The Seed of the Buddha

On April 8, 2018, we warmly welcome you to join us for our Hanamatsuri Service, a joyful celebration of the Birth of Prince Siddhartha Gautama 2,641 years ago in Lumbini, Nepal.  After realizing awakening seated under the Bodhi Tree at age 35, Siddhartha dedicated the rest of his life to teaching the path to liberation from suffering.  From that time, down to the present he has been revered as Sakyamuni Buddha, the Awakened One, Sage of the Sakya Clan.

Sakyamuni Buddha is a great hero to all those whose lives are guided by the wisdom and compassion of the Dharma he taught.  His teachings have provided the strength and clarity needed to face great challenges for people of all walks of life through the generations.  When I reflect on the difficulties we face in our world today, I am guided by those who, inspired by Sakyamuni Buddha’s presence here in our world, have walked the path of the Nembutsu before me.

Rev. Daisho Tana, the first full-time minister to be assigned to our San Mateo Buddhist Temple is one of my heroes.  Tana Sensei was living in Lompoc on the Central Coast of California in December 1941 when the United States declared war on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Like so many leaders of the Japanese American Community at the start of the war, despite the fact that extensive investigation of his home and activities yielded no proof of unlawful activity, he was taken from his home and separated from his family.

He departed from Lompoc on March 14, 1942, along with twelve other community leaders from the San Luis Obispo area, including a fellow Buddhist minister and a Japanese Christian pastor. They were first detained at an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Tuna Canyon on the edge of the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles.  For their first breakfast at the Tuna Canyon camp they were served a breakfast of black coffee and a bowl of oatmeal that had no flavor apart from grains of sugar.  Tana Sensei had heard a rumor that they would not be served lunch, so he forced himself to finish the whole bowl of oatmeal.

The majority of Japanese Americans had yet to be incarcerated at that time, and Tana Sensei records in his journal that friends and family of detainees were allowed visiting hours from 9:00 a.m. that day.  One after another, visitors from the Los Angeles area brought all kinds of delicious homemade food for the men who were detained, which was shared freely among all the men at the camp.  Tana Sensei writes that had he known he would be treated to such a feast, he would not have filled up on flavorless oatmeal.

On March 26 the detainees were transferred to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  After traveling by train for 25 hours, mostly through the desert, they found themselves in a much less hospitable climate than the Southern California coast where they had been living.  The cold desert nights at the Santa Fe camp reminded Tana Sensei of early spring in Hokkaido where he grew up.  The overwhelming impression I received from the early days of Tana Sensei’s memoir of the war years was one of uncertainty and continually facing unexpected change.

In the midst of all this chaos, Tana Sensei describes how the he found comfort and peace of mind in the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha.  Buddhist ministers from all over the country were assembled at the Santa Fe camp, so their lives remained grounded in the Buddhadharma as they faced those adverse circumstances.  In a journal entry for April 8, 1942, Tana Sensei recorded the following reflection on the Hanamatsuri Service they held eleven days after arriving at the Department of Justice internment camp in Santa Fe:

Today we celebrate Sakyamuni’s Buddha’s Birthday.  At 7:00 p.m. we will conduct the Hanamatsuri Service in the camp dining hall.

War between Japan and the United States has given rise the causes and conditions by which Buddhists from the West Coast have brought the Buddha to this place where we celebrate his appearance in this world against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.  I am deeply moved when I consider the Buddha’s prediction that his teachings would continually spread Eastward.

From this day forward, there is no telling where we will find ourselves and how long we will stay there.  At the moment there are 630 of us here.  When I consider the possibility that in the future as many 1,500 Japanese may be interned here, with roughly half of the internees being Buddhist, I am reminded that the Buddha showed us that the Dharma is taught according the circumstance of the times.  Therefore, I have asked my wife to work on sending us Buddhist items.  After all the Japanese have left the Pacific Coast, our temples may be abandoned, but the seed of the Buddha, once planted, will be carried by the winds of war, eastward across the American continent so that the Dharma Lotus will blossom in this land.

(Santa Fe Lordsburg senji tekikokujin yokuryūjo nikki, Vol. I , p. 136, Trans. H. Adams)

As we celebrate the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha, let us reflect on how our own lives have been transformed by his appearance in our world.  Guided by the wisdom and compassion of his teachings, may we find the courage and inspiration to live with peace of mind amidst the challenges of our lives.

Namo Amida Butsu