Hearing one another, hearing the Buddha

One month ago, as I sat down to write my newsletter article for April, we were just beginning our life of staying at home under the Shelter in Place Order.  My mind was filled with uncertainty about what the coming weeks would bring.  I did not imagine the extent to which this coronavirus would affect the lives of so many people across the globe.  As I sit down to write this article for May, I see the following headline in today’s edition of the Washington Post, “Covid-19 is rapidly becoming America’s leading cause of death.”  It has been deeply saddening and distressing to hear of so many people near and far falling ill with Covid-19.  The loss of life is heartbreaking.  In the midst of my anxiety and fear, I find myself turning to the words of Shinran Shonin for comfort and guidance.

In my reading this past month, I came across a letter that Shinran wrote at a time when famine and epidemic disease had devastated communities all over Japan.  To me, Shinran’s words shine the light of wisdom on the challenges we face today.  Shinran writes:

It is saddening that so many people, both young and old, men and women, have died this year and last. But the Tathagata taught the truth of life’s impermanence for us fully, so you must not be distressed by it.

(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 531)

Shinran begins this letter with the words “It is saddening . . .”  With these words, he compassionately acknowledges and shares in the sadness that we all feel when parting with loved ones.  He then proceeds to remind us that Sakyamuni Tathagata taught fully the truth that all who are born into this world will one day be separated by death.  When I consider the many lives that have been lost through Covid-19 infections, and the difficult conditions that our heroic healthcare professionals are working under as they strive to save lives, I cannot help but feel distressed.  Kobayashi Issa, a poet of the Nembutsu, wrote the following verse in 1819 after losing his young daughter to a smallpox epidemic:


Tsuyu no yo wa

                            Tsuyu no yo nagara



The dewdrop world

                     is a dew drop world,

                                     and yet. . .


Even though we have heard and accepted in our hearts Sakyamuni Tathagata’s teaching that birth, aging, illness, and death are unavoidable in this life, as human beings who have yet to realize enlightenment, sadness and distress well up in our hearts when we part from our loved ones.

Where can we turn to find peace of mind as we live in this world where illness and death abound?  Shinran calls us to open our hearts and receive the unshakeable peace of mind (shinjin) that comes from entrusting in Amida Buddha’s vow that all beings will receive complete liberation from suffering through birth in the Pure Land:

I, for my own part, attach no significance to the condition, good or bad, of persons in their final moments. People in whom shinjin is determined do not doubt, and so abide among the truly settled. For this reason their end also – even for those ignorant and foolish and lacking in wisdom – is a happy one.

(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 531)

Amida Buddha established the compassionate vow precisely because there are people like me who lack wisdom and are mired in the suffering of this world.  When I hear the words “Namo Amida Butsu,” I hear the voice of the Buddha calling to me and assuring me that there is nothing to fear in life and death.

The life of the Nembutsu is the life of hearing the voice of the Buddha calling to us in our moments of joy and in our moments of distress.  Great peace of mind comes in hearing the Nembutsu with others, which can seem particularly difficult in our present circumstance, where we find ourselves severely limiting our in-person contact with others.  And yet, the Nembutsu continues to thrive in our Sangha as we open our hearts and minds to find ways to stay connected.

Over the past month, our Sangha members have reached out to one another by phone and by email to check-in and offer support for those who are not able to freely leave their homes for fear of contracting the virus.  Sangha members have also gathered in virtual spaces like online teleconference meetings to hear the Dharma together and practice compassionate listening with one another.  As we encounter the distress of others, we explore our own feelings of distress.  Hearing one another, we are reminded that the Buddha heard the suffering of all beings, and therefore established the compassionate vow for each and every one of us.  Hearing the Nembutsu, we receive diamondlike peace of mind in these distressing times.


