Ho’onko Memorial Service for Shinran Shonin 報恩講法要

January 10, 2021

Guest Speaker (English)

Rev. Patricia Kanaya Usuki

Minister Emeritus

San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

日本語の御講師

ワンドラ睦先生

オレンジ群仏教会

Rev. Dr. Mutsumi Wondra

Orange County Buddhist Church

Under these extraordinary circumstances, we invite you to join us from the safety and comfort of your own home for an online Ho’onko Memorial Service for Shinran Shonin via the Zoom Meeting internet program on Sunday, January 10, 2021 at 9:30 a.m.  Please do not come to the temple in person.

This service will also include the Installation of Officers for the temple Board of Trustees led by incoming Temple President David Chin and the Buddhist Women’s Association led by Co-Presidents Grace Kanomata and Doris Murai.

Schedule
8:30 a.m. Shoshinge Gyōfu Chanting
9:00 a.m. Taiso Morning Exercise with instructor Juliet Bost
9:30 a.m. Ho’onko Service
  English Language Dharma Talk by Rev. Patricia Kanaya Usuki

  Installation of Officers for the SMBT Board of Trustees 
  Installation of Officers for Buddhist Women’s Association
10:45 a.m. 日本語法話 ワンドラ睦先生 
  Japanese Language Dharma Talk by Rev. Dr. Mutsumi Wondra

To join us for this online Service, CLICK HERE to sign up for “Live Broadcast of Services”.

現在感染が拡大している新型コロナウイルス感染を防ぐため、サンマテオ仏教会本堂内に集まることはできませんが、2021年1月10日の9時30分から報恩講法要をインターネットと電話でライブ中継をする予定です。

自宅からご参拝されたい方はここにクリックして、”Live Broadcast of Services”に登録してください。

Dharma Discussion: Dāna (July 12, 2020)

Reading and Discussion Questions

Passages referenced in the conversation

To realize shinjin oneself and to guide others to shinjin
Is among difficult things yet even more difficult.
To awaken beings everywhere to great compassion
Is truly to respond in gratitude to the Buddha’s benevolence.

Kyōgyōshinshō, Chapter on Shinjin, Section 94

Continue reading “Dharma Discussion: Dāna (July 12, 2020)”

What is necessary?

            Over the past month we have seen the gradual relaxing of the Shelter in Place guidelines that have dramatically reshaped our lives since they were first ordered in March.  Many stores are now offering curbside pickup for shoppers and restaurants have started to open for outdoor dining.  Our neighborhood pool is open with new rules, such as masks should be worn at all times when not in the water and no pool toys are allowed.  If you wish to relax on the pool deck, bring your own chair from home because all common pool furniture has been replaced with large squares of red tape guiding the families to sit six feet apart from one another. 

San Mateo County restrictions on gathering at houses of worship have also been relaxed, which has prompted several Sangha members to ask, “When will we be able to return to the Temple for in-person services?”

Continue reading “What is necessary?”

Hearing one another, hearing the Buddha

One month ago, as I sat down to write my newsletter article for April, we were just beginning our life of staying at home under the Shelter in Place Order.  My mind was filled with uncertainty about what the coming weeks would bring. I did not imagine the extent to which this coronavirus would affect the lives of so many people across the globe. As I sit down to write this article for May, I see the following headline in today’s edition of the Washington Post, “Covid-19 is rapidly becoming America’s leading cause of death.” It has been deeply saddening and distressing to hear of so many people near and far falling ill with Covid-19.  The loss of life is heartbreaking. In the midst of my anxiety and fear, I find myself turning to the words of Shinran Shonin for comfort and guidance.

In my reading this past month, I came across a letter that Shinran wrote at a time when famine and epidemic disease had devastated communities all over Japan. To me, Shinran’s words shine the light of wisdom on the challenges we face today.  Shinran writes:

It is saddening that so many people, both young and old, men and women, have died this year and last. But the Tathagata taught the truth of life’s impermanence for us fully, so you must not be distressed by it.
(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 531)

Continue reading “Hearing one another, hearing the Buddha”

20/20

Earlier this week, I was dozing off in my office at the temple while attempting to read a challenging passage from Shinran’s writings in Japanese when the chime for the outside doorbell woke me with a start.  As I sprang to my feet to answer the intercom, my glasses slipped off my face and fell to the ground.  The hinge that holds the right temple in place broke apart as it hit the floor, rendering my glasses unwearable.  Ideal vision is traditionally described as being able to see clearly at a distance of 20 feet the same object that a normal person can see at 20 feet, often expressed as the fraction 20/20.  The largest letter at the top of a standard eye chart that you find at an optometrist’s office often corresponds to 20/200 vision, which is the eyesight of a person who needs to be 20 feet away to see an object that a normal person can see from a distance of 200 feet.  Without my glasses, I have a hard time seeing that big letter E at the top of the chart.

