Rev. Kazunori Takahashi
Did you recently have a chance to attend a memorial service? In Jodo Shinshu there is the traditional custom that we observe memorial services, such as 7th day, 49th day, 1st year, 3rd year, 7th year, 13th year, 17th year, 25th year, 33rd year and 50th year. Every month this newsletter includes a list of those who passed away in the year concerned. You may schedule a memorial service on the memorial day or either before or after the day, whichever is most convenient for your family members and friends.
I sometimes receive questions about this tradition. Someone once asked me what the origin of the memorial service is. Actually, the custom of the memorial service is based on the combination of various origins of services. Speaking of seventh day services, this custom is based on the idea of chuin, the state of intermediate existence between one’s death and rebirth. It was once believed that there was a 49 day interval between death in this world and birth in the next world. In Buddhism it is said that we are in the cycle of birth and death. This would lead to a person being reborn in one of six realms which are heavenly world, human beings, world of anger, hungry ghost, animal and hell, according to the accumulated karma. This idea was originally from the old philosophy in India. Therefore, the surviving family wished to send the deceased to a better birthplace by having services each seventh day. This is the origin of seventh day services.
However, the purpose of seventh day services in Jodo Shinshu is different from the original idea. Jodo Shinshu doesn’t say that our birthplace will be decided 49 days after the death. We don’t have a special power that can send a deceased person to a better place. We learn that we will be born in Amida Buddha's Pure Land and become a Buddha by Amida Buddha's working. Then why do we observe seventh day services? Jodo Shinshu just adopted this tradition and takes these opportunities to remember a departed person and to listen to the teachings. (I'd like to mention the origins of memorial services during significant years another time)
Shinran Shonin said: Casting off the pain of birth-and-death since the beginningless past, we are certain of attaining supreme nirvana. This is through Amida’s directing of virtue for going forth and returning; Our gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence is truly hard to fulfill.
(Hymns of the Dharma Ages: Collected Works of Shinran, p.411)
If we understand we can reach the certain destination, we would receive firm strength to live our lives. In addition, when we have a difficult time after parting from a loved one, we can think "I will be able to see my departed loved one again in the Pure Land." Thus, by observing the memorial services, we can remember the departed person and the teachings that certainly support our lives. Why was this tradition carried through to the present? Through thinking about it, we would rediscover the importance of this custom.
Lihue Hongwanji also observes a monthly memorial service one Sunday a month in conjunction with a Sunday & birthday service. This service is observed in memory of all who passed away in that month. This is a meaningful opportunity for us to attend the service remembering departed loved ones every year. You don't need to schedule this service in advance. You can just write down the names of your departed loved ones before the service, and names will be read during the service. Attending these monthly memorial services will be a good way to remember and honor your loved ones every year and not only during significant years. Namo Amida Butsu.
Listening and Learning
By Reverend Kazunori Takahashi
Lihue Hongwanji holds various services and activities throughout the year. I’m often reminded that a number of members support temple activities. Some people have great talents such as cooking, cleaning, flower arrangement, playing some musical instruments, organizing events, etc. I really admire talents that each person has and appreciate their contributions. I cannot play any musical instruments, but someone once encouraged me to learn to play some instruments so that I can play in the future. Through this conversation, I remembered something relating to Buddhism.
If we want to learn something, we need to spend time to make progress or to fully understand. It would be difficult to understand instruction from the start, but we can naturally learn it if we keep listening to instruction and performing a basic style properly. It would be applicable to various things such as cultures, sports, cooking, study, etc. If we stop learning, we would never improve and enjoy it.
I sometimes hear the following comments regarding the teachings of Buddhism. "Sensei, it's hard to understand the teachings of Buddhism." or "It's difficult to imagine Amida Buddha, Pure Land, etc." Have you ever had this kind of thoughts? Some people might be able to understand what they hear immediately, but it would be hard for most of us to grasp it right away. But that’s the very reason why it's meaningful to continue listening to the teachings.
In Jodo Shin Buddhism, there are some basic manners. There is a proper way of holding the Nenju, doing offering of incense, setting family altar, chanting Sutra, etc. We don’t depend on petitionary prayer and superstition. We would learn the way of life based on the teaching of Nembutsu by following these manners in our daily lives.
