Light up one corner
By Seishin Clark
In the “Sange-gakushoshiki” Ven Saicho said;
“What are a nation’s treasures? True riches are one’s faith in Buddha, and those who call it so, and therefore it has from times long ago been said that true riches are not material things but that which shines light into a dark corner.”
The word “light” lends itself to various different interpretations and taken as a verb, what it means ‘to light’ can also have a variety of meanings.
Light as Wisdom
In the Buddhist sense, ‘light’ is always seen as a symbol of prajña, or ‘wisdom’. This kind of wisdom is not intellectual knowledge, but insight into the true nature of reality. So in this sense, ‘to light up’ can mean to bring wisdom to a situation or a place.
Light as the Dharma
This wisdom light, then, becomes synominous with the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, as it is through the Dharma that one is able to gain Wisdom. Therefore, the phrase can also mean to bring the Dharma to our lives, to our homes, our cities or our country. It is encouraging us to becomes transmitters and teachers of the Dharma, which also means we must gain the proper training and knowledge through the proper channels (teachers/institutions etc). The phrase then, is also encouraging us to encounter, to study and understand the Dharma, as well as bring it to others.
Light as Support and Happiness
To light, or to brighten, can also mean to give support. This can be emotional support, physical support, financial support etc. To, ‘to light one corner’ can mean to give, which is one of the Pāramitās (perfections) known as Dāna. In giving, we are not only illuminating others, we also illuminate ourselves. Giving selflessly without any thought of reward changes us and makes us more compassionate beings. This selfless giving brings great joy and happiness to both the giver and receiver.
Light as Bodhisattva activity/Engaged Buddhism
So, as we can see, ‘to light’ can be seen as the activity of a Bodhisattva who selflessly puts others above themselves in helping others in any way possible. This highlights the importance of what has become known as “Engaged Buddhism”.
One corner – Who’s corner?
So, taking the above into consideration, what is the meaning of ‘one corner’? At first glance it would seem to be taking about a place, but as we can see from the above, this can mean a place, or a person, or ourselves. This last one tends to be overlooked in the west, and I’m not sure why. We are in need of all the above, just as much as everyone else, and we shouldn’t sit around and just wait for others to help us. We need to help ourselves, and there’s no shame in that. Being compassionate to ourselves does not mean we are ‘kow tow’-ing to our ego, we are simply acknowledging that we are selfish and ignorant, so it is important that we practice the path, to illuminate ourselves, and to gain wisdom. However, this doesn’t mean we should ignore others. Until we are enlightened we won’t be free of our selfish thoughts, but we can still help others, we can still do charitable works and we can still practice generosity.
‘Light up one corner’ – Being the Treasure of a Nation
I believe that this is what Ven Saicho meant when he encouraged us to become the ‘Treasure of a Nation’. When Ven Saicho first created his training and ordination platform on Mt Hiei, he stipulated very strict and rigorous training for his students. He believed that, in order to effectively work for the benefit of others, one needs to have reached a high level of practice and understanding of the Dharma. Although the training is not as rigorous these days, the sentiment still remains. We must do our best to ‘lighten up one corner’ at any given moment or place, be it our own lives, or the lives of others.
On the 4th day of each month, the Tendai school observes ‘Ichigu wo terasu day’ during which we carry out cleaning, copying sutras, alms giving, and other such altruistic efforts.
In 1969 the ‘Brighten the World at Your Corner’ movement was created by the Tendai Shu to do charitable work around the world. http://ichigu.net/foreign/