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.
We find an example of this feeling in the following verse from his Hymns of the Pure Land Masters:
Sakyamuni and Amida are our father and our mother,
Full of love and compassion for us;
Guiding us through various skillful means,
They bring us to awaken the supreme shinjin.
The various skillful means employed by parents work to guide us on the true path of our lives, even if we are not aware of it at the time. The guidance we receive from parental figures continues throughout our lives, even when we cannot see them with our eyes. The love and care that they provide us has a lasting influence in our lives, and even when we are separated, our deep connection with them continues to shape our lives.
During the times we are together with parental figures, they help us to recognize errors in our thinking, challenge our narrow self-interest, and prevent us from becoming lazy and complacent. In this way, they share the wisdom of their experience with us and guide us on the correct path in our lives. If we cherish the lessons they share with us, we can continue to benefit from their guidance even when we are not together with them.
In times of difficulty, when we feel discouraged or let down, the parental figures in our life acknowledge what we are feeling and find ways to alleviate our suffering and give us comfort. In this way, they show us the compassion that gives us strength to endure the challenges that life inevitably brings. We carry the strength we receive from their compassion with us throughout our lives, and can summon it at any time and in any circumstance by recalling the love and care they have shown us.
In the verse above, Shinran tells us that Sakyamuni Buddha and Amida Buddha show the love and care of parents for all beings. The Buddhas illuminate with their wisdom the blind passions at the root of the delusion, selfishness, and indolence that cause problems in the lives of all people, and teach the Dharma that guides us on the path to awakening.
Amida Buddha established the compassionate vow to remove the suffering of all beings and guide them to realize lasting peace of mind. Sakyamuni Buddha taught the Three Pure Land Sutras, which have carried the truth of Amida’s kind heart of parental love and care across vast distance and time to reach our lives and bring us peace of mind. When we recall the truth that Amida Buddha made the compassionate vow for our benefit, we awaken to profound peace of mind at any time and in any circumstance. This is truly to awaken the supreme shinjin that Shinran Shonin describes.
Namo Amida Butsu