“Happy Time is Happy Life?”
The ocean of birth-and-death,
Of painful existence, has no bound;
Only by the ship of Amida’s universal Vow
Can we, who have long been drowning,
Unfailingly be brought across it.
Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Pure Land
It is already October, leaving only a few months until the end of the year. Did it seem to pass quickly for you or slowly? For me it felt like it was both. I had the opportunity to meet more people and make more friends, and when we are enjoying our time it passes so fast. At the same time I had to bid farewell to new friends in Canada and saying goodbye is never easy. The feeling of remorse seems to last. I know many of you have felt the same way.
Shinran Shonin’s Wasan says that the ocean of birth-and-death of painful existence has no bound. Even if we are having wonderful time one moment, we may have a difficult time in the future.
It reminds me of a story I heard that I would like to share with you:
Once up on a time, one minister visited a village. The village was poor, but the minister received a very hearty and warm welcome there. When he left the village he gave the village people two Jizo. Jizo is a bodhisattva who watches over children. He set one Jizo at the east side of village, and the other was set at the west side of village. Eastern Jizo was called “Kiku Jizo”. “Kiku” means “to listen”. When people requested their wish to the Eastern Jizo, the Jizo listened and granted the request. Western Jizo was called “Kikanu Jizo”. “Kikanu” means “to not listen”. So the Western Jizo did not listen to any requests and wishes, and just remained standing on the west side. The minister advised the village people to go and worship the Western Jizo, but of course, no one went to the West side and everyone went to the East side to make their wishes.
Some of their wishes were, “Please make me a rich-man!”; “Please cure my sickness!” and “Please give me big house!”. The Eastern Jizo granted their all wishes.
Their village was used to being a poor state, but after half of a year the village became a rich place. No one worked anymore, but they all had many more wishes to make. They started to get competitive, and changed their wishes to: “Please make me wealthier than him”. “Please give me a bigger house than her”. “Please give me better health than everybody else!” Everyone wanted to become the number one person. They asked the Eastern Jizo for “More! More!! More!!”
Then finally one day a person made a request to the Eastern Jizo. “Please make my neighbor become poor!” After the wishing, the neighbor became poor. And the neighbor requested the Eastern Jizo “Please make him sick!” They wished each other to become unhappy and have misfortunes. The village people could not trust each other anymore, because they didn’t know who the one who requested their unhappy life was.
The minister who gifted the two Jizo came back to the village one day and saw what was happening. He suggested once again that they visit the Western Jizo.
The village people finally decided to pay attention to this advice and went to visit the Western Jizo. The Western Jizo did not grant any wishes, and the village became poor again and they had to work hard again. However the village people could trust each other and re-establish good relationships. And they started wishing for each person to find happiness.
The old story shows us that our human desire has no limit. When we dream of having something and then achieve it, we always come up with something else to wish for. This desire for something more makes life difficult.
Of course if someone was to work hard to grant our wishes it would make us happy. However, we have to consider if that happy moment necessarily leads to a happy life. However, if someone is just looking or watching over us, as in the example of the Western Jizo, we might feel comfort in what we already have, and feel warmth in our heart.
This someone may be parents, best friends, relatives…it depends on you.
In any case, when we notice someone or something is looking after us forever, we feel very relieved, because we are not standing alone.
The ocean of birth-and-death,
Of painful existence, has no bound;
Only by the ship of Amida’s universal Vow
Can we, who have long been drowning,
Unfailingly be brought across it.
Amida Buddha is always looking after us to be brought across from this world to the pure land.
Rev. Yoshimichi Ouchi
Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada Day
I hope everyone enjoys the beginning of the new fall season, which illustrates the transient nature of all life. Leaves change their color and eventually fall to the ground. The fallen leaves then provide nourishment for the tree. In the spring, new leaves will spring from its branches to display its beautiful greenery…
At the present time, there are a number of issues throughout the world, specifically to do with racism, terrorist activities, nuclear threats, hate, and violence. These concerns remind me of a story of a bird in the Amida Sutra. It reads;
“Furthermore, Shariputra, in the land of Ultimate Bliss there are various birds of brilliant coloring, such as white egrets, peacocks, parrots, sharikas, kalavinkas, and jivamjivakas.
The birds sing six times a day in exquisite voices. Their very singing expresses Amitabha’s teachings, such as the Five Roots of Goodness, the Five Powers, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, and the Noble Eightfold Path.
When the people of the land of Ultimate Bliss hear the birds’ voices, all of their thoughts are dedicated to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.”
To further illustrate, there is s story of a mythical bird, jivamjivakas, which goes like this…
Once upon a time, there lived a strange bird in a huge banyan tree. which stood beside a river. The strange bird had two heads, and only one body. Once, while the bird was flying high in the sky, he saw an apple-shaped fruit lying on the bank of the river. The bird swooped down, picked up the fruit and began to eat it. It was the most delicious fruit the bird had ever eaten. As the bird had two heads, the other head protested, “I’m your brother head. Why don’t you let me also eat this tasty fruit?” The first head of the bird replied, “Shut up. You know that we’ve only one stomach. Whichever head eats, the fruit will go to the same stomach. So it doesn’t matter which head eats it. Moreover, I’m the one who found this fruit. So I have the first right to eat it.”
Hearing this, the other head became silent. But this kind of selfishness on the part of the first head displeased him very much. One day, while flying, the other head spotted a tree bearing poisonous fruit. The other head immediately descended upon the tree and plucked the fruit from it.
“Please don’t eat this poisonous fruit,” cried the first head. “If you eat it, both of us will die, because we have a common stomach to digest it.”
“Shut up!” shouted the other head. “Since I’ve plucked this fruit, I’ve every right to eat it.”
The first head began to weep, but the other head didn’t care. He wanted to take revenge. He ate the poisonous fruit. As a result, both died.
I leave the story like this for you the reader to figure out.
Namo Amida Butsu
Rev. Tatsuya Aoki
Bishop, Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada
IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM REVEREND CHRISTINA
To the Members and Friends of Toronto Buddhist Church and the Eastern District of the Canadian Kyoudan
As Buddhism teaches, our lives are full of continual change. Life’s journey is full of twists and turns that we come upon when we least expect it. Just when you think your path is heading one way, there is a twist that leads you in another direction.
