Poems written by Mrs. Tomoe Tana during her incarceration at Gila, Arizona

Translated by Michihiro Ama in “Neglected Diary, Forgotten Buddhist Couple: Tana Daisho’s Internment Camp Diary as Historical and Literary Text,” Journal of Global Buddhism 14 (2013)

Saying, “To the Buddha,” young girls pick flowers and hand them to me;

I delightedly offer them to the Buddha.

みほとけにと手折りし花を少女らは我に給ひぬうれしく供ふ

From the peaks of the Sierras, winds blow this way and that:

In the dead of night, I pile on more clothes because of cold.

シエルの嶺ゆ吹き来る風の冷たさに真夜ともなればかけ衣をます

During a Dharma Talk, cries of a cricket are heard from time to time;

How like the voices of the Buddha.

法語つづくひまひまにきくこほろぎの音もみ仏のみこゑかのごと

Opening a sacred text I carry;

The voices of the devout chant a sutra in unison.

我がもちし聖典ひらき人びとの声を合はして誦経をするかも

When rains come, clouds leave.

How like the world of impermanence

This sudden change, where no one lives forever.

(Ama, p. 51)

雨くると空の雲ゆきすぐ変わる常なき人の世のさまに似て

(『サンタフェー・ローズバーグ戦時敵国人抑留所日記』第一巻 194)

Minding a sick child who seeks mother’s affection,

I cannot progress with my needlework, or even wipe away my perspiration.

母恋ふる病む児を憶ひ針もてる手もすすまざる汗も()かざる

Skimming his diary without stop makes my eyes moist;

When I put it down, I realize I have forgotten to even wipe off my perspiration.

うるむ()を日記に走らせいきつかずよみ終りたり汗もわすれて

Wandering without a husband for whom I yearn,

I look with nostalgia at his handwriting, reading it again and again.

さまよへる我を導くなつかしき夫の筆あとくり返し読む

My husband is about to touch my face;

When I awake from that dream, the flickering of stars enters my eyes.

夫の手の我が(も)に触るるとして醒めし目に入るものか星のまたたき

The lullaby I croon seems to wake the child;

He croons with me while half asleep.

(Ama, p. 52)

めしか歌ふ調べに小さき子は覚むると見えず共に歌ひぬ

(『サンタフェー・ローズバーグ戦時敵国人抑留所日記』第一巻 250)

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)

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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Nītha the Scavenger

Translation by Henry Adams from the Sutra on Wisdom and Folly (Xiangujing), Fascile 6, Chapter 30 (賢愚經卷第六 T0202_.04.0397a24)

Thus I have heard. At one time the Buddha was dwelling at Jetavana in the country of Sravasti.

At that time, many people lived inside the walled city of Shravasti.  There were few lavatories, so most people went outside the city to urinate and defecate.

There were also wealthy people of high status, who did not venture outside the city walls.  They would use containers for toilets and hire people to take them outside the city.

There was one man named Nītha who was extremely poor and destitute.  He had nowhere to go and earned a meager living taking out the toilet pots.

At that time, the World-Honored One came to know of his situation and resolved to liberate him.  He instructed Ananda that they would go into the walled city with the intention of bringing Nītha out and saving him.  When they arrive a short distance from the city, they happened upon Nītha carrying a clay pot filled to the brim with filth on his way out to dispose of it.

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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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Hōnen Shōnin’s parting words to his students on the occasion of his being sent into exile

“Do not resent my being sent into exile, for I am approaching eighty years of age.  Even if we were living together as teacher and students in the capital, my departure from this saha world is drawing near.  Even if we are separated by mountains and oceans, do not doubt that we will meet again in the Pure Land.  Though we may reject this world, our human existence carries on.  Though we may cling to life, our death will come.  Why insist upon being in a certain place?

“What’s more, while I have spent all these years sharing the Nembutsu teaching here in the capital, it has been my heartfelt wish to go into the outlying regions and share the teachings with the farmers who work the fields.  However, a time had not come when I was able to fulfill that wish.  That I am now able to pursue this long-held wish is thanks to the great benevolence of the emperor.

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The Vow of the Buddha is Deep

In late 1206, while the Japanese Emperor Gotoba was away from the capital on a pilgrimage to the Kumano Shrine, his consorts Suzumushi and Matsumushi joined a Nembutsu gathering led by Honen’s followers Juren-bo and Anraku-bo.  After hearing the Nembutsu teaching, the emperor’s consorts experienced a great change of heart and took ordination as Buddhist nuns. 

