Flowers that Bloom in the Springtime

Growing up in Minnesota, I spent many hours in the autumn helping my mother in our family flower gardens.  We would clear out the dead plants and prepare the soil for the flowers my mother had planned for the following spring.  I remember one afternoon in early November when I was planting flower bulbs and thinking to myself, why are we putting these plants in the ground now, when the soil will be frozen for the next four months?

The following year in April when the snow finally melted, a bed of beautiful tulips and crocuses bloomed in the spot where the bulbs had been planted.  I marveled at how life had carried on through a long period where it seemed that everything in that place had died and then resurfaced with such striking beauty.  Life had not ceased in the garden.  It simply took on another form.  Today, recalling the understanding of the cycle of nature that I learned seeing those flowers bloom as a child, I can appreciate how conditions from the past bear fruit in the present.

This month of April we hold our Hanamatsuri Service at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple celebrating the birth of Siddhartha Gautama over 2,500 years ago in Lumbini, Nepal.  During his lifetime, Siddhartha attained awakening and came to be revered as Sakyamuni Buddha, the compassionate teacher whose way of living and words of wisdom continue to inspire and guide seekers of the truth around the world.

The traditional story of Siddhartha’s birth tells how he was welcomed into this world with the abundant blooming of flowers.  Upon arriving in this world, he is said to have taken seven steps, with a lotus flower blooming on the ground in each place that his foot touched the earth. Having passed through the six paths[1] of death and rebirth countless times, he was steeped in causes and conditions from the past.  The seven steps represent his resolute intention to transcend the cycle of birth-and-death and realize the path to lasting peace, not just for himself but for all beings.

Sakyamuni Buddha’s final human birth came to an end when he passed into the lasting tranquility of parinirvana at age 80.  Like a beautiful flower that blooms temporarily in our garden, the Buddha’s human life expressed the truth of impermanence.  And yet, the wisdom and kindness he brought into this world continues to guide and support all those who take refuge in his teachings.   

Among the many teaching that Sakyamuni Buddha imparted during his lifetime, the teaching of Amida Buddha’s compassionate vow provides our gateway into the garden of awakening.   Amida Buddha vowed that those who live with deep mindfulness of the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion and express their sincere gratitude in the words “Namo Amida Butsu” will unfailingly attain the life of lasting peace and joy.

This flower of truth blossoms in our hearts each moment we say “Namo Amida Butsu” with a heart of grateful entrusting.  In The True, Teaching, Practice, and Realization, Shinran Shonin offers the words of Master Tz’u-min as an expression of his joy in the Nembutsu:

Considering then this human existence – hard is it to obtain;
It is like the blossoming of the udumbara.
Truly we have come now to hear the Pure Land teaching so rare to encounter;
Truly we have encountered the opening of the dharma-gate of the nembutsu.

(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 41)

The udumbara is a flower that requires very specific conditions to bloom, such that it rarely blooms.  Lifetime after lifetime we have cycled through a long winter in traveling the paths of birth-and-death.  Finally, the causes and conditions have matured for us to encounter the teachings of the Buddha.  Now springtime blooms in our hearts and we can appreciate how truly precious is this human life we have received.  Let us cherish and make the most of this life by listening carefully to the Buddha’s teachings and settling our path to liberation from suffering.

Namo Amida Butsu

[1] A traditional Buddhist worldview describes six possible states of existence into which a person may be reborn: hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, fighting titans, humans, and heavenly beings.

Day of Remembrance: Michiko’s Story & Panel Discussions

Sunday, February 18 at 9:30 a.m.

We warmly welcome you to join us in-person at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple on Sunday, February 18 at 9:30 a.m. for a special documentary premiere highlighting San Mateo Buddhist Temple member Michiko Mukai’s childhood experience of the incarceration camps during WWII.  Following the film, we will have a series of panel discussion with temple members reflecting on their families’ experiences of the incarceration camps.

