Messages from Shaku Arthur Kaufmann
Reverend or Shaku?
Shaku Arthur Kaufmann
As some of you know I have requested that, if you want to address with a title, that you do so with the word “Shaku.”
I understand why the title, “Reverend” is and was used as a title for Shin ministers, especially after WW II, in an effort to make Jodoshinshu Buddhism appear less foreign to the general population; a practical move in light of the lingering prejudice after the war.
For me though, today, it is a question of definitions and I speak solely for myself here.
Reverend means, one who is to be “revered,” while Shaku, a Sanskrit word, means, “disciple of Buddha”. You might recognize the word from your Buddhist name if you have received one.
While my ego would dearly love to be “revered” and be “highly respected”,
I know that I am not worthy of such a title, this is not false modesty, this is fact.
I feel that such a title fosters separation between myself and the rest of the Sangha, as if I were someone special, I am not. I am, as Shinran put it, a dogyo or dobo, a fellow traveler on the Shinshu path. I am travelling with all of you as part of the Sangha.
I am not trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill here. I am not trying to start a movement or anything, nor do I think of myself as a monk, I am a Shin Buddhist priest.
Any respect I am afforded by anyone, I expect to earn, and not receive it just because I wear a black robe and wagesa. As far as any other ministers are concerned, I shall address them in which-ever form they are addressed.
I hope this clarifies why I chose, Shaku.
In Gassho, Art Kaufmann
Where do you find the Buddha Dharma?
Shaku Art Kaufmann
How would you answer that simple question? Some folks would say, “The sutras.” Some would say “The temple.” Some would say “The Three Treasures.” We love to categorize things don’t we and have everything in its proper place? Maybe I should have asked where you find the truth or proof of the Buddha Dharma. I suppose there are as many answers as there are Buddhists, and most likely, they’d all be right in their answers.
When I reflect on such questions I end up with an answer I don’t think I expected but it becomes more apparent as I age.
When the Shakyamuni Buddha was challenged by scholars as to what he taught one of his answers was “suffering and the alleviation of suffering.” On the face of it, it sounds pretty depressing if you leave it at that. The suffering the Buddha was referring to was the suffering of human beings, us. The word suffering comes with a lot of weight to it. We usually think of it in major terms, such as earthquake, floods, hurricanes or tornadoes and death. To be sure those do produce great suffering. Maybe it is a conditioning of the media who usually looks for weighty stories like that. Some people object to the use of the word for that very reason. If we limit the definition of the work to those events, I could understand their objection. That really would be depressing.
Suffering is a vast topic if you really look at it. Some ministers, when referring to the suffering of human existence, will use words like dissatisfaction or unsatisfactory or unfulfilling or even as a bumpy road (used mostly for children). There are times, usually on my day off, when I misplace my car keys when I want to go someplace. I go through the process of asking the last person who saw them, which is myself. “When did I last see them, what was I doing when I last saw or used them, what was I wearing?” I got in the house so they must be here right? As I do this I am thinking, “Oh no, am I going to have to change my plans?” Now keep in mind, my keys are not lost, they are exactly where I left them. I just don’t know where that is. So I walk around the house until I stumble upon them and there they are.
When I was working for BDK Suddhata Hawaii on O’ahu I had a couple of dear friends who came out to Hawaii from Colorado so I took some time to show them around. We went up to the Pali look out which is a pretty spectacular scene. At the time BDK had an old Ford station wagon for deliveries etc. and I had been driving it for a few years so there wasn’t anything strange about it. It was an older model but it did the job asked of it. We got up there, got out of the car after which I promptly lock the keys in the car. I could not believe I did that. It was the first time after years of driving that car. Thanks only to the kindness of others I was able to retrieve my keys, but boy, was I embarrassed.
Fortunately my present car tells me when I leave the keys in the ignition, that is, if I pay attention.
When I was going to Kap’iolani Community College on O’ahu I got a job in the cafeteria so I could get supplies for classes. I was happy to get the job but as it turned out, I had to make sandwiches with the two things I never developed a taste for: tuna fish and egg salad. Ugh, hundreds of tuna fish salad and egg salad sandwiches every day.
I had to take algebra as a core subject and although I never cared for math that much, I thought, as an adult I could do it. I kind of surprised myself because I got pretty good doing the different problems for homework. Problem was, and I have no idea why, I couldn’t successfully test in it. Weird huh? It made no sense to me at all and although I tried over and over again I couldn’t do it. I finally had to take a logic class in place of it. Frustrating!
