Beauty, Gain and Goodness

Beauty, Gain, and Goodness

An Essay by Keith Robinson

 

November 18, 1930 is considered the day Soka Gakkai was founded. Members of Soka Gakkai International honor November 18 as the starting point of the modern movement to spread peace, culture and education through Nichiren Buddhism. [1]

MakiguchiWhat happened that day, 84 years ago, was the publication of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s book The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy. Makiguchi identified three values – beauty, gain and goodness. He thought that the purpose of education – schools, families, and society’s purpose in raising children – should be to teach how to create values. Makiguchi came to believe that his educational philosophy of value found religious expression in Nichiren Buddhism. Nichiren Buddhism, at its core, values the nobility of each individual and actively engages to reform society through transformation of the self. [2]

Let’s briefly examine these three values – beauty, gain and goodness. First, consider beauty. The value of beauty, Makiguchi thought, is that which appeals to our senses – aesthetics.[3]  The experience of beauty is a subjective one. Daisaku Ikeda, President of the Soka Gakkai International, has said that true beauty is found in sincere and diligent striving.[4]

The second value, gain or benefit, is that which enhances the whole person, not just senses. Some think that gain, or benefit, is getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want. In contrast, Makiguchi’s idea was that gain is each person’s inner capacity to transform the entirety of their existence.[5] In 1993, in Vancouver, Ikeda said that true wealth is in living with latitude and generosity.[6]

The third value, goodness, means that which contributes to others well-being. Each of us has the capacity for compassionate action, regardless of our circumstances and that of others. Classical philosophy was concerned with goodness. How do we live a good life? In the west, Aristotle, Sophocles and Plato reflected on how to achieve virtue. The east had a parallel concept of becoming a ‘worthy.’

To Makiguchi the three values of beauty, gain and goodness are not equal. Gain is greater than beauty because gain enhances our entire life, not just our senses. Goodness is greater than either beauty or gain because goodness enhances the lives of more people. However do not think this is a ladder. You do not advance up a ladder from beauty to gain to goodness. The fact is we experience beauty and gain only by developing goodness. We experience beauty and gain only by contributing to others. It is our actions for others that are the cause for our own transformation.

To Makiguchi, philosophy and religion were ultimately useful only to the extent they enable goodness, helping others, the highest personal value. Perhaps he found in the Mahayana ideal of the Bodhisattva [one who aspires to Buddhahood through altruism; see more[7]] and Nichiren Buddhism a model of the individual who embraces goodness by working for the sake of others.

It is my thesis, and I believe the thesis of Makiguchi, that all people have the capacity to contribute to others and that contributing to others is the main requirement for a happy life.

I will tell you a short story to emphasize my point that every person, no matter their circumstances, no matter how low they appear to be, can make a tremendous contribution to others well-being. This is the true story of Philip Gonzales of Long Island, New York. [See The Dog Who Rescues Cats[8]] Philip is a big guy, a steam fitter, a man’s man. He had a horrible accident, was disabled, lost his job, became depressed. He lost all hope and ultimately refused to leave his apartment.

Philip was exactly the kind of person that you think of as needing help, powerless, a victim. Philip, you think, needs a whole lot of help, before Philip should even think about helping others.

Philip lost all his friends, except one. That friend suggested he get a dog. Thoughts ran through Philip’s mind. I can’t take care of myself, how can I take care of a dog? Very reluctantly he left his apartment and went to the local shelter. I am a big strong man who has lost my strength. I will look for my type of dog—a big, strong dog, so when I go out no one will pick on the cripple. Philip was still a macho dude.

Now, there is one thing lower than a hopeless, powerless person. That is a hopeless, powerless dog, waiting to be destroyed in a cage in a shelter. We feel pity for them, we try to help them, and we contribute to the local humane society. We do not expect abandoned animals on their last hours and minutes to help anyone, certainly not to change the world.

