From April Ocean
Volume 11, Issue 4
2017 Legislative Assembly Special Presentation on “Becoming A More Dharma-centered Organization”
by Bishop Eric Matsumoto
Today, I would like to share what I see as the general solution to most, if not all, of our challenges. We must become an even more Dharma-centered Sangha! The answer may sound too simplistic, but I ask you to recall the words of Rennyo Shonin when he said, “…even as one person awakens to Shinjin (or True Entrusting), this…is true prosperity in the deepest sense of the word.” It is my conclusion is that it is the Dharma that will save us, both as individual persons and as an organization. The two key words are Dharma and Sangha. Or if you wish, the three key words-the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the Three Treasures. There is a reason why we start all our meetings with the recitation of the Three Treasures, but maybe, just maybe, the recitation of the 3 Treasures has become a mere ritual and lost its impact. It is time to re-emphasize the importance of that recitation. We, the Sangha, must live the Dharma as shared by the Buddha. I would say, if we cannot become this truly Dharma-centered organization/Sangha, we have no hope and our days in Hawaii are certainly numbered.
As I reflect on the history of our Hongwanji organization, “What magnetically drew people to Hongwanji?” It was the equality and inclusiveness emphasized by Jodo Shinshu and also exhibited by Jodo Shin Followers beginning with Shinran Shonin and people like Rennyo Shonin. As we know, in Jodo Shinshu, we are all equal before Amida Buddha. In hierarchical Japan for especially the common people, the masses, this was a powerful impetus for people to support/join the Hongwanji. Listening to Jodo Shinshu Dharma Talks gave people a sense of worth and value. The message was you mattered. You are important. You are included in the embrace of Great Compassion!
What should not be overlooked is that it was not only the message, but when people came to Hongwanji or Jodo Shinshu that is what they were able to experience. There many stories or accounts of how Rennyo Shonin received people that came to see him. The Spirit of Sangha was strong. In Hawaii, we might say the spirit of Ohana prevailed. The sense of community was strong in Jodo Shinshu. This sense of community/Sangha, I believe, is the key to our future. And for this reason, we are also trying to identify what are our community values as a Jodo Shinshu Sangha. People, of any age, are looking for a place to belong-a place where they are respected, appreciated, safe and feel welcomed. Are we such a Sangha? Do we make people who come to temple feel that way? Let us self-reflect, another important Buddhist virtue.
As a Buddhist religious organization, what should guide is the Dharma or Teachings. We should always first ask ourselves, “What would a Buddhist do?” “Is what I am doing in line with our Buddhist Teachings?” “Am I going to the Dharma for guidance?” “What am I doing to contribute?” The Dharma must come to the forefront and to a lesser extent our culture, whether it be American or Japanese or any other. Of course, we live in America, so there are certain things which must be done in accordance with American laws and sensibility, but we need to go beyond this “Japanese style” versus “American style” and let the “Buddhist style” prevail!
Speaking of style, our Jodo Shinshu style or way is one of being nurtured by Amida Buddha and the Dharma. It is not one of following fixed dogma and set rules of do’s and don’ts or being reprimanded or scolded. Rennyo Shonin said, “If you have acquired Faith, you will abstain from speaking harsh words to your fellow believers…Without Faith, one will become self-assertive and speak rough words, hence disputes are bound to arise. What a pity! You should be well aware of this.” (From “ Thus I Have Heard from Rennyo Shonin, pages 124-125).
Important is continual moment to moment reflection including self-reflection and awareness including self-awareness or paying attention to one’s thoughts, words and actions/behavior. As the Shinshu Pledge says “I will put my effort in my work with self-reflection and gratitude.”
In Jodo Shinshu, many of the worldly/secular values with which we make distinctions between people were put aside and everyone was considered equal before Amida Buddha. In Shin Buddhism, one’s status in society, educational level, financial circumstances, gender, age, morality, whether one was ordained or not, all did not really matter as far as salvation was concerned. As we find in the Tannisho, “Amida’s Primal Vow does not discriminate between the young and old, good and evil; true entrusting alone is essential.”
Generally speaking, traditional Japanese society influenced by Chinese cultural influences had a tendency to favor men over women, elders over young people and the learned over the illiterate and so forth, but in Jodo Shinshu these distinctions where not primal. Again, in the eyes of Amida Buddha everyone was equally important. Now, this is a tremendous statement! In a society that had all kinds of hierarchy, to say that everyone is equal is potentially a dangerous statement. For this reason and others, in certain parts of Japan there occurred the suppressing of Jodo Shinshu as a dangerous philosophy along with fear of the deep loyalty and commitment that Jodo Shinshu members had to the Hongwanji.
But getting back to Shinran Shonin and Rennyo Shonin, they both considered themselves no better than anyone else. This too, is a tremendous statement when you really think about it. And this is part of what makes Shinran Shonin and Rennyo Shonin so special, the very fact that they claim that they are no better or no different from us makes them, to me, very, very special! They saw that they were bonbu too. This is not to say that we should not respect ministers for they are clergy. As Shinran Shonin said, “Although monks are so in name only and keep no precepts, Now in this defiled world of the last dharma-age, they are the equals of Sharihotsu and Mokuren, and we are urged to pay homage to and revere them.” In Jodo Shinshu, while respecting Jodo Shinshu ministers for their profession as clergy there is also a strong understanding that they are also no different from anyone else. They have the same concerns, anxiety and challenges as lay people. Jodo Shinshu Ministers are not a superman or a superwoman, a perfect, flawless person. As Rennyo Shonin says about all of us, “Simply looking ahead without looking down at our feet, we shall stumble. To look at others and not look at our own self is a horrible thing.”
A person of Shinjin-Nembutsu in Jodo Shinshu, in grateful response to Amida Buddha’s Unconditional Great Wisdom and Compassion, laments about his/her imperfect and limited self and earnestly tries to live a more Dharma-centered life. Let me emphasize that the inspiration and original motivation for trying to live a more Dharma-centered life is not me-this foolish being, but Amida Buddha.
Today, once again, I refer to the late Rev. Jitsuen Kakehashi, a revered great scholar priest of Jodo Shinshu who said, a person who has become awakened to Amida Buddha’s profound Wisdom and Compassion “…begin(s) to live a new life, refraining from committing selfish deeds and trying to respond to the Tathagata’s great compassion.” “Shinran points out that there must be necessarily be a big difference in the condition of person’s mind between before he heard the teaching of the Primal Vow and after he became a nembutsu practicer guided by the Primal Vow, and that there must certainly be a difference in behavior before and after the person became a nembutsu practicer.
In our daily life, we are liable to be dictated to by self-centered thoughts, but in the mind of nembutsu practicers who are saddened and pained by this reality, there is a recurring transformation in which, with the heart and mind of the Tathagata’s great wisdom and compassion, we come to look back at our own thoughts and behaviors. When we look at the world with an ordinary human mind, it is distinctly divided into things we love and things we hate, but with the mind of the Tathagata, we are made to know that everyone is equally the Tathagata’s indispensably important child. From that standpoint, we realize that we are all brothers and sisters and fellow human beings. Then slowly but steadily, we come to reflect on our self-centered thoughts, reject our blind passions and make efforts to see things and live our lives in a way that can be approved by the Tathagata.” (From Hearing the Buddha’s Call by Jitsuen Kakehashi.)