Namo Amida Butsu




何よりも、去年から今年に欠けて、 老若男女を問わず多くの人々が亡くなったことは、 本当に悲しいことです。 けれども、 命あるものは必ず死ぬという無常の道理は、 すでに釈尊が詳しくお説きになっているのですから、 驚かれるようなことではありません。








わたし自身としては、 どのような臨終を迎えようともその善し悪しは問題になりません。 信心が定まった人は、 本願を疑う心がないので正定聚の位に定まっているのです。 だからこそ愚かで智慧のないわたしたちであっても尊い臨終を迎えるのです。















電話で法話やお参りをお聞きになりたい方は、(650) 342-2541に電話をかけることによって、電話参加者リストへの登録が可能です。Eメールのリストもトピック毎に分けて作ってありますので、ご自分の興味のあるトピックについての連絡がもらえます。ご自分がサブスクライブしたトピックだけのお知らせをもらうことも可能ですし、そのサブスクリプションのトピックの変更もいつでも可能です。下記のサンマテオ仏教会のホームページからサブスライブできます。


又は、sanmateo.buddhist@gmail.com にメールして、サブスクライブすることができます。


Live Broadcast of Services: 毎週日曜日のお参りにはオンラインで参拝できますし、電話で参拝することもできます。オンラインまたは電話で参拝するための情報は毎週提供されます。

Dharma School: 今、自宅でできるダーマスクールアクティビティー考えているところです。私も小学校生の子供が二人いて実感していますが、学校閉鎖と外出制限を強いられている状況で、ダーマスクールの子供の親たちも家で自分の仕事も進めながら、子供の勉強にも目を配らなくてはいけないといった、今までにやったことのない自宅学習を実践しなければいけない状況に多くのストレスを抱えているに違いありません。ただ一方で、この大変な日々の中でも、今の時代に珍しく親と子供が全員家にいて一緒に過ごせる時間が与えられたことに有難く感じているのも本当です。

Study Classes and Seminars: 毎週日曜日の大人向けのダーマディスカッションもオンラインと電話で継続していきます。また、その他の勉強会や話し合い法座も同様に続けていく方向です。

Community Service (ex. Support for Homebound Elders)

この厳しい現状の中、スーパーや薬局への外出ができない方のために買い物のサポートを提供してくれるサービスも必要ですが、そういった方々に電話で話を聞いてくれる相手がいることも大切だと思います。そしてそれは現状の社会的に距離を保たなければいけない時に特に大事と言えるでしょう。ずっと一人になることは精神的負担になりますが、それは特に高齢者に悪影響を与えてしまいます。日々いろいろな刺激を受けることは年齢を問わず精神的な健康にとても大事なことで、ある方にとっては仏教会がその刺激を受ける一番の場所になっていたことでしょう。現状のお寺に直接来られない時でも電話で会話をすることによって刺激を受けることができます。サンマテオ仏教会では現在、自宅で一人で過ごされているメンバーの方々に定期的に電話で会話をして下さるボランティアを募集しています。ボランティアができる方は(650) 342-2541又はsanmateo.buddhist@gmail.comまでに連絡お願いします。

日本語の法話: 日本語のお参りや勉強会のライブインターネット中継についての情報を提供します。

General Announcements: 祥月法要、メモリアルデーのお墓参り、バザーなどの情報を提供します。

その他問い合わせや相談したいことがあれば、遠慮なく私(650) 342-2541に連絡下さるよう宜しくお願いします。



The Sangha Treasure

I hope this message finds you well, and that you are receiving comfort and clarity from the boundless wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha in these stressful times.  As my good friend Rev. Harry Gyokyo Bridge of the Buddhist Church of Oakland reminded me in a recent e-mail, “Don’t forget to say the Nembutsu.”  Even if our minds drift from Amida Buddha, Amida Buddha never forgets us.

In keeping with the guidance for preventing the further spread of Covid-19 infections provided by the San Mateo County Health Department, the San Mateo Buddhist Temple plans to remain closed for in-person activities throughout the month of April.

