Q: My parents often listen to Buddhist sermons, and they tell me the importance of resignation (akirame). But if we were resigned about everything, there would never be any progress or advancement in life. If Buddhism preaches resignation, I have no desire to listen.
A: The Japanese word akirame or “resignation” did indeed originate in Buddhism, but you should know that it is used in a completely different sense in Buddhism than in daily life.
The concept is also expressed with the word (tai-kan), a Chinese character compound where the first character, tai, expresses the Sanskrit word satya (“truth,” “clear principle”) and the second, kan, means “to see.” Thus taikan can be rendered literally as akiraka ni shinri o miru, “to see the truth clearly.”
Over time, the Buddhist term akiraka ni miru was reduced to the verb akirameru. Changes in form are all right, but unfortunately there was also an accompanying change in meaning, from “see clearly” to “resign oneself.”
The word akirameru, “to resign oneself,” has come widely to mean giving up without really trying, glossing something over. When someone is worrying about their lost wallet, one might say “akiramero,” meaning “just forget about it.” As you correctly point out, this is indeed the kind of fatalistic thinking that stymies progress, development, and effort.
If people had resigned themselves to living with lanterns, today's electric and neon lights would never have been invented, and if they had resigned themselves to living with the radio, there never would have been any television. Someone who resigns himself to being the way he is will never make any progress. That kind of thinking is certainly likely to diminish the desire for self-improvement.
But the concept of taikan as taught in Buddhism, meaning “to see the truth clearly,” is an entirely different matter. By teaching us to see clearly the law of cause and effect, a law which governs the universe, the concept spurs us to ever greater efforts toward progress and self-improvement.
All learning represents progress and advancement based on seeing clearly the law of cause and effect. To use our previous example, someone who loses his wallet needs to think long and hard about why that happened. When he clearly understands the cause, he will take steps to see that he doesn't invite the same outcome from that cause ever again. In this way, because he makes constant efforts, he will continue to improve.
Buddhism is often misunderstood. Misunderstanding of the meaning of akirame or resignation is one example. Please know that Buddhism is by no means a weak and fatalistic philosophy, but rather one that encourages vigorous efforts leading to constant improvement.
(Petals of Shinran, The Cherry volume, Chapter 26)
By Kentetsu Takamori
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #18 | 2012, "Isn't Buddhism a Philosophy of Resignation?"
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