In a person of True Entrusting, because the Dharma is a part of their life, there is a certain degree of sensitivity towards others and going to go to the Buddha Dharma for guidance is evident in their actions. However, we do not demand this of others. This might sound a bit confusing, but we do not expect things of others, but I should try to live up to those ideals. The more common way of thinking is to expect certain behaviors from others, but in Buddhism the emphasis is on how I should try to be. In “The Teaching of Buddha” it shares in a section after describing what a good friend is, it says “It is very difficult to find a friend like this, and, therefore, one should try very hard to be a friend like this.” If everyone thought and did things this way it would be a much more peaceful and harmonious world. This is being guided by the Dharma or being Dharma-centered. In grateful response to Unconditional Compassion which I find embracing me and because Compassion is so accepting of me, I also see the value of other people’s lives too. In the days of Honen Shonin and Shinran Shonin, it is recorded that aristocrats and samurai warriors, thieves, beggars and prostitutes, people of all level and strands of society, sat together listening to the Nembutsu Teachings. “Are we, today, such an open Sangha?”
In this way, everyone found hope and experienced the warm compassionate embrace of Amida Buddha and the spirit of Sangha in Hongwanji. The great message of Shinran Shonin and Rennyo Shonin was that everyone was included in the Great Compassion of Amida Buddha. From a very humble beginning Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji evolved into the largest Buddhist denomination in Japan and in Hawaii because it gave people a sense of hope and value and provided people with a safe community. In this way, people of all strata of society, but especially the common folk, found the Wisdom and Compassion of Supreme Enlightenment reaching out and embracing them as Amida Buddha, as Namo Amida Butsu. We can only imagine their joy and sense of gratitude. There was nothing that could match it! Shinran Shonin’s wasan or hymn “Ondokusan” expressed people’s thoughts “Such is the benevolence of Amida’s compassion, that we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies; Such is the benevolence of Great Masters and True Teachers, that we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust!” It reflected the depth of joy and gratitude that people felt as they found themselves embraced and included. Truly, in Jodo Shinshu, we are talking of no ordinary compassion, it is compassion in its ultimate form, totally unconditional and inclusive of all! I thank all of you here today for you are a living example of “Ondokusan.” As our membership declines and you find yourselves doing more and more, and yet you continue. I thank you! I thank Amida Buddha who is our motivation, our inspiration!
As I think about this, the words, “Beyond this, whenever we feel joy and gratitude… we should simply say ‘Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu,…” “when we remember Amida’s benevolence, more and more out of gratitude, we should recite the Nembutsu…” regardless of time or place. This is called the Nembutsu as an expression of gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence.” Our own Bishop Yemmyo Imamura of Hawaii said, “whenever I felt I was on the border of dismay, I recalled the hardships in Shinran’s life. He said that the five kalpas of profound meditation, the eternal kalpas of diligent practice, (by Bodhisattva Dharmakara) were meant only to save me alone. The Buddha’s great compassion touched my heart. Even drops of water can bore a hole in a harder boulder. I resolved to not falter. I had a firm conviction that in the future, someday,…enlightened by the Dharma’s light and comforted by Tathagata’s compassion (many) will awaken to a serene, beautified, happy…life.”
How do more people become aware of this “serene, beautified, happy…life” which Bishop Imamura spoke of? It happens when we both ministers and lay people reach out to our families and the larger community (beyond the Japanese-American community) to connect with other individuals, groups and organizations. This is what I, as your Bishop, have been emphasizing from the beginning of my term and also, now we see it as part of Honzan’s 10 Year Plan. We must go beyond our temple walls. Temples of Hawaii Kyodan, if you have a minister who is good at certain things share your minister with the rest of district and your larger community. Please know how essential it is for us, the Hongwanji Sangha, to be guided and live the Dharma or Teachings on a daily basis and share our joy of the Buddha Dharma. Let us each ask ourselves, “What is a Sangha?” “What is the purpose of the Sangha?” and “How does a Sangha think, speak and behave?” You may be thinking “Why is this so important?” Again, I am convinced that this is the key to our future! Once more, it is the Dharma that will save us, both spiritually and as an organization.
Now, the question in your mind might be how does Dharma apply to our organization and how we operate? A quick example, about which we will cover more in detail later, is the Temple Effectiveness Model and Minister Evaluation. Currently, we are moving towards the idea of Temple Effectiveness in which minister and lay work closely as team, in partnership, to achieve goals mutually set. We are moving away from the employer verses employee and minister verses lay, kind of relationships. So in the case of the Minister Evaluation, we are moving away with the old style of evaluation based primarily on a western model of rewards and punishment and changing our approach to the Temple Effectiveness Model which recognizes that ministers and lay are working together as a team, partners which is supported by Buddhist Teachings where ministers provide the Dana of the providing the Dharma to lay people (Hou-se) and lay people provide the Dana of physically caring for the well-being of the clergy (Zai-se). This is common throughout Buddhism. However, there is a third Dana known as “Mu-i-se” which is the Dana of the Removal or Absence of fear. It is a Buddhist teaching that no one should have to live in fear. Fear is a terrible thing. So, if we apply this Dana of Removing Fear, the fact that Minister Evaluation, as it was being presented, caused so much fear and anxiety amongst the ministers it shows us that it is not the most ideal way to do it. However, our SCBP does call for a minister review and thus with the Dharma guiding us, we have changed it. What we present may still have to be tweaked, but I hope you can see how different things can be if we truly go to the Dharma for guidance.
My conviction that the Dharma can truly make a difference is based on an episode from the life of the Historic Buddha. A story relates that on a certain day, a certain king went to Sakyamuni Buddha and bowed to him to show his great respect. Sakyamuni Buddha asked the King “Why do you come today to show your respect? The King answered that as I look at the Sangha, I see the members of the Sangha following the Buddha’s teachings throughout their life. Again, many people of all stations and walks of life even family members many times quarrel and fight amongst themselves, but in the Buddha’s Sangha I do not see that. I see mutual appreciation of each other. The Buddha’s Sangha is always neat and tidy, cheerful and smiling, full of joy and delight. By the actions of the Sangha, I have come to realize how great the Buddha is. We must become the Sangha/Buddhist community which the Dharma describes. For more concrete examples of what a Sangha is, I can refer you to passages that I have collected in a document “Passages related to (nurturing) the Sangha” which I have given to all ministers so you can become aware of the characteristics of the sangha and how we live our lives as Buddhists.
Buddhism is one of the 3 world religions which means it is possible for anyone to become Buddhist. This is how universal Buddhism is and our temples must reflect this aspect of the Dharma. I am not saying it is easy for I am a bonbu. However, the Buddhist Teachings nurture us to become more open and accepting, less critical and judgmental, less self-centered and opinionated, kinder and gentler, more aware of self and others and how we impact one another and the importance of peace and harmony. The Dharma shares “If one wishes to follow the Buddha’s teaching one must not be egoistic or self-willed, but should cherish feelings of good-will toward all alike; one should respect those who are worthy of respect; one should revere those who are worthy of service and treat everyone with uniform kindness. (From “The Teaching of Buddha”, BDK, Duties of the Brotherhood, Lay Followers, page 402).
One of the great contributions of Buddhism and especially Jodo Shinshu as it travels across the world, is the emphasis on reflection including self-reflection. The Buddha-Dharma always encourages us to reflect on the world and my own self. The Dharma reminds me “Take a look at yourself, Eric” “Notice what is happening” “What is the best response?” This is the Dharma at work.
