This past month, our family took part in a traditional Japanese-style talent show called an oyugikai, which was organized as a collaboration between three Japanese playgroups and held in the Social Hall of the San Mateo Buddhist Temple. The three groups are based on the year in which the participating children were born: Usagi-kai (2011, the Year of the Rabbit), Tatsu-no-ko-kai (2012, the Year of the Dragon), and Me Babies (2013, the Year of the Snake, or mi-doshi in Japanese).
The program began with the Me Babies group taking the stage to sing preschool standards like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Kira-kira Boshi (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star).” As the two-year olds paraded onto the stage in their spider outfits, one little girl stepped out under the stage lights, took one look at the audience of about 150 parents and children staring back at her, and began screaming at the top of her lungs. She continued screaming throughout the performance, pausing briefly at one point to join in the singing and dancing with remarkable skill for her age.
The range of performances was what you might expect from groups of children between the ages of two and four. On stage at any given time, there were some children who were quite impressive in their mastery of choreography and lyrics, along with those who stood stock-still—impervious to the exaggerated gesticulations of the parent-conductors stationed in front of the stage. One boy sat very comfortably on the floor at center stage throughout his group’s performance.
While the children performed in many different ways, I observed a common response from all the parents: each one welcomed their child with a big smile and a hug, praising them for their courage and hard work. As parents of small children, we are all learning to encourage our children to step out onto the stage of their lives, try new things and face challenges with calm minds and courageous hearts. Having someone in our lives who shows us that we are precious just as we are gives us the courage to venture out into the world and respond to whatever we encounter there with the best wisdom we have.
At times, we may find that presence of boundless care and support in our parents. Other times in our lives, we may find it in grandparents, teachers, coaches, coworkers, spouses or friends. Once we have an encounter with true compassion, the transformation of our lives is permanent. Even if we are separated from someone who has been a presence of genuine compassion in our lives, the deep feeling of peace we received from them remains. In the life of the Nembutsu, Amida Buddha is that presence of boundless compassion in our lives. We use the word shinjin, or “entrusing heart,” to describe that peace of mind that we receive from the light of the Buddha’s wisdom shining into our lives. In the Notes on Once-Calling and Many-Calling Shinran writes: “When one realizes true and real shinjin, one is immediately grasped and held within the heart of the Buddha of unhindered light, never to be abandoned.” (Collected Works of Shinran, p. 475)
The world around us may be telling us that we ought to stand in a certain place on the stage or sing and dance in a certain way. Living in the Nembutsu, we find the courage to take the stage just as we are, discovering a life that is full and beautiful, just right for us at this very moment.
Namo Amida Butsu