Excerpts from Invisible Eyelashes (pg. 38-41) by Nikkyo Niwano


“…In Buddhism we have the terms “transient self” and “true self”. The former is possessed of the physical body and spirit and is the self that laughs and suffers through daily life. According to Zen, there is also a true self, which existed before our parents gave us life. The true self is a child of the Buddha, imbued at birth with the life of a Buddha.

Daisetz Zuzuki (1870-1966), who introduced Zen to the West, said, “Within the self there is still another self”. He explained that the first self is mutable and the other self is aware of the first. This second self is the essential, or true, self. This is rather difficult terminology, so I refer to the “observed self” and the “seeing self”. What is significant is that everyone has this other “seeing self”…

Conscience and introspection are functions of the seeing self. Sometimes we blurt out things that hurt others and do things that cause lasting resentment. For the most part, we do these things when we forget ourselves and lose our temper, but forgetting oneself is treacherous, and it means that one has lost one’s seeing self. There are also times when, stepping off the straight road of life, we indulge in pleasures and even perversities, and merely pass our days without cultivating the true nature we are born with. We frequently come to such forks in the road of daily life, and if we can return to ourselves and put the seeing self to work, we can avoid the dangers of the byroads and stick to the true path…”


Founder Niwano continues to give examples of the working of the seeing self through stories. He tells of the poet and Zen Priest, Ryokan (1758-1831) who came from the same Prefecture as himself and whom he had a fondness for.


“…Ryokan had a nephew named Umanosuke, who lived with Ryokan’s parents and completely abandoned himself to dissolute ways. Whatever anyone said, he would not give up his immoral life, so his friends and relatives went to Ryokan…[and] persuaded him to return to his home village to talk to Umanosuke and try to straighten him our. Ryokan went back home for three days, but in all that time he uttered not a word of rebuke to Umanosuke. As he prepared for the return journey and started to put on his sandals, he couldn’t seem to tie them properly. He turned to Umanosuke and asked him to tie the thongs for him. Relieved that Ryokan had said nothing at all during his visit, Umanosuke kneeled down and tied the thongs. But as he was doing this, a teardrop fell on his hand. Startled, he looked up and saw tears running down Ryokan’s face. Umanosuke completely gave up his old ways that very day.

Deep inside, however wayward a person might be, he or she is endowed with the buddha-nature (the potential for buddhahood). In this case, Umanosuke was awakened to his buddha-nature by Ryokan’s tears of great compassion. From within his dissolute and unruly transient self, his true self rose to the surface. Ryokan was known to appreciate an old poem that asked if one could see into someone’s heart by looking them in the eye. Someone whose face shows no trace of sorrow may yet be full of grief. Ryokan undoubtedly saw Umanosuke’s grief in his eyes. That was why he prepared to return without a word of rebuke. I think it was when Ryokan felt Umanosuke’s troubles as his own that he began to weep…”

“Let your “seeing self” watch over what you say and do, and you will know what is the right thing to do.”