It is with sadness that I must tell you about a sudden change in my life and the life of
my family. As many of you know my husband David Ringle was an active duty member of the United States Coast Guard in California. To enable me to return to Canada as a minister in Toronto, David left his “active” duty status and became a “reserve”. David has just recently received notice that he is being recalled to active duty and must report to the Coast Guard base in Virginia by August 15th of this year. I would never choose to have my family live apart. Therefore I have no option but to do everything necessary to move our son Atticus and me as soon as reasonably possible to join David in Virginia.
Being a Canadian, the process for my getting approval to emigrate to the United States is currently uncertain. Therefore I regretfully cannot announce an exact date at this time when we will leave Canada. Regardless of the outcome I have committed to stay on at Toronto Buddhist Church until at least the end of December. Frankly the transition period may be difficult because of the late notification of his recall. In addition to taking care of all the details of a major move, with severely limited childcare options I am committed to ensuring that Atticus experiences as little disruption or feelings of abandonment as possible. At the same time, I will do everything possible to continue to perform my duties in the normal course, to assist and mentor Rev. Ouchi and to serve the religious needs of the congregation. Despite my best efforts I may let you down on occasion and for this I sincerely apologize in advance.
I am aware that Toronto Buddhist Church and the Eastern District have encountered several serious difficulties over the years and I am truly sorry that I may be one more to add to the list. On the other hand the members of the Temple have been able to band together in every situation and displayed incredible resilience and courage in keeping the Temple intact and even growing. Everyone knows now that Rev. Yoshimichi Ouchi, while still young, is very intelligent, keen, personable and very capable. I empathize with any concerns he may have right now, having had the very same experience of being thrust into a heavy responsibility four years ago. I am convinced he will be a great leader of the Temple and the Eastern District in the very near future. I ask you all to please give him your patience, assistance and support at this time, as you gave to me. The Board of the Temple and the Bishop of JSBTC will immediately consider alternatives for help for Rev. Yoshi, but in the meantime, I know he will appreciate your kindness and understanding.
I will cherish the opportunity over the next while to thank each and every one of you personally for all you have done for me and my family. NAMO AMIDA BUTSU.
In Gassho, Reverend Christina
Honen : “Just Say the Nembutsu”
“What did Honen Shonin mean when he said we are saved simply by reciting the Nembutsu.” To understand the depth of this phrase “saved simply” in this question as it applies to Master Honen, we must first trace his life until he uttered this phrase.
He was Seishimaru until the age of nine. The text describes the attack and mortal injury of his father by henchmen hired by a political rival. His father’s dying wish was that Seishimaru not take revenge but become a priest. This karmic event set Seishimaru on his spiritual journey rather than a path of revenge. From the age of nine until fifteeen, he lived in a local Buddhist Temple. He then went to Mt. Hei, a renowned centre of Buddhist studies. There he changed his name to Honen-bu-Genku. From the age of nine to twenty four, Honen studied with great ability but he did not find enlightenment. Honen left Mt. Hiei to study at various Temples in Nara and Kyoto. Again, he found nothing that satisfied his search. Thus another nine years of his life yielded little results.
Honen then focused on Master Genshin’s “Essentials for Attaining Birth “with little results. For ten more years, Honen read and re-read the entire contents of Mt. Hiei’s library five times through. Then, came the thunderbolt, that flash of awareness on reading Shan-tao’s concise paragraph in the ‘Commentary on the Contemplation Su-tra”. We must recall that in total Honen had searched for enlightenment for almost twenty-five years, almost half a human’s total life span at that time.
We can feel the joy and wonder on Honen’s face on reading Shan-tao’s words:
“First, single-heartedly practicing the Name of Amida alone—whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining— without regard to the length of time, and without abandoning from moment to moment: this is called “the act of true settlement, “for it is accord with the Buddha’s Vow.” The text states that these words moved Honen great- ly. Little wonder, for Honen had been searching for almost twenty-five years and suddenly these words meant to him “You will be saved by simply reciting the Nembutsu. That is Amida Buddha’s desire, his absolute promise to us.” We too, like Honen, must diligently search until we are fortunate to encounter that one good Teacher who can point us in the right direction. Jodo Shinshu is a solitary journey; we must go alone until the right caus- es and conditions lead to our awakening. Until then we can recite the Nembutsu with our limited abilities trying for a sincere heart and mind. The so-called “Easy Path” is not so easy. For me, it is one step forward, two steps back. On a good day it is two steps forward and one step back.
To understand the “we” in the question” we are saved simply by reciting the Nembutsu”, that “we” is us. We are like Honen searching, searching for the path to enlightnment without success. All our questions and more ques- tions never seem to yield any answers. If we just give up our struggles to gain enlightenment through our own efforts and if we simply recite the Nembutsu with a sincere heart and mind, then through Amida’s great compassion, we reach the stage of the truly settled and our birth in the Pure Land is assured. How fortunate we are at that moment. Until that moment, we struggle we struggle.
Recall Honen’s thunderbolt, that ash of awareness a er twenty- ve years of e ort, his whole body responding joyfully and tearfully and the Nembutsu owing without Honen’s e ort from his mouth. Honen was embraced by Amida. Amida and Honen were one.
May each one of us in our spiritual quest have that moment of wonderment and joy, then tearfully having the Nembutsu ow from our mouth without our e ort.
Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu
Dennis Madokoro, Minister Assistant
“Resistance Is Futile”
Who is in control of your life? Are you in control? Are you the one “behind the wheel”? Are you sitting in the passenger seat holding the map? Or maybe you just enter an address into your GPS and turn when it says “Left turn ahead”.
Have you ever driven home from work and thought…I don’t remember the entire drive? Or perhaps said “yes dear” without knowing what we are agreeing to. We get so programmed in our daily lives that occasionally we just go through the motions. We surrender our ability to be mindfully in control of our actions without even realizing it, but if I were to ask you to give up your control on purpose, that would likely make you feel nervous.
Our society, our culture, is all about control. We control our diets, and when we eat too many unhealthy things we feel like we lost control. I can think of an occasion or two where I looked down at the bottom of a pint of peanut butter and chocolate Haagen-Dazs ice cream and though…did I just eat that whole thing?
When we get ready every morning we try to look a certain way. We try to have the right clothes for the right occasion. Have the right hair (I hope). Struggle to afford the finer things. Then we can look like we are in control of our lives.
If you are in a situation where you are not the person in control, but someone else is, it can be a little irritating: Your boss makes a decision you don’t agree with; you think someone is not dressed appropriately; or, you see people whispering about how you are not dressed appropriately.