Of course, there were other times that were not as easy to deal with. While I was in Viet Nam, my Grandmother died. This was my father’s mother. Because I was in a war zone there was nothing I could do to get back there for the funeral. She was very dear to me and I miss her today. I wasn’t the only one to receive bad new while I was over there. A young man I met, who hadn’t been married too long ago, received what was called a “Dear John” letter from his wife. I think these letters were named in the second would war. It was usually a letter from a wife or girlfriend telling her husband or boyfriend that she had fallen in love with someone new and that their relationship was over. Again, there was nothing he could do to get home to deal with the situation. About the only troops that could go home from a war zone were the ones who were the last surviving son of a family. That person would be taken home and released from service.
When my first wife and I finalized our divorce the end of 1965, there were 2 young children put in the custody of their mother. January of 1966 I was shipped out to Vietnam. During the year of finalization my x met someone new and ultimately married after our divorce. I don’t remember how long I was in country when I got a letter from my x asking me to allow her new husband to adopt our children. I know she had the welfare of the children in mind but I could have done without her request while I was in Vietnam.
Now, don’t think that my life has been all doom and gloom because there have been many good times and people in my life for which I am deeply grateful but when you throw in the reality of impermanence and change into the mix it kind of puts limitations on things both good and bad. So, what are we to do?
As Buddhists we have a unique advantage in the Dharma which tells us of the reality of this existence. Like it or not, there is suffering of all kinds in this life just as there is happiness, from the miniscule to the gigantic. That’s a fact. You can accept this or not, it’s up to you. It’s not going to change the truth. Knowing and realizing the truth make life a bit easier to deal with.
There is a Zen koan that goes, “pain make you think, thinking makes you wise, wisdom…… the student has to find the ending of which there are probably many, but the one I know is “wisdom makes life bearable.”
I remember a saying that goes, I think, “life is hard, suffering is optional.”
So, where do I find the dharma? Everywhere.
Gathering of Joy
Shaku Art Kaufmann
I experienced something this past Obon on 21-22 June in Lihue. I wish I could share it with everyone who was there, particularly the Sangha members and volunteers. I tried to, at the time, but it was not possible because everyone was so busy. If you should know any of the volunteer’s maybe you could let them know.
To say that there was a lot of work done is an understatement to be sure, but I am talking about the spirit in which it was done. I was probably exposed to that spirit past at other temples but I did not have the eyes to recognize it at those times.
As you probably know, Obon is sometimes called Kangi-e. It consists of two kanji both meaning joy, but this is an intense joy.
Every time I have gone to an Obon dance I have had a hard time equating Joy with the occasion perhaps because of so many of my family members passing away within a matter of a few years. Maybe it was the feeling of remorse I felt for not having been an attentive relative as I should or could have been. It was sheer selfishness on my part and I am ashamed of that. What was I thinking that they were going to live forever? Did I think that somehow, the law of impermanence did not apply to my family? Well I found out that it did apply in a devastating way and I had the nerve to feel sorry for myself. Where was the Joy I asked selfishly?
This was certainly not the first time I had felt sorry for myself. I should have suspected that.
This time though, it was different. As I was at the temple I looked at all the small chochin on which I had written names, and I apologized to each one of them for my self-centeredness. I guess I was trying to take responsibility for it.
To get back to the preparations for the dance, as any Sangha member knows, the effort towards the completion is massive and it involved many people. All of them were volunteers. Some I saw on a weekly basis while others I did not know but there they were helping out, doing what they could. There they were, helping with the yagura, marking the dance area as well as the eating area, setting up tables for the Country Store, serving counters and game booths for the keiki preparing and cooking food, cookies, rice, meats, veggies and noodles for saimin and meals and snacks. It was really impressive. Even though they were short -handed this year, it got done.
The attitude with which it was done is what struck me, short-handed or not, people worked together, harmoniously and usually good naturedly. Oh sure, there may have been some friction at times, but that friction came from folks caring about what they had to do and were doing.
Whatever had to be done, there was an element of joy involved, some of it subdued and some of it apparent. I got in on the meat skewering for the barbeques (I had to be schooled in technique) and the folks were joking and teasing and playing with one another. That good feeling continued all through the week right into the dance nights.
Someone had told me that they thought Lihue had the best tasting food during the Obon dance. I wondered about that and had a realization of what could cause that. I am not trying to get metaphysical on you or anything but I really think that the aloha with which the food had been prepared added to its’ flavor and to the whole event itself.
I know that most folks will think of the Obon success or lack thereof, in terms of monies realized but in terms of making it a “Gathering of Joy” which is its’ purpose, you were a smashing success. So thank you, thank you for helping me grow and that “Gathering of Joy”.
Great Remembrance, Great Reflection
Shaku Sho Ju
My, my, here we are with half the year gone! Before we know it we shall be celebrating Obon dori. Obon has grown to be a time of remembrance and reflection for me and I hope it will be so for you also. Most of my immediate family is gone now, Mom and Dad, Dolores my older sister, and Gerald, a younger brother, my niece, Kathy and my sister in law Ernestine. More and more their importance in my life comes to bear, how fortunate I was to have had them in my life? How precious each one of them was and how terribly long it took for me to realize that fact.
How many important teachers, academic, clerical and personal have I had? How many guides? It is only through self-reflection that the answers come to selfish, self-centered person.
The list would be a mile or so long and then, would probably not be complete.
As I was working on this article, my mind wandered back to my years in Denver Colorado at the Tri State Buddhist Temple where I first encountered the True Pure Land teachings. I was attending their Hanamatsuri Festival which was their major fund raiser for the year. There was plenty food booths and cultural exhibits such as Judo, Flower arranging, Bonsai cultivating, Japanese writing and lectures on Buddhism by one of the Priests. Lots and lots of people were attending. The temple itself has a small gravel garden in front of the lanai and it was there that I met the care taker, Uncle Bob Wetmore. Bob was just watching the folks go by from the garden into the temple, as was I, and he told me that they would be closed for the month but would re-open the following month and said, “Why don’t you come by?” This was back in 1979 and I have been going to temple ever since.
I was very fortunate as they had the benefit of having four Senseis working there at that time.
Rev. Unryu Sugiyama was the head priest, with Rev. Kanya Okamoto, Rev. Oda as Associate Priests and Rev. Tamai, who was retired but still active. So there I had at least three perspectives on the Dharma, Rev Tamai taught in his native Japanese language. I was patiently taught by all four of them all being my “good teachers” (Zenchishiki) but it is the lesson that Rev. Tamai, the retired minister taught me that comes to mind.
Rev, Tamai was one of those priests that was talked about in hushed tones, for it was thought that he was definitely a Bodhisattva, if not a living Buddha. I heard many stories about his kindness and compassion he bestowed upon every one he met.
As my involvement in the temple grew, you know how it goes, first you start going to services and little by little, one starts helping out after services, putting up tables for refreshments and folding up chairs etc. It is a natural process of learning inter-dependency and inter-relationships that goes on in a Temple. Through this process considering the high regard Tamai sensei was held, my natural shyness prevented me from interacting with him much until an occasion where, after helping put up the tables for refreshments after service I was looking for Rev. Okamoto and I happened to ask Rev. Tamai if he had seen him. Rev. Tamai said, “Thank you, thank you.” I thought that he had not heard me correctly, so I asked again and again, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Thank you, thank you, but no, I haven’t seen him.” At the time I didn’t quite understand why he began his reply with “Thank you, thank you” and the incident stayed with me over the years. I thought it might have been some kind of Japanese thing or maybe it was a factor of his old age. I later came to find out that that was the way Tamai Sensei always started his replies to any and every one.
As I mentioned, Tamai Sensei was a retired senior citizen when I met him although still actively teaching. After a few years though Tamai Sensei’s life was approaching its end at which time he had to be hospitalized.
It was then that I came to understand a little about him. I do not know what it was that took Tamai Sensei’s life but I do know it was not a comfortable process during which he experienced physical pain.
While in the hospital it was necessary to move him so as to prevent bed sores. One afternoon I ask my Good Teacher,(Zenchishiki) Rev. Kanya Okamoto how Tamai Sensei was doing, a look of wonder came over his face and he said, “Man, while I was there the nurses had to shift Tamai Sensei’s position and although they tried to do it as painlessly as possible, it was obvious that he was in pain.” Kanya then said, “But despite his pain, no matter what the doctors and nurses had to do to him, all that came out of Tamai Sensei’s mouth was “thank you, thank you.”
Rev. Okamoto and I stood there, in stunned silence.
Messages from Rev. Takahashi