When the emperor returned and discovered that Suzumushi and Matsumushi had renounced their lives in the imperial palace to join Honen’s Nembutsu Sangha, he became enraged and ordered Juren-bo and Anraku-bo to be executed along with two other leading followers of Honen.  Honen was ordered to be exiled on the island of Shikoku.  Seven more of his followers, including Shinran, were dispossessed of their priesthood and sent into exile, scattering the community throughout Japan.  While many lamented the exile, Honen instructed his disciples that this too should be accepted as the flow of karmic causes and conditions in their lives.  The following were his parting words to the Sangha:

“Do not resent my being sent into exile, for I am approaching eighty years of age.  Even if we were living together as teacher and students in the capital, my departure from this saha world is drawing near.  Even if we are separated by mountains and oceans, do not doubt that we will meet again in the Pure Land.  Though we may reject this world, our human existence carries on.  Though we may cling to life, our death will come.  Why insist upon being in a certain place?

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The Four Universal Bodhisattva Vows

Living beings are limitless, I vow to liberate them all.

Blind passions are limitless, I vow to sever them all.

Dharma gates are inexhaustible, I vow to know them all.

Unsurpassed is awakening, I vow to realize it.

Commentary from Genshin’s Ojoyoshu, Section on the Correct Practice of the Nembutsu

To begin with, the manifestation of practice is generally called the mind that vows to become a Buddha.  It is also referred to as the mind that seeks the highest awakening while transforming living beings below.  The manifestation of practice is also expressed as the Four Universal Vows.

These vows can be understood in two ways.  The first way is to understand the Four Universal Vows as they arise from life situations.  This is compassion conditioned by a feeling of sympathy for living beings[1], or compassion conditioned by an appreciation of the Dharma[2].  The second way is to understand the Four Universal Vows as they arise from true reality.  This is unconditioned compassion[3].

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The Company of Good Friends

              For the third month in a row, I am writing my Temple newsletter under the Shelter in Place Order.  While our Sangha has pulled together wonderfully to continue many of our regular Temple activities online, including weekly Sunday Services and Dharma Discussions via Zoom Meeting, my family and I really miss spending time with all of you in-person at the Temple.  All in-person Temple activities through June have been cancelled or moved to a virtual format.  Regrettably, that means that we will not be able to gather for our annual Temple bazaar this year, which is a great disappointment for our whole community.  Bazaar is one of the most fun and significant times of the year for us to gather at the Temple and deepen our Sangha friendships through work and play.  While the summer will not be the same this year without bazaar, we are working on plans for an online Sangha activity that will provide a fun opportunity to come together with our hearts and minds on Saturday, June 27. 

With all the changes that this pandemic has brought to our lives, I have come to truly appreciate the in-person encounters in my life.  These days I find myself delighting in across-the-sidewalk conversations from at least six feet away with neighbors with whom I had only exchanged passing greetings in the past.  As I reflect upon the importance of spending meaningful time together with friends and family, I am reminded of the deep affection and warmth that exists between people who rejoice together in the Nembutsu.  The great modern-day Jodo Shinshu Buddhist priest Rev. Jitsuen Kakehashi shares the following example of a friendship in the Nembutsu that blossomed in Japan during the 19th century:

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Living as a Buddhist in a Christian Society

Voices of the Nembutsu Echoing in America, No. 5

From Hongwanji Journal, No. 3366, Thursday, February 20, 2020

(Translation by H. Adams)

Michael Ishikawa (age 57) is a third generation Japanese American.  Apart from the two days a week when he receives dialysis treatments, he begins each morning by chanting Shoshinge at the obutsudan Buddha shrine in his home in San Mateo, California.  On Sundays, he also attends services at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple.

              He says, “Shoshinge is the most important chanting practice for me.  I find the opening lines ‘I take refuge in the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life! / I entrust myself to the Buddha of Inconceivable Light!’ to be deeply meaningful.  To me, these words contain Shinran Shonin’s feeling of gratitude toward Amida Tathagata.  I deeply appreciate the heart of Shinran Shonin who expresses his gratitude to Amida Tathagata at the start of the Shoshinge.”

              Born to Christian parents, Mr. Ishikawa was baptized as a young child.  He attended church until the age of sixteen but did not feel at home with the Christian teachings. 

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