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.”

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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? 

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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.  

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Thankfully This Life Continues

When I was in my twenties, I found satisfaction in getting things done quickly, so I could move onto my next task.  Now that I am in my forties, I find that I appreciate more the activities that I am able to continue over time.  For example, I took up cycling as a hobby in my late twenties while I was living in Miyazaki, on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan.  Most weekday mornings, I would wake up early so I could spend an hour or so cycling along the coast before work.  On those days my goal was to quickly cycle out to my destination, quickly return home, quickly eat breakfast, quickly shower, and quickly commute to get to work on time.  I was trying to get as much done as possible in a short time, so my attention was naturally focused on my efforts to complete each task as quickly as possible.  In that busy frame of mind, my thoughts turned to what I could accomplish through my own efforts.

When I first I became a parent with small children at home, I found fewer opportunities to go out cycling for fun.  However, these past few years as my children get bigger, we are now able to go for bike rides as a family.  Also, now that I am supervising the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, I often use a combination of bicycle and commuter trains to make my way back and forth to San Francisco for services.  On days when I have some time after service, I’ve taken to biking home from San Francisco to San Mateo.  The first time I managed to bike home from San Francisco, I was grateful that I was able to continue pedaling until I finally arrived at our house.  I find that at this point in my life, I enjoy being able to continue riding at a comfortable, steady pace, more than racing to arrive at my destination.

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The San Mateo Buddhist Temple is Open!

A new Dharma School Year has begun and the temple is open!  Seeing Sangha members of all ages gathering in the Hondo for services gives me a deep sense of gratitude for our temple.  The temple is a precious place where people who delight in the Nembutsu can come together to share in one another’s happiness in times of joy and comfort one another in times of sadness. 

Those who arrive at the temple before service begins can offer incense and quietly reflect upon the past week as they enjoy the calming aroma of the incense and gaze upon the beauty of the Buddha shrine while they wait for the sound of the bell to begin service.  At the end of service, Sangha members greet one another and enjoy catching up while making their way down the center aisle to offer incense. 

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Caring and Being Cared For

As the summer comes to an end and we prepare to welcome the change of seasons with our Autumn Ohigan Equinox Service, we turn our minds to the working of great compassion as we consider the causes and conditions that have sustained our lives up to this point and look to the light of wisdom to clarify our path forward to a life of peace and bliss. 

Over this past summer, my family and I had a chance to visit my grandmother at the assisted living in Iowa where she is now living.  She was alert and energetic during our visit and kindly shared stories that I had never heard before of her life growing up as a city girl in Kansas City, Missouri, and then adjusting to life on a farm in rural Iowa after she married my grandfather.

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Gathering of Joy

The Obon observances that we hold during the month of August originate in a teaching on the practice of giving (Dana) that Sakyamuni Buddha shared with his disciple Mahamaudgalyayana.   Following his mother’s departure from this world, Mahamaudgalyayana saw that she had fallen into the realm of the hungry ghosts, a world of hunger, thirst, and unsatisfied desire.  He immediately went to the Buddha and asked for guidance on how he could liberate his mother from that world of suffering.  The Buddha instructed him to present a gift of food, clothing, and other essential items to the monastic Sangha.  After offering the prescribed gift to the Sangha, Mahamaudgalyayana saw that his mother had been liberated from suffering and he was filled with joy.    

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Sweetness and Bitterness

The other day, my son went with a friend to the San Mateo County Fair.  When he returned home, I asked him if he had eaten anything at the fair, to which he replied, “Yes, cotton candy.”  The flavor of cotton candy is pure sweetness and I liked it myself when I was a kid.  When I recently tasted cotton candy for the first time in years, I found the sweetness to be a bit too much.  As a child, my favorite foods were simply sweet or salty, but as I get older, I find that I appreciate a much wider variety of flavors.

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The Gift of Welcoming Hospitality (September 4)

This is part seven concluding our summer Dharma Talk series on the Seven Gifts that Do Not Require Possessions.

The gift of welcoming hospitality: 房舍施 (bōsha-se): To warmly welcome all guests, making them feel at home in one’s company.

Schedule
8:30 a.m. Shoshinge Sofu Chanting (click here for chanting text)
9:00 a.m. Morning Taiso with Juliet and Grace Bost
9:30 a.m. Dharma Service
10:30 a.m. Dharma Discussion
10:30 a.m. Shotsuki Hoyo Monthly Memorial Service

All ages are welcome to join in-person without prior registration.  Proof of full Covid-19 vaccination required for eligible individuals age 5 and older.  Up to 36 in-person attendees will be seated in the Hondo, with overflow seating available in the adjacent Social Hall.

To join us for this hybrid service via Zoom, CLICK HERE to sign up for “Live Broadcast of Services”.

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.

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