It is pretty difficult for us to give up control and when that happens we usually don’t phrase it as give up control, but call it “loosing” control. It is like we feel we are suffering a loss and are missing something we think we should have.
But do any of us actually have control? Some sort of mastery of what will or will not happen? We think we do, and it feels good doesn’t it? Those rare occasions when the list of things you want to get done actually gets completed; when things go exactly the way we think they should. In my case I can say these times are very rare. I cannot tell you when the last time I had a day where every single thing went just as I wanted. At some point my desire to accomplish overtakes my ability to follow through because I can rarely factor in the unexpected.
The unexpected is often received with annoyance. Think about when you are trying to get something done or are deep in thought and the phone rings. What about that slow moving vehicle ruins your ability to make it somewhere on time?
The control we think we have, the control we strive to attain, is an illusion that we fabricate to comfort us and to make us feel stonger.
Something will almost always happen to throw a wrench into your plans. In this world there are far too many mitigating circumstances. Too many variables and countless external causes and conditions will always show up when we least expect it.
Our attempts to harness everything is a form of self-power. We think “I can handle it. I can make these things happen.” So what happens when it falls apart?
Have you ever suffered the loss of a loved one? Found out you had some kind of illness? Been in a car accident? Lost your job?
These are the kinds of things we usually think about when we think about losing control. But there are also other aspects such as unexpected kind words, surprise gifts, beautiful sunsets, rain washing your car.
What happens when we let go of control and give up our need to harness the world around us? Shinran said “concerning the Nembutsu, no working is true working.” No working. Letting go. We don’t have to struggle to get control over it. In fact, that makes the opposite happen. The harder we struggle, the further away we move from the Nembutsu.
In life we can always expect the unexpected. There is no way we can control everything because life happens. Amida Buddha teaches us to have a mind of entrusting. Trust in what is. Trust in compassion. Trust in your ability to learn from others and in return, to teach.
Surrendering yourself to the acceptance of what is, is not a form of failure. In fact it is quite the opposite. This is where we find the freedom of acceptance, the freedom of living in the now, living in this moment, and allowing yourself the freedom of just being you.
Persons who enter Amida’s directing of virtue to beings And realize the mind that seeks to attain Buddhahood Completely abandon their self-power directing of merit Thus benefiting sentient beings boundlessly.
Rev. Christina Yanko
A few years ago, I was told a story:
Once upon a time, in a small village near the woods, there lived a compassionate man. He was a man of simple ways. He loved nature, he loved life, and he was very kind. Each morning, he would take a walk through the woods to enjoy the wildflowers, the trees, and the songs of the birds. He even liked and respected the insects.
One day, he came upon a cocoon, that had been built by a caterpillar underneath a milkweed leaf. He had heard that caterpillars built cocoons in order to protect them while they grew into butterflies. He had never seen a butterfly emerge from a cocoon before, but he certainly loved the butterflies.
So, the man watched and watched, day by day, for signs that the caterpillar might be changing into a butterfly. A week or so later, it started to happen. He sat and watched, hour after hour, as the small butterfly tried to break free of the cocoon, by squeezing through a small opening at the tip. The butterfly struggled and struggled, but it could not get free of the cocoon. It seemed to the man that the butterfly was about to give up the struggle, as it seemed to be exhausted.
Trying to help, the man took a small tool out of his pocket and cut into the tiny opening of the cocoon. It worked. The young butterfly was able to shed the cocoon and crawl into the outside world. But to the disappointment of the kind man, the butterfly could not fly. Its wings would not unfold properly.
Confused and sad, the man scooped up the butterfly and the empty cocoon, and took it quickly to a nearby school to ask the science teacher if she knew what might have gone wrong.
The teacher explained to the compassionate man that while the man’s intentions were good, nature designed the butterfly such that it was meant to struggle. The fight to force its way through the small opening of the cocoon would work to force the liquid from the butterfly’s body into its wings, and that in turn would allow the butterfly to fly. Sadly, without the pain of emerging from the cocoon, the butterfly would never be able to spread its wings.
Experiencing life’s struggles, unease and pain help us to grow. In Buddha’s time, this discomfort was called dukkha. He spoke about the reality of dukkha when he revealed the First Noble Truth.
When we are in the midst of our struggles, it is easy for us to lose sight of a central message of the Dharma: that nothing is forever. Not pain, not pleasure. We might weave a cocoon around us to protect ourselves from the outside world, but we know in our hearts that we must eventually break free. Our struggle for liberation will enable us to spread our wings and fly.
And so, we visit the temple regularly to listen to the Dharma, to connect with our Sangha, and to remember the beautiful, inspiring wisdom of the Buddha’s words. It is the medicine that soothes us as we transition from caterpillar to butterfly.
John Skelton, Member of Toronto Buddhist Church
Just One Breath
We have finally made it to summer season!!! The past winter season was my first winter in Canada and it was so freezing! I had times where I worried if I would be able to last or not. However, despite the frigid temperatures, the Canadian people showed so much kindness that it made me feel warm inside.
It may sound like I am exaggerating, but in fact I am being honest. For example, there was
one occasion that I had the day to myself and I decided to go explore downtown Toronto. It
did not take very long before I discovered I was lost. I must have looked confused because a lady I had never met before approached me and asked if she could be of assistance. I explained to her I was lost and she pulled out a map and carefully explained to me the best way to reach my destination. On this particular day the weather was so cold, but the kindness of a total stranger filled my heart with warmth.
It is actually fairly easy to get lost when you are in unfamiliar surroundings and trying to find your way around, and on these occasions we have the ability to ask someone “Where am I?” or “Please help me!” However, when we feel like our direction in life is lost, it is not so easy to find the right directions or answers. We don’t know who the right people are to ask for help.
I would like to share with you a story about the life of the Buddha.
One day Shakyamuni Buddha and one of his disciples were walking along a path when suddenly the Buddha asked his disciple “How long is our life?” The disciple thought for a moment and recalled his grandmother and grandfather. He responded “Our lives last around 50 years.” After hearing this answer the Buddha smiled and said, “No.” The disciple tried to answer again, “Oh I guess that was too long. Then perhaps our life is around 40 years.” To this the Buddha smiled again and responded, “No.” Quickly the disciple said “Oh I made a mistake! I meant to say it is around 30 years!” However, the Buddha again smiled and said “No.”
Finally the disciple gave up trying and said “I am so sorry but I don’t think I know the answer.” The Buddha smiled affectionately at the disciple’s honesty. Then he raised his finger and said “Just breathe in and out.”
