Do you know what a paradigm is? A paradigm is a shared set of understandings or a sense of values and beliefs that are held in common in particular eras or fields. It is a way of seeing reality based on a society’s standards and perspectives. We all live by thinking, judging and seeing something based on such paradigms. Interestingly, paradigms change with the times.
Center of the Universe
For example, the paradigm of people in ancient times was that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun was an astronomical body that moved around the earth. The people in those days believed in the Ptolemaic System. But people living today accept as common sense that it is the earth that revolves around the sun. In this day and age, nobody doubts the Heliocentric System. You can see that the common sense of people in ancient times was completely different from ours today. Such a fixed notion shared by the people of each era is called a paradigm.
Once people share and agree on the paradigm, it is really hard for them to change what they believe. But as soon as a paradigm is changed, people’s way of thinking, as well as their view of the world, is also completely changed. We call this phenomenon a paradigm shift. Today, the concept of the paradigm shift is being actively applied not only to specific fields, but also in a broader sense to individuals’ daily lives.
Let me show you an image that will illustrate what a paradigm shift is. Please take a look at the image below.
What do you see? A young woman? Anything else? Don’t you also see an old woman? By shifting your perspective of this image, you can see either a young or an old woman.
This example proves that when our viewpoint changes, we can see other things that we hadn’t noticed before. This is what a paradigm shift is. Isn’t amazing that we are able to see a second image in the same picture? But if you think about this another way, if we never change our perspective throughout our lives, we will only see one side of things and believe that as if it were the truth. This is indeed a paradigm: our fixed mindset, beliefs and assumptions that prevent us from seeing the truth.
But, to be able to see the truth, it is essential that we look at things from different perspectives. As you just saw, by changing our perspective, even one thing looks different. But through our experience over a long period of time, we tend to see things from only one direction that we believe is our common sense.
Buddha teaches us that we foolish beings are always controlled by our attachments. Certainly, we tend to see things that are convenient for us as good, but things that are inconvenient for us as bad. In other words, we always rate things as ugly or beautiful and right or wrong, based only on our own paradigm and sense of value.
Unfortunately, we are foolish beings who cannot see beyond our own selfishness. Nonetheless, we still criticize one another by insisting, “I am right” or “You are wrong.” If we believe that only we are correct and just, it is very dangerous. This is because, if we insist that our perspective is right and try to force our values on others, eventually we will have a terrible mindset that discriminates against, conflicts with, and hates anyone on the opposing side. When we are too attached to justice, it is no longer justice.
Full of Blind Passions
We really don’t know if our perspective is right, even if 99 percent of people agree with us. Even if it is our paradigm, there is a possibility that the remaining 1 percent is like Sakyamuni Buddha, who with his wisdom and compassion, can see the truth.
There is a saying by our founder Shinran in the book of Tannisho, which goes,
I don’t know what the two, Good and Evil, really mean.
He goes on to say,
I could say that I know what good is, if I knew good as thoroughly and completely as the Tathagata; and I could say that I know what evil is, if I knew evil as thoroughly and completely as the Tathagata. But I am a foolish being full of blind passions.
With these words, Shinran teaches us that we are simply foolish beings who always see things from a biased viewpoint. His deep observation and insight make us realize how important it is to sincerely acknowledge that we are ordinary people who can never know what is truly good, right, evil or wrong.
Unfortunately, our own viewpoint is not an absolute. Because of this, we need to put ourselves in another person’s shoes so that we can understand even a little about others. In order to do it, we should first look deep into our own paradigm to be able to see clearly if what we take for granted is really what it seems or not.
When we sincerely embrace the Nembutsu teaching, the light of Amida Buddha’s wisdom clearly exposes the darkness of our foolish self-centeredness. And with that clearly in view, we cannot help but reflect deeply on our foolish nature. That is how the Nembutsu leads us to the awakened life where we can give up our fixed mindset, and be able to see all things from different perspectives as they really are. By using the paradigm shift based on the Nembutsu, we can change our way of seeing and create a precious world where we can respect, understand, and be considerate of one another.
Let the Nembutsu Guide Us in 2024
Depending on our way of thinking and seeing, we can change the world. In other words, whether our world will be embraced by loving kindness truly depends on our way of thinking and how we act. It is all up to each of us to decide. Let us try to break the stereotype and create the paradigm shift so that our world can gently embrace life’s diversity with its various values; and we can respectfully recognize the rights of others.
I sincerely hope that, being guided by the light of wisdom that we call the Nembutsu, 2024 will be a beautiful year filled with peace and harmony for all people throughout the world.
Rev. Yushi Mukojima