The April Shotsuki Memorial will be postponed to a later date.

The Hanamatsuri Celebration of the Buddha’s Birthday will be conducted via live internet broadcast as scheduled on the morning of Sunday, April 19 at 9:30 a.m.

We are working to provide regular opportunities for our community to take comfort in the Sangha and find guidance in the Buddhadharma as we face the many challenges presented by this coronavirus outbreak.  One simple thing you can do is pick up the telephone and call your friends and relatives to check in. 

While we are not able to gather in person, there are now many opportunities to take part in temple activities by telephone and through online programs.  If you are comfortable using communication technology, please consider supporting your less technologically-inclined friends and family members, so they can maintain this vital link to the Sangha.

If you prefer to participate by telephone, simply call us at (650) 342-2541, and we will add you to a list for telephone updates.  We are also developing a set of e-mail distribution lists to provide you with the specific information you seek, without overwhelming your inbox in this time when we are relying heavily on our e-mail accounts to maintain essential lines of communication.  You will only receive messages regarding the categories you select when you subscribe.  You may unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time.  Subscribe to the lists through the San Mateo Buddhist Temple Website:


You may also e-mail me at sanmateo.buddhist@gmail.com with your preferences and I will add you to the lists of your choice.

You may choose updates from the following categories:

Live Broadcast of Services: Services will continue to be broadcast live over the internet every Sunday.  You may also call in to listen to the service over the phone.  Details for how to view or call in to that week’s service will be provided each week.

Dharma School: We are working on plans for Dharma School Activities that your family can participate in from home.  As a parent of two school-age children myself, I recognize that our Dharma School families are scrambling to balance working from home, attending to our children, and implementing the distance learning programs that our heroic school educators have managed to create on very short notice.  Nevertheless, in the midst of this hectic and stressful time, there are opportunities for gratitude as families are reunited in the home in a way that is increasingly rare these days.

Study Classes and Seminars: Our Sunday Adult Discussion program is continuing using internet and telephone conferencing.  I’ll be surveying interested Sangha members to identify the best days and times for additional Dharma conversations and study activities, as we adjust our schedules to implement social distancing.

Community Service (ex. Support for Homebound Elders)

While we work to identify needs for community support in areas such as shopping for groceries or picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy, we can begin by reaching out by phone to our fellow Sangha members to provide social and emotional support, which is so vital as we navigate these stressful times in a state of social distancing.

The psychological and emotional impact of extended isolation is hard on everyone, particularly our elders.  Regular intellectual stimulation is key to maintaining wellness, and for many in our community, the temple is their primary provider of those precious interactions.  While we are not able to gather in person at the moment, a simple phone conversation can do wonders for maintaining spiritual and emotional vitality.  We are recruiting volunteers to call up our Sangha friends on the phone to check in and have a friendly conversation.

日本語の法話: Japanese Language Services and Dharma Talks will be broadcast by telephone and online.

General Announcements: We will provide updates and announcements regarding temple events such as Shotsuki Hoyo Memorial, Memorial Day Cemetery Services and Bazaar.

Feel free to call Rev. Henry at (650) 342-2541 anytime if you have questions, concerns, or would just like to chat.


Namo Amida Butsu

Heading Westward

We will be observing our Spring Ohigan Service on Sunday, March 22 at 9:30 a.m.  Ohigan is observed twice a year during the spring and autumn equinoxes, when days and nights are of equal length and the sun sets directly in the West.  The Pure Land Sutras describe the Pure Land of Amida Buddha as a realm of enlightenment located in the west, so Ohigan is an ideal time to reflect on the direction of our lives and reorient ourselves on the path to liberation from suffering.