I searched through my drawers and found an old pair of glasses I had purchased when I was living in Kyoto.  The first time I bought a pair of glasses in Japan, I remember complaining to the optician, “You got my prescription wrong.  Every time I have gotten new glasses in the past, I could see more clearly.  With these glasses, I can see less clearly than with my old glasses.”  When I suggested that they switch out the lenses to give me my old prescription back, the optician calmly explained to me, “From our perspective, your previous prescription was too strong.  Your left eye is stronger than the right, so you favor your left eye.  By slightly reducing the strength of your prescription in the left eye, we are creating a balance so that you will use both eyes equally.  This will reduce fatigue.”  I was skeptical, but the optician was adamant, so I decided to give the new prescription a try.  Prior to moving to Japan my prescription would increase slightly every couple of years.  During the six years I spent living in Japan, my prescription didn’t change at all, so in time I became a believer in the approach my optometrist in Kyoto was advocating.

When I went to update my glasses here in California for the first time after moving back from Kyoto, my new optometrist made the comment, “The prescription for your right eye remains the same, but we’ll need to increase the prescription in your left eye.”  When I explained the rationale for the prescription I had from Kyoto, my optometrist was dismissive.  “You want to be able to see as clearly as possible.  I am not aware of any research that supports deliberately under-correcting in one eye.”  I was not about to argue the science of optometry with a doctor, so got my new glasses and enjoyed being able to read distant signs on the freeway in time to change lanes and avoid missing my exit.

Wearing my old glasses from Kyoto these past few days as I wait for my current glasses to get repaired, I find that indeed my eyes do not get fatigued as much when I am reading.  That first optometrist I saw here in California was most intent on bringing the object of sight into crystal clear optical focus.  To him, the best prescription was determined by how clearly I could see an object across the room from where I sat.  For the optometrist I saw in Kyoto, the best vision was determined by taking into account both the subject who saw and the object that was seen.  Rather than focusing on the external object of sight as the sole criteria for determining the prescription, my doctor in Kyoto also took into account my experience of seeing through the lenses all day long.  In our conversation, I was encouraged to consider not just “What can I see?” but also “How do I see?”

A plaque hangings in the Buddha Hall of the San Mateo Buddhist Temple that reads “見真 kenshin” which means “see truth.”  Kenshin Daishi is the honorific title bestowed upon Shinran Shonin by the Meiji Emperor of Japan.  These words capture the spirit of our life in the Nembutsu, in which we endeavor to see the truth that is illuminated by the wisdom of Amida Buddha.  In reflecting on his own experience of seeing, Shinran composed the following verse in his Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu:

The person burdened with extreme evil should simply say the Name:
Although I too am within Amida’s grasp,
Passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see him;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and illumines me always.

The clear sight that I receive in the Nembutsu arises from seeing my life illuminated by the light of the Buddha’s wisdom, which helps me see how my perceptions are clouded by the greed, anger, and ignorance that arise moment to moment in my mind.  As I welcome the New Year 2020, I am grateful for the light of Amida Buddha that guides me to clearly see the truth of wisdom and compassion each day.

 

Namo Amida Butsu

Giving Thanks

During this month of November, we have some special opportunities to express our gratitude for all the precious gifts we receive in our lives.  On Sunday, November 17, we will observe our Eitaikyo Service, which is dedicated to grateful remembrance of those temple members whose families felt inspired to donate to the temple Eitaikyo Fund, which exists to ensure that the San Mateo Buddhist Temple will continue to be a place where we can gather to hear the Dharma and joyfully recite the Nembutsu.  On Sunday, November 24, we will hold the Shichigosan Observance at the temple for the families of children ages three, five and seven to express our gratitude and wishes for continuing healthy growth of the children.  On Thursday, November 28, many families and friends will also come together in their homes to celebrate the wonderful American holiday of Thanksgiving.

