Rev. Shodo Okano proclaimed that filial piety—the instinctive love of a child for his parents—is a fundamental and universal truth. It is not only the fountainhead of life, but also the source of its perpetuation. It is inherent in every living being. The origin of this feeling of love between child and parent lies at the birth of the child. The parent’s love for the child, in turn, ignites in the child a longing for the parent. This bond of mutual faith and attraction gives birth to the virtues of love and trust and form the basis of human personality.
Rev. Shodo Okano elaborated the scope of filial piety and explained it at two levels: the vertical and horizontal. At the vertical level, it means carrying out responsibilities towards ancestors on the one hand and not leaving a bad legacy to descendants on the other. At the horizontal level, it means to have compassion and love for the whole world.
Buddhist scholars are unanimous that Lotus Sutra represents the final edition of the teachings of Lord Buddha. Rev. Shodo Okano proclaimed that the essence of the Lotus Sutra is the practice of filial piety. According to him, the practice of filial piety and the Buddhist way of life to realize buddha-nature, inherent in humans, are identical, as both teach love and compassion for all living beings. When the veil of ignorance is removed from our buddha-nature, the feeling of filial piety reveals itself completely.
According to Rev. Shodo Okano, there is no difference between the practice of Buddhism and the practice of filial piety. They are synonymous. The social and moral ideals of Buddhism are the manifestations of vertical filial piety, and the religious and spiritual act of compassion represents its lateral aspect.
When humans realize their buddha-nature after lifting the veil of ignorance and desire, the first thing we become grateful for is our human life. After that, our gratitude naturally turns towards our parents and forebears. The importance of human life also awakens us to the significance of being a parent. Consequently, we strive to do our utmost for the well being of our children and descendants by extinguishing all negative conditions that might affect them.
Shakyamuni Buddha has the following to say about filial piety: “When I renounced the worldly life, I vowed to my father, the King, that I would return home to save my parents. Now that I have attained buddhahood and accomplished the way, I shall return home and fulfill my vow.” Not only that, when the Buddha’s father was on his death bed, he went to his father and comforted him. On his father’s death, he said: “The people of the world are often thoughtless and do not repay the indebtedness to their parents. They are beings of un-filial piety. In order to teach them the truth, I shall myself carry my father’s coffin.”
In the Lotus Sutra a bodhisattva asks Sakyamuni Buddha the secret behind the wonderful powers of Kannon Bodhisattva who possesses infinite compassion. The Buddha answered that the secret of Kannon being so compassionate is religious practices and the service that rendered to countless buddhas over a period of many aeons. In other words, Kannon Bodhisattva practiced filial piety by serving countless Buddhas who are the parents of sentient beings.