Heart of the Lotus, International (in Japanese : Zaikebukkyo Kokoronokai), KOKORONOKAI in short, is a non-religious Buddhist organization established in Tokyo, Japan on Nov. 18 2004. Based on that date, Kokoronokai may seem to be rather new, but it is an organization that has been eighty years in the making.
The activities and movements of Kokoronokai are based on the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, especially as they are set forth in the Lotus Sutra.
The founder of Kokoronokai is Dr. Tsugunari Kubo, an internationally known scholar and specialist in the study of the Lotus Sutra. His father, the late Kakutaro Kubo, was also well known as the initiator of the unprecedented large scale development of no-religious lay Buddhist activities in Japan, which he catalyzed through his foundation of an organization named Reiyukai in 1930.
Based on his academic research on the Lotus Sutra that validated the concepts of the original movement founded by his father, Dr. Kubo—together with his wife Katsuko Kubo, and numerous other supporters—established Kokoronokai in order to realize the ideal of the personal practice depicted in the Lotus Sutra that Kakutaro Kubo initially tried to bring to life through the Reiyukai movement.
Kokoronokai is now promoting a movement which, in essence, is a practical implementation of something that the Buddha taught. That is to say, we are putting Buddhism into action. That action is striving to “open ourselves to others and to be openly receptive toward them in turn.”
On a daily basis—during the course of our everyday activities—we strive to show to the people with whom we interact that we are in a “space” where feelings can be extended and received openly and sincerely, and that they are welcome to be in that space as well. That is our constant endeavor.
We would very much like to invite you to take up this endeavor for yourselves.
Although we sincerely invite you to take up this activity, it is not a request or a recommendation to join our—or any other—organization. We do hope, however, that you might aspire to give this endeavor a try.
But before actually taking up this endeavor, you may well wonder, “What will happen?” Actually, beginning from that frame of mind, nothing may happen. We hope instead that, in undertaking this activity, your initial frame of mind becomes, “How will I go about doing it?”
You may also wonder, “Is there some significance in aspiring to undertake something like this?” When you experience the result of actually being able to build a reciprocal dynamic of openness and receptivity with someone, you will sense the significance of your aspiration. This is the Buddhism—and particularly, the essential aspect of living—that is being set forth in the Lotus Sutra.
As was said at the beginning, we strive—on a daily basis—to show to the people with whom we interact during the course of our everyday activities that we are in a “space” where feelings can be extended and received openly and sincerely, and that they are welcome to be with us in that space as well. This is a teaching that Shakyamuni Buddha put forth in the Lotus Sutra. In light of this, we think that it is meaningful to take a new look at Buddhism, and therein lies the origin of our movement.
There are many ways to practice Buddhism. In Kokoronokai our effort is to incorporate the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha into the normal activities of everyday life. It is an effort that generates awareness and contentment.
Roots of Kokoronokai
In the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake that struck Tokyo, Japan, in 1923, a man named Kakutaro Kubo observed that, confronted with massive destruction juxtaposed against otherwise rapid modernization, many people were in a state of confusion. He felt that people somehow needed to acquire enough wisdom to cope with such difficult situations and regain a sense of solid footing, and he expected the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha could play an important role in that. But, traditionally, only the clergy had been the main bearers of the wisdom that could be obtained from the Buddha’s teachings, so he felt the need for an approach through which ordinary people could acquire that wisdom, which would then guide them to lead their own fruitful lives.
A national education system had been established in the late 19th century in Japan, and by the beginning of the 20th century most people in Japan had become literate. Kakutaro Kubo realized the significance of this development. After years of personally studying and practicing Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings as they were particularly revealed in the Lotus Sutra, he, together with Yasukichi and Kimi Kotani, formulated a simple practice that enabled people to grasp the basic wisdom of Shakyamuni’s teachings in the Lotus Sutra and put them to beneficial use in their daily lives. It was the first time that such a method was made available for everyday people. Prior to that innovation, reading of the sutra and practice of its teachings had been the prerogative of the educated elite and the professional clergy; it was not common for people outside of those circles to be encouraged to seek wisdom for daily living through reading the Lotus Sutra—or any other sutra— on their own.
Kubo perceived that principles in the Lotus Sutra dealt with human psychology and the day-to-day realities of living, and that they related to human understanding and improvement. As such, those principles could easily be applied within the normal structure of everyday life. Consequently, they could be used by everyone, independently of, or in concert with, their established personal spiritual practices. Kubo realized that, just as any scientific principle can be discovered (or rediscovered), experienced, and utilized by any scientist, the principles of the Lotus Sutra could also be rediscovered, experienced, and utilized by anyone for the enrichment of his or her own daily process of living.