While gratitude is a theme that we return to throughout the month of November, living in the Nembutsu, we find that gratitude is a daily practice that brings peace and joy to our hearts.  One of the ways in which we cultivate gratitude in our daily lives is by pausing to join our hands in gassho and utter the word “Itadakimasu (I humbly receive)” before beginning a meal, and “Goshisosama deshita (It was feast created through great effort)” at the conclusion of the meal. 

Continue reading “Giving Thanks”

Let the waters of Amida’s Dharma flow

I would like thank all of our Sangha members who supported the World Buddhist Women’s Convention that was held in San Francisco over this past Labor Day Weekend.  Our San Mateo Sangha was well-represented on the committees that handled registration, translation and interpretation, the marketplace, and the organizational leadership for the convention.  The planning and preparation for the convention was in the works for ten years leading up to the event, and I am truly inspired by the dāna of time, energy, and resources that our Sangha generously provided at every step along the way.  1,700 attendees joined the conference from Japan, Hawaii, Canada, South America, and the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA).  In addition to a large number of lay Buddhists who attended, many ministers—women and men—also participated in the gathering.

At one point during the conference, I had the opportunity to provide interpretation for a frank conversation that occurred over lunch among a group of ministers from Kyoto, Japan and the BCA.  A minister from Kyoto had been speaking on the topic Shinran Shonin’s teachings regarding birth in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha.  A question came up about whether birth in the Pure Land must be understood to be an event that occurs after death, or if one can experience aspects of birth in the Pure Land during this present life.  Citing several examples from the writings of Shinran Shonin, the minister from Kyoto set out to demonstrate that for a person who entrusts deeply in Amida Buddha, birth in the Pure Land will be realized after this present life comes to an end.

One of the ministers from the BCA said, “This is a matter of keen interest for us because many newcomers to the temple are seeking practices to guide their lives in the present moment.  These seekers are unconcerned with matters of the afterlife.”  The BCA minister went on to say, “Don’t you think that, as ministers working to propagate the Jodo Shinshu teachings, we should endeavor to share the teachings in a way that speaks to the interests and concerns of the people who are walking through the doors of our temples seeking the Dharma today?”

“I agree that it is important to speak to the concerns of everyone who comes to the temple seeking the Dharma.  At the same time, it is also important to faithfully maintain the traditional teachings that have been passed down over the generations.” replied one of the ministers from Kyoto.

“Setting tradition aside for a moment, how do you personally understand this matter of birth in the Pure Land?” inquired a BCA minister.

“I don’t intend to share my own personal views.  My purpose as a minister is only to clarify what I have understood based on my reading of the writings of Shinran Shonin.” said a minister from Kyoto.

“Here in the BCA, I find it necessary as a minister to share my own personal understanding of the Dharma as it relates to this world that we live in right now.”  said a BCA Minister.

Hearing this comment, another of the ministers from Kyoto offered the following insight, “In Japan, great value has been placed on the authority of tradition.  The desire to maintain and uphold tradition has been particularly strong in our Jodo Shinshu community since the Edo Period (1603-1867).”

“You’re talking about 400 years ago!  What about right now?” countered the minister from the BCA.

“Many people in Japan are inclined to continue the values and perspectives that have served their ancestors well over the centuries.  As such, they are not inclined to be the one to stand up and call for a new direction.”  said a minister from Kyoto.

“That sounds like stagnation to me.  Without movement, a body of water becomes stale and lifeless.” said one of the ministers from the BCA.

While affirming the validity of the BCA minister’s perspective, a minister from Kyoto offered the following insight: “Shinran Shonin’s teachings ought to be shared in a way that is suitable to the cultural background of the people who are hearing them.  It is natural that the Jodo Shinshu teaching will find one expression in Japan and another expression here in the United States.”

The conversation went on in this manner throughout the meal, continuing and over coffee and dessert, without reaching an elegant conclusion.  To me, this spirited dialogue was an uplifting reminder that our Nembutsu teaching continues to thrive thanks to our tradition of frankly and openly exchanging ideas.  As Rennyo Shonin wrote in the 15th Century, “time after time, [we must] clear the channels of faith and let the waters of Amida’s Dharma flow.”  (Rennyo Shonin Ofumi: Letters of Rennyo 2-1, BDK English Tripitaka Series, p. 61)

 

Namo Amida Butsu

The Lantern of Wisdom

I always leave one high-efficiency LED light on in the hallway and open the door just a crack when I go to bed.  At some point in middle school, I stopped sleeping with my Snoopy nightlight, and for many years, I tried to make my room as dark as possible before going to bed.  Even a little bit of light in the room would make it hard for me to get to sleep.  That habit changed suddenly for me one night almost ten years ago, shortly after my wife and I moved to Oxnard, California, where I had received my first assignment as a minister in the Buddhist Churches of America.  We were settling into life in California and getting used to living in a spacious single-family home after having spent a couple of years in a tiny downtown Kyoto apartment.  Our entire Kyoto apartment would have fit inside the kitchen of our Oxnard house.