The following passage from the Amida Sutra describes how the Pure Land of Amida Buddha is located in the western quarter: “Beyond a hundred thousand kotis* of Buddha-lands westwards from here, there is a land called ‘Perfect Bliss.’ In that land there is a Buddha called Amida who is expounding the Dharma at this moment.” (Section 2)  Once, after I gave an Ohigan Dharma talk on the subject of Amida Buddha’s Pure Land in the western quarter, one of the Sangha members approached me and asked, “If the Pure Land of Amida Buddha is located in the Western Direction, can I travel there on spaceship?”  At the time, I was so caught off guard by the question that I had no idea how to respond.  While I am certain of the existence of Amida Buddha’s Pure Land, I do not believe it is the kind of physical place that one could fly to on a spaceship.

Some time later, I had the opportunity to meet with Rev. Sasaki Giei, one of my teachers from the Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin Buddhist Seminary where I studied for the ministry.  In our classes, Sasaki Sensei always provided clear and understandable explanations of the essential aspects of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist teachings, so I asked him how he might respond to that question about the spaceship.  In reply, he shared with me the following explanation, which is found in his book Naruhodo Jōdo Shinshū (Now I get it! Jodo Shinshu):

The light of the beautiful stars that we see shining in the night sky must travel hundreds of millions of light-years to reach us, such that by the time we see those stars here on earth, some of them have already ceased to exist.  Therefore, not all the stars we see in night sky are in existence. 

    All things that come into being eventually pass out of existence.  This is true of the stars in the night sky and it is true of our lives on this planet.  If the Pure Land were a world that could be seen with a telescope, then just like the stars in the night sky, it would eventually cease to exist.

    Among all things of this world, there is nothing that continues forever.  That is why the sutras tell us that the Pure Land is a “realm of enlightenment” that differs from this world of ours in that it cannot be apprehended in our limited way of seeing and thinking.  Thus, the Pure Land is a realm that exists in order to liberate us who dwell in this world of impermanence and bring us to the realization of enlightenment.

(Naruhodo Jōdoshinshū, p. 13, H. Adams translation)

Just as the sun that rises in the east will eventually set the west, all of us who are born into this world will one day die.  The Dharma taught by the Buddha teaches us that those who realize awakening are liberated from the continual cycle of suffering in the realm of birth and death.  The realization of awakening and liberation from suffering is the goal of Buddhism.  It is taught that the Buddha provided 84,000 Dharma gates that provide paths to liberation.  The Buddha also taught the Pure Land gate, which assures us that those who entrust in Amida’s compassionate vow to liberate all beings from suffering will surely enter into the realm of enlightenment in the western quarter at the end of this very lifetime.  Ohigan is our precious opportunity to reflect on the direction of our lives as we journey westward toward the realm of enlightenment.


Namo Amida Butsu


*koti: A term used in ancient India to express a high numerical value equivalent to one hundred thousand, ten million, or one hundred million.




『仏説阿弥陀経』に阿弥陀如来の極楽浄土が西方にあることについて次の言葉があります「ここから西の方へ十万億もの仏がたの国々を過ぎたところに、 極楽と名づけられる世界がある。そこには阿弥陀仏と申しあげる仏がおられて、 今現に教えを説いておいでになる。」私が以前、お彼岸の法話にその西方浄土の話をした後に次のような質問を受けたことがあります。「阿弥陀如来のお浄土は西方にあるといえば、宇宙船に乗って行けるようなところでありますでしょうか?」私はその時どう答えればいいのか分からず困ってしまいました。確かにお浄土が存在している世界であるのは間違いありませんが、おそらくそのような物理的な場所ではないでしょう。








True Victory

In a recent address to the Sangha, our temple President began his remarks with the words, “I would like to offer my condolences to Reverend Adams. . .”  Wondering what loss I should be grieving, I momentarily searched my memories of the preceding weeks.  Then he finished his sentence with the words, “. . . for the inhospitable treatment your Minnesota Vikings received from the San Francisco 49ers yesterday afternoon.”  I grew up in Minnesota and the previous day those two professional football teams had faced off for the Division Title.  Having suffered defeat at the hands of the 49ers, the Minnesota Vikings lost their chance to play in the Super Bowl on February 2.  For many families, Super Bowl Sunday is a major social event that rivals the traditional winter holidays as an occasion for gathering friends and loved ones for elaborate feasting and celebration—or drowning your sorrows in bean dip and hot wings if your team happens to be losing.