We often hear the question “Is Buddhism a religion or a way of life?” My response would be it is both. It is a religion, a religion that shows me how to live my life. Buddha wants all life to be free of suffering. Buddha wants everyone to be safe, at peace and happy. As we come to know the Buddha, the Buddha’s aspiration becomes my aspiration. However, the big difference between the Buddha and me is that the Buddha is enlightened and I am not. So, I cannot express or manifest or live exactly like the Buddha, however, the Buddha’s aspiration I can embrace, hold dear to my heart and try to live in such a way that there is less fear, less anxiety and hopefully suffering in the world in grateful response to Amida Buddha’s unconditional compassion. Shinran Shonin may not have written too much about this aspect of the Shin Buddhist’s life except in his Letters, but I see it in the way that Shinran Shonin lived his life. I strongly think, we need to look not only at Shinran Shonin’s writings, but his life.
To slowly conclude, as our two Spiritual Leaders, Their Eminences, the Former Go-Monshu Koshin Ohtani and our current 25th Gomonshu Kojun Ohtani say “The Three Treasures are the Buddha, his Teaching (the Dharma), and (the Sangha) the community that gathers to listen and live by the teachings of the Buddha.” (24th Spiritual Leader) and “In reflecting on the present circumstance of our organization, it is significantly important to consider how we can approach and reach out to persons who have never had any contact with a Buddhist temple, as well as those who are already involved with one.”
“Let us…cope with various problems and hardships of the contemporary world, walking together towards realizing a society in which everyone is equally respected.” (25th Spiritual Leader)
To conclude, our Hongwanji Sangha must become that Sangha that the Dharma talks about. We must become even more so the Sangha/community that people want to be a part of. People who come to Jodo Shinshu must think and feel “I want to be a part of that Sangha/temple community.” The main purpose of a Sangha is to help each other understand and live the Dharma and to share it with others. For us, Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, the Sangha exists to encourage each of us and others to understand the Jodo Shinshu Teachings and encourage us to live the life of Nembutsu both as individuals and as an organization!
Namo Amida Butsu/Entrusting in All-Inclusive Wisdom and All-Embracing Compassion.
(Note: Message included in non-abridged version of HHMH Headquarters Update, March 2017)
From August Ocean
Volume 10, Issue 9
I Am “Bonbu”
by Reverend Richard Tennes
Have you ever heard the word “bonbu”? It is a word that Shinran often used. It means a foolish person, a person who is very selfish. Shinran said that for us to know that we are bonbu (selfish and self-centered) is the most important thing. This doesn’t mean that we put ourselves down, or beat ourselves over the head for not being perfect. Knowing I am bonbu really means just seeing myself honestly and accepting that I am that person. I don’t have to be anything other than me. I don’t have to be the person other people tell me I should be; I just have to be me.
But seeing me is not always easy. We all like to see ourselves as wonderful, beautiful and heroic people, not selfish and ordinary. We want to think of ourselves as attractive and good. But when I realize I am bonbu, I can really accept myself because Amida ac-
cepts me, just that way. To accept myself is really Amida’s acceptance of me—Amida’s embrace—just as I am.
One of the problems that Shinran Shōnin had in his life was the problem of being “good.” Everyone says we have to be good but it’s hard to be good. It’s much easier to think you are good than to really be good! Actually, it is really hard to even know what good is! For most people, good is just what other people say it is. Often people say that “we” (our group, country, family, etc.) are good, and other people—who are different—are not good! Religious people often develop this attitude. In Shinran’s time, the poor people were called “not good” by society and by many Buddhists. The people who made this judgement thought that they were good, since they were rich and powerful. They said, “Because I have the wealth or the ability or freedom to study the Dharma, it must be because I have good karma—so I am good.”
True spiritual seekers—like Shinran—can never accept this kind of thinking. Shinran never said he was better or more good than anyone else. He could love and accept everyone and believe they were all loved and accepted by Amida Buddha, just as they were. This was because he had discovered that he was bonbu! The moment we look deeply inside ourselves, we can no longer feel better than anyone else. If I see that I am selfish and often unkind to others, I feel sorry about it and no longer feel better than others. It also helps us to have more patience with other people. After all, if I can’t always do the right thing to other people, why should I expect other people to always do the right thing to me?
Shinran did not want us to do bad things, of course. He said that some things shouldn’t even be thought of, let alone done! But he wanted to teach us that true goodness is not about being good as opposed to being bad, to being better or worse than others. What is really “good” in our life is life itself; actually, goodness is this very life we all share; Boundless Life. Did you know that this is the meaning of the Name “Amida”? Amida means “Boundless Life” and “Boundless Compassion.” That is the reality we are all part of.
Before I said it is hard to know what is good. There is an old story that illustrates this:
Once there was a poor farmer who worked a small plot of land with his son. In those days, horses were considered a sign of great wealth and the richest person in the province owned no more than three of them. One day, a wild horse came galloping through the village and jumped over the farmer’s fence, and began grazing on his land. According to the law, this meant that the wild horse now rightfully belonged to him and his family. The son was very happy and said, “Isn’t this good, father?”
The father, who had had many experiences in his life, said to his son, “Good? Maybe, but it might also be bad.”
The next day, the wild horse escaped from their farm and the son was very sad.
“This is bad, father!” he said.
“Bad?” the father said. “Maybe, but it might also be good.”
The third day, the horse returned with a dozen more wild horses following him. The son could hardly believe their good luck.
“We’re rich!” he cried to his father. “Isn’t that good?”
The father replied, “Good? Maybe, but it might also be bad.”
On the fourth day, the son tried to ride one of the wild horses and was thrown off. He was injured with a broken leg. His father brought the doctor and as the doctor was treating the broken leg, the son was crying and complaining about how bad things had turned out. The poor farmer comforted his son and, looking deeply into his eyes, said to him, “Bad? Maybe, but it might also be good.”
On the fifth day, the province became involved in a terrible war, and needed many soldiers quickly. So the king made a law that all able-bodied young men had to serve for twenty years in his army. Anyone who had a broken leg, however, was exempt. Needless to say, the son was very happy.
“Father,” he cried, “isn’t this good?”
What do you think the father replied?
“Good? Maybe, but it might also be bad.”
This story shows that our idea of good and bad is often really just based on our self-centered judgements. We like things to be “good” that is, to be for our own benefit. You notice that the son never thought about how these things affected anyone else. But the father had a Buddhist attitude because he understood that good and bad depend on life’s conditions, and those are always changing. If he had been a person of Nembutsu, he might have added, “This is the way things are. I am grateful for the opportunity to live, whatever the conditions.” Certainly, he would have given some thought to all the other sons who did have to go to war for twenty years; in Buddhism, it isn’t really possible to celebrate one’s own good fortune, when others are suffering.
And when we try to perform good deeds, the ambiguity of our actions becomes even more clear. All throughout the year, many people come to the columbarium to bring flowers and plants in memory of their departed family members. People do this at all the cemeteries as well. We normally think that this is a good thing, right? By bringing flowers we are respecting our departed family members and expressing appreciation for the wonderful life they gave us.
But there is another side to it too. When we bring flowers we become responsible for killing living things, those flowers and plants that we bring. Isn’t that true? The end result is that we have to throw away lots and lots of flowers and plants. So then, is bringing flowers not a good thing? Well, it is just like all “good” things; we want to do the right thing, but we can never do only good. Every good thing we try to do involves some compromise, some “not-good” along with it. Did you ever have a situation in your life that involved only good choices? There is always some less than ideal aspect of every thing we try to do. So is that bad news?