Philip did not find his big strong macho man’s dog. Instead Ginny found him. Ginny was an abused, abandoned Schnauzer-husky mix. Ginny was neither large nor strong. She was sick and about 48 hours from being destroyed. The shelter people said take Ginny for a walk. Philip said, “I don’t walk so well.” They said, “Ginny will help you.” So Philip, whose disability did make walking difficult, took Ginny for a walk. Within a few steps he sensed something about Ginny, some energy. Within seconds Phillip started feeling better, moving better. Philip took sick, broken Ginny home. Slowly Ginny’s love and caring started to work on Philip. Philip knew Ginny was special and felt it his purpose to help Ginny. He became healthier, stronger, and more sociable.

1.3.14 Ginny the Feral Cat Saving Dog4 394x590

Now the story really begins. There is one thing lower than an abandoned, sick, abused dog–feral cats. Cats left on the street to return to their wild state. We despise them as a society and fear them when we meet them. One night Philip and Ginny were walking when Ginny found an abandoned, feral cat. Philip thought, this is not going to go well; someone is going to get hurt. The cat and Ginny did not fight. Ginny started licking and caring for the cat. Ginny, the dog, acted like the cat’s mother.

Ginny and Philip started taking care of feral cats. They went out, night after night. They rehabilitated abandoned cats and found homes for them. Ginny loved cats, no matter how damaged they were – blind, legless, deaf, sick. She not only rescued them from fields and streets, but also from hard-to-find places such as drain pipes, dumpsters, and the glove compartments of abandoned cars. Ginny, a dog, was even named Cat of the Year, for her uncanny skill and bravery in rescuing and caring for cats. One time at a construction site Ginny threw herself against a vertical pipe, using her little weight to topple it and reveal kittens trapped inside. Another time she dug through a box of broken glass, ignoring her own cuts to find an injured cat inside.

Ginny finally died in 2005 after rescuing over 800 cats.

What happened to Philip? Philip has written two books about Ginny and has established a foundation [9] in her name to care for abandoned cats. He gets up at 2 every morning to make the rounds of nineteen colonies he and Ginny built in abandoned fields and alleys, where he feeds approximately 320 cats. He has since adopted other dogs but none of them have the slightest interest in caring for cats.

The moral of Philip’s story, the moral of the three values is not to get a dog. It’s not to get anything. It is to stop thinking about what you can get and start thinking about what you can give. The three values Makiguchi articulated have a social implication. When people work together to create beauty, we call it culture. When we strive collectively to teach how to truly gain, we have education. When goodness is a social value, we achieve peace, the highest value of all. Works for peace, culture and education, rooted in Makiguchi’s philosophy, are the goals and the commitment of Soka Gakkai International.

 

Keith Robinson

Keith Robinson was born in Vancouver BC in 1954. He has been studying, practicing and writing about Buddhism for over 45 years. Keith is semi-retired, but is still a practicing sommelier and manager of guest houses in North America and Europe. He is married, has two children and two grandchildren.

We featured his experience in the November edition of Eagle Peak Quarterly.


[2]http://www.sgi.org/about-us/history-of-sgi/tsunesaburo-makiguchi-first-president-of-the-soka-gakkai.html “…Makiguchi … became increasingly convinced that Nichiren’s philosophy, with its emphasis on the transformation of society through the individual’s transformation, was the means to achieving the fundamental social reform that they had been trying to accomplish through their educational efforts.

[4]New Century (Publication of SGI Canada) December 1993, pp 26-27

[5]Makiguchi, The Value Creator Dayle M. Bethel, 1973 Weatherhill 
See http://www.tmakiguchi.org/educator/educationalreformer/lifesvalues.html

[6]New Century, op cit

[8]Philip Gonzales and Leonore Fleischer, Harper Perennial; Reprint Edition, 1996

[9]The Ginny Fund P.O. Box 967, Long island NY 11561
See http://www.ginnyfanclub.org

 

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