Shakyamuni Buddha's Timeless Wisdom
Some 2500 years ago, a man named Siddhartha Gautama lived in India. Though he himself was raised in the midst of royalty, wealth, and comfort, when he saw that human beings and other creatures were suffering and inflicting harm on each other in their struggle for survival, he felt deep sorrow and wondered how the well being of all beings could be secured. He constantly pondered how all beings could live without suffering and conflict. Seeking to resolve this question, he abandoned his luxurious life as a prince and set out on a personal quest for an answer. For six years he searched and tried various approaches to gain the understanding he sought. At the age of 35, his dedication and perseverance were rewarded. Gautama perceived that all things in the world are interconnected and form a network of mutual support. The interrelationships within this network are so broad and intricate that the apparent separation and differentiation of one thing from another is not as substantial as it may seem. Accordingly, all beings are equally important because they all play their own irreplaceable role in the vast network of interconnection, and no particular being deserves special importance. He further perceived that the delusive notion of an “independent self” evolves and gains strength because of ignorance of the interrelationships between all things. The thirst of this “independent self” for validation, and its drive for survival become the sources of its own sufferings and the sufferings it inflicts upon others. In order to become free from this delusional and harmful idea of “self in isolation,” Gautama saw that it would be [is] necessary to change the patterns of thought and behavior that lead to the notion of separation and difference. He perceived that the simple act of appreciating and valuing other beings and things helps to develop the sense of a “self” that is connected to others, and, at the same time, helps to strengthen understanding of the essential unity of all beings. However, he also realized that behaviors based on differentiation and separation were so habitual that dedicated effort would be required to truly overcome them. The difficulty of the challenge notwithstanding, he clearly saw the available paths and their destinations. In basic terms, the more that living beings cling to the notion of “self” in isolation, the more suffering, destruction, and conflict will occur. Conversely, the more that living beings endeavor to recognize and acknowledge other living beings, the more they can lessen suffering and environmental demise. Ideally, if caring efforts are constant and continual, there will come a day when oneness with all beings can be fully experienced. Siddhartha Gautama attained that ultimate level of experience. He grasped the principle of “Dependent Origination,” which describes the nature of interconnection and the way it functions. He recognized the delusion of an “independent self” that is unconnected to others, and he saw how that delusion causes suffering. He realized that one could become free of that delusion and overcome suffering by changing one’s mindsets and behaviors. By doing so he achieved the boundless compassion that embraces all beings, attained enlightenment, and [he] became known as Shakyamuni (“sage of the Shakya clan”), the Buddha, the Awakened One.
The principle of Dependent Origination states that no one thing, being, or idea comes into existence by itself. Any particular thing exists only because it has various connections with other existing things and with things that existed in the past. With this concept in mind one can look at a tree, for example, and have insight into the universe of things that surrounds its reality—from the sun, soil, and rain that nurtured its growth from seedling to maturity, to the way it refreshes our atmosphere with oxygen as a byproduct of its existence, to the shelter and sustenance it provides for other beings. The existence of the tree is related in some way to all these things. In the same vein, we came into existence as human beings owing to our parents—and, by the same token, to all of the people who contributed to their existence. This is to say that we exist in the vast network of time and space interconnections with various other existences, and that we came into being and sustain ourselves within and because of those interconnections. In that regard, the totality of the network that brought forth our existence can also be regarded as our “self” in a broader sense. When looking at such a broader perspective of “self,” it can be seen that: 1) The individual that each of us identifies as our “self” is the sum of all the materials, events, and circumstances that have combined to form and define it; 2) The things that define that “self” are constantly changing, therefore the “self” is constantly changing, and; 3) The “self” does not exist in isolation; in its own process of living, each “self” affects the living process of other beings [selves] and things. In short, this perspective sees the “self” as a manifestation of Dependent Origination. Siddhartha Gautama was able to attain the state of mind in which he freed himself from the delusion of an isolated “self” and became one with the totality of the infinite network of all existences. Therein he attained his ultimate enlightenment. Likewise, the path of such enlightenment can open for us if we are able to escape from the dark tunnel of ego’s narrow perspective and come into the light of recognition of the “self” in its broader sense as it operates within the framework of Dependent Origination.