It sounds very simple, “Just breathe in and out,” and in fact it is. But in truth our whole life depends on this simplicity. If we did not breathe in and out, our life would end.
The first time I heard this story was when I was in University studying Buddhism. At that time I thought it was too obvious. Of course. If I stop breathing I will pass away. However, I met one family at a memorial service in Japan that totally made me rethink my position.
The memorial service was for a baby who had passed away at 2 years of age. After the service the parents shared with me the sweet memories they had of their baby. How cute it was when she smiled. How special it was when their daughter would touch their cheek. How happy they were when she stood for the first time. The parents told me that every moment they spent with their daughter was beautiful. They knew she would not live long because she was born with a terminal illness, so they valued whatever time they could.
After the service I remembered the story of the Buddha and the words he said “Just breathe in and out.” It gave new meaning to the story for me and instead of being reflective of scientific reality reminded me that within each breath is a full life. Each moment has a life of its own. We live in and for those moments.
Most of us think our life begins when we are born and ends when we pass away (hopefully at a very old age). However, Shakyamuni Buddha taught us that we are alive in each moment. Each moment is complete, each breath in and out measures these moments, and each carries the same degree of significance. The Buddha teaches us that we are living a very important time right now. Right now you can meet your family or friends. Right now you can share your life. Right now you can experience beauty and love. Right now you are embraced. You have already reached your destination.
By so understanding the meaning of death, we shall come to fully appreciate the meaning of this life which is unrepeatable and thus to be treasured above all else. By virtue of True Compassion, let us realize the unexcelled value of our human existence;; and let us live with the nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu, in our hearts.
Rev. Yoshimichi Ouchi
Serving Many Masters
I read a book recently called Evangelical Zen. The main author is a fundamentalist Protestant Christian, who describes his journeys in Japan and how they provoke him to discover himself through encounters with those who are different from himself.
One of the things that this book helped clarify for me is the strange mixture of love and
anxiety that characterizes this form of fundamentalist Christianity. It isn’t something
that occurs in all forms of Christianity, nor something that all Christians feel. But it is strong in conservative circles, and the contrast with Buddhism is so clear, that I wanted to explore it further.
The author goes out of his way many times in the book to affirm his love for and commitment to God alone. He is clearly concerned that conservative Christian readers will reject him because he deigns to talk with Buddhists. But there is more going on as well. He fears that God will reject him if he shows respect to others’ deities. And even deeper, he fears that he himself will reject God if he allows himself to become emotionally attached to any other religious figure. So while his love for God is also a source of deep-seated fear and anxiety. Thus he repeats Jesus’s words in the Gospels, saying that a man cannot serve two masters.
These feelings are a natural result of this particular Christian theology. It envisions a God who is jealous and doesn’t want any competitors for his followers’ affection. A God who claims to love everyone, but who rejects any who fail to return that love, and punishes them with eternal horror and pain. In this theology,
It makes sense to say that you cannot serve two masters, because the essential relationship is imagined as between a master and a slave. The master has absolute power over the slave, and the slave must show absolute obedience and devotion. It’s impossible to show absolute obedience and devotion to more than one slave- master.
Conservative Christians say “you cannot serve two masters” because that is how their theology has taught them to think. But for me, it is clear that we can serve many different masters, and do so faithfully. The difference is in not envisioning one’s spirituality as based on a master-slave relationship. I serve many masters, and in different ways. I serve my wife in particular ways and care for her needs. I serve my children in other ways and take care of them. I serve my students. I serve my colleagues. I serve the temple. All of these are my masters, the ones who receive my attention, efforts, and affection. But I can serve so many masters because my spirituality conceives of essential relationships through the lens of responsibility, indebtedness, and interconnection. In such a view, serving only one master is the true impossibility, because I am aware of all that I owe to so many, and of all whom I am connected to through the very fact of my living.
People sometimes compare the Pure Land Buddhist way to Christianity. I think there are some parallels, but the comparison can be deeply distorting, especially if our Buddhism is compared to conservative forms of Christianity. As I experience it, there is no anxiety or fear in Buddhism. I don’t fear that Amida Buddha will reject me;; I don’t even fear that I will reject Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is not a jealous God who wants all of my love. Amida Buddha is a source of never-abandoning support and compassion. Amida Buddha accepts me just as I am, whether in this moment I am a faithful Buddhist, a bad Buddhist, a Christian, or an atheist.
Dr. Jeff Wilson
The Voice of the Candle
By: John Skelton
“Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
One of my favorite tasks in each week is to be at the temple for Sunday service and to light the candles on the naijin.
Perhaps you have seen me at work on the naijin. My job as egakari is to make sure that the altar area is ready for the service. It needs to be clean and well-organized, the table cloths (called “uchishiki” and “mizushiki”) must be laid out and appropriate for the service, and the offerings of rice, fruit, and manju should be arranged carefully. I check to make sure that the altar adornments are properly arranged, and that the service agendas are ready for the ministers.
My last responsibility, before the service begins with the sounding of the bell (kansho), is the lighting of the three white candles that are positioned before Amida Buddha, Shinran Shonin, and Rennyo Shonin respectively.
It’s a simple ritual, but for me it is full of meaning. As I put on my montoshikisho, I light the source candle and step up onto the altar. I light the candle in front of Amida Buddha first, respectfully, then move on to the candles in front of the images of Shinran and Rennyo. This is the moment when I focus entirely on the service itself. The outside world is banished to the outside world. The next hour is mine – mine to share with the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. It’s always a peaceful and transformative moment.
The lighting of candles has symbolic importance in Buddhism, as it does in many faith systems. The light represents wisdom: it is through the light of wisdom that the darkness of ignorance that dwells in the mind can be driven away.
“There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.” (Rev. Robert Alden)
In some traditions, the candles represent life. When the wax of the candle is good, and the wick is of sufficent quality, the candle is capable of receiving and carrying the wisdom of the flame.
It struck me a short while ago that some candles are easy to light, others are more difficult. New candles sometimes take a little extra encouragement to accept the flame. Perhaps that is the way that we human beings, who might be encountering Buddhism for the first time – maybe anxious and a bit confused – struggle to accept the wisdom of Buddha’s teaching. It’s OK to be skeptical. Buddha taught that healthy skepticism is preferable to blind faith. In the Kalama Sutra, Buddha advised:
When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.”
