Resting My Mind

As we enter the month of June, another school year comes to an end and we welcome the arrival of summer vacation.  Before students get to enjoy their summer vacation, there is hard work to be done preparing for final exams and big end-of-the-year projects.  At this time of year, I find myself reminiscing about my college days, and I remember something my college Japanese professor Larson Sensei would say at the end of the semester.  As she collected our final exams, she would smile and say, “Congratulations on all the hard work you did this term.  I hope you will find some opportunities to use your Japanese over the break, so that you don’t forget all that you’ve learned this year.  That said, for the next week please give yourself a good break and don’t open your textbook or do any studying.”  Having finished a big task, it is important to have a good rest.  During the time of rest, we can think back on what we have accomplished and consider what our next project should be.

While preparing for an exam or project, my efforts are concentrated on mastering the material for myself, and my attention naturally turns to “What I can do.”  Resting during a break, I realize that anything I accomplish is possible thanks to the support of my teachers, family, and friends.  Having worked hard at something, I can enjoy a good rest.  Likewise, I find that taking a break from time to time enables me to continue to put forth my best effort.  Maintaining a healthy balance between working hard and taking a rest is the essence of the Middle Way taught by the Buddha.  In order live by the Middle Way, it is necessary to maintain a consistent daily rhythm in life.  When my priorities shift from “What can I accomplish?” to “How shall I live?” I find that the things which need to get done do get done.

            Resting our bodies is important, but resting our minds is even more essential.  Even if I sit down to rest my body, if my mind does not also rest, I do not feel refreshed.  At the same time, having my mind at rest can enable me to keep working at a challenging task without feeling tired.  From that perspective, it is important to learn to rest our minds.

            A self-centered mind is never at rest.  When I go through life working only to fulfill my self-centered desires, my mind will not rest until I obtain the object of my desire.  What’s more, even if I manage to acquire that thing I was chasing after, another desirable object will immediately appear, such that my mind never rests in satisfaction.  Likewise, when I set out to avoid all the things I personally dislike, I find that many unpleasant encounters are impossible to avoid.  Even if I do manage to avoid one distasteful encounter, I soon find myself faced with something else I despise, such that my mind never enjoys a peaceful rest.

On the other hand, when I let go of striving to attain my personal desires and avoid my individual dislikes, my mind opens to the life of appreciation and gratitude.  When I turn about and awaken to a life of gratitude, my mind is truly at rest.  In gratitude, my dissatisfied mind that endlessly chases after selfish desires turns about and rests in appreciation of all I receive.  My anxious mind that constantly seeks to avoid the slightest unpleasant experience turns about and acknowledges all the unpleasantness my self-centered attitudes cause for others.  With awakened self-awareness, my mind rests in deep gratitude for the patience and kindness I continue to receive from the friends and family who are my companions on this journey of life.  

Living in the Nembutsu, my deepest gratitude is for Amida Buddha who guides my self-centered mind to turn about and rest in the great peace of awakening.  The following words of Shinran Shonin beautifully express the gratitude of one who rests in the settled mind:

Those who feel uncertain of birth [in the Pure Land] should say the nembutsu aspiring first for their own birth. Those who feel that their own birth is completely settled should, mindful of the Buddha’s benevolence, hold the nembutsu in their hearts and say it to respond in gratitude to that benevolence, with the wish, ‘May there be peace in the world, and may the Buddha’s teaching spread!’

(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 560)

Namo Amida Butsu

The Home of Little Birds

(“Kotori no ie” by Akamatsu Gessen, illustrated by Tateno Yasunosuke, in Bukkyo Dōwa Zenshū, Vol. 8, p. 139-147, Translation by Henry Adams)

Long ago in the Latter Han Dynasty, there was a family named Yang who lived in the Chinese capital.  They had one son named Bao.  This story takes place when Bao was nine years old.

            Bao’s father worked for a government official of low rank, but he was a dedicated and hard-working man.  Bao’s mother was a quiet and deeply caring woman.  While she did not make a particularly strong impression at first, even a passing conversation with her would give a genuine sense of her true kindness.

            Bao’s mother was kind to little birds.  She did not keep them as pets, but they would be naturally drawn to her, because she always set scraps of food outside the kitchen for them to eat. 

