, but if the entire society were to become economically healthy and all desired objects were attained, a loving heart would no longer be necessary. To me, this viewpoint is mistaken. Love does not derive from a lack or an abundance of things. Love is always important and the attainment of various things does not render love unnecessary. Love can be thought of as something which precedes those things.

A world without love is extremely cold and lonely. When we consider our situation, we tend to feel this loneliness. In this respect, the present world can be called a world without love. If one looks at conditions in Japan after World War II, one sees a prevalence of such ideas as "As long as I'm okay, no problem"; "As long as I can work and study, there is no problem"; "I'm all right if I can do my practice"; "There's no problem as long as I make a profit"; If only I make the train I'll be all right"; and "Other people don't matter -- I'll worry about them later." Such highly egotistical ideas have been rationalized up to the present. Even if the end is good, the means to the end are egotistical, so this becomes quite cold. I think this problem must truly be reflected upon in religious organizations like the FAS Society. If you feel you have completed your practice or study and hence have no more business here, your are a very cold and self-centered individual. In actuality, the more we complete our study and practice, the more we want to use all our might to pull up those who are not as far along or who cannot study or practice. If this kind of heart were to disappear, this would become a terribly cold organization.

I have recently felt that to make the world a bit warmer, a little more love must emerge in human hearts. Had there been a greater number of warm and compassionate hearts in the past, the world would not have become so cold, dark, and lonely. In contrast, the world might have become quite comfortable to live in, quite harmonious. Our present world exists as it is because "fully compassionate hearts" are lacking. Judging from the present situation of the world, it might reasonably be said that we cannot afford to possess such a heart. But I feel that the heart that says this is coldest and must be done away with first.

Warm an fully compassionate hearts are extremely desirable for this organization. With such hearts, members of our organization link together and gather here for each other's sake. This is essential. If we possess a heart where even when the practice is boring we try to make it worthwhile for others -- rather than a heart that sees going to FAS activities as boring -- FAS will become warm and congenial. If we spread this warmth externally, in the same way a charcoal fire lights in one spot and spreads, everyone in this room will become warm. When each of us becomes a charcoal fire, this warmth can extend to those around us, the places we find ourselves, and the places to which we go. In actuality, we can practice without being restricted by time and place. In Buddhism, it is said that practice for oneself has a termination point, whereas Great Compassion is inexhaustible. Practice for others is eternally boundless. This Inexhaustible Great Compassion is the foundation of the compassionate vows of Mahayana Buddhism. The practice in which one and others are the same no matter how far along one has progressed, and in which one's practice is for others, continues without restriction. For example, if one is saved and that seems to be enough, one can go no further. But, if one is saved and yet wants to somehow do something for others, one's practice will continue to advance forever without weariness or any loss of interest.

I would like all of you to somehow possess this kind of heart. When I reflect on my own past, I realize that I an not in a position to exhort this. But it is crucial to have such a heart, such a desire, such a compassionate vow. Regardless of one's life circumstances, that is, no matter how involved one is with one's own affairs and apparently unable to work for the benefit of others, to the extent one becomes concerned for others, this concern will warm and purify one's heart. On the other hand, when one merely thinks about one's own affairs, one's heart becomes increasingly hardened and dissolute. We must resolve to be concerned for others form the very beginning. A highly compassionate heart must be our deepest desire, and the most deeply compassionate heart is God's love or Buddha's compassion. Because there is a slight difference in contend between God's love in Christianity and Buddha's compassion, we cannot view them as identical. In Buddhism, awakening is most fundamental. That is to say, wisdom is most fundamental and inseparable from compassion. This is called "the compassionately functioning awakened Self" and therein lies a point of difference from Christianity: in Christianity there is no awakened Self. I would like to consider this point at a later time, but suffice it to say at this time that both compassion and love are extremely important for human beings.

In the realm of love, the state of being loved is usually desired. Humans want to be loved; we want to be treated with affection by others. This desire is a fact of life and at the same time a matter of primer importance for us. In this organization, "becoming a fully compassionate human being" does not involve such passive love; rather, it stresses starting from oneself and possessing a loving heat in response to others. This is not the love of wanting to be loved by other people -- it must be understood as an attempt to love others, as an active and positive desire. Christianity asserts that people are loved by God. Of course this is important, but possessing a loving heat and functioning on that basis is more ultimate than the heat that wants to be loved. I thus interpret becoming "fully compassionate human beings" as active and positive love.

There are, however, numerous forms of love. We must consider this next. We also need to examine the relationship between love and the awakening to our True Self. They possess a close and necessary relationship that must be probed in greater detail. I will attempt this next time.

***To be continued***

December 8, 1996