Good or bad really depends on how we look at it. I once had a conversation with a temple member about the issue of bring flower offerings. We talked about the environmental impact of growing and transporting them from the far away countries where they are grown, all the carbon cost and the pollution this process causes. This member suggested, “Why don’t people bring tins of food for the needy, or make contributions to the temple or various charities, instead of bringing flowers?”
Isn’t that a better way of doing good? Well, it would certainly be better to do that, because it would cause less harm and because it reflects a deeper consciousness, a deeper thinking about the “good” of the offerings we bring. It reflects deeper thinking about our connections with other beings and the effects our actions have on others. It is important not to take anything for granted, to reflect on and question even the things that we think are “good” because our thinking needs to concerned with our connections, our oneness, with others. But, does that mean if I bring food for the poor instead of flowers I am doing only “good”? The bad news is, that my good will always be limited and relative. If I save the plants and help the poor, I am also hurting the business of the florists!
As I said, it’s not easy to be good!
So, when you or I discover “I am bonbu,” we are saying that we realize we cannot control everything and that our goodness is always limited. But, if we think about Amida’s infinite love and compassion, we can trust that by just doing my best—which is also not easy, by the way—our actions and intentions somehow express the Buddha’s perfect good. I cannot make the world perfect by means of my self-centered intentions and power. But when I discover that I am a “foolish person” I am sure to awaken to the perfection that is already here, all around us. That perfection is my true life, my true self; it is from that true life that goodness really comes. Namo Amida Butsu.
From August Ocean
Volume 10, Issue 8
Finding Our Way
by Reverend Richard Tennes
Have you ever been lost? Have you ever been walking or driving somewhere and suddenly you realized that everything around you is unfamiliar and strange. That happens to me a lot. Actually, I don’t have a good sense of direction and when I am driving somewhere unfamiliar I often get lost. I even get lost when I am going somewhere familiar, especially if I am really tired. I might forget how to get there, or miss my turn or something like that. Then I’m not sure which way to go. Of course, when we are physically lost, we can always look at a map or GPS and figure out how to go. But there are other ways of being lost where it is not so easy to find our way. I think if we reflect on the conditions in the world today, we can see that most people now feel lost. The world is full of terror, war, and economic upheaval. The values of our modern world, which extol greed, acquisitiveness, and the pursuit of mainly selfish goals, have devastated the environment of the precious and unique planet—which is the source of life to all of us—and have created all kinds of unjust and oppressive conditions for the majority of people living on it. No wonder people are filled with fear, mistrust, anger, and hatred; no wonder so many people feel lost. Unfortunately, there is no GPS device to help us find our way out of these kinds of problems; in such conditions, searching so hard to find a safe home, we are likely to make very bad decisions, such as believing the lies of false leaders who encourage hatred and intolerance, as many are doing today.
People have always had a great fear of being lost. Many people have nightmares about it. There are lots of stories and fairy tales about people getting lost in the woods—can you think of any? I can think of several stories like that. There is “Snow White,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Hansel and Gretel.” Do you remember those stories? In such stories, little children or even adults find themselves lost in a dark forest and almost get eaten by wolves or bears or witches. And a lot of movies have to do with people getting lost on dark roads or strange towns, and having bad things happen to them. Deep down inside, we are all afraid of being lost and unable to find our way back to our safe home. We feel safe when we have our familiar things around us, when we are close to family and friends. We know that at home people will accept us as we are, protect us, and take care of us. But if we become lost, we don’t know what will happen to us. We feel homeless, alone, and helpless and long for a safe and secure place.
In Buddhism, we understand that such fears arise from our misunderstanding of the true nature of life and a selfish lack of appreciation. Do you remember the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears?” Actually, fairy tales were not originally created for children; they were made for adults and they contain a great deal of wisdom. In the story of Goldilocks, as I remember, a little girl with beautiful curly hair gets lost in the woods, and takes refuge in a lovely house that she discovers. No one is at home at the time, so she invites herself inside, where she finds a table set for three, with a nice breakfast of porridge all ready to eat. Since she was very hungry, she decided to sit down and eat but, being a picky eater, Goldilocks tasted all three bowls of porridge, before choosing the one she considered to be “just right.” After eating she felt a little sleepy, and so she tried out all the comfy chairs in the house before choosing the one she liked best, the one that she felt was “just right.” But guess what? She broke the chair! I guess Goldilocks was not such a good house guest!
After that, Goldilocks went upstairs and tried out all the beds in the house and finally fell asleep in the one that she felt was “just right.” So when the poor Bear family came home from their morning walk, they were a little surprised at all the mess that Goldilocks had made. They found that someone had tasted all the food on the table and eaten up all of Baby Bear’s porridge! They discovered that someone had broken a chair and messed up all the nicely made beds upstairs. But they were even more surprised to find a little girl asleep in Baby Bear’s bed!
Now when Goldilocks awoke and saw the Bear family surrounding the bed, she, unfortunately, did not apologize for eating up the food and for creating such a mess. She did not thank the Bears for the nice meal she ate, or for the rest she just enjoyed. No! What Goldilocks did, was to get horribly frightened and run screaming from the house.
When we are afraid, we tend to do unkind things. Goldilocks was scared, frightened from being lost, frightened because she wanted to find her home, frightened because the people in the home she found were not like her. She didn’t try to understand or appreciate them at all, she felt no gratitude but only fear because they were bears. She totally misunderstood the real situation. That is the trouble we all have. We all just react to our fears. We are all a little lost, you see. We don’t know where we are most of the time, and we don’t know how to find our way back home. Sometimes we are so afraid, we don’t even notice that we’re already home. Goldilocks was already in a nice place, don’t you think? The Bear’s house was very nice. But she didn’t take the time to appreciate it; she just ran away without even saying “thank you.” When we feel lost and afraid, it’s hard to appreciate what we have or to show gratitude properly.
I think life is very much like this story. We are being provided with wonderful sustenance in every aspect of life, and like the porridge on the table and chairs and beds in the story, there is something there for all our needs. But due to our selfish nature, we don’t take our share humbly, responding in gratitude for receiving such gifts. Instead, we make a mess and respond with fear and unkindness, not realizing that the gifts of life are gifts we receive from everyone around us.
Buddhism teaches us the truth of interdependence. From this teaching we learn to really appreciate what we have and to be grateful to everyone around us. It’s very important to appreciate everything that makes our lives possible. We really owe all beings around us for that sustenance. But Buddha also taught us about impermanence. We learn from this that everything we have, everything we rely on, will pass away. We learn that we too will pass away. Normally, we are selfish and want to keep everything for ourselves, but impermanence teaches us that we cannot hold on to anything forever. When we are able to deeply appreciate those around us, and realize the gifts of life that are constantly being shared with us, we can have peace in our minds and hearts and let go of fear, anger, and hatred. Then, even though life itself is a long journey, we will have found our true home and no longer be lost.
So, we should remember to always listen to the teachings of the Buddha, who taught us interdependence and impermanence, and to hear the calling voice of Amida Buddha, who fills us with Wisdom and Compassion. When we respond to that calling voice, we will appreciate everything we have and no fears will ever be able to lure us from our true path.
Namo Amida Butsu
From July Ocean
Volume 10, Issue 7
The Dance of Life
by Reverend Richard Tennes
What is Obon? Obon is a Buddhist observance which became very important in Japan because it emphasizes family members who are departed but who—we realize—have made our life possible. Like most Japanese traditions it has a strong focus on the family.
