White Ashes (June 2)

As we approach the conclusion of our exploration of Rennyo Shonin’s teachings this Dharma School year, this Sunday Rev. Adams will offer insights and appreciation for Rennyo Shonin’s Letter on White Ashes, which we look to for comfort in times of grief and remembrance.

“. . . in the morning we may have a radiant face, but in the evening come to be white ashes.”

Schedule
8:30 a.m. Shoshinge Sofu Chanting
9:00 a.m. Sangha Social Hour
9:30 a.m. Dharma Service
10:30 a.m. Shotsuki Hoyo Monthly Memorial Service (Hondo)
10:30 a.m. Dharma Discussion (Dharma Room)

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

Heading to the Western Shore

Prior to coming to the San Mateo Buddhist Temple, I served for three and half years at the Oxnard Buddhist Temple and the Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara.  One day, a Dharma friend in Santa Barbara called me to say that a church member by the name of Mr. Baba was in the hospital and would be cheered by a visit from me.  Mr. Baba was 95 years old, and while born in the United States, had spent much of his childhood in Japan.  He would attend every service I led at the Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara smartly dressed in a suit and tie.  He was a man of few words who listened to the Dharma with deep attention.

At that time, our eldest son had just turned one year old, so I was still getting used to life as a parent and feeling a little frazzled.  When I stepped into Mr. Baba’s hospital room, there were various medical devices beeping and clicking at his bedside.  He immediately greeted me, saying, “Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit me.”  I asked him how he was feeling, and he responded warmly, “So-so, but I’m still here.  How is your wife and your baby boy?”

The visit lasted about thirty minutes.  As I recalled our conversation on the drive home, I felt a little sheepish when it struck me that we had spent more time talking about my family than how Mr. Baba was doing.  He seemed much more interested in the people around him than his own health problems.   

A few days later, I received a call from Mr. Baba’s daughter informing me that he had crossed over to the Other Shore.  He may have been aware that the time for his birth in the Pure Land was drawing near at the time when I visited him in the hospital.  As one who had deeply heard the teaching of Amida Buddha’s compassionate vow, Mr. Baba was free from all worry, knowing that his birth in the realm of peace and bliss was settled.

Few people are able to enjoy good health to the age of 95 the way that Mr. Baba had.  Looking at the world around us, we are reminded that we may cross over to the Other Shore at any moment.  This truth is expressed in the following words from Rennyo Shonin’s “Letter on White Ashes”:

Who in this world today can maintain a human form for even a hundred years? There is no knowing whether I will die first or others, whether death will occur today or tomorrow. We depart one after another more quickly than the dewdrops on the roots or the tips of the blades of grasses. So it is said. Hence, we may have radiant faces in the morning, but by evening we may turn into white ashes.

In this month of March, we observe our Spring Ohigan Service.  Ohigan means “Other Shore,” and is observed on the equinox when the sun sets directly in the west.  This is a time to reflect our journey from this world of suffering, across the ocean of birth-and-death, to arrive at the Other Shore of awakening.  Our journey to the world of awakening does not begin at the moment of death.  Each day of our lives is a precious opportunity to direct our minds to the Pure Land of wisdom and compassion.

A person like Mr. Baba who deeply hears the truth of the Buddha’s teachings lives each moment of their lives with their mind directed toward Amida Buddha’s land in the west.  Cherishing each encounter with fellow travelers on this shore as he approached his own birth in the Pure Land, he proceeded to the west with a settled mind in the Nembutsu.

Namo Amida Butsu

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)

one long listening: a memoir of grief, friendship, and spiritual care

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

7:00 p.m.

A conversation with Buddhist author Chenxing Han about her new book one long listening: a memoir of grief, friendship, and spiritual care.

Photo by Lan Le

Chenxing

Han

Institute of Buddhist Studies Alumnus

and Buddhist Author

Immigrant daughter, novice chaplain, bereaved friend: author Chenxing Han (Be the Refuge) takes us on a pilgrimage through the wilds of grief and laughter, pain and impermanence, reconnecting us to both the heartache and inexplicable brightness of being human.

Eddying around three autumns of Han’s life, one long listening journeys from a mountaintop monastery in Taiwan to West Coast oncology wards, from oceanside Ireland to riverfront Phnom Penh. Through letters to a dying friend, bedside chaplaincy visits, and memories of a migratory childhood, Han’s startling, searching memoir cuts a singular portrait of a spiritual caregiver in training.

We welcome you to join us in person at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple or via Zoom Meeting on Wednesday, May 3 for this Dharma session.

To join us for this online Dharma Session, CLICK HERE and sign up for “Study Classes and Seminars”.

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.”

Continue reading “The Buddha’s Final Meal”

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?” 

Continue reading “Do you want to go to the Pure Land?”