The Uniqueness of the Lotus Sutra
Shakyamuni Buddha’s discoveries and teachings were recalled by his followers and recorded into collections known as sutras. There are sutras on many subjects from many traditions and schools of thought. Among them are the many sutras of Mahayana Buddhism—a form of Buddhism that teaches that anyone and everyone can attain the enlightenment of a buddha, and emphasizes the value of attaining a feeling of oneness with all beings through recognition and acknowledgement of others. The Lotus Sutra is one of the most renowned sutras of Mahayana Buddhism, and it is particularly noteworthy because of its special emphasis on an ideal of ordinary people sharing Shakyamuni Buddha's experience in their daily process of living: It says that any ordinary person can momentarily glimpse the Buddha’s enlightenment if he or she really aspires to do so. It also says that by accumulating such moments—by experiencing them again and again—a person will slowly build up an understanding of the makeup of Buddha's experience, and can begin to utilize that learning in his or her own life. And it urges those who gain such experiences to encourage others to endeavor to do the same, to the end that the Buddha’s teachings will be extended far and wide.
A Method to Realize an Ideal
Due to the existence of the national compulsory education system, by the second decade of the 20th century access to sutras for reading and recitation was available to everyone and no longer the exclusive domain of the elite. Kakutaro Kubo realized that the time was ripe for a practice that would facilitate realization of the Lotus Sutra’s ideal of ordinary people sharing the Buddha’s experience in their daily lives. The gist of the practice he envisioned—and then created with Yasukichi and Kimi Kotani—is daily action toward developing and strengthening consciousness of the extensive network surrounding our existence. They first compiled the Blue Sutra, a short text designed for daily recitation by anyone. It consists of excerpts from the Unified Lotus Sutra (a one-volume collection of three sutras: the Infinite Meanings Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, and the Sutra of Practice by Meditation on the Bodhisattva All-embracing Goodness). Then, as a tool to facilitate recognition of the reality of the expansiveness of the “self” within the framework of Dependent Origination, they created the Sokaimyo—a symbol representing all of the ancestors of our maternal and paternal families. A person recites the Blue Sutra in front of the Sokaimyo. Any “self” realizations or “self” discoveries that may be experienced during the recitation are then, through discussion or behavior, communicated to others during daily life interactions. Such communication then inspires others to seek their own realizations, and an ongoing chain reaction of understanding is started. Thus did Kakutaro Kubo envision people sharing the Buddha’s experience in their everyday lives.
Sokaimyo: Symbolizing a broadened perspective of “self” along the axis of time
The Sokaimyo is an inscription, in Chinese characters, of maternal and paternal family names. It is written on a strip of paper, which is then mounted on a small wooden or cardboard tablet. Its purpose is to represent and call to mind the existences of all of one’s forebears, from the farthest reaches of one’s ancestry up to one’s biological parents. In other words, it symbolizes the very extensive—but very real—network of interconnection of all of the existences and circumstances that contributed to, and ultimately resulted in, one’s own life. Each person’s Sokaimyo is her or his personal affirmation of interconnection through Dependent Origination. Each person’s existence is actually a direct outcome of the stream of life through which the existences of his or her parents, grandparents, and all ancestors has flowed. When one envisions this long-standing chain of interconnected existences, one becomes more aware that these interconnections are part of the makeup of one’s current “self.” Reflecting on the significance of this ancestral interconnection opens the mind to the understanding that everyone is a living example of Dependent Origination. Recitation of the sutra in this frame of mind allows the sutra’s contents to reinforce and to amplify this understanding.
Because the Unified Lotus Sutra would be virtually impossible to recite on a daily basis, Kakutaro Kubo and Mr. & Mrs. Kotani, as mentioned previously, took excerpts from it and compiled the Blue Sutra for use in the daily practice that they developed. Since the events and experiences surrounding the existence of each person are different, passages in the sutra will not have the same significance for everyone. Rather, people will find relevance within their own frame of reference at the time they are reciting—thus there can be an infinite number of self-insights for all who recite, all stimulated by the same Unified Lotus Sutra text. It is important to understand this aspect of the sutra, because if one approaches it seeking its “inherent meaning” or “teaching,” one will easily overlook its main purpose, which is to help one develop both conscious and subconscious insight into the workings of the principle of Dependent Origination as it functions in daily life. The importance of the Lotus Sutra to the practice originated by Kakutaro Kubo stems from the fact that when one recites from it, one not only learns about the sutra but one also learns about one’s “self.” This means that, rather than finding direct explanations about Dependent Origination, the thoughts and realizations resulting from recitation relate to one’s own condition. The insights are about one’s own strengths and weaknesses, one’s own attitudes and behaviors. One can see how all these factors influence the course of one’s own life, and the lives of others. Consequently, recitation from the sutra calms the mind and body, motivates an examination of one’s approach to living, and prepares one to embrace a broadened perspective of the “self.” That is to say, anyone who seeks to do so can discover the real essence of the “self” within the “heart of the lotus.”