However, as Jodo Shinshu followers, it is really important for us to think deeply about this observance and to reflect on Obon in a way which is in accordance with the unique Buddhist understanding of Shinran Shonin—especially for we who are living here in modern America, where the cultural traditions and history are quite different from those in Japan, and also in this modern world, in which we no longer really can have the simplicity and innocent viewpoint of our grand-parents and great-grandparents.
Shinran’s teaching is actually a return to a very direct and pure kind of Buddhism. For Shinran, the Buddha’s teaching—the Dharma—is something that kind of shakes up our ideas about ourselves and our way of life. When a person—such as you or I—encounter the Dharma, we naturally find ourselves reevaluating all of our comfortable ways of thinking about ourselves, our family, our society, and our religion! This reflection is called mindfulness. Without mindfulness, practices and observances may delude us into a false sense of our own rightness and goodness, and these delusions can lead us to deepen—instead of transcend—the limitations, fears, and sufferings of life and to cause harm to others. For Shinran, all practices are expressions of gratitude for the Great Compassion we all receive equally.
Of course, the festival of Obon, the Bon Dance (Bon-Odori), Hatsubon, and Bon Mairi services, are an almost inseparable part of Buddhism in Japan. But I want to clarify that Shinran himself never mentioned or assigned any special significance to Obon or any other kind of observance. As he says in the Tannisho:
“I, Shinran, have never even once uttered the Nembutsu as a way to care for my dead parents. The reason is that all beings have been my mother and father, brother and sister, in the timeless process of birth and death. When we attain Buddhahood in the next birth, we can save all of them.”
(Tannisho, Chapter 5)
What Shinran says here is very profound. He is telling us that praying for our departed parents and family members is really a form of self-centeredness. Does that surprise you? It is so because, he tells us, ultimately we are all part of one family; “all beings” he says “have been [and will be] my mother and father, brother and sister, in the timeless process of birth and death.” Our concern must be for all beings, not just ourselves and those people in our biological family. The words “Namo Amida Butsu” are not recited to fulfill our personal desires, but to express the Path of Awakening we are all seeking to follow. The word “Amida” means “Boundless and Infinite Light and Life”, the Oneness of Life that we are all part of. Buddhism teaches us that we cannot attain happiness, fulfillment, or success for ourselves alone. Because “all life is one,” my happiness depends on your happiness and on the happiness of all beings. I cannot be truly happy while others suffer, nor can others be happy while I remain in ignorance and dominated by blind passions. We must all strive for the happiness of all!
In the mythical story of Obon, which is found in a Buddhist scripture called the Ulambana Sutra, we are told that an enlightened monk named “Maha Mogallana” had a vision of his mother suffering in hell. Maha Mogallana’s mom was suffering for being gluttonous and greedy in life, so now she was a “hungry ghost” who could never satisfy her hungry desires. Her son was really upset and wanted to help her, so he asked the Buddha for guidance. The Buddha told him to make offerings to all the monks in the Sangha and their combined efforts would free her from this suffering. So he did that and she was set free. From that time on, we are told by the sutra, it became a tradition to make offerings to the monks at this time of year, in order to help loved ones who might be suffering in the next world—and to support the temples.
In Japan, Obon time was designated by Prince Shotoku to be the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, which for us is July 15. The belief in Japan is that the ancestors return at this time to help their descendants in their labors in the rice fields. In spring they bring rain and fertility for the crops. Then according to Japanese folklore, after the festival, the ancestors return to the other world where they reside. The lanterns, by the way, are meant to guide them back to the other world!
However, for Shin Buddhism, memorial services and Obon services and other rituals are not central to our doctrine or theology. When the 12th Abbot Jun-nyo brought the Obon festival into Shin Buddhism, the original Bon story was not incorporated and a specifically Shin Buddhist meaning was given to the festival. That is why we don’t, or at least we shouldn’t, make Obon offerings in order to help our loved ones in the next world. Our way is to trust Amida’s Great Compassionate Vow which embraces and saves all beings without exception. Our offerings are made out of gratitude. For a Shin Buddhist, Obon is simply another opportunity for hearing and reflecting upon the Dharma. By remembering and expressing gratitude for the life we have received from all our loved ones—and really from all beings (for we are all One Family) we can appreciate the preciousness of this life. And really, it is only by awakening to appreciation of life as a gift which I receive from all beings, that I am able to truly appreciate those close to me.
On July 15 and 16, Kahului Hongwanji will have its Hatsubon Services and our Bon Dances. This dance, called “Bon-Odori” reminds us of the Oneness of Life. Everything and everyone in this world is connected together in a continuous movement of growth and change. The Bon Dance, with its graceful circular movements, dramatizes the living of life itself, joining all of us in the universal harmony of the dance, just as the infinite wisdom and compassion of Amida embraces us all equally, without any conditions. The Bon Dance expresses the truth of interdependence, and is a yearly reminder that we the living are able to dance now because others have danced before us. But it is our everyday life itself which is the true Bon Dance. Living in Oneness with all Life, we are able to treasure every moment of living that we are receiving from countless other beings, and we naturally learn to desire the happiness and fulfillment of all beings everywhere!
So, while you dance, please enjoy yourself, but don’t forget that this dance is only a reminder of the Great Dance of Life.
Namo Amida Butsu.
Please join the Kahului Hongwanji Sangha for Hatsubon Services and Bon Dances on July 15 and 16. For each day, the service begins at 6 p.m. and the dance at 7:30 p.m. Please contact the Temple office for more information about remembering a loved one for the First Year Bon Memorial (Hatsubon) at one of these services or for a private remembrance.
Kahului Hongwanji will also hold its Obon Major Service on Sunday, July 24 at 9 a.m. This service will honor the meaning of Obon and will be dedicated to all of our loved ones who have passed away. In addition, the service will include the Family Gratitude remembrance, in which the July memorial services of those in our Temple funeral records will be remembered, as well as any additional names submitted to the office before the service.
From June Ocean
Volume 10, Issue 6
Eshinni and Kakushinni
by Reverend Richard Tennes
In April we celebrated Eshinni and Kakushinni Day. This is a very important observance, a time to celebrate not only the two most important women in Shinran Shonin’s life, his wife Eshinni and his daughter Kakushinni, but also to remember that these two women were truly co-founders, with Shinran of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition. In fact, Eshinni and Kakushinni are perhaps two of the most important people (male or female) in the history of Hongwanji. These two women supported and, to a large extent, made it possible for Shinran to devote himself fully to the task of sharing Amida’s Great Compassionate Aspiration with us. Also most importantly, Eshinni/Kakushinni day is an opportunity to celebrate the true equality of women and men in Buddhism which, due to human ignorance, has not always been recognized.
Unfortunately, women have seldom received their due in Buddhism. So I would like to share with you a few thoughts I have about Eshinni, Shinran’s wife, about her importance and significance for us in today’s world. I think Eshinni represents something significant for all Buddhists, women and men, living today, and not just as a model of a good wife and supporter of her husband. Eshinni was a woman who was not only a devout follower of the Nembutsu teaching, but one who deeply understood the implications of the teaching.
