By Reverend Kazunori Takahashi
Once I was asked a question as follows: "I am troubled over relationships with my co-worker. I am always very hurt by her cruel words. She never listens to me. Could you tell me how to deal with this situation from a perspective on Buddhism?"
Have you ever had this kind of experience? We live our daily lives with various people in our homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. If everybody were kind, it would be nice. However, we sometimes encounter people who give us trouble. We would deal with this trouble by changing circumstances. However, we cannot stay away all the time. In addition, even if we do that, we would encounter another troublesome person. Sakyamuni Buddha taught that there is a suffering of Onzoeku or having to associate with those we dislike. Buddhism teaches us that our suffering occurs when things do not go our way. Nobody likes to be given thoughtless words and deeds. However, it is difficult to change other people. What should we do in this kind of situation?
Thinking about this problem, I always remember one of my experiences about human relationships. When I was a university student, I had a part-time job at a certain workplace. There was a manager who was very difficult to get along with. Many workers complained about his ways. Some of them even quit because of his harsh words. I was also thinking of how to associate with him. One day, however, one of my co-workers changed my opinion of the manager. He said, "I understand he has a sharp tongue, but I like him. I think he has many good points. He always works hard. Although he doesn’t show it, it seems he also thinks about his way of communication."
My co-worker’s thoughtful comment surprised me because I had never heard such a comment. He even thought about why the manager behaved in that way. After talking with him, surprisingly I could look at the good points of the manager. This experience taught me that I can see things differently through setting aside my viewpoint and listening to another one.
The 33rd vow of Amida Buddha is: When I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings throughout the countless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds in the ten quarters, having received my light and having been touched by it, will become soft and gentle in body and mind, surpassing humans and devas in those qualities. Should it not be so, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.
(The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life: The Three Pure Land Sutras, p. 26)
The 33rd vow teaches us that Amida Buddha's light makes our minds soft and gentle. If we are swayed by our self-centered viewpoints, we would think, "I am right. Others are wrong." or "Favorable people are good people. Unfavorable people are bad people." If we always have this kind of ideas, it would be hard to solve the problems. However, our viewpoints would be transformed by listening to Amida Buddha's guidance. It is like the light enables us to see things that we cannot see in a dark place.
We sometimes encounter problems of human relationships in our lives. It is difficult to change other people, but we can attempt to change ourselves by remembering the Buddha Dharma. At such times, we would be free from our hardened ideas and look at things reasonably. Amida Buddha is always working for us with great wisdom and compassion. Let us live our daily lives with the teaching of Nembutsu.
Namo Amida Butsu
Sakyamuni Buddha and Amida Buddha
Rev. Kazunori Takahashi
Have you ever wondered what the difference between Sakyamuni Buddha and Amida Buddha is? I sometimes hear that it is easy to understand Sakyamuni Buddha because he was a historical person, but it is hard to grasp who Amida Buddha is. If we understand the relationship between them, it would be easier for us to understand the teaching of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.
According to Buddhist tradition, Prinace Siddhartha Gautama (who later became Sakyamuni Buddha) was born at Lumbini Garden in Nepal about 2,500 years ago. One day, he left his castle, position and family to seek enlightenment because he saw the impermanence of human life with his own eyes. When he was 35 years old, he finally attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and became Sakyamuni Buddha. He then spread the Dharma and taught many people the way to transform suffering into peace of mind. His teachings were compiled and organized into sutras later by his disciples. Thus, Sakyamuni Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. All Buddhist schools are based on the sutras. Buddhists celebrate his birth on April 8 (Hanamatsuri) and his enlightenment on December 8 (Bodhi Day).
Sakyamuni Buddha was only the historical Buddha who appeared in this world in human form. However, when he gave his guidance to people, he taught them that he was not the only Buddha and that there are many more Buddhas in the universe. Sakyamuni Buddha then introduced Amida Buddha who was deeply respected and praised by a number of Buddhas.
Amida Buddha is different from Sakyamuni Buddha and is neither a historical person nor an idol. Amida Buddha is the Buddha of infinite light and eternal life without color or form, but Sakyamuni Buddha personified Amida Buddha in order to make the characteristics easy to understand. Amida Buddha was first the Bodhisattva Dharmakara before he attained enlightenment. When he was still in the stage of Bodhisattva, he witnessed the suffering of sentient beings and established forty-eight vows because he sincerely wanted to save all beings regardless of whether they are good or bad. He then performed various practices for a very long time, attained enlightenment and finally became Amida Buddha. Among the forty-eight vows, the eighteenth vow is considered as the most important one. This Vow states that Amida saves all beings who sincerely entrust their hearts to Amida. Thus, Amida Buddha continues to save sentient beings over an infinite length of time.
However, since Amida Buddha has no form, it is very difficult for us to notice the existence. Therefore, Amida Buddha decided to become “the voice of the Buddha” so that people can hear it and become aware of the existence of Amida. I am sure that you have also heard this sound many times. It is “Namo Amida Butsu.” This sound keeps reaching our ears through the voice of people. We can hear this sound even through our own voice of “Namo Amida Butsu.” This phenomenon means that Amida Buddha is calling us and saying, “I am always with you. I will save you without fail. I will make you become a Buddha.” Amida’s calling voice keeps resounding in this world. This is the evidence that Amida Buddha embraces us all the time.
We cannot avoid having various worries, distress and suffering in our lives. However, through listening to the name of Amida Buddha and entrusting our hearts to it, we would be able to realize that Amida Buddha always embraces us and leads us to the Buddhahood all the time. This teaching certainly brings us great strength and changes our lives.
