By Reverend Kazunori Takahashi
I'd like to share with you one story that I once heard. This is the story of Sakyamuni Buddha and Ananda, one of his closest disciple. One day, Ananda asked a question as follows, "Sakyamuni Buddha, you told me that you had a hardship to attain enlightenment for six years. However, I feel six years is not too long. It seems it was easy for you to attain enlightenment. Was it really hard for you?" Ananda may have had difficulty in his practice, so he may have asked this question. However, Sakyamuni Buddha didn't answer his question directly. Instead, he shared one story with him.
He said, "Ananda, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a very wealthy man. He had a lot of money. He liked to collect various treasures and jewels. One day, he really wanted to get red pearls. He had already had white pearls but he didn't have the red ones. However, it was difficult for him to find them. Since he couldn't look for them in the ocean by himself, he hired a fisherman. But it was not easy even for the fisherman. He had an accident that a shark attacked him when he was looking for red pearls. After a long time, he finally found red pearls at the risk of his life. The wealthy man was really pleased, then he was going to take the red pearls to his home. On his way home, a group of robbers attacked him, because they heard that he got rare jewels. He faced a crisis, but he survived the accident fortunately. Then he finally got home and displayed the red pearls in his home.
The wealthy man had two small children. They found the red pearls, but they didn't understand the value. Also, they didn't know their father's effort. They said, "Do you know where my dad found this stone?", "I guess he found them around here." "That's right. Those look like ordinary stones. We would find this kind of stuff even in the kitchen." They talked about the red pearls innocently. The wealthy man heard their conversation, then he just had a bitter smile. Ananda, what do you think about this story?"
This is the story Sakyamuni Buddha told Ananda. Ananda asked a question about Sakyamuni Buddha's practice. But Sakyamuni Buddha didn't answer his question. He just shared the story of the red pearls. After the story, Sakyamuni Buddha said to Ananda as follows. "We tend to see only present conditions, surfaces, appearances, and a part of things. However, it's not good to have such a narrow viewpoint." In the story, the red pearls are compared to his enlightenment. The children are compared to Ananda. Through the story, Sakyamuni Buddha conveyed that his practice was not easy and taught him the importance of having a broad viewpoint. This is the episode between Sakyamuni Buddha and Ananda.
When I heard this story, I thought about the Nembutsu we always recite. In Jodo Shin Buddhism, reciting the Nembutsu is really important. On the surface, this is a really simple action. Other Buddhist practices might look more valuable than the Nembutsu. However, through listening to the teaching, we learn this is not just a word. This word contains Amida Buddha’s primal vow that he saves all of us. We may think "I recite the Nembutsu". However, thinking about the reason why we started reciting the Nembutsu, we would notice that so many different conditions enable us to encounter the Buddha Dharma and to recite the Nembutsu. Thinking about not only surface but also invisible parts, we would be reminded of something very important.
Shinran Shonin said: Through the compassion of Sakyamuni and Amida, we have been brought to realize the mind that seeks to attain Buddhahood. It is by entering the wisdom of entrusting heart that we become persons who respond in gratitude to the Buddhas' benevolence.
(Hymns of the Dharma-Ages: Collected Works of Shinran, p. 407)
If we attempt to think over invisible process that enable us to receive different things and to recite the Nembutsu, we would notice Amida Buddha’s compassionate working and have a great feeling of gratitude. Let us live our everyday lives reciting the Nembutsu. Namo Amida Butsu.
Connection of Life
By Reverend Kazunori Takahashi
I’d like to talk about one Japanese word, “Itadakimasu.” After I came to Hawaii from Japan, I was surprised that various Japanese words are still used in Hawaii, for example, sushi, nishime, bento, etc. In temples too, we use some Japanese words like kyodan, mochitsuki, etc. Itadakimasu which means “I gratefully receive this food” is one of those words. It is wonderful to say Itadakimasu at the end of the words of thanksgiving to express gratitude when we have a meal in the temple.
Several years ago, I heard the news about this word “Itadakimasu.” In an elementary school in Japan, a student’s mother requested the school to make the students stop saying “Itadakimasu” before lunch. She insisted that it's not necessary for her son to express appreciation saying “Itadakimasu” because she paid for his meals. After this news was reported in Japan, there was a lot of argument about this matter. When I heard this news, I had a complicated feeling, because her opinions didn’t include the feeling of gratitude for the foods at all. In the words of thanksgiving that we always recite in the temple, there are the following words: “We are truly grateful for this wonderful food, the gift of life.” This teaches us the importance of expressing appreciation before beginning to eat. “Itadakimasu” is actually the word to express appreciation for the gift of life.
Once I read a nice article on the newsletter from Hongwanji in Kyoto. The contents of the article were a complete contrast to the one about the critical idea to “Itadakimasu”. The article introduced some high school students who learned the teaching of Buddhism. I’d like to share a part of the essay written by one of the students.