We don’t really know too much about the history of women in Buddhism. The reason is that most of the records that tell us about the history of Buddhism were written by men. Before modern times, there were very few voices of Buddhist women which have survived for us to hear. One of those voices is, of course, the voice of Eshinni, which we can hear through her letters. Before her, the voices of women are very faint. Beginning with Gotami, Shakyamuni Buddha’s grandmother (who we are told raised him from a child), women have been marginalized and dis-criminated against by Buddhist tradition, in total disregard of the Buddha’s fundamental teaching of non-discrimination and the Buddha’s acknowledgment that women are just as capable as men of attaining enlightenment. The tradition tells us that Gotami herself had to repeatedly petition the Sangha for admission and was finally allowed to join only after accepting rules that placed all women, no matter how advanced, below even the lowest male monk.
Much of this was due to the misogynist beliefs which were deeply engrained in the societies in which Buddhism spread, especially Confucian China. Thus, even the Pure Land tradition, which arose with the sole purpose of offering a way to Buddhahood for everyone, still felt compelled to honor the popular belief that women were inferior to men and could not enter Amida’s Pure Land as women! Thus, the Larger Pure Land Sutra includes a sort of loophole; the thirty-fifth vow of Dharmakara Bodhisattva, which promises the transformation of women into men after death, in order that they can continue their path to Buddhahood.
It is clear that all the negative beliefs about women which Buddhists accepted throughout the ages were, and sometimes still are, the consequence of the overwhelming influence of cultural attitudes about men and women and had nothing to do with authentic Buddhist teachings. Even Shinran Shonin, who constantly taught Buddha’s Infinite, All-Embracing Compassion, did not feel that he was allowed to throw away these ideas about women; they were obviously so much taken for granted by everyone that it was hard to think beyond them. He referred to the idea of the need for women to be born, as men, into the Pure Land in his wasan. However, despite this, Shinran’s overarching belief was in the total and unconditional embrace of Amida, the fact that no one, neither male or female, is left out.
Despite the strong beliefs held about the unacceptability of women, the fact is that in actual practice, women themselves most certainly held other views. In the time of Shinran Shonin and Eshinni (before the Tokugawa era) women in Japan still exercised a great deal of independence, exercised tremendous creativity (women were the creators of Japanese literature!) and retained many rights and prerogatives which went back to earlier times when women, as women, understood themselves as spiritually vital beings. Eshinni herself seems to have been a strong and independent woman, and simultaneously, a selfless supporter of her husband’s work.
Eshinni’s letters demonstrate that her attitude toward her husband was not at all submissive or passive. She was motivated by her own experiences, which had convinced her that her husband’s work was of great significance and so her contribution to, and support of, his work arose from her own conviction and faith. In one of her letters, Eshinni refers to a dream she had had, in which Shinran appeared to her as Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Kannon was traditionally associated with Amida Buddha, working to save all sentient beings. Kannon was commonly envisioned in feminine form. In Eshinni’s mind, the vision of her husband as the Bodhisattva was a confirmation of his vocation to spread the Nembutsu teaching. The fact that Kannon was seen as feminine might have been a confirmation for Eshinni of the insignificance of gender differences as well as the acceptability and value of herself as a woman.
In addition, Eshinni tells us in a letter of her awareness that Shinran had had a similar dream in which Kannon appeared to him, and had promised to take the form of a woman for him to marry! Since he was a monk when he had this dream, the idea that Kannon would become his wife must have given Eshinni a great sense of the significance of her own life as a woman, and also of the equal value of women, as women. And if both Shinran Shonin and Eshinni regarded each other as manifestations of Kannon, this would have had a great impact on Eshinni’s self-understanding. This vision must have argued in her mind against all the notions of women being defiled and shown her that from the ultimate perspective of Amida Buddha, there exists no distinction between male and female.
We see this in another of her letters. Writing when she was about eighty-seven or eighty-eight to her daughter Kakushinni, Eshinni expressed very poignantly that she was feeling the affects of her age and that she was “waiting for that time.” In articulating her wish that she might have one last chance to see her daughter and grandchildren while still “in this world,” she writes:
“I myself will be going to the [Pure Land] paradise very soon. There everything can be seen without any darkness, so be sure to say the nembutsu and come to the paradise to be with me. Indeed, when we go to the paradise and meet again, nothing whatever will be in darkness.”
When I read Eshinni’s words, it seems quite clear that she expected to meet Kakushinni in the Pure Land as herself, as a woman. In an earlier letter to her daughter, she had written, “Particularly since you are my youngest child, I have [always] thought of you as dearest….it would be truly heartbreaking for me never even to hear from you.” Her anticipation for reunion in the Pure Land, therefore, must have been to actually see her beloved daughter again as she was. In the same letter, Eshinni also bids Kakushinni to encourage another lady friend that “she should be sure to say the nembutsu and come to the [Pure Land] paradise to be with us.” I have the feeling that Eshinni envisioned the Pure Land as a place characterized by feminine affection and warmth and the continuation of the bonds of family and friends. This is not surprising, for her letters contain many references to the hardness and difficulties of life. It is quite understandable that, for her, the Pure Land would be a place of clarity, stability, and the joy of reunion with her loved ones.
It seems that Eshinni had a true and profound understanding of Nembutsu teaching. She believed that the Buddha accepted her just as she was, and thus she was able to accept herself as a woman, just as she was. She did not seem to accept the widely held assumptions that women could not attain enlightenment and her faith in the Dharma was so deep that she had no doubt of the certainty of her own birth in the Pure Land, just as she was, as a woman. Of course, we do not know very much about her; we only have these few letters. But looking at her life of selfless service to the teaching, her compassion for others, as well as her spirit of self-acceptance, I believe that her life should serve as a model for Jodo Shinshu followers today, women and men. Just as Shinran Shonin opened up the Buddhist path to everyone and made it possible for everyone to feel accepted by the Buddha just as they are, Eshinni’s example encourages all women to accept themselves, just as they are, reminding all of us of the unconditional love and compassion that surrounds all beings and accepts each of us as we are, without any discrimination! In today’s world, with its growing conflicts and the devaluation of life which results from materialistic goals and endeavors, it is most vital for us, as Buddhists, to live and teach the Nembutsu way so that we and all beings may have the full opportunity to express and appreciate our lives, just as we are. Namo Amida Butsu.
From May Ocean
Volume 10, Issue 5
Rev. Richard Tennes
This month, we celebrate Shuso Gotan-e — Gotan-e for short — or in simple English, “Shinran’s Birthday.” I like that best; after all, it is always nice to celebrate a birthday! As you know, Shinran, or “Shinran Shonin” (Shonin is an honorary title given to him long after his death) is called the “founder” of Jodo Shinshu. To be honest, I don’t really like to call him the “founder of Jodo Shinshu” or the “founder of Hongwanji” because it makes it sound as though Shinran himself set out to start a religion or temple institution, called “Jodo Shinshu.” Actually, nothing could be further from the truth! If you asked Shinran himself to describe the significance of his own life, I think he would have said something like, “I am simply a disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha.” Throughout his own life, he really saw himself simply as an ordinary person, who through the working of Great Compassion, was able to receive and share the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha and of the other Buddhist Masters who explained and clarified the teaching thoughout the centuries. Shinran especially revered his own teacher Honen, who helped him to grasp and receive the Buddha’s teaching of Nembutsu in a way that was appropriate to his own condition, which was that of a bonbu, or “person of blind and deluded attachments.” So, though Shakyamuni Buddha revealed the True Teaching, Shinran was a person who truly understood the importance of the Buddha’s teaching. Had he not been born, we might never have been able to understand the true meaning of the Pure Land teaching and might still be drowning in the ocean of birth-anddeath. For this reason, our celebration of Gotan-e—Shinran’s Birthday—should be an occasion of great joy for all of us.
