This Month’s Message: Wrinkles of the Mind

Oyasama once said to a follower:

“If wrinkled paper is left as it is, it can be used only as toilet paper or as paper to blow one’s nose. . . . When the mind becomes completely wrinkled, it becomes like the toilet paper. Saving such minds, rather than discarding them, is the principle of this path.”

Anecdotes of Oyasama, no. 45

A centipede moves by skillfully using its many legs—except for the two front legs, which are held up and do not seem to be performing any useful function. When a centipede wants to change its direction, however, the front legs play a crucial role in helping the animal maneuver. In fact, a centipede would be unable to change its direction without the front legs.

Just as animals in the natural world adapt themselves to their environments to survive, so humans do what they can to survive. Some become aggressive and hostile, some adopt an indifferent or impolite attitude to strengthen their defense, some curry favor with someone powerful by acting obsequiously, some avoid competition, some have developed nerves of steel, and so on. People have their own defense mechanisms and strategies.

What we might regard as shortcomings in others might be there for reasons valid from their own point of view. Rejecting those aspects of their character out of hand might be like discarding wrinkled paper. Doing so might have a negative effect on us, as well.

There is nothing wrong with people having different characteristics. Diversity, as well as adaptability, has been crucial to enabling humankind to survive and thrive in different, changing environments.

Finding shortcomings in others may be easy; recognizing positive characteristics in them requires insight. Those who are adept at helping others be saved are skillful in discerning and bringing out the positive qualities hidden behind what appear to be shortcomings in them. Helping to bring out the best in others will also reveal our own positive traits. There are things that only those with their specific qualities can do. Like a centipede’s front legs, some characteristics that might ordinarily seem less than useful could prove invaluable when a crucial moment is at hand. Oyasama’s profound intention is behind each and every person.

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