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

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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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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The Gift of Kind Eyes (June 26)

We will begin our summer Dharma Talk series on the Seven Gifts that Do Not Require Possessions with a talk on The Gift of Kind Eyes (眼施 gen-se): To see goodness and beauty in all people and not look down on others. Rev. Adams will share thoughts on how seeing this world we live in through the kind eyes of the Buddha can change our perspective on challenges facing our community, such as homelessness and addiction.

8:30 a.m. Shoshinge Sofu Chanting (click here for chanting text)
9:00 a.m. Taiso Morning Exercise
9:30 a.m. Dharma Service
10:30 a.m. Japanese Language Service 日本語法要

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”.

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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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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Catching a Dharma Cold

            As we welcome the New Year, many of us are enjoying a long-anticipated return to family holiday gatherings.  My family and I are happy to be travelling to visit my relatives in Minnesota for the first time in two and half years.  Getting together in one place with family and friends, we are reminded how wonderful it is to spend time together in person.   Sitting together in a cozy room, enjoying the flavors of favorite family dishes shared at a common table, breathing in the delicious aromas while laughing together and sharing stories—these are experiences we have come to truly savor after a long separation.

            A Dharma friend recently shared with me their family’s experience of coming together this year to celebrate Thanksgiving.  The whole family gathered around the dinner table to enjoy the traditional feast and lively conversation.  A few days after the gathering one of the attendees began to feel flu-like symptoms and then came down with a fever.  Even though they had been fully vaccinated and received a booster shot, when they received a Covid test, the result came back positive.  The rest of the family members got tested and two more came back positive for Covid.  Fortunately, everyone in the group had been vaccinated, so those who were infected did not get seriously ill.  Nevertheless, my Dharma friend encourages everyone to get tested for Covid prior to getting together with family and friends this holiday season.

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The Path to Awakening

On Sunday, December 5 at 9:30 a.m., we welcome you to join us at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple for our Bodhi Day Service celebrating Sakyamuni Buddha’s awakening at the age of 35 when he conquered Mara’s army of delusion and fully realized the path to liberation from suffering.  If you would like to attend the Bodhi Day service in person, please email smbt@sanmateobuddhisttemple.orgor call (650) 342-2541 to reserve a seat. Full Covid-19 vaccination is required. A maximum of 30 in-person attendees will be allowed, so please contact us at your earliest convenience if you wish to attend.  You also have the option of continuing to join the service from home via Zoom Meeting.

Sakyamuni left home at age 29 to seek the path to awakening.  What he sought was not merely a path that led to his individual enlightenment, but rather a path that all beings could follow to realize liberation and cross into the world of awakening.  When he realized awakening under the Bodhi Tree, not only did he arrive at the destination he had been progressing toward for years up to that moment in his life, his path forward to guide all beings to liberation also became perfectly clear.

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