A classic American tradition, the Super Bowl is the championship game that decides who can claim the honor of being the best team in American football.  In order to reach the Super Bowl, two teams must emerge victorious over the other teams in their division and conference.  Having played at the consistently superior level to reach the Super Bowl, the team that wins the championship game needs to have the inward attributes of motivation, strategy, and discipline, as well as the outward attributes of speed, strength, and good equipment.

Although few of us will have the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl, we enjoy the excitement of watching the game because we all face challenges in our own lives and receive inspiration from seeing others rise to the occasion and put forth their best effort, whether they win or lose.

Among the various challenges that we face in life, the Buddha teaches that the most important victory to pursue is the victory over greed, anger, and ignorance.  Greed, anger, and ignorance arise from our self-centered way of thinking, and are referred to as the three poisons because they poison our lives by causing all kinds of suffering for ourselves and others.  The way for us to overcome these three poisons is to attain enlightenment and receive the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha.

The members of the winning Super Bowl team possess the inner and outward attributes of a superior athlete.  Likewise, one who conquers greed, anger, and ignorance and attains the victorious state of Buddhahood possesses the inner and outward merits and virtues of enlightenment.  The inner virtues of the Buddha include wisdom and fearlessness.  The Buddha also displays outward virtues, such as sharing the Dharma for the benefit of all beings.  By sharing the Dharma, the Buddha shines the light of his wisdom freely illuminating every aspect of our lives.

The nembutsu, or the practice of reciting the name of Amida Buddha in the words “Namo Amida Butsu,” has been provided for us by the Buddha as a way to receive the immeasurable wisdom and compassion of awakening.  In his writings, the eminent 12th century Japanese priest Honen describes how all the virtues of enlightenment are contained in the words “Namo Amida Butsu,” the name of Amida Buddha:


. . . into the name flow all of Amida’s uncountable virtues.  That is to say, in the name are contained all the merits and virtues of Amida’s inner enlightenment, such as the four kinds of wisdom, the three bodies, the ten powers, and the four kinds of fearlessness. Also contained in it are all the merits and virtues of his outward activities, such as the major and minor bodily characteristics, the emanation of light, the preaching of the Dharma, and the benefitting of sentient beings.

(Honen’s Senchakushu published by the Kuroda Institute, page. 76)


In providing us with the nembutsu teaching, the Buddha provided us with a means to receive all the merits and virtues of enlightenment.  To say the words “Namo Amida Butsu,” is to gratefully acknowledge the working of the Buddha’s wisdom in our lives.  We receive the benefits of the Buddha’s awakening as the light of the Dharma illuminates our lives, liberating us from the fear and darkness of ignorance.

As you face the challenges in your life, I encourage you to keep in mind that the Buddha has provided his teachings in the Dharma as a light to guide you on your path to awakening and a life of wisdom and compassion.  When you feel the presence of the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion in your life, you may find the words “Namo Amida Butsu” coming forth in gratitude from your lips.


Namo Amida Butsu








名号は万(よろず)の徳の帰するところである。 ゆえに弥陀一仏の持っておられる四智(しち)・三身(さんしん)・十(じゅう)力(りき)・四無(しむ)所(しょ)畏(い)などの内に一切の証得せられた徳と、 相好・光明・説法利生 (法を説いて衆生を利益する) などの外に働く一切の功徳とが、 みなことごとく阿弥陀仏の名号の中に摂まっている。








Earlier this week, I was dozing off in my office at the temple while attempting to read a challenging passage from Shinran’s writings in Japanese when the chime for the outside doorbell woke me with a start.  As I sprang to my feet to answer the intercom, my glasses slipped off my face and fell to the ground.  The hinge that holds the right temple in place broke apart as it hit the floor, rendering my glasses unwearable.  Ideal vision is traditionally described as being able to see clearly at a distance of 20 feet the same object that a normal person can see at 20 feet, often expressed as the fraction 20/20.  The largest letter at the top of a standard eye chart that you find at an optometrist’s office often corresponds to 20/200 vision, which is the eyesight of a person who needs to be 20 feet away to see an object that a normal person can see from a distance of 200 feet.  Without my glasses, I have a hard time seeing that big letter E at the top of the chart.