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Parents and Children

In the month of May we observe our Gōtan-e Service celebrating the birth of Shinran Shonin, the founder of our Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism.  During the Gōtan-e Service, we place a statue of Shinran Shonin as a young boy in the temple hall and recall the story of his childhood.    May is also the month in which we celebrate Mother’s Day and express the gratitude and appreciation we feel for the mothers in our lives.  As we observe these two holidays of Gōtan-e and Mother’s Day, the month of May provides us with precious occasions to reflect upon the karmic bond between parents and children.  The parental figures in our lives are not limited to our biological parents.  Grandparents, teachers, coaches, and mentors are other examples of those who can provide the care and guidance of a parent in our lives.

According to tradition, Shinran Shonin was separated from his mother at a young age and left home to receive ordination as a Buddhist monk at the age of nine.   While the time that Shinran spent living with his mother and father was brief, he had a profound sense of receiving parental love and care in his life. 

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Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu (Session 19)

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

This month’s session will continue to explore the teachings of the Pure Land Master Vasubandhu, whose treatise on the Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable guides us to embrace the at times difficult work of helping others while keeping a playful heart.

And when he reaches that lotus-held world,
He immediately realizes the body of suchness or dharma-nature.
Then sporting in the forests of blind passions, he manifests transcendent powers;
Entering the garden of birth-and-death, he assumes various forms to guide others.

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The Honored One

In the month of April we hold our Hanamatsuri Service celebrating the birth of Siddhartha Gautama 2,645 years ago in Lumbini, Nepal.  One who diligently progresses on the path to Buddhahood over the course of many lifetimes is called a bodhisattva.  The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (The Larger Sutra) provides the following description of a bodhisattva’s birth in the lifetime in which they will attain awakening:

Immediately after [the bodhisattva’s] birth from [his mother’s] right side, he walked seven steps. A brilliant light shone from his body, illuminating all the ten quarters, and countless Buddha-lands shook with six kinds of tremors. He then said, “I shall become the supremely honored one in the world.”

(The Three Pure Land Sutras: Volume II, pg. 5)

This description seems improbable from a modern scientific worldview, but these words are an expression of religious truth rather than scientific fact.  Scientific facts are based on empirical observations, such as what we can see with our eyes, hear with our ears, or measure with our hands.  From that perspective this life begins the moment we are born with this body and ends at the moment of death.  This way of viewing the world is limited by what can be measured.

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Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu (Session 18)

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

This month’s session will continue to explore the teachings of the Pure Land Master Vasubandhu, whose treatise on the Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable has guided many through the generations to take refuge in the Amida Buddha’s compassionate vow.

He discloses the mind that is single so that all beings be saved
By Amida’s directing of virtue through the power of the Primal Vow.
When a person turns and enters the great treasure ocean of virtue,
Necessarily he joins Amida’s assembly;

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The Kind Eyes of the Buddha

This month marks two years that we have been living through this pandemic experience.  Temple activities, family gatherings, and our friendships have all been affected, but looking back on the ways Covid-19 has impacted our lives, it seems to me that the greatest challenge for me was having our kids out of school and studying from home for over a year.  Doing our best to support their online learning, while also attending to our responsibilities with work and household matters made us feel pushed to the limit.  We struggled daily to set boundaries to keep our sons on task with the work they needed to do and steer them away from the distractions and mischief that would interrupt their learning.

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Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu (Session 17)

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

This month’s session will explore the teachings of the Pure Land Master Vasubandhu, whose treatise on the Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable has guided many through the generations to take refuge in the Amida Buddha’s compassionate vow.

Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, composing a treatise, declares
That he takes refuge in the Tathagata of unhindered light,
And that relying on the sutras, he will reveal the true and real virtues,
And make widely known the great Vow by which we leap crosswise beyond birth-and-death.

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Do you want to go to the Pure Land?

        February is the month in which we observe our Nirvana Day Service at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple in commemoration of Sakyamuni Buddha’s realization of the great tranquility of parinirvana approximately 2,500 years ago at Kushinagar in northern India.  Having attained the wisdom of enlightenment, when his time in this world drew to a close Sakyamuni Buddha met the end of his human life with a peaceful mind as he passed into the state of final Nirvana.  When those who live in the nembutsu with deep entrusting in Amida Buddha reach the end of life in this world, they are immediately born in the Pure Land where they realize the same enlightenment that brought Sakyamuni Buddha enduring peace of mind.  That said, we would expect there to be many people eagerly looking forward to birth in the Pure Land.  Are you one of them?

In a recent conversation, a Sangha member raised an interesting question, “I understand that in the Jodo Shinshu teaching the goal is to be born in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, but honestly speaking, I don’t have a feeling of wanting to be born in the Pure Land.  Should I be concerned about that?” 

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