8:30 a.m. Shoshinge Sofu Chanting (click here for chanting text)
9:00 a.m. Mindfulness Meditation
9:30 a.m. Dharma Service and viewing of “Michiko’s Childhood Story in Internment Camps and Beyond”
(End of Zoom Livestream)

In order to encourage free and open sharing, the Q&A panels will be in-person only:        
Panel: Michiko Mukai, Kevin Mukai, Wesley Mukai, and Katie Mukai
Panel: Steve Okamoto, Ritsuko Furuya, and Mike Yoshimoto

(In person attendees are encouraged to join us for an luncheon in the Social Hall following the program.

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

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.

Continue reading “Sweetness and Bitterness”

Remembering Loved Ones on the Other Shore

On the morning of Saturday, August 8, we will begin our Obon Observances by visiting the graves of our loved ones to conduct memorial services at four local cemeteries. Later that evening we will have our Obon Odori Dancing at the temple. The following morning, on Sunday, August 9, we will have our Obon Service in the San Mateo Buddhist Temple, including the Hatsubon Observance, which is an opportunity for all the families who have also lost a loved one this past year to come together and find comfort and support in the Sangha. All of these activities are treasured Buddhist rituals that help us to appreciate the truth that birth and death are not two opposite ends of our lives, but constantly present with us in each moment.

A few years ago when my parents were visiting from Minnesota, we observed the Fifty Year Memorial Service for my paternal grandmother Norma Elizabeth Corcoran Adams, who passed away suddenly during a routine operation when my father was just fourteen years old. As an only child, losing the single mother who was raising him turned his whole world upside down. He rarely speaks of that difficult time in his youth, and when I first suggested that we observe the Fifty Year Memorial, he did not seem particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of revisiting memories of his mother’s passing. He was even less enthusiastic about my suggestion that one day we might visit her gravesite in Montana. However, as the date of their trip drew near, he began to take an interest in the memorial service.

My father loves to digitally archive photos, and enjoyed going back through the scanned pictures he had of his mother to find a beautiful image of her as a young woman in military uniform from her service during the Second World War. On the day of the memorial service, we set the framed photograph along with a simple arrangement of flowers made by my mother on a small table in front of the incense burner in the main hall of the Oxnard Buddhist Temple. It was a simple service with just my parents, Shoko, Ryoma, and me. After the service, my father told me that it had been decided when his mother passed away that it would be too troubling for him to attend the funeral. The Fifty Year Memorial that we held was his first opportunity since her passing to formally express the gratitude he feels for his mother.

Prior to the service I explained that while offering incense is a Buddhist tradition, one need not be a Buddhist in order to participate in the ritual. Offering incense in remembrance of someone does not make you a Buddhist, nor does it negate any other religious beliefs you might have.  Likewise, if the person who passed away was not a Buddhist, offering incense in their memory is not an attempt to convert them to Buddhism in the afterlife. Even though my parents are Christian and my grandmother Norma was a good Irish Catholic, a Buddhist memorial service provided an opportunity for us to come together in the remembrance of her life and the way she touched us all.During the service, we discovered a special closeness as a family remembering the wonderful woman who raised my father to become the kind and caring husband, father, and grandfather we love.

A few years later after we moved to San Mateo, my parents drove out here for a visit. Along the way they stopped in Montana to visit my grandmother’s grave. My father called me up on his cell phone from the cemetery and talked about the feeling of peace it gave him to visit his mother’s gravesite. My father would not call himself a Buddhist. And yet, I have observed how participation in these Buddhist memorial practices has helped to transform the sadness he felt when his mother passed away into gratitude for the life they lived together. Indeed, that togetherness of mother and son continues today in the care my father shares with his own wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandsons.

Even though I never met my grandmother Norma, the love she gave my father and the appreciation for stable family life that he learned from parting with her at such a young age had a great influence on the way my father cared for me as I grew up.  In her life and our experience of remembering her, I encounter the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha at work in my life. Now her photo sits next to the Buddha Shrine in our living room in San Mateo. We remember her daily as we light incense and join our hands in gassho. Visitors to our house often ask questions about the photo. As we share her story with friends, we are reminded that her life made the lives we live today possible, and in that way she is always present in our lives.

May this Obon season be an opportunity for all of us to come to a deeper appreciation of how our family and friends who now dwell on the Other Shore and continue to guide and support us each day.


Namo Amida Butsu