I searched through my drawers and found an old pair of glasses I had purchased when I was living in Kyoto.  The first time I bought a pair of glasses in Japan, I remember complaining to the optician, “You got my prescription wrong.  Every time I have gotten new glasses in the past, I could see more clearly.  With these glasses, I can see less clearly than with my old glasses.”  When I suggested that they switch out the lenses to give me my old prescription back, the optician calmly explained to me, “From our perspective, your previous prescription was too strong.  Your left eye is stronger than the right, so you favor your left eye.  By slightly reducing the strength of your prescription in the left eye, we are creating a balance so that you will use both eyes equally.  This will reduce fatigue.”  I was skeptical, but the optician was adamant, so I decided to give the new prescription a try.  Prior to moving to Japan my prescription would increase slightly every couple of years.  During the six years I spent living in Japan, my prescription didn’t change at all, so in time I became a believer in the approach my optometrist in Kyoto was advocating.

When I went to update my glasses here in California for the first time after moving back from Kyoto, my new optometrist made the comment, “The prescription for your right eye remains the same, but we’ll need to increase the prescription in your left eye.”  When I explained the rationale for the prescription I had from Kyoto, my optometrist was dismissive.  “You want to be able to see as clearly as possible.  I am not aware of any research that supports deliberately under-correcting in one eye.”  I was not about to argue the science of optometry with a doctor, so got my new glasses and enjoyed being able to read distant signs on the freeway in time to change lanes and avoid missing my exit.

Wearing my old glasses from Kyoto these past few days as I wait for my current glasses to get repaired, I find that indeed my eyes do not get fatigued as much when I am reading.  That first optometrist I saw here in California was most intent on bringing the object of sight into crystal clear optical focus.  To him, the best prescription was determined by how clearly I could see an object across the room from where I sat.  For the optometrist I saw in Kyoto, the best vision was determined by taking into account both the subject who saw and the object that was seen.  Rather than focusing on the external object of sight as the sole criteria for determining the prescription, my doctor in Kyoto also took into account my experience of seeing through the lenses all day long.  In our conversation, I was encouraged to consider not just “What can I see?” but also “How do I see?”

A plaque hangings in the Buddha Hall of the San Mateo Buddhist Temple that reads “見真 kenshin” which means “see truth.”  Kenshin Daishi is the honorific title bestowed upon Shinran Shonin by the Meiji Emperor of Japan.  These words capture the spirit of our life in the Nembutsu, in which we endeavor to see the truth that is illuminated by the wisdom of Amida Buddha.  In reflecting on his own experience of seeing, Shinran composed the following verse in his Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu:

The person burdened with extreme evil should simply say the Name:
Although I too am within Amida’s grasp,
Passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see him;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and illumines me always.

The clear sight that I receive in the Nembutsu arises from seeing my life illuminated by the light of the Buddha’s wisdom, which helps me see how my perceptions are clouded by the greed, anger, and ignorance that arise moment to moment in my mind.  As I welcome the New Year 2020, I am grateful for the light of Amida Buddha that guides me to clearly see the truth of wisdom and compassion each day.


Namo Amida Butsu









煩悩がわたしの眼をさえぎって、 見たてまつることができない。

しかしながら、 阿弥陀仏の大いなる慈悲の光明は、 そのようなわたしを見捨てることなく常に照らしていてくださる」