An essential part of the practice that Kakutaro Kubo formulated is the effort to maintain awareness of the discoveries and realizations generated by one's recitation—and then applying them to all that one encounters in daily life. The practice encourages people to always try to view their immediate situation in the context of Dependent Origination, and it offers that an effective way to do this is through emphasizing positive interpersonal exchanges within the framework of human relationships—family members, friends, and acquaintances. Each thing one learns from someone else is a potential contribution to one’s own growth. Because experiences in relationships contribute so much to the formation of the “self,” practitioners are encouraged to organize regular gatherings and activities to provide opportunities for such exchanges. These can take any form, from group meetings (with or without specific themes) to personal meetings. Such gatherings provide opportunities for organizers and interested participants to meet, share thoughts and feelings, learn from and support each other, etc. The foundation for all of them is each individual’s effort to develop a positive attitude and engage in sincere communication with the other attendants. It is an effort to develop communication of such quality and trust that people can effectively bare their souls to one another. Practitioners try to create this kind of relationship with as many people as possible by sharing their experiences of the practice and by being such examples of their own attitude that the same attitude is called forth and echoed in others. By attending such meetings, participants can gain greater understanding on several key points: They often find that they can learn to understand others and take others’ views and perspectives into consideration in their own actions; they can experience concrete examples of the dynamics of Dependent Origination; they can realize the importance of self-motivation; and they can grasp that the process of broadening one’s perspective of “self” takes place within the daily process of living. The method Kakutaro Kubo formulated is a cycle of awareness and action. Recitation practice creates awareness and understanding which can stimulate, enhance, and reinforce the process of—and motivation for—broadening one’s perspective of “self.” Gatherings and activities are forums that provide opportunities to share one’s feelings and discoveries and learn about the efforts of others, which likewise can stimulate, enhance, or reinforce one’s own process and motivation, which are again nurtured by recitation, and so on.
From Reiyukai to “Zaike Bukkyo Kokoronokai”
In 1930, Kakutaro Kubo and Kimi Kotani (Yasukichi Kotani having passed away in 1929) officially established a lay practitioner’s organization they called Reiyukai, and Mrs. Kotani was appointed as the first president. Despite a slow beginning, their determined efforts to convince people of the value of their method of enhancing the process of living began to bear fruit several years later. Although Kubo passed away in 1944, the movement continued to spread throughout Japan, and it played an important role in helping Japanese people to physically and spiritually rebuild the nation following the devastation of World War II. Mrs. Kotani and the members dedicated the organization to nationwide social welfare work. In 1953, her pioneering contributions to such activities in Japan were recognized by the International Red Cross, which invited her to participate in a worldwide study tour. In 1963, she established a scholarship foundation and an educational institution for junior and high school students. Mrs. Kotani passed away in 1971, and Tsugunari Kubo, the son of Kakutaro Kubo, succeeded her and became Reiyukai’s second president. Recognizing that the fundamental elements of the practice conceived by his father related to all human beings and were not limited by cultural or national boundaries, Tsugunari Kubo began to expand the movement internationally, establishing active Reiyukai centers in eighteen countries from 1972 through the early 1990s. Parallel to the effort to internationalize the organization, Tsugunari Kubo also strived to refocus the vision of the organization in Japan. Kubo understood that his father’s concept emphasized that people not lose sight of how their efforts to keep pace with the challenges of everyday life in contemporary society influenced that society itself. Since members were achieving personal happiness, it seemed that the organization’s ideas were being validated. But Kubo noticed that the important aspects of self-awakening, outreach, and social engagement were often being overlooked in actual practice. He realized that the public perception of Reiyukai had become different from what he knew his father’s intention to be. Desiring to change this trend and reestablish the original conceptual foundations that were envisioned by his father, Tsugunari Kubo endeavored to make various changes, including administrative reform and development of new activities in the form of outreach programs. But in spite of his initiatives, the organizational response was very slow—the very scale of the organization was too great to quickly bring about drastic changes. After several years of internal efforts, Tsugunari Kubo finally concluded that in order to materialize Kakutaro Kubo’s ideal, there was no other way but to form a new organization that exemplified it as an actual movement in society. Thus, to reestablish recognition and perception of Kakutaro Kubo’s original vision of a practice that fostered liberation from ego’s narrow perspective of the “self,” understanding of the equality of all beings, and self-motivation to set cycles of awareness and action into motion, Tsugunari Kubo, along with his wife Katsuko Kubo and the leaders and members who shared their convictions, founded and inaugurated “Zaike Bukkyo Kokoronokai”* in November of 2004. “Equality,” “Liberation,” and “Self-motivation” became the guiding points for Kokoronokai members.
