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.

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Sadness and Compassion

Conducting funerals and memorial services is one of the characteristic activities of a Japanese Buddhist temple.  As a result, Buddhism is closely associated with death in the minds of many people in Japanese communities.  When I became a Buddhist priest, one of my friends who had lost her mother at a young age asked me, “Isn’t it depressing to be around so much sadness all the time?”

Certainly, every encounter with death is deeply saddening.  At the same time, sadness is deeply connected with the Buddha’s compassion that liberates us from suffering.  Shinran Shonin shares the following reflection on compassion (jihi 慈悲) in his major work The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way:

[Concerning compassion (jihi慈悲):] To eliminate pain is termed ji 慈; to give happiness is termed hi 悲. Through ji 慈, one eliminates the pain of all sentient beings; through hi 悲, one becomes free of thoughts that do not bring them peace.

(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 169)

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At the Fair, on the Farm

Having spent much of past sixteen months sheltering at home, this summer has brought a joyful return to some of our favorite pre-pandemic activities, including a visit to the San Mateo County Fair.  Even breathing through my mask, the smells of the county fair brought back waves of memories of past summers.  The smell of barbequed ribs, turkey legs, and French fries reminded me of leisurely summer afternoons enjoying fairs and festivals with my wife and sons.  The farm smells of pigs, goats and cattle in the livestock showcase brought back memories of summer visits to the family farms of my relatives living in Iowa.  I recall the first time my son received a tour of the cattle barns on my aunt and uncle’s farm.  At one point, he asked my aunt, “Can we see something that doesn’t smell?”  She laughed and replied, “Well, we are on a farm.”

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