On April 11, we will observe an online Zoom Hanamatsuri Service, our Annual Celebration of the birth of Siddhartha Gautama in the gardens of Lumbini, present day Nepal. Siddhartha realized awakening at age 35 and is revered by Buddhists as Sakyamuni Buddha, so we celebrate his birth as the appearance of the Buddha in this world. At the same time, we find that, for each of us, the Buddha appears in our lives in the moments when his wisdom and compassion shine the light of truth on our daily activities.
Perhaps it was a time when you were grieving the loss of a loved one that the Buddha appeared in your life to assure you that there is nothing more real in life than the truth of impermanence. The Buddha’s teachings show us the path to live with peace of mind in the midst of impermanence, reminding us that our lives are but a moment in the flow of causes and conditions that began long before we were born and will continue on long after our time in this world has passed.
Perhaps it was a time when a difficult coworker or a bullying classmate was causing you distress and the Buddha appeared in your life to remind you of the unchanging truth that hostility is never subdued through hostility, but that by freedom from hostility alone is hostility subdued.
Perhaps it was during a moment of pandemic fatigue during this past year of living under the cloud of Covid-19 that the Buddha appeared to remind you that the lives we lead today are the result of what was done and not done in the past, and what we do and do not do today will determine how we will live the future. Taking to heart the law of cause and effect taught by the Buddha, we recognize that when we all practice social distancing and mask wearing, Covid cases go down. We also notice that in times when we as a nation have thrown caution to the wind, we have seen Covid cases go up
In the moments that the Dharma supports us in our lives, we feel that Sakyamuni was born into this world for the purpose of guiding us on our path. Reflecting on the most essential teachings of the Buddha, Shinran Shonin wrote that Sakyamuni was born into this world to impart the teaching of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, the compassionate wish for all beings to realize a life of peace and joy:
Sakyamuni Tathagata appeared in this world
Solely to teach the ocean-like Primal Vow of Amida;
We, an ocean of beings in an evil age of five defilements,
Should entrust ourselves to the Tathagata’s words of truth.
(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 70)
Sakyamuni Buddha, the Tathagata, appeared in this world to provide us with a path to liberation from the greed, anger and ignorance that have long been the cause of our suffering and stress.
The Nembutsu that embodies Amida Buddha’s compassionate wish for all beings to realize a life of peace and bliss, sustained Shinran Shonin in his time and it sustains us today. In the Nembutsu, we receive the clear insight of the wisdom taught by Sakyamuni. We also receive the peace of mind and diamondlike confidence of the Buddha mind that enables us to face with calm and clear resolve whatever difficulties we encounter in this world and these times.
In recent weeks, we have seen a deeply troubling series of attacks on Buddhist and Asian American communities. These attacks stoke anger and fear in our minds, as we worry for the safety of our family, our friends, and ourselves. In moments like this, the Buddha appears in our lives to inspire us with the courage to stand in solidarity with our neighbors and speak up with a bold voice that echoes with the wisdom of the Tathagata’s words of truth. Let us take the Buddha as our guide and work tirelessly so that all beings may live with care and respect for one another as fellow travelers who share a common wish for a life of peace and bliss.
Namo Amida Butsu