Shinran was born in the village of Hino in 1173, during a period of great civil strife in Japan. There was war and political unrest throughout the land, and naturally, great economic instability. Shinran’s own family seems to have been affected by the hardship of the times and he, along with his father and brothers, all became monks in the Tendai order. Shinran was nine years old at the time. This was apparently a common thing for certain classes of people to do in those days when falling on hard economic times; whole families ordained in this way. Of course, there is a traditional and legendary account that explains that Shinran became a monk because he lost his family, and in experiencing impermanence in this way, made the decision at age nine to devote his life to seeking enlightenment. Most modern scholars reject this story however, because it is known from other sources that his father and brothers also became monks at the same time—we don’t know what happened to his mother. Truthfully, we don’t know what nine year old Shinran thought about becoming a monk. All we know is that he was ordained at Shoren-in Temple in Kyoto. We also know that he must have accepted his role with sincerity because for twenty years he really strove to follow the precepts and practices in order to perfect himself and attain enlightenment.
But no matter how hard he worked, Shinran could not overcome a sense of his own limitations. In fact, he felt himself weighed down, more and more, by an unbearable burden of evil karma and by his bonno, or “blind passions” (desires and attachments), which Shakyamuni Buddha taught are the cause of all sufferings in this world. Shinran felt himself to be completely defiled and hopeless and believed that enlightenment for him was impossible—thus he was sure that he was bound for hell in the next life. Almost in despair, he sought an answer by taking a one-hundred day retreat at Rokkakudo Temple, where he experienced a vision of Prince Shotoku, whom he revered as the Bodhisattva Kannon. According to a letter written years later by his wife Eshin-ni, Shinran immediately left the temple after this vision and sought out Honen Shonin. From Honen, Shinran learned that there was no difference — in the Buddha’s eyes — between a good person or an evil person. All that is required for liberation from the suffering of birth-and-death is the single-hearted recitation of Nembutsu. From that point on, Shinran ceased to despair or even to worry about his fate in the next world. He completely entrusted himself to Amida Buddha, which is infinite Wisdom and Compassion. Shinran understood that, whether good or evil, male or female, strong or weak, all beings depend utterly on Other Power, the power of true reality, of the inconceivable interdependence of all things, which sustains everything and which is enlightenment itself. From that time on, his whole life was devoted to interpreting and sharing the Nembutsu teaching which he had received from Honen.
Shinran is a unique figure in the history of religion. Although he is revered as the founder of Jodo Shinshu, he never claimed to be a master or founder at all. Shinran never forced his teaching on anyone with the threat of hell or punishment, but in fact, had confidence that, in the end, all beings would be saved and embraced by the Buddha’s Compassion and that all beings would ultimately attain complete enlightenment. He was a person of deep self-reflection and total honesty, never deluding himself about his own goodness or wisdom. He had an open and critical mind and heart and courageously criticized the political and religious leaders of his time for their unjust actions and for their behavior that ran contrary to the Buddha’s true teaching. He really desired the liberation and happiness of all beings, so he urged his followers to pray for peace in the world. Shinran was first and foremost a Buddhist, a person who understood himself to be on the Path of Awakening, actively seeking liberation and understanding throughout his whole life. He was a person of great trust and confidence in Boundless Compassion and never saw himself as superior to anyone. He desired all people to be able to live their lives with freedom and confidence.
For us today, Shinran is very important because he teaches us how to live in a confusing and contradictory world. It is common for people to look to religion to find final answers to the questions of life, or some kind of comforting platitudes that give a sense of being “in the right.” Buddhism, however, tries to make us see ourselves in relation to the reality of things as they really are. Actually, we are all very limited beings and our view of life is always influenced or even corrupted by our self-centered nature. We really can’t know the “truth” and even our understanding of Buddhism is always relative to our limited knowledge and experience. It is easy to understand the spiritual path as one of triumphing over our limitations and “reaching nirvana.” But Shinran showed us that the only thing we limited and foolish beings can attain in this life is a true appreciation of our own selfish nature and the gratitude we naturally feel towards others through that awakening to see ourselves as we are.
Shinran insisted that Buddhism is not the way of becoming a spiritual expert or “master” — it is the way of the student, the one who humbly realizes that he or she always has everything to learn. Shinran himself was a always a humble student, always listening, always learning. Even though he had true confidence of being totally embraced by Amida Compassionate and Wisdom, he always remained Shinran, an ordinary limited person, just like you or me. Shinran never assumed that he was a Master, he never stopped walking the path of the humble student.
Sometimes people might think that ministers like me, giving a Dharma message, have some great knowledge and wisdom, that we are not students anymore but teachers. That is not correct. It’s true that I went to school and that I received Buddhist ordination. But actually, I don’t know too much at all. I am a minister because I don’t know too much. I am a minister simply because I want to learn more about the Buddha’s teachings. There is no limit to how much we can learn in this world. There is so much to learn that, although I might think I know something today, tomorrow I might very well discover that I was totally wrong. Buddhism teaches us that there are many ways to see and interpret the very same things. Actually, thinking about the world we live in today, I can’t think of a more appropriate attitude to have. Every one of us sees things based on what we know and understand. I can only see the world around me based on my understanding. But my understanding is always going to be limited and corrupted by my own self-interest, so I can never have a totally correct view. The only correct view I can have, according to Shinran, is to recognize that my understanding is limited and incomplete. No matter how wise or intelligent I think I am, I can never say that I am finished learning. There is always more to learn, and always new ways to see the world around me and to understand myself. In fact, the best thing is to always have the “beginners mind” so that we are open to appreciate life, as we live it.
It is quite normal for us human beings to want to feel superior and intelligent. We don’t want to admit that we are ignorant and need the guidance of others. But, for us to attain wisdom, we need to realize our limitations, we need the humility to seek the truth and to learn from our teachers who are all around us. Even if I think I know something well, I can still learn from others. It is better to always be a student, one who is humble, who learns from others, and in whom gratitude is always arising. With such a life of humble seeking, we are able to live each precious moment of life fully, without anxiety or regret. To be a Buddhist, a person of Nembutsu means that through the spirit of true seeking, of being always open to receive wisdom in everything we do, we can spend our lives fully awake to, and grateful for, every rare and unrepeatable moment of our lives.
Shinran lived just such a life. Because of his humble, seeking spirit, we have been able to encounter the true reality of Amida’s Great Compassionate Vow. As we celebrate Gotan-e, our teacher Shinran’s birthday, let us renew our dedication to the Nembutsu teaching, and in Shinran’s own spirit, let us reflect ever more deeply to see ourselves as we truly are and with deep gratitude for the precious journey we call life. Namo Amida Butsu.
From Apr. Ocean
Volume 10, Issue 4
Each Day Is Perfect
Rev. Richard Tennes
It’s spring! We don’t notice the change of seasons too much here in Hawaii, do we? That is because it doesn’t get really cold in the winter here, and it doesn’t really warm up much in spring. But when I was living in Chicago, where it got very cold in the winter, I used to like springtime a lot! As winter wore on, I would get very tired of the cold days and long freezing nights, of grey skies and dark clouds, of waiting in the icy wind and rain for my bus or train, of bare empty trees, of having to wear rubber boots in the snow, and sweaters and gloves and overcoats. Also, I missed the sounds of the birds singing. But every winter, there would come a day when something would change; something would be different about the smell and feeling of the air. You could feel it! When that happened, I knew that spring was on its way and that winter would soon be over.