Continue reading “The Lantern of Wisdom”

The Real McCoy

At the San Mateo Buddhist Temple on Sunday, July 7, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. we will observe our annual memorial for the past Bishops of the Buddhist Churches of America.  Throughout the history of the Buddhist Churches of America and its predecessor, the Buddhist Mission of North America, our bishops have responded to the challenges of their times, showing courageous leadership and empowering the Sangha to work tirelessly to share the joy of the Nembutsu in this land.  One of the greatest challenges faced by the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist community in North America was the mass incarceration of persons of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War.  Following the Imperial Japanese Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, organizations like the Buddhist Mission of North America that had close ties to Japan and were led by immigrants from Japan were subject to severe suspicion and hostility.

Following the mass relocation and incarceration of the Japanese American community on the West Coast in makeshift camps in desolate inland areas of the United States, an emergency Buddhist National Conference was convened in 1943 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  At that time, the decision was made to file articles of incorporation with the State of California for a new organization called the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) that would succeed the Buddhist Mission of North America.  In American Sutra, Duncan Ryuken Williams’ recently published history of Buddhism in the Japanese-American community centering on the World War II incarceration, Dr. Williams describes how a group of 47 American-born nisei leaders were chosen to sit on the board of directors that would run the BCA (p. 146).  With the support of Bishop Ryotai Matsukage, the American-born Rev. Kenryo Kumata was chosen to head the board of directors.

Under the leadership of Bishop Matsukage, Rev. Kumata had been charged with actively ministering to the younger generation of English-speaking Japanese-Americans.  He also served as the English-language spokesman for the Buddhist Mission of North America during the critical time-period at the outbreak of the war.  Bulletins and Dharma messages written by Rev. Kumata were widely distributed across the various incarceration camps, bringing comfort and guidance to those who took refuge in the Nembutsu in the midst of tremendous adversity.

I recently came across the following message written by Rev. Kumata that was circulating in October 1943 and recorded in the Denson YBA Bulletin, a publication of the Young Buddhist Association at the incarceration camp in Jerome, Arkansas:

 

DENSON YBA BULLETIN, Vol. I, No. 2, Oct. 3, 1943

Hidden Qualities

Many of us can find agreement in saying that “tempura” is indeed a tasty dish. Once in a while, the enjoyment lies in guessing what is covered by the “koromo”* and in the anticipation of finding your guess come true.  But the “koromo” itself does not constitute the whole of the meal; the essence lies in what is underneath.  Just so, no matter how glittering and beautiful a trinket may look, it is still a trinket, a bauble, and may not be classed as a jewel unless the innards are of the same quality as the surface.  In other words, it must be “solid”, or “sterling”.  Superficial education, sophistication and all may pass for the “real McCoy” once in a while, but cannot compare with true wisdom and humility; qualities which are endowed upon those with Faith in the spiritual guidance of the Buddha. —Rev. Kenryo Kumata

http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/jarda/ucb/text/cubanc_35_1_00261330ta.txt

*koromo: a batter coating; koromo may also refer to robes and clothing, often used to refer to the robes worn by Buddhist priests.

 

Reading Rev. Kumata’s words over 75 years later, I am in awe of his ability to provide a profound and impactful Dharma message with striking economy of language.  Writing messages for wide distribution at a time when paper and printing would have been precious resources for his community, he was able to make every word count.  He manages to evoke the comfort and fond recollection of delicious food and family gatherings for readers who were likely subsisting on cafeteria-style meals that lacked the flavors of Japanese home-cooking and the intimacy of the family dinner table.  Writing in the vernacular of the youth of his day, incorporating everyday examples and slang expressions like the “real McCoy,” Rev. Kumata’s message conveys the penetrating depth of Buddhist faith, or shinjin, which is the essence of Shinran Shonin’s Nembutsu teaching.