“I learned the preciousness of life in the school. I realized it is important to be grateful for everything that supports my life; not only living beings but also everything, even foods, clothing and so on. Before I started learning the Buddhism, I thought I should express appreciation only when someone helps me. I knew I take lives of other animals, but I had never had a feeling of gratitude. I took it for granted that I eat meals because it is necessary to maintain my life. However, after I learned the teaching of Buddhism, I became aware that the other lives change their forms, become a part of my life and are supporting me. I realized my life includes many other lives.”
He expressed his honest feeling in his essay. At first, he thought he should express appreciation only when someone helps him. However, he came to appreciate how other lives support his life through learning the perspective of Buddhism. His essay embodied the idea of “Itadakimasu” and reminded me of the importance of gratitude.
Buddhism teaches us the idea of interdependence. It means that everything in this world is interrelated. Our lives exist depending on other lives. However, the connection of lives is not visible to our eyes, so it would be hard to notice. Therefore, it would be meaningful to listen to the teaching of Buddhism.
Shinran Shonin said: My eyes being hindered by blind passions, I cannot perceive the light that grasps me; Yet the great compassion, without tiring, illumines me always.
(Hymns of the Pure Land Masters: Collected Works of Shinran, p. 385)
He talked about Amida Buddha’s great compassion which is hard to notice but always working for us. Amida Buddha is the Buddha of immeasurable light and life and is always working for us. It is difficult to notice it, but we would be aware of it, listening to the teaching of Buddhism. We live our daily life, receiving various things. I think as we become more aware of all that we receive, we cannot help but be grateful for everything. Let us live our daily lives listening to Buddha’s teachings. Namo Amida Butsu.
Teaching for Everyone
By Reverend Kazunori Takahashi
This month, we will be holding the Gotan-e Service to celebrate Shinran Shonin’s birthday. I’d like to share one of his episodes with you. He was ordained at the age of nine and entered monastic life, studying on Mt. Hiei, the center of Buddhist Studies in those days. He studied and practiced there for the next 20 years. However, in spite of all his effort, he couldn’t attain spiritual fulfillment and was finally determined to leave Mt. Hiei when he was 29 years old. Actually, there are no historical records or his statements showing how he lived on Mt. Hiei. However, some of his statements enable us to guess his situation. One of his remarkable statements is: “Since I am absolutely incapable of any religious practice, hell is my only home.” ("Tannisho: Taitetsu Unno, Tannisho, p.4")
When Shinran Shonin was on Mt. Hiei, he followed the Tendai School that requires monks to do ascetic practices. Since he stated that he was incapable of “any” religious practice, he would have attempted different practices. However, he couldn’t fulfill those practices and attain peace of mind by his effort. After he came down from Mt. Hiei, he visited Honen Shonin who taught the Nembutsu at that time. His teaching was different from the ones that Shinran Shonin studied on Mt. Hiei. In his teaching, it was not necessary to do difficult practices and study hard. He told people just to recite the name of Amida Buddha, Namo Amida Butsu. Shinran Shonin learned the teaching of Nembutsu and finally found a new direction in his life.
This is the turning point for Shinran Shonin’s life. In addition, I feel this episode would teach us the significance of the Nembutsu teaching. The ultimate purpose of Buddhism is to become a Buddha, in other words, to bring an end to blind passions and attain peace of mind. Since we encounter various events in our life, not only happy or pleasant things but also sad and difficult things, it is significant to always learn and listen to the teachings of Buddhism.
When we encounter some problems, we would attempt to find solutions by our own effort. It would be good if we could resolve the problems. However, we sometimes undergo hardships that overwhelm us, for example, suffering from a serious disease, the sorrow of parting, the problem of human relationships, etc. Even if we wish to overcome by our effort, it would be sometimes difficult to find what to do, to gain energy or to settle it.
Shinran Shonin revealed that Amida Buddha certainly saves all of us with his wisdom and compassion. If we need to fulfill some conditions, those who cannot do could not be saved. However, Amida Buddha doesn’t require us to accomplish special practices, to make effort or to have strong mind. Therefore, we always learn that Amida Buddha is calling to us, “I will save you just as you are.” Since he will save all of us unconditionally, what we need to do is just to listen to the teaching and to entrust our heart to Amida Buddha's working. It enables us to be free from suffering caused by our self-centered blind passions.
Shinran Shonin said: Seeing the sentient beings of the nembutsu throughout the worlds, countless as particles, in the ten quarters, the Buddha grasps and never abandons them, and therefore is named “Amida.” ("Hymns of the Pure Land, Collected Works of Shinran, p.347")
He was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1173, 844 years ago. We hardly celebrate the birthday of a person who lived a very long time ago or of a person whom we have never met. However, we celebrate his birthday and appreciate him because he revealed the Nembutsu teaching that all of us can follow it beyond time and place. Let us continue listening to the teaching of Nembutsu and firmly live our everyday lives. Namo Amida Butsu.