In addition, the most important thing is that we must continue listening to the teachings of Nembutsu. We learn that Amida Buddha is always working for us and certainly save us with his wisdom and compassion. It would be hard to fully understand it immediately. However, we would eventually learn it naturally in the same manner as we learn other things when we keep listening to guidance. When I was talking with someone about learning musical instruments, I remembered the importance of continuity of learning.
Shinran Shonin said, “Such beings are like people who, imbued with incense, bear its fragrance on their bodies; they may be called those adorned with the fragrance of light.”
(Hymns of the Pure Land: Collected Works of Shinran, p.357)
If we stay in a room filled with the good fragrance, it is naturally borne on our bodies. Likewise, if we always listen to the teaching of Nembutsu, we are naturally adorned with the virtue of Amida Buddha.
We will be observing the Eitaikyo Service soon. This service is observed to show appreciation for our past members who have preserved our temple for us to listen to the teachings, and to hope that our temple will continue perpetually for future generations. It would be a great opportunity for us to remember the importance of listening to the Nembutsu teachings.
Let us continue listening and learning and live our everyday lives with joy and appreciation under Amida Buddha’s compassion. Namo Amida Butsu.
By Reverend Kazunori Takahashi
Do you like traveling? I think some of you go traveling sometimes. Actually I often hear stories about travels from some people and enjoy the conversation. When I talk about traveling, I often remember something relating to the teaching of Buddhism.
If you go to a place where you have never been to, what would you do? I guess you prepare for a trip before departure. Some people would join a guided tour. Tour conductors can make good travel arrangements and have information about sightseeing spots, good restaurants, hotels, transportation, etc. If we depend on their arrangements, we would enjoy traveling even in new places. Others would travel to new places by themselves using a map, a guidebook, and internet. This would also be a good way of arranging travel. In addition, it would be nice if we can get the information from those who know a destination very well. When I talk with some temple members about Kauai sightseeing, some of them kindly tell me about good places, fun activities, etc. I have been on Kauai several years, but I still sometimes get some fresh information.
On the contrary, if we don’t have a guide or such information at all, what would happen? Without a guide or a map, it would be hard to know where we are, which direction we should go and where a destination is. We might enjoy having an unplanned trip, but it would be very adventurous. There is a possibility that we could lose our way while traveling.
It is often said that our life is like a journey. We can live peacefully if everything goes well. However, we may encounter some unfavorable incidents unexpectedly just like we lose our way during travel. In that case, it would be reassuring if we have certain guides, maps, etc. Shinran Shonin taught us that we can reach the wonderful destination, Pure Land, by entrusting our heart to Amida Buddha's guidance while reciting his name. In addition, many Nembutsu followers have recommended us to listen to his teaching.
Shinran Shonin said: Being born in the Buddha-land of happiness is the path to ultimate attainment of Buddhahood; All the Buddhas acclaim the Pure Land, for birth there is the unsurpassed means.
(Hymns of the Pure Land Masters: Collected Works of Shinran, p.372)
If somebody recommends a good sightseeing spot or a good restaurant to us, it would be easy for us to listen to the suggestion. However, even if Sakyamuni Buddha, Shinran Shonin, and many followers recommended the Nembutsu to us, it would be difficult for us to understand it. We may wonder why the essential teaching is the Nembutsu. However, the best way to learn how to live our life is that we depend on the certain guidance of those who awoke to the truth of this world. Therefore, it is important for us to always listen to the Nembutsu teachings.
In our life, we would encounter situations like bumpy roads, sharp curves and steep paths. However, Amida Buddha is always calling to us, “I will save you just as you are.” In any kind of situation, Amida Buddha leads us to go the appropriate way. When we think that each thing is an event under Amida Buddha's compassion, we can firmly live through our lives.
When we travel, we can use my guidebook, maps and internet to get the information. We can also receive a lot of useful information from others. Thinking about the way of traveling, I cannot help but remember the importance of listening to the teaching of Nembutsu for the journey of our life. Let us continue listening to the Nembutsu teaching. Namo Amida Butsu.