If I have difficulty lighting a candle, the thought never occurs to me to try to bully the candle into lighting. I have never felt it necessary to reach for a flame thrower. I simply take my time, I remain patient, but I am gently persistent. Eventually the candle takes the flame. This is one of the beautiful strengths of Buddhism, as I have experienced it. The Dharma has never been forced upon me. It has come to me with a kind and gentle touch. If I have been able to reflect any wisdom that is contained within the Buddha’s teaching, it is because the wisdom was brought to me with loving kindness.
Have you ever tried to light a candle outside on a windy day? It’s not easy. I have a friend who used to smoke cigarettes. He had a rare skill. I swear that he could light a cigarette in a hurricane! He would cup his hands around his lighter, protecting the flame from the wind and rain, and he would light up his smoke. He never failed.
The wind and rain of the storm outside makes it challenging for candles to accept the flame. The storm represents the anxieties, pains and worries that we all suffer in the outside world. The storm can prevent us from understanding the wisdom of Buddha’s teaching. But if we surround the candle with a paper lantern, or if we cup our hands around the candle’s wick as we are lighting it, the flame will ignite. I think of the “lantern” as being our Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temple. Or, the “lantern” might be the peaceful protection of a mindful meditation. I think of the hands as being the hands of our ministers or senseis, carefully bringing the flame of Amida’s compassion and wisdom to us. And for those protections, I am always grateful.
And what happens at that moment when the candle’s wick takes the flame? To me, that moment is shinjin. It is the point at which all doubt is cast aside, and that we have faith that we are on the right spiritual path. From that moment forward, we can rest assured that we have been embraced by Amida Buddha’s infinite light and compassion, never to be forgotten.
The candles speak to me. Each has a voice. Listen deeply to hear their lessons. Every Sunday, I am happy that we can have a little conversation, in the peace and protection of our temple. They help me prepare to listen to the Dharma with the gentle guidance of our ministers.
Our Children, Our Future
“The children of those who like to read the scriptures and keep the teachings close to their heart are likely be become people who also cherish the Buddhist teachings. Those who have – even once – become interested in the Buddhist teachings, are also susceptible to the Dharma’s influence, even though they may sometimes appear to be occasionally absent minded.” -Rennyo Shonin
Every Sunday at service we reaffirm our trust in the Buddha, the Dharma (the Buddhist teaching), and the Sangha (our community), and we often think about how important our community is for a successful future for our Temple. However, there is one aspect of our community we rarely focus on, and when we do think about it, it often comes up in discussion as an afterthought. Our community is made up of various age groups and generations, and we tend to think about the Temple in terms of our Isseis, Niseis and Sanseis. But it is really our children who may well be our most important demographic within our Temple. They may well be our most important asset and investment as they are the window into our future.
Without a doubt, children can be difficult to manage, even put up with, at times. We may see them as noisy and messy, and they may get into things they should not…..but we must remind ourselves that they are going through the phase of learning – learning how to be responsible, how to be gentle, how to be considerate. It is our job to teach them. It is not just the parent’s job but also our duty as members of the church and members of the Temple community to teach them by our example. I have often heard adults say that they are concerned whether or not the children will grow up to still have any interest in Jodo Shinshu. What will happen to our beautiful Temple? What will the future look like? Especially when the kids that do come here are so, ahem, rambunctious?
It is true. The children who come to Otera are very energetic, but that is because they are comfortable here. They feel like they are among friends and family. And when they go into the Hondo for Kid’s Sangha Service, they listen attentively and place their hands together and say Namo Amida Butsu.
Think about your own experience. I recently came across something written in a journal by Rev. Kenryu Tsuji. Rev. Tsuji was the first minister in Toronto, and the journal entry was dated April 22, 1951. He wrote, “This year’s program turned out to be quite successful. Unfortunately the children were very noisy. There was a restlessness in the air…The children should be separated.” This gave me a good laugh…not because the children were misbehaving, but because given the date (1951) I am certain that many of those children who were misbehaving are active as leaders of our Temple today. In fact when I look at many of our members, I know their parents were (or continue to be) active at the Temple and brought their children.
We were all children once. Previous generations used to worry about us, but our Temple is still here. Our Buddhist faith is still here. As Rennyo so eloquently describes in his quotation, don’t worry. We are planting the seeds. Give them time and they will learn and they will come.
Children cannot behave like adults. However, what they become as adults is influenced by what they see and learn from us. Let us embrace our Kid’s Sangha and do whatever we can to help them grow as Jodo Shinshu Buddhists. Let us try to see beyond our own perspective and try to imagine things from their eyes and minds. Let us do all we can to ensure they want to come to our Temple. If you saw the world from a child’s eyes, would the Temple be an important part of your life?
Reverend Christina Yanko
The Middle Way of Body, Mind & Spirit
A wise friend said to me “ take good care of your body”, it is the only place that you will live”. So true and Siddartha who became the Buddha discovered this Truth for us after many years of ascetic practices where he almost died. He accepted food and drink and abandoned his fasting. Today we can practice the middle way by eating modest portions of healthy food, exercising regularly, and getting sufficient sleep each night.
I have been reading a great book by Richard Carson, Ph.D. called “Don’t sweat the Small Stuff….and it’s all small stuff.” He writes short passages where he describes “simple ways to keep the little things from taking over your life”. One passage goes like this: “ Whether it’s ten minutes of meditation or yoga, spending a little time in nature, or locking the bathroom door and taking a ten minute bath, quiet time to yourself is a vital part of life.” Like spending time alone, it helps to balance the noise and confusion that infiltrates much of our day.” For me, tai chi followed by my own service in front of my Obutsudan each day does the trick.
“Reflecting upon my imperfect self” is a phrase that we repeat at each Sunday service. The beauty of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is that while we reflect on our imperfections we are accepted unconditionally by the boundless compassion of Amida Buddha. We try to develop loving kindness for ourselves in spite of these imperfections and we try to extend that loving kindness to others. It is this gradual transformation into kinder, gentler human beings that we see the compassion of Amida Buddha working. We only have to look at the the elders in our Temple ( I call them ‘Living Treasures’) to see this process happening.
Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu
A Way of Living as a Nembutsu Follower
Buddhism began when Sakyamuni attained enlightenment and became a Buddha about 2500 years ago. In Japan, Buddhism was originally referred to as the Buddha Dharma. The Dharma here refers to the true reality of how the world is and the nature of humanity itself. It is the universal truth that transcends both space and time. The one who awakens to this truth is called a Buddha, and the teaching of the Buddha is the wisdom that teaches us how we can live, while dealing with many anxieties and sufferings we may experience in life.