The tireless efforts of wise and dedicated leaders like Bishop Matsukage and Rev. Kumata created the circumstances for me to hear the Nembutsu here in the United States.  Thanks to their leadership, we enjoy a thriving BCA Sangha and the San Mateo Buddhist Temple continues to be a place where we gather to encounter the Buddha’s heart of great compassion in our daily lives.  Reflecting on their legacy, I can only join my palms in gassho, bow my head in gratitude, and say “Namo Amida Butsu.”

 

The Mind of Great Compassion that is Thoroughgoing

This past month we were truly honored to have Rev. Donald Castro, Rimban Emeritus of the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple, join us as the guest speaker for our Nembutsu Seminar on the topic of EcoSangha—Jodo Shinshu Buddhism and Ecology.  In his talks, Rev. Castro challenged us to consider how the Buddhadharma guides us to respond to the great ecological crises of our time, such as the man-made climate change that has contributed to the terrible wildfires that have ravaged communities here in Northern California with increasing frequency in recent years, or the vast swaths of floating garbage that pollute our oceans.  As an individual, I try to reduce my individual carbon footprint by taking the train to meetings in the East Bay rather than driving my car.   I also make an effort to use paper bags rather than the cheaper plastic alternatives.  That said, I cannot help wondering what difference my limited efforts make in the face of the monumental ecological challenges we face today.

When I find myself losing hope, I look to the Buddha’s teachings to illuminate my path forward in these difficult times.  Reflecting on my life in the nembutsu, I find inspiration in the  following four vows that are established by all bodhisattvas—beings who aspire to arrive on the shore of true awakening carried across the ocean of birth and death by the great vehicle of the Mahayana sutras:

1) “Living beings are limitless, I vow to liberate them all.”

2) “Base passions are inexhaustible, I vow to sever them all.”

3) “Dharma gates are immeasurable, I vow to know them all.”

4) “The way of the Buddha is unsurpassed, I vow to perfect it.”

The paradoxical nature of these four expansive vows initially struck me as overwhelming.  I have a hard-enough time realizing liberation for myself, how could I ever liberate all beings?  I struggle when I try to reign in even one of my base passions, how could I possibly sever them all?  After more than twenty years of studying the Dharma, I feel like I know less than ever, how could I know all the Dharma gates?  It seems impossible for me to perfect the way of the Buddha through my own efforts.

However, when I take the nembutsu as my guide on the bodhisattva path, I am reminded that the important matter is to carry on in the direction illuminated by the Buddha’s wisdom, even when it seems impossible to fulfill my aspirations through my own efforts.  The spirit of the bodhisattva path is to persevere in the face of insurmountable odds, trusting that if I set my life on the path of truth, the inconceivable working of the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion will ultimately bring about liberation, not just for me, but for all beings.

In his talks, Rev. Castro reminded us that, as Buddhists, our ethical principles are not handed down to us by a divine authority.  Buddhist ethical living is rooted in compassion for all beings.  Our concern for the natural environment arises from compassionate awareness of the people, animals, and plants that suffer when a wildfire sweeps through their home or toxic plastics clog the ocean waters that they depend upon for survival.  When I feel overwhelmed by these environmental problems, the following words of Shinran, recorded in A Record in Lament of Divergences, Chapter Four, shine the light of the Buddha’s wisdom on my path:

Concerning compassion, there is a difference between the Path of Sages and the Pure Land Path.

Compassion in the Path of Sages is to pity, commiserate with, and care for beings. It is extremely difficult, however, to accomplish the saving of others just as one wishes.
Compassion in the Pure Land Path should be understood as first attaining Buddhahood quickly through saying the nembutsu and, with the mind of great love and compassion, freely benefiting sentient beings as one wishes.

However much love and pity we may feel in our present lives, it is hard to save others as we wish; hence, such compassion remains unfulfilled. Only the saying of the nembutsu, then, is the mind of great compassion that is thoroughgoing.

Thus were his words.

(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 633)

This teaching does not imply that it is no use making efforts to help others and care for the natural world because I am incapable of solving the problems all by myself.  Shinran’s words offer me encouragement to do my best to actively address the needs of this world, at peace in the knowledge that, even though I will not be able to alleviate all the suffering I encounter, the mind of great compassion constantly works in the nembutsu to guide me and all beings to liberation.

 

Namo Amida Butsu