*(In shortened form, “Kokoronokai.” The direct English translation is, “The Heart of Lay Buddhism Association, or “The Essential Lay Buddhism Association,” but the association is more commonly referred to in English as, “Heart of the Lotus, International”)
Several years after the establishment of “Zaike Bukkyo Kokoronokai,” Tsugunari Kubo and other founding members felt the necessity of making the organization’s ideals even more easily accessible to all people. So, in addition to the above-mentioned fundamental practices for Kokoronokai members, they initiated a corollary movement with the slogan, “A formula for happiness is lending an ear to others and giving sincere words to what you feel.” This movement—which can be implemented by anyone, anywhere, even without becoming a member of the organization—fundamentally characterizes the Kokoronokai Principles. We believe that these Principles, listed below, reflect the very essence of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching as particularly revealed in the Lotus Sutra, as well as Kakutaro Kubo’s original vision that is now being actualized through Kokoronokai.
The Kokoronokai Principles
Sticking adamantly to our own views or opinions confines us to a narrow outlook and makes it difficult to recognize—much less to understand or accept—the views of others. We follow the path of Shakyamuni Buddha, who sought and accomplished a way to break free from the tyranny of limited perspectives. The perfectly comprehensive perspective he attained transcends any and all fixed views; therefore, as long as we mindlessly hold on to our own views, we can neither glimpse, nor even imagine, the meaning or content of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment. Accordingly: Our practice to escape the limits of our own views begins with lending a non-judgmental ear to others. We constantly endeavor to understand the views of others by thoroughly listening to them until their expression of the full range of their feelings is complete. Giving others the freedom to express themselves without bias or restriction may provide them a sense of relief, and may allow feelings that have long been buried within them to emerge into the light of their own awareness. At the same time, our effort to listen to them without judgment may help broaden our own perspective—hearing others may motivate us to take stock of ourselves and to express our own feelings. When it is our turn to give sincere words to our feelings, we endeavor to tell the true story. The exercise of narrating our true situation is to sincerely relate our experiences as they are rather than just mindlessly reciting our own views. It is honestly relating what we have learned about ourselves after honest self-observation and reflection. Through this practice it becomes a habit to always express ourselves honestly and to allow feelings that may have long been buried within us to emerge into the spotlight of our own awareness. And, in turn, by hearing our honest narrations, others may be encouraged to take stock of themselves and to speak openly of their own experiences. The aim and objective of Kokoronokai’s practice is to bring about a chain of awareness that starts from ourselves, is passed along to the people close to us, and further passed along ultimately to all the people in the world. We believe that such an extension of self-awareness brings about not only self-understanding but also will create deep mutual understanding in families, neighborhoods, and eventually in the world at large. Such mutual understanding will then bring about real happiness and unity in our society. Shakyamuni Buddha showed us a way to achieve this, and it is our challenge and our task to, as he
suggested, build a chain of awareness that can link people together so that we can materialize happiness and unity through mutual understanding. This is what Kokoronokai is trying to achieve.
Kokoronokai’s Role in Global Society
When we hear and read the almost daily tragic news reports of regional, ethnic, and religious conflicts, and see how “differences” become pretexts for division, destruction, and killing, we are often moved to wonder what kinds of things can reconnect us as human beings by turning our attention away from “differences” and focusing on our commonality and essential oneness. Through its practice and activities, Kokoronokai can be effective in this regard. As Kokoronokai members become more and more conscious of the existence and significance of the infinite interconnections surrounding them, and then endeavor to create the same consciousness in others through their own behavioral examples and by inviting others to experience the practice, an awareness of the fundamental oneness of all beings can spread. If enough people take such an approach to develop and share this feeling of oneness, ultimately it can be spread to all over the world. But prior to dreaming about accomplishing such an ultimate goal, we must first make sure to realize it within our closest relationships. That is to say, we must begin with our families, neighborhoods, friends, and colleagues. If we can establish mutually open-minded daily communications with those closest to us by implementing the Kokoronokai Principles and practices, the improvements in our lives will become clearly apparent. Our own positive efforts will positively influence others in turn. We believe that such slow, steady daily efforts of each individual build up the foundation that is essential for further development. Trying to increase mutual understanding with your family or friends little by little is a sure step that can be taken at this moment, but is also an effort that can have effects that reach far into the future.