Buddhism describes the true reality of this world and humanity using such phrases as ‘impermanence’ and ‘dependent origination.’ ‘Impermanence’ refers to the fact that everything changes moment by moment. On the other hand, ‘dependent origination’ explains that all things and phenomena are interconnected with one another, which bring about various causes and conditions that then give another set of causes and conditions and so on and so forth. Therefore, in this world we cannot find an unchanging and fixed ‘self.’
However, we are unaware of this reality and thus we try to find some unchanging and fixed entity we call the self. This mindset is the basis of our egocentric way of thinking in which we judge things whether they are beneficial to us or not, or whether we like something or not. As a result, we suffer when things do not turn out as we like and we become hostile to each other, thus confining ourselves to a bitter reality where we cannot truly be free. In Buddhism, this self-oriented tendency is expressed as ‘ignorance and blind passions,’ which are the very reason we are deprived of our liberty and bound to this world of suffering. Ignorance and blind passions are represented as greed, anger, and foolishness also known as the ‘three poisons.’
Shinran Shonin pursued religious practices for 20 years on Mount Hiei with the hope to attain enlightenment by conquering his blind passions. However, being aware of the depth of human desires which are irremovable by religious austerities, he descended Mount Hiei and under the guidance of Honen Shonin, finally encountered the salvific working of Amida Tathagata. Amida is the Buddha who not only wishes for but is actually working in accordance with the wish to save and guide to supreme enlightenment, all living beings who are in the midst of constant worries and distress. The Buddha’s Wish, or the Primal Vow, declares that Amida’s Great Compassion embraces us all as we are, as beings filled with selfish attachments and blind passions. However, even in encountering such all-inclusive salvific working, because of our own fathomlessly deep egocentric mindset and desires, we still cannot wholeheartedly entrust ourselves to the Buddha’s Great Compassion. How sad this truly is.
By listening to the Primal Vow and how it was established by Amida Tathagata, we are enabled to become conscious of our own ignorance and self-oriented inclinations, and through such awareness, we naturally become gentle in word and deed in our efforts of minimizing our egoistic way of thinking. For example, with regard to how we live our lives, we “learn to be content without wanting too much” and with regard to how we may treat others we “associate with people using gentle expressions and kind words.” Even though our efforts may pale in comparison to the Buddha’s Compassion, we are at least guided in the proper direction by the Buddha Dharma. Shinran Shonin clarifies this in his letters addressed to his followers, one of which states, “There was a time for each of you when you knew nothing of Amida’s Vow and did not say the Name of Amida Buddha, but now, guided by the compassionate means of Sakyamuni and Amida, you have begun to hear the Vow. Formerly you were intoxicated with thoughts of greed, anger, and foolishness, but since you have begun to hear the Buddha’s Vow you have gradually awakened from the drunkenness of ignorance, rejected the three poisons, and have come to prefer the medicine of Amida Buddha at all times.” This is a stern admonition we should humbly receive.
In today’s world, there is an endless list of difficult global issues that are directly related to the existence of humanity such as terrorist attacks, armed conflicts, widening economic gap, global warming, mishandling of nuclear waste, and violation of human rights through discrimination. Such are the result of our ignorance and blind passions in which we fail to see the true nature of ourselves. It is indeed true that we are imperfect with our selfish desires and cannot act in complete purity like the Buddha can. However, by trying to live according to the Buddha Dharma, let us make an effort to consider other peoples’ joy as our own, as well as other peoples’ suffering as our own. In this way, we can live to the best of our ability, aspiring to live up to the Buddha’s Wish.
I will endeavor to share Amida Tathagata’s Wisdom and Compassion through simple and clear language with as many people as possible regardless of nationality and ethnic background. Let us encourage everyone to act in accordance with the Buddha’s Wish in an effort to create a society in which everyone can live a spiritually fulfilled life. In the hopes of creating a joyous world, let us continue moving forward by putting these words into action and together walk on our path to the truth.
Monshu OHTANI Kojun
Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha
Last night I read a news report that hundreds of people have illegally fled across the border into Canada, seeking refuge from the increasing discrimination and uncertainty of life on the margins in the United States. In the dead of winter, young children and their parents are trekking through snow and wind to reach us. Young men are losing all of their fingers to frostbite, are facing arrest and detention, desperate to achieve some sort of security in a chaotic world.
Meanwhile, we’re all aware of the terrible refugee crisis stemming from war and
violence in the Middle East. Millions of children, women, and men have been forced
from their homes and homelands, scattered across the world into situations of depravation and disorder. They have been met with hospitality and hate as they seek shelter in new lands. Ironically, many are slandered as terrorists or security risks when they are actually victims of violence, ethnocentrism, and religious fanaticism.
Paranoia around Muslims fleeing turmoil has been a fruitful resource for some politicians and media networks to exploit. It contributed directly to the election of Donald Trump in the United States, and he has tried to implement blatantly racist and religiously discriminatory policies. This is the context that has sent families into the snow, fearing America so much that they risk death and disfigurement to come to Canada.
I could just sit by and watch, or even turn away. I have a home, a healthy family, a good job, plenty of food, protection from crime, and I’m not a target of the government. No one can tell from looking at me that I’m an immigrant and a religious minority, and my skin tone, accent, choice of life partner, and other personal aspects aren’t issues for anyone in Canada. Right now, at least, life is giving me a pass.
But I’m not able to actually stay on the sidelines. I’m a Buddhist, and the Buddha will not let me ignore suffering. And there is something particularly poignant for me in encountering those displaced by war, often at the hands of dark-minded forces of their own country. Because we who practice Jodo Shinshu in North America all belong to a refugee church.
The Toronto Buddhist Church, like many in Canada and the United States, was literally founded by refugees. Torn from their homes by racist, paranoid attitudes during WWII, they were kept as prisoners by their own government in concentration camps and slave labour gangs. When the war ended the British Columbia government refused to readmit them, and people were forced East as internal refugees, amongst strangers thousands of kilometers from their homes, in a state of poverty and trauma. It is in this context that the temples in Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, and many other places were born. Here the profound impulse to seek refuge with the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha took on an achingly literal reality.
For the past year and a half, Kristen and I have been sponsoring Syrian refugees through the local Unitarian church. Kristen is one of the primary organizers of the task force, in fact. We can’t help the millions of people in need, but we have been able to directly improve the lives of eight people, children and adults, with a new, welcoming home in Canada.