Of course, it didn’t happen right away. Sometimes the cold weather would come back and there would be more weeks of cold and snow. But you always knew, after that first day, that winter couldn’t last forever, that change was certainly coming. You knew that something new was about to begin. Then there would come, little-by-little, more sunshine, warmer days and warmer nights. It really felt good when that began to happen.
Funny thing though; after awhile I got used to the warm days and forgot all about winter. One year, after spring was really well established, we had a big snowstorm in late April! But I didn’t mind that at all because it was a really big snowstorm, which meant that all the roads were closed for a few days and we all got to stay home from school and play in the snow. That was a lot of fun!
But usually, once spring got started, it didn’t go back to winter. The trees became filled with green leaves, the birds came back from their winter vacations and filled the branches with chattering and song. The dark winter skies became bright and blue again and the warm air felt so nice. As time went by, as spring became summer, the warm days became hot and the warm nights got sweltering. The air, as it does in Chicago in summer, became humid and uncomfortable. By late summer, when the weather became really hot, you might guess what I was thinking: ‘Oh, I can’t wait until the cooler weather comes again; I can’t wait until fall; I can’t wait until the first snow!’
We human beings always think we know what we want, but actually, what we want is never absolute; it changes all the time. When it’s cold, we want warmth, when it’s warm, we want it to cool down. Many people say that Hawaii is like paradise, the weather here is so nice and the air is just perfect. When I first came to Hawaii I felt like the air here felt so comfortable―that is how everyone who comes here feels. But people who live here get used to it. Then they say ‘Oh, it’s too hot today!’ and they turn on the AC. Actually, if you experience a Chicago summer―or hot weather in many other places―you would realize that AC is quite unnecessary here in Hawaii, most of the time. Unfortunately, we human beings, no matter where we live, are never completely satisfied with our condition. We always long for something better, we want to be more comfortable or more satisfied. But even if something is just the way you like it, eventually you tire of it and want a change.
At the beginning of spring (and fall), many Buddhists observe O-Higan (usually in March). This is a time when we reflect on the harmony inherent in the change of seasons. Winter gives way to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall, and fall to winter. One of the characteristics of spring―and fall―is that the length of the day and night are the same. So at the beginning of these seasons there is an equality between day and night. But that equality, that harmony doesn’t stay that way. In fall, the nights begin to get longer and in spring the days begin to get longer. But no matter how long the day or night is, the whole day is still twenty-four hours. We still get to enjoy one whole day of life!
It is the same way with all of our likes and dislikes. We might think “I will be so happy when the weather is warmer” then a few months later we say “Oh, I can’t wait until it we have some cooler weather!” But whether the temperature is the way we like or not, whether it is hot of cold, we are fortunate to be able to appreciate living our life on that day. Any day, whatever it is like, is really a good day, when we appreciate it!
From Feb. Ocean
Volume 10, Issue 2
Life is Change
Rev. Richard Tennes
One of the most important teachings in Buddhism is the Truth of Impermanence. Impermanence reminds us that change is the only constant in our world. The fact that nothing stays the same, that everything always changes, and that all existing things have both a beginning and an end, is somehow distasteful and unpleasant to most people. It is one of those aspects of reality we prefer to ignore. Nobody wants pleasant and happy times to end, no one wants their loved ones to die or to die themselves. So we filter the awareness of change and impermanence out of our everyday consciousness. We just ignore it, until we are forced one day to face change in our own ageing, sickness, or the loss of loved ones.
Actually, we cannot truly ignore impermanence, but when we try, we do so at our own peril and to our own disadvantage. Why? Because impermanence is actually the essence of life itself! If we could somehow remove impermanence, if we could “switch off” change for awhile, guess what we would discover? We would find that without impermanence all life would come to a standstill. Without change there would be no giving or receiving; without death there would be no birth. To stop change would mean to become sterile and motionless. There would be no nourishment, no creativity, no loss, but also no joy. Impermanence is not simply the fact that everything that has a beginning also has an end. It is not only that all of us inevitably get old, that we all face loss, sickness, and death. No. Impermanence is also the sign that life is always beginning, always renewing itself.
Existence, in Buddhism, is always flowing, always arising from the interrelation of all beings, all things, in the universe. I exist because of the existence of others; my living arises from the living of others. This is true not only because we all come from parents, grandparents, and innumerable generations of ancestors, but also because each moment of life is maintained and constantly renewed through of the living of countless beings who share our world. How long could I live without the oxygen that all the world’s green plants share with me? How many days could I live without food, without the lives of the many plants and animals which I take to sustain my own life? In the oneness of life, all living beings interrelate and each life, each generation, eventually merges into the next, into the whole.
To realize this is to understand that each moment of life is a gift of infinite value, a treasure beyond price. The value of life, then, is not to be found in the number of years we live, but in the appreciation we have for each and every moment of living. Through the inconceivable forces of life that have brought about the conditions which under which we live now, we are able to gaze in wonder at this world and to reflect in gratitude upon the benevolence of all those who have gone before us and made this moment possible.
However, just because life is rooted in change does not mean that we should disregard theimportance and value of our past or to stop working to sustain a treasured legacy. Here at Kahului Hongwanji, we encounter the truth of impermanence and change every day. As our members grow older, we find it ever harder to take care of the things that need doing, such as repairs and our crucial fund-raisers. Just as we see our buildings getting older and needing more upkeep and repair, there are less of us able to undertake this work. In the past, our temples were very self-sustaining because most of the members had the skills to do the kind of work needed to keep them going and they were happy to do this work because the temple was an important place in their daily lives. Now the older generation of members is diminishing and there are very few younger people to take their place. Times and lifestyles have changed and people are less likely to maintain the same commitment to the temple as in their parents’ generation. Today, creative leadership is essential for the future survival of Kahului Hongwanji, but unfortunately, fewer and fewer members of the younger generations are willing to commit themselves to taking on leadership roles. These changing conditions pose great challenges for the future of our temple but the truth of impermanence reminds us, that as members of Kahului Hongwanji, we are the receivers of a great and valuable legacy from the past. The lives of the past members have created the conditions for our life today. We owe a debt of gratitude to them and must do our best to ensure that our temple will continue to exist to care for the spiritual needs of yet another generation, and to be a place from which the Buddha’s teachings can be shared, so that more and more people may find happiness and peace.
As Kahului Hongwanji embraces change and faces the challenges of today, I would like to challenge all of you to consider what you might do to ensure this precious legacy will continue into the future. Life is certainly more complicated today than in the past, and most families today are very very busy. But we also know that when need arises, when the winds of impermanence blow, we turn to the temple for support during those difficult times. We expect the temple and the minister to be there for us at those times, and rightly so. But the truth is, despite our utmost efforts, the temple may not be there in years to come; not without your help today. Financial donations are, of course, very helpful and necessary, but the most important help we need is your presence, your participation, and your help in steering Kahului Hongwanji into the future. We need your expertise, your creativity, your leadership, your energy, and your enthusiasm to bring new life to our Sangha. In this new year of 2016, I hope we will have the privilege of expanding our Dharma Community through the presence of more of our extended Kahului Hongwanji family in Maui. In any case, please reflect on the Truth of Impermanence and may your life be filled with Joy and Happiness.
With Hands in Gassho, Namo Amida Butsu.