Oneness of Life and Environment
Study made easy
What is the key to changing my circumstances? How can I positively impact this increasingly turbulent world?
Nichiren Buddhism offers a simple solution to such questions: Change starts with “me.” The basis of this solution is found in the Buddhist principle of the “oneness of life and its environment,” which describes the interconnectedness between people and their surroundings.
In this principle, “life” refers to the self, and “environment” refers to our surroundings, including our families, communities and workplaces, as well as the landscape upon which we live and all life that fills it.
“Oneness” is another way of expressing the idea in Buddhism of “two but not two.” Although the people and things in our environment appear as distinct and separate from us, all things share an underlying nature or essence, what’s referred to as “the true aspect of all phenomena.” Nichiren Daishonin called this the Mystic Law, or Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. And he compares this interconnectedness, or oneness, to a body and its shadow, stating: “Environment is like the shadow, and life, the body. Without the body, no shadow can exist, and without life, no environment. In the same way, life is shaped by its environment” (“On Omens,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 644).
For better or for worse, we shape the environment as much as the environment shapes us. When people’s inner lives are misguided or unbalanced, the environment—human society, the ecosystem and the planet itself—is negatively influenced. In turn, a fouled environment functions to pollute the bodies, hearts and minds of those living within it. The ongoing destruction of nature, in this light, is connected with people’s ignorance of or lack of appreciation for the true nature and value of life.
The same applies to our own lives. If we are dissatisfied with our circumstances
at home, at work or in our community, or with our relationships with family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and so on, what is the quickest way to transform our situation?
If you don’t like the way your shadow (your surroundings) looks, what do you do?
Whether in the global environment or in our own lives, changing negative tendencies starts by looking within. Nichiren writes: “If the minds of living beings are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds” (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” WND-1, 4).
In other words, by transforming our hearts and minds, we can transform even the most negative environment into a positive one.
The way to achieve this inner transformation, or human revolution, is by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with belief in our highest potential. Chanting cuts through the delusion that things cannot change, and allows us to directly tap into our Buddhahood—our reservoir of courage, wisdom and compassion—to take the best action for the happiness of ourselves and others.
SGI President Ikeda explains this process in The New Human Revolution, writing: “When people’s hearts change and they arouse great courage, their voice, expression, behavior and spirit also change, and they can transform every aspect of their lives and environment. This is the principle of the oneness of life and its environment” (vol. 26, p. 110).
While more people are becoming aware of the interconnectedness of all life, there are many who pursue their self-interests at any cost, without regard for other people or the environment. But we can definitely alter this trend by striving to do our human revolution.
President Ikeda also writes, “Happiness for the individual alone is impossible, and peace in terms of the environment alone is impossible. There can be no happiness exclusively for the self, or unhappiness exclusively for others. The happier we make others, the happier we are, and as long as a single miserable person exists, our own happiness cannot be complete” (April 2015 Living Buddhism, p. 59).
Ultimately, any lasting change in our circumstances and in the world must start from our inner transformation. And this means breaking out of the mindset of accepting things as they are, thinking, That’s how it’s always been. Our mission as Buddhists is to believe in our power to transform our lives and the world, and to courageously help others awaken to their power too.
SGI PRESIDENT IKEDA’S GUIDANCE
Can we really make the world a better place through our actions as individuals? Or is there nothing we can do on our own?
Nichiren Buddhism is the teaching that dispels this feeling of impotence and pessimism, awakening us to the truth that we are the protagonists who can indeed change the world.
In “The Unanimous Declaration by the Buddhas of the Three Existences,” Nichiren Daishonin writes, “From this single element of mind spring all the various lands and environmental conditions” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 843). This is an affirmation that we can change the world around us by changing our own mindset or attitude.
It may sometimes seem impossible to effect change in a country or the world, but each, ultimately, is just a collection of people, and has been shaped by those people’s thinking and attitudes. That is why an inner transformation in the hearts and minds of human beings themselves is the starting point for genuine change not only in society but in the land and its environmental conditions as well.
Because all of the Buddha’s teachings are “a day-to-day record of one’s own existence” (WND-2, 843), everything starts from one person’s own human revolution. (May 2018 Living Buddhism, p. 42)