Shinran, in his hymns, counseled us all to “take refuge in Amida, the ultimate shelter.” As I place my foolish heart in the hands of the buddha, so too I seek to turn and do what I can to help others find refuge, in whatever form they need it. May our nation, temple, and neighbourhoods fulfill their original purposes and be places of shelter for all in need.
Professor Jeff Wilson,
Fragile: Handle with Care
By: John Skelton
“Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
As you are reading this article, perhaps you are holding something in your hand: a tea cup, your favorite coffee mug, or maybe even a lovely glass of wine. As you savour your beverage of choice, have you ever paused to consider the many causes and conditions that converged at just the right time, in just the right quantities, with just the right design, guided with just the right craftsmanship, in order to bring that cup or glass into your hand?
I teach industrial engineering at a private college here in Toronto. During their time with me, many students are amazed to discover just how complex that set of production activities is, mostly unseen and underappreciated, that works to bring that cup or glass into your hands.
Consider the wine glass. How is it made?
Craftsmen begin with a very pure type of sand, called “silica sand.” Adding a little nickel oxide helps the silica sand to melt. Other chemical compounds are added to the dry sand mixture, including lead oxide. These additives make the crystal soft and to help the finished crystal to sparkle in the light.
The dry compound is then compressed into pellets and sent into a furnace for 18 hours to melt. To the melt is added recycled broken glass called “cullet” to smooth the melted material. A craftsman called a blower then collects some of the melt onto a long tube made of tempered stainless steel.
The craftsman proceeds to engage in a lengthy, careful, repetitive sequence of rotating, blowing, and re-heating the molten crystal until it begins to take shape. Various wooden and steel tools and moulds are used to gradually refine the bowl’s shape.
Another craftsman called a “stemmer” affixes a separate blob of glass to the bowl, and shapes the stem without the benefit of a mould. These processes require great skill and patience. Eventually, the stem is strong enough to have a foot attached, which again is shaped through rotation and application of proper tools and techniques.
The semi-finished wine glass is then put into a kiln for further heat treatment, then cooled. It is now time for the stem to be cut. Another skilled craftsman called a “cutter” plans a pattern, etches the pattern into the glass, and finally polishes the wine stem. Cutters spend years in training and in apprenticeships to learn the skills necessary to adorn the smooth leaded crystal with designs.
The result of this long process, which needs to be seen to really appreciate it, is a beautiful drinking glass that anyone would be proud to own.
Now, imagine that as you are reading this article – wondering whatever this has to do with Buddhism – your attention is distracted. In a thoughtless moment, your finger slips off the glass, and it tumbles out of your hand. You see it, but it is too late to react. The glass falls, seemingly in slow motion, from your hand. You pray that it will somehow miraculously bounce from the floor unharmed. It happens sometimes. But this time, you watch helplessly as it smashes to bits on the floor.
It is understandable that you might be upset. After all, crystal of this quality is expensive. It might have been your favorite glass. You can try to repair it, but even if you are successful, the glass is never quite the same. And the condition of the glass might well be beyond repair. Perhaps it is a family heirloom, now lost to the sands of time because of a clumsy moment.
Buddha loved to tell stories. This story might illustrate the truth of impermanence: that no object lasts forever in its original form. The glass, one might say, was smashed into pieces before you ever touched it. It is in the glass’ nature to be broken. It is its karma. Just as the glass was formed from the sand, it returns to the sand. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” as a Christian Minister would say.
The story might teach us about the problem of attachment. When we drop the glass, we are upset. We might be angry with ourselves. We might scold or lash out at the person who distracted us in the first place. We were attached to the object. We thought we owned it. It was pretty. It was a favorite. It was an heirloom. And yet, we need to acknowledge that we will be separated from those things that we treasure, eventually, one way or the other. We need to treat such events with equanimity. In truth, we own nothing. We are all part of an infinite, interconnected, ever-changing One.
Let me propose another theme.
In Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, we encounter the third principle of “Right Speech.” This is also one of the Five Precepts, so we know that he attached a very special urgency to this issue. Buddha defined Right Speech by saying:
“And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, abstaining from divisive speech, abstaining from abusive speech, abstaining from idle chatter: This, monks, is called right speech.” (Magga-vibhanga Sutta),
Buddha advised that there are five keys to Right Speech:
“It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”(Vacca Sutta)
He taught us as well about the dangers of lying:
“The person who lies, who transgress in this one thing, transcending concern for the world beyond: there is no evil he might not do.” (Itivuttaka 1.25)
And he asked that we speak only words that do no harm:
“One should speak only that word by which one would not torment oneself nor harm others. That word is indeed well spoken.
“One should speak only pleasant words, words which are acceptable (to others). What one speaks without bringing evils to others is pleasant.”(Vangisa)
Indeed, there is an old proverb which says, “The tongue is like a sharp knife that kills without drawing blood.”
Most of us do not understand what was required to make the crystal wine stem. Only the glass itself knows what it took to make it. Its raw material was mixed up, burned, melted, and pounded, rotated and scratched, before it came to you in the form of a glass. Its purpose was only to serve you and to make you smile. And then, while in your custody and care, the glass was broken.
The glass, on the other hand, does not understand what it takes to make a human being. Only we humans truly appreciate that. Each of us has lived through the production process. Only we know the pain, suffering, struggle and pleasure that it took to bring each of us to this moment in our lives. Each of us has our own unique mosaic of life, which is our karma. Indeed, at Sunday services, we are often told,
“How rare and wondrous it is to be born into human life, and now I live it.”
What damage, then, can thoughtless speech do to a human being? What if we accuse another person of doing something that they did not do? What if we shame another person in public? What if we scold another person in anger? Like the glass that is broken by the careless movement of a finger, might we not risk breaking a decent person with careless speech? And if we do, have we not undone much of that rare and wondrous craftsmanship that conspired to bring that person before us?
Harmful speech might be intentional, or simply the result of recklessness, carelessness, or it might even be utterly unintentional. Does the motive really matter?
Once said, harmful speech cannot be un-said. Human beings can be a very resilient lot, and we can bounce back from a verbal attack just as a dropped glass can bounce off the floor. Others who are more sensitive can be hurt, or even broken. Sometimes, even the strong among us can suffer when the wrong words are used at the wrong time. We are fragile, and we need to be handled with care.
