From Issa’s The Year of My Life

It is a commonplace of life that the greatest pleasure issues ultimately in the greatest grief.  Yet why—why is that this child of mine, who has not tasted half the pleasures that the world has to offer, who ought, by rights, to be as fresh and green as the vigorous young needles on the everlasting pine—why must she lie here on her deathbed, swollen with blisters, caught in the loathsome clutches of the vile god of pox?  Being, as I am, her father, I can scarcely bear to watch her withering away—a little more each day—like some pure, untainted blossom that is ravished by the sudden onslaught of mud and rain.
              After two or three days, however, her blisters dried up and the scabs began to fall away—like a hard crust of dirt that had been softened by the melting snow.  In our joy we made a boat with fresh straw, and pouring hot wine ceremoniously over it, sent it down the river with the god of smallpox on it.  Yet our hopes proved all in vain.  She grew weaker and weaker, and finally on the twenty-first of June, as the morning-glories were just closing their flowers, she closed her eyes forever.  Her mother embraced the cold body and cried bitterly.  For myself—I knew well it was no use to cry, that water once flown past the bridge does not return, and blossoms that are scattered are gone beyond recall.  Yet try as I would, I could not, simply could not cut the binding cord of human love.  

The world of dew
Is the world of dew,
And yet . . .
And yet . . .

(The Year of My Life: A Translation of Issa’s Oraga Haru, by Nobuyuki Yuasa, p. 103-104)

Letter on White Ashes

By Rennyo Shonin

 When I deeply contemplate the transient nature of human existence, I realize that, from beginning to end, life is impermanent like an illusion. We have not yet heard of anyone who lived ten thousand years. How fleeting is a lifetime!

 Who in this world today can maintain a human form for even a hundred years? There is no knowing whether I will die first or others, whether death will occur today or tomorrow. We depart one after another more quickly than the dewdrops on the roots or the tips of the blades of grasses. So it is said. Hence, we may have radiant faces in the morning, but by evening we may turn into white ashes.

 Once the winds of impermanence have blown, our eyes are instantly closed and our breath stops forever. Then, our radiant face changes its color, and the attractive countenance like peach and plum blossoms is lost. Family and relatives will gather and grieve, but all to no avail.

 Since there is nothing else that can be done, they carry the deceased out to the fields, and then what is left after the body has been cremated and turned into midnight smoke is just white ashes. Words fail to describe the sadness of it all.

 Thus the ephemeral nature of human existence is such that death comes to young and old alike without discrimination. So we should all quickly take to heart the matter of the greatest importance of the afterlife, entrust ourselves deeply to Amida Buddha, and recite the nembutsu.

 Humbly and respectfully.

Dharma Discussion: Suffering from Birth (September 27, 2020)

Consider your own birth, including the following factors:

  • Your family relationships (parents, grandparents, siblings, etc.)
  • Your family’s circumstances when you were born. This could include race, ethnicity, economic status, etc.
  • Where you were born (country, city, local community, etc.)
  • Time: what were some important events in the world around you that have shaped your life since you were born.

Discussion Questions

  1. What challenges and difficulties have arisen in your life as a result of the circumstances of your birth?
  2. How did the circumstance of your birth create the conditions for you to seek the Dharma hear the Nembutsu?

Dharma Discussion: Incense (August 30, 2020)

Click here to read about incense offering etiquette in the Jodo Shinshu school, as well as other schools of Japanese Buddhism

Discussion Questions

  1. What is a fragrance that brings you peace of mind?
  2. Have you ever encountered someone who you felt was “adorned with the fragrance of light”?
Continue reading “Dharma Discussion: Incense (August 30, 2020)”

Dharma Discussion: Wisdom/Prajñā (August 23, 2020)

Click here to read about the Buddhist Virtue of Wisdom

Discussion Questions

  1. What is a difficult situation that Buddhist wisdom has enabled you to accept with peace of mind?
  2. What is a difficult situation that Buddhist wisdom has given you to courage to work to change?
Continue reading “Dharma Discussion: Wisdom/Prajñā (August 23, 2020)”

Dharma Discussion: Concentration/Dhyāna (August 16, 2020)

Click here to read about the Buddhist Virtue of Concentration

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever experience a state of deep concentration that enabled to you do an activity skillfully and without distraction, sometimes described as a “flow state” or being “in the zone”? What gave rise to that state of mind? Were you able to replicate it on more than one occasion?
  2. Has Buddhist practice in general, and the Nembutsu specifically, helped you to cultivate a concentrated mind at times?
  3. What the greatest obstacles you face in maintain mental concentration?
Continue reading “Dharma Discussion: Concentration/Dhyāna (August 16, 2020)”

Dharma Discussion: Diligence/Vīrya (August 2, 2020)

Click here to read about the Buddhist Virtue of Diligence

Discussion Questions

  1. What motivates you to study the Buddha’s teachings?
  2. How have the goals that you are working to achieve in your life shifted as a result of hearing the Dharma and the Nembutsu?
  3. How has your way of working changed as a result of your encounter with the Nembutsu?
Continue reading “Dharma Discussion: Diligence/Vīrya (August 2, 2020)”