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.

Continue reading “When do you say “Namo Amida Butsu?””

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.

Continue reading “Receiving the Gift of Kind Eyes”

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.

Continue reading “Compassion for Silverfish”

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.

Continue reading “Impressions from the Pilgrimmage Tour”

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.”

Continue reading “The Nembutsu Heard by Shinran Shonin”

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.

Continue reading “Sakyamuni Tathagata is Truly Our Loving and Compassionate Parent”

Ice Melts Into Water, Obstructions Melt Into Virtues

As temperatures warm and we prepare to welcome the arrival of Spring with our Ohigan Service on March 19, I am reminded of the following verse from Shinran Shonin’s Hymns of the Pure Land Masters:

Obstructions of karmic evil turn into virtues;
It is like the relation of ice and water:
The more the ice, the more the water;
The more the obstructions, the more the virtues.

(From Shinran Shonin’s Hymns of the Pure Land Masters, Hymn 40)

In the verse above, Shinran Shonin describes how, just as the warm spring temperatures melt ice into water, the warm light of the Buddha’s wisdom melts the hard obstructions in our minds into the flowing virtues of awakening.  Greed turns into Generosity.  Indulgence turns into Self-control.  Anger turns into Patience.  Laziness turns into Dedication.  Distraction turns into Concentration.  Delusion turns into Wisdom

Growing up in Minnesota, the springtimes of my childhood were filled with joy and wonder, as I experienced the warm sunlight melting away ice and snow, making way for blades of green grass to sprout up on the lawn.  During the long winter, the cold of the snow and ice had turned the grass brown.  The water of the melted snow and the warmth of the sun brought new life to the grass.

Continue reading “Ice Melts Into Water, Obstructions Melt Into Virtues”

The Buddha’s Final Meal

In the time of the Buddha, there was a blacksmith named Cunda.  Blacksmiths had low social status, but Cunda was hard-working and intelligent, and so he prospered and owned a beautiful mango grove.  On one occasion, the Buddha visited Cunda’s village and chose to stay in his mango grove.  At that time in India, the sons of wealthy and important families, like the Buddha’s Sakya clan, would not normally interact with common workers like blacksmiths, so Cunda was delighted that the Buddha would honor him by staying in his grove.

Cunda delighted in the Dharma taught by the Buddha and invited the Buddha and his Sangha to partake in a special meal at his home.  The Buddha indicated his acceptance of the invitation by remaining silent, so Cunda proceeded to prepare a scrumptious feast, including a variety of foods with good textures, well-cooked soft foods, and a dish made with a special kind of mushroom.

When the mushroom dish was served, the Buddha immediately claimed it for himself and instructed Cunda to serve the remaining dishes to the other monks.  After eating his fill of the mushroom dish, he told Cunda to bury what remained of it in the ground, saying, “This food can only be eaten by one who has mastered the Dharma and attained awakening.”

Continue reading “The Buddha’s Final Meal”

Ho’onko: the Annual Memorial Service for Shinran Shonin

 In the Jodo Shinshu School of Buddhism, it is customary to hold an annual Ho’onko 報恩講 (Pronounced HOE-OWN-KOH) Memorial Service in remembrance of Shinran Shonin (1173-1263), the Japanese Buddhist priest who we look to as the founder of our tradition.  The tradition of annual Ho’onko services was initiated by Shinran’s great-grandson Kakunyo during the 33rd Year Memorial Service for Shinran.  At the Nishi Hongwanji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, the Hoonko observance is held each year from January 9th to 16th, culminating in an all-night Dharma marathon of talks by ministers from all over Japan.  This year, we will observe Ho’onko at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple on Sunday, January 22.  In temples of the Jodo Shinshu tradition, Ho’onko is considered to be the most important Buddhist service of the year.

If we conducted a survey of our Sangha members asking everyone which of our annual Buddhist services is most important, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear many responses along the lines of Hanamatsuri (Sakyamuni Buddha’s Birthday) or Obon (the grateful remembrance of departed loved ones that we hold every summer).  Of all the Buddhist services we observe throughout the year, why is Shinran’s Memorial Service traditionally given the most emphasis? 

Continue reading “Ho’onko: the Annual Memorial Service for Shinran Shonin”

The Medicine of Amida Buddha

In our family we have three children from preschool to middle school in age, so as the cold and flu season arrives, it seems that someone in our house is always coming down with a fever or starting to cough.  Sakyamuni Buddha taught that birth, illness, aging, and death are four inescapable kinds of suffering in this life, so there is no choice but to accept the reality that getting sick is part of being alive.  That said, when we get sick, we naturally seek medicines to alleviate our symptoms and speed our recovery.  There are also medicines we may take before we get sick to avoid the most severe illness.  When choosing medicines to take it is best to follow the advice of a good doctor.

The Buddha is often described as a good doctor because, just as a good doctor carefully investigates an illness before providing an appropriate prescription, the Buddha arrived at a deep understanding of the troubles of human life before providing suitable teachings for all people.  

Continue reading “The Medicine of Amida Buddha”