As autumn arrives, bringing with it cooler temperatures in the morning and evening, our family has been welcoming a long-anticipated return to fulltime in-person learning at school. After a year and a half of staying home together every day, we are once again each heading off in our own direction on weekday mornings. For our two older sons, who are in 2nd and 5th grades, it is back to elementary school and the routine of morning drop-offs, lunchtime recess on the playground, and hands-on work with Montessori materials in the classroom.
Our youngest son Tokuma had just turned one-year-old at the start of the pandemic and was just beginning to walk and say simple words at that time. Now he is off to preschool and has entered a whole new world of spending time away from his parents and brothers, and playing in a group with other children his own age. He began the preschool experience with a summer camp that was also attended by our middle son Shoma, who had attended that same preschool himself when he was younger. This summer Shoma returned as a senpai, the oldest child in the group, and enjoyed helping the teachers provide care and guidance for the younger students.
The first morning when I dropped them off at the camp, I was nervous about how two-year-old Tokuma would react. I recalled the long, drawn-out drop-offs when his older brother Shoma entered preschool five years ago. Shoma would fuss and cling to my legs as I tried to divert his attention with toy cattle or craft activities the teachers had prepared, in that hope that I might sneak out the door without him noticing and having a meltdown. With those memories on my mind as I approached the gate to send them off on their first morning of camp, I found myself running through possible strategies for how I might skillfully make my exit. When we arrived, Shoma rushed up to get his temperature checked, so that he could enter the courtyard and join the happy reunion with his friends from preschool.
As Tokuma watched the joy and eagerness with which Shoma entered the preschool yard, it did not occur to him to be anxious about entering into this new place. He marched right up to the entrance to have his temperature taken, so he could follow his brother in and see what all the excitement was about. Following his big brother, he clearly knew that this was the place to go. These days Tokuma goes to preschool without his older brother, who is off at elementary school. Still, when I drop him off at the preschool, he gets his temperature checked and rushes through the gate, without even looking back to say “Itte-kimasu (See you when I come back).” He knows this is the place to go.
Ohigan, the equinox when the sun sets directly in the west, is our time to reflect upon the direction of lives and the destination we are progressing toward. The light of the Buddha’s wisdom illuminates the path of the Nembutsu, and guides us to the Other Shore of awakening. Traditionally, Ohigan is observed with seven days of Buddhist reflection grounded in the Six Paramitas along with a day for gratitude at the center of the week: Day 1: Giving, Day 2: Ethics, Day 3: Patience, Day 4: Gratitude for those who have gone before, Day 5: Diligence, Day 6: Concentration, and Day 7: Prajña.
We look to those who have already crossed over to the Other Shore as our guides. We follow the example of their lives in the Nembutsu and carry on in this journey of life without doubt, clear in our direction, drawing ever closer to our destination in the realm of peace and bliss. With Namo Amida Butsu as our guide, we proceed forward on the path to awakening without hesitation.
Namo Amida Butsu.