As humans, we are imperfect. So what are we to do if and when we stray from Right Speech? A sincere and prompt apology is a necessary first step to repairing the damage. It might be appropriate to make amends for damage done. We must take care not to repeat the same mistake again.
But it is always best to avoid making the mistake in the first place. Before we speak, it is always wise to ask three fundamental questions about what we are about to say: “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it Kind?”
Because sometimes, the person who stands before you, who worked so hard, and endured so much pain, simply to make you smile – like the broken wine glass that has been repaired – might never have quite the same sparkle again.
Namu Amida Butsu.
(Guiding Light Editor’s note: Larry Wakisaka was elected to be our next TBC President at the TBC AGM on Jan. 22, 2016)
First, I’d like to offer my personal thanks and gratitude to Roy Kusano for all his efforts and
his generous care and concern of the Temple during his four years as TBC President. This
feeling of gratitude and appreciation is also extended to our Ministers, to our Ministerial
Assistants, our Dharma Lay Leaders, all the TBC Board Directors and Advisors, members
of the Management Committee, Pamela and Dianne in our office and also to all our many volunteers … all without whom our Temple would not be able to operate properly to serve our congregation, Temple and greater community so effectively. Thank you all so much!
As the incoming TBC President, I look forward to the opportunity to get to know so many more wonderful people … to get to know each of you to discover what makes you tick, to find out what you want to achieve, to know what you are searching for and to see how we can help each other to grow and to attain our Temple and personal goals together with mutual respect, compassion, dignity, a sense of gratitude and with harmony and grace.
Our Temple is in a transitional period. Many of our dedicated Members have entered the Pure Land. Many of our Members are feeling the effects of age. However, please remember that we have an extremely rich legacy from which we can learn, draw and build from. We also still have many of our elder statesmen in our Temple still valuably with us to continue to assist us with their wisdom, guidance and rich experience. We also have the vibrant interest, curiosity and energy of many new Temple Members and Supporters who we can encourage to become more a part of the fabric of our Temple Family going forward into the future. Most importantly, as always, we will continue to have the Dharma.
I have seen and experienced what makes our Temple such a special place and to be the wonderful sanctuary that it is for us today. I hope to continue to encourage everyone to work together as a cohesive team. I would like to promote the merits of everyone exhibiting a mutual respect for each other, a sense of gratitude for what- ever we are fortunate to have, to share with compassion whatever we can offer to others and, above all else, to explore and to be proud to walk the Path of the Dharma Teachings together and to gladly share this with many others in the greater and worldwide communities. I will work earnestly together with our new temple admin- istration team to achieve our Temple goals.
Thank you for your trust in me to lead and encourage our Temple Congregation to continue to make our Tem- ple a wonderful place for all of us to be grateful for.
With Gratitude and in Gassho,
Happy New Year everyone! Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! I hope you have all enjoyed your December holidays and were able to bring in the New Year with peace and joy!
Every year comes with new experiences, and each with their unique challenges. These
challenges are sometimes fun, sometimes unpleasant, but always an opportunity for us to reflect and learn. Each moment carries something we can consider and use to move forward. So whether 2016 was difficult for you or if it was a complete joy, please give yourself the gift of reflection. It will help you in the upcoming year to appreciate all of the things to be faced in 2017.
I recently had a discussion with someone about how strongly our words can impact others. It only takes one negative statement and the right circumstances to cause others to feel upset. Think through your own memories and remember how deeply one statement another person said to you affected you for the rest of your life. The power our words have is very profound.
How often do you carefully think through what you are going to say before you speak? So often we speak without giving any thought at all, never realizing how our words might influence the individual we are speaking to. In all likelihood no harm was intended. Have you ever received a Text Message or Email that initially you took as negative, but then later found out it was not meant to be that way? This is a common occurrence in type- written material because the words lack inflection and emphasis. However, it can also occur in everyday conversation.
The other day my husband cleaned the house and he did such a lovely job. I was so happy! However, I was busy with an urgent work matter and had to go rushing out the door. As I was rushing out I said “Oh and thank you for cleaning up.” I said “thank you” but I said it when I was thinking of something else so it lacked the enthusiasm that I felt. As a result he felt like I did not really care too much about the time and effort he put in to make everything look nice and neat. Why would he feel compelled to clean if it is not appreciated?
Our words can hurt, but our words can also elevate. Koshi Ohtani Sama wrote “…a word of greeting has the role of gently pushing open the gate surrounding your heart.” If that is the strength a kind greeting has, think of the strength a supportive and gracious word has on others.
I want to wish all of you a beautiful and joyous New Year. I look forward to walking the Nembutsu path together with you in 2017, and I hope everyone gives and receives the kind words they deserve.
Lastly, but most importantly, I want to express my sincere gratitude to everyone for all of your hard work and dedication for the past year. 2016 began with me having tremendous difficulties, but ended better than I could have imagined. This is due to all of your kindness, consideration, and for helping me and the temple through trying times. May the strength of our community continue to flourish and grow in the upcoming years.
Rev. Christina Yanko
灯TŌ – Light』
It is always a great joy to welcome the New Year.
Thank you very much for supporting our Temple this past year and for continuing to support the Temple in 2017. In April we are hosting the Annual General Meeting for all of the various temples of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada, so once again we will be required to rely on your assistance.
This past year our main temple Nishi-Hongwanji has been holding “DENTO HOKOKU
services (伝灯奉告法要)” in Kyoto Japan. The service is only done when there is a generational change for the head of our sect of Buddhism, the Gomonshu.
Dento(伝灯) means handing down orally or inheriting the true teaching of Shinran Shonin and Shakyamuni Buddha.
Today I chose to use the Kanji character “灯(TŌ)” from “Dento Hokoku” as the title for this article. 灯(TŌ)’s original meaning is “light”. The light that shines from Buddha illuminates the Buddha’s Wisdom and Compassion.
The light dispels the darkness of ignorance;
The “darkness of ignorance” is when we are mistrustful of Amida-Buddha’s Wisdom. According to the above wasan written by Shinran Shonin, Amida’s light of wisdom breaks through our ignorance and worldly desires.
The Tannisho states:
is, if I knew good as thoroughly and completely as the Tathagata. And I could say I know what evil is, if I knew
evil as thoroughly and completely as the Tathagata.
Nembutsu is true, real and sincere”. (Tannisho, Rennyo Shonin)
Most people create distinctions in their own minds and then believe them to be true, untrue, good or bad. We make these distinctions even though