Construction at Ozaka

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fasicle 4, Letter 15

The place called Ozaka in the Ikutama area, Higashinari district, Settsu province, must have had some connection with me from the distant past. After it took my fancy by chance in the latter part of autumn in the fifth year of Meio, I had a temple of sorts built here. Now three years have passed. I feel that I have some close karmic relationship with this place from the past.

In regard to this, the fundamental reason for living in this place is not to spend a relaxed life here or enjoy a life of luxury and glory or a life of seclusion appreciating flowers, birds, breezes and the moon. My sincere hope is only to see an increase in number of the practicers who have attained the entrusting heart and of those who recite the nembutsu - all for the sake of attaining the supreme enlightenment. It could happen that some people in the secular world harbor prejudice and come to me with difficult problems. In such a case, I would give up my attachment to this place and immediately withdraw.

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When do you say “Namo Amida Butsu?”

As we welcome the Autumn Equinox in this month of September when the sun sets directly in the west, let us reflect upon the direction of our lives.  Living in San Mateo, when I look to the west these days, my thoughts turn to our friends in Maui who are enduring great hardship following the devastating wildfires that tore through their community and my heart is filled with wishes for their safety and peace of mind. 

The Lahaina Hongwanji Mission is located in the heart of the area that was burned by the fires.  Like the San Mateo Buddhist Temple, they had planned to hold their Bon Odori festival of dancing and gratitude on August 12.  A fellow minister sent me an aerial photograph of Lahaina taken after the fires, and as I saw the Lahaina Hongwanji Mission yagura dancing platform standing amidst the charred rubble at the very moment that the San Mateo Buddhist Temple yagura stood in the center of our temple parking lot, I deeply felt the impermanence of this world.

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The End of Life for a Heavenly Being

From Genshin’s Essentials for Attaining Birth

In the Heaven of the Thirty-Three the pleasures are limitless, but at end of a heavenly being’s life, the following five signs of declining health appear.  First, the crown of flowers that adorns her head suddenly withers.  Second, dirt and dust cling to her heavenly robes.   Third, her armpits start sweating.  Fourth, her vision fades in both eyes.  Fifth, she no longer feels comfortable in the place she has always been.  

When these signs appear, her entourage of heavenly ladies all discard her like a weed and go far away leaving her behind.  She lies in the forest crying bitterly and laments, “These heavenly ladies have always been at my side.  How could they suddenly discard me like a weed?  Now there is nothing I can rely on and no-one I can depend on.  Who will save me?”

. . . Though she calls out in this way, no-one tries to help her.  The Sutra on the Six Paramitas teaches that this suffering is even worse than birth in a hell realm.

(Taisho Tripitaka, Vol. 84, p. 39, translated by Henry Adams)

Receiving the Gift of Kind Eyes

There are gifts that we can give to others even if we do not have material wealth to share, such as the gift of kind eyes that look upon others with loving concern, free from judgement and ill-will.  Kind eyes do not just see what is happening but move us to respond to the suffering of others with deep compassion.  

The Buddhist observance of Obon is inspired by the story of the Buddha’s compassionate teaching to his disciple Mahamaudgalyayana.  An enlightened disciple of the Buddha by the name of Mahamaudgalyana had a special ability to see the workings of cause and effect beyond the boundaries of birth and death.  On one occasion he used this power to search for his mother throughout the six realms of existence*.  At that time, he saw that his mother had fallen into the realm of the hungry ghosts, a state of suffering from unsatisfied desire.

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Compassion for Silverfish

Summer has arrived, the children are enjoying a break from school, and the weather is beautiful.  At this time of year, we look forward to relaxing at the beach and perhaps taking a family vacation.  While we all aspire for a life of comfort and enjoyment, the path to lasting happiness can be difficult to discern.  One of the basic teachings of Buddhism tells us that our actions, words, and thoughts determine what kind of person we become and what sort of environment we wind up living in the future.  From this perspective, striving to become an intelligent and kind person could be seen as the way to live a happy life.  An intelligent person accumulates wisdom by studying to obtain knowledge and listening closely to the guidance of those who have already attained happiness.   A kind person is constantly mindful of the feelings of others, showing compassion by refraining from treating others in a way that they would not wish to be treated themself.

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Impressions from the Pilgrimmage Tour

Last month I had the opportunity to travel with Rev. Takashi Miyaji of the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Temple and several members of the San Mateo Buddhist Temple on the Bay District Pilgrimmage Tour to attend the 17th World Buddhist Women’s Convention, held in conjunction with the Joint Service Celebrating the 850th Anniversary of Shinran Shonin’s Birth and the 800th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Jodo Shinshu Teaching, followed by an excursion to sacred sites related to hidden Nembutsu practice in the Kagoshima region.  A pilgrimmage tour differs from ordinary tourism, in that the sites we visit are connected to the transmission of the Buddha’s teachings and the Nembutsu, and therefore provide us with a precious opportunity to reflect on the causes and conditions that have supported our lives up to this moment and guide us to clarify the direction of our lives moving forward.

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The Nembutsu Heard by Shinran Shonin

We hope to see you at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple on May 21, 2023 at 9:30 a.m. for our Gotan-e Service celebrating the 850th birthday of Shinran Shonin, the Buddhist teacher who we look to as the founder of our Jodo Shinshu tradition.  This year also marks the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Jodo Shinshu teaching. 

Shinran was born in Hino near Kyoto on May 21, 1173 during a time of great social turmoil in Japan when warlords battled for control of the country, severe famines caused widespread starvation, and epidemic disease took many lives.  As a young boy, Shinran surely encountered a great deal of suffering and sadness in the world around him.  At the age of nine, he became a Buddhist monk and sought refuge in the Dharma.  He arrived just before sunset on the day he was to be ordained at Shorenin Temple.  As night was beginning to fall, Jien, the head priest who would perform the ordination, told him to return the next day for the ceremony.  At that time, the young Shinran is said to have recited the following poem:

“For him who counts on tomorrow,
Like the fragile cherry blossom,
Tonight, unexpected winds may blow.”

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Sakyamuni Tathagata is Truly Our Loving and Compassionate Parent

In this month of April, we observe our Hanamatsuri Service celebrating the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha.  The many Buddhist traditions of the world celebrate the Buddha’s Birthday.  The Theravada Buddhist observance of Vesak includes the celebration of Sakyamuni Buddha’s birthday and was recognized by the United Nations as an occasion for the world to honor the Buddha’s wisdom and seek the guidance of his teachings.

A multitude of Buddhist lineages span the world, each with special observances honoring the founders and great teachers of their tradition.  All those diverse linages revere Sakyamuni Buddha as the great teacher who appeared in this world.  In that sense, all those who journey through life on the path of the Buddha are our brothers, sisters, and siblings in the Dharma.  In the following section from his Hymns on the Samadhi of All Buddhas’ Presence, Shandao describes the Buddha as the compassionate parent of all those who seek the path to awakening:  

All my friends who aspire for birth in the Pure Land must carefully reflect upon their own lives.  Sakyamuni Tathagata is truly our loving and compassionate parent.  He uses various skillful means to guide us to awaken the unexcelled heart of entrusting.  Moreover, there is not just one gate into his skillful teachings.  This so that they may benefit unenlightened beings like us with our upside-down views.  Those who live by the teachings may pass through any of the gates he taught to encounter the Buddha and attain birth in the Pure Land.

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