Sakyamuni Buddha appeared in this world and introduced Amida Buddha who certainly saves us. It is like a physician makes a referral to a specialist who can cure illness. Shinran Shonin mentioned the relationship between Sakyamuni Buddha and Amida Buddha as follows: “Sakyamuni Tathagata appeared in this world solely to teach the ocean-like Primal Vow of Amida. We, an ocean of beings in an evil age of five defilements, should entrust ourselves to the Tathagata's words of truth.”
(The True Teaching, Practice, and Realization of the Pure Land Way II: Collected Works of Shinran, p. 70)
Let us live our everyday lives with the teaching of Nembutsu. Namo Amida Butsu.
By Reverend Kazunori Takahashi
Every year, Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii has a slogan. Our slogan for this year is “Embrace Change: Harmony (Accept Differences).” Thinking about the significance of harmony, I always remember a story.
In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, we always hear about the Pure Land. Some Buddhist scriptures describe what kind of place the Pure Land is. Some sutras say that the Pure Land is a really beautiful place. There are some beautiful birds of various colors, such as white swans, peacocks, parrots and so on that always make beautiful sounds. The gumyocho (two-headed bird) is one of them, always emphasizing the importance of peace and harmony in the Pure Land.
The gumyocho is a little strange. It has one body and two heads which can think separate thoughts. There is a reason why this bird is in the Pure Land. In some place, there was a gumyocho with two heads, like Head A and Head B. Each head uttered a beautiful voice, so the bird became very popular. However, both heads started arguing. Head A always thought, "We are praised because my voice is beautiful. My voice is more beautiful than that of Head B." Head B had same thoughts. "My voice is the best. If Head A were not around, only I could be praised." Thus, each of them thought, “I am better than the other head”, and they hated each other.
One day, Head A tried to kill Head B by mixing a poison into some grass. The plan worked well and Head B ate the grass. Then Head B started to suffer. However just after that, Head A also started to suffer, because there are two heads, but their body is one! Head A suddenly realized that he was also suffering. Finally, Head A and Head B or this gumyocho foolishly died. After this incident, other birds realized that, "If I thought about only myself, I cannot live in peace. It is important to think about others. We must live together in harmony and understanding and support each other." Since then, the gumyochos have been emphasizing the importance of peace and harmony in the Pure Land.
This story teaches us a really important thing. We may think that each life in this world is separated like the heads of the gumyocho. However, the Buddha teaches us that we are all interconnected like the life of the gumyocho. For example, without food, plants, sun, rain, rivers, oceans, and other people, we cannot live. It is obvious that each life supports each other although they look separated.
In this world, there are many different people, ideas, cultures, countries, religions, and so on. Today, some of them sadly conflict because of difference or lack of understanding. Even among a small group, family or community, it would happen with the same reason. These situations are similar to the story of the gumyocho.
Shinran Shonin said that different sounds are harmonious in the Pure Land as follows: Pure winds blow in the jewel-trees, producing the five tones of the scale. As those sounds are harmonious and spontaneous, pay homage to Amida, the one imbued with purity.
(Hymns of the Pure Land, Collected Works of Shinran, p.335)
The story of the gumyocho teaches us that it is important for us to accept differences and to live peacefully with others. When we live remembering this guidance, there would be beautiful harmony like the sound of the Pure Land. Namo Amida Butsu.
New Year’s Greeting
By Reverend Kazunori Takahashi
At the beginning of 2018, I would like to express my greetings for the New Year. Thanks to you, your help and support, Lihue Hongwanji was able to hold various services and activities last year. Let me take this opportunity to extend my deepest gratitude to all of you. I humbly ask you to continue supporting Lihue Hongwanji this year.
Through various services and activities, I have had a lot of opportunities to talk about Buddhism with many people. At those times, I sometimes hear the following: “Sensei, I prefer to think of Buddhism more as a way of life than a religion. We always learn the teachings, but I think it is important to practice what we learn in our everyday lives.” Have you ever had this kind of thoughts? Actually, our school offers a clear idea of how we should live our lives with the Jodo Shinshu teachings as follows:
Guided by the teaching of Shinran Shonin, we shall listen to the compassionate calling of Amida Tathagata and recite the Nembutsu. While always reflecting on ourselves, amidst our feelings of regret and joy, we shall live expressing our gratitude without depending on petitionary prayer and superstition. (Jodo Shinshu Service Book, p.viii)
In this passage, the importance of reflecting on ourselves is emphasized. When I think about the teaching of “self-reflection,” I always remember the words of Master Shan-tao (613-681), one of the seven masters who Shinran Shonin deeply respected. He said, "The teaching of the sutras is like a mirror." I think you look at yourself in a mirror every day when you wash your face, groom yourself, shave your mustache, etc. If there is something on your face, you can remove it; since you might feel ashamed if your appearance is not decent.
We can see our appearance with the mirror, but we cannot see the state of our minds. Just as our appearance becomes messy when we don't care about it, our minds would be messy sometimes. We sometimes get mad, grumble, and are disturbed when we encounter unfavorable situations. In such cases, we might think that we suffer because of other people or unfortunate situations around us. However, Buddhism teaches us that we cause our sufferings because of our blind passions. That is to say, through listening to the teaching of Buddhism, we can reflect on ourselves. It is not always pleasant to know our own nature. However, if we notice the state of our minds, we would be able to adjust it.
When the mirror reflects us, it collects light and we can see ourselves. Likewise, through remembering that the light of wisdom always illuminates us, we can check the state of our minds. Shinran Shonin said: The light of wisdom exceeds all measure, and every finite living being receives this illumination that is like the dawn, so take refuge in Amida, the true and real light.
(Hymns of the Pure Land, Collected Works of Shinran, p.325)
Let us continue listening to the teaching of Nembutsu and live our everyday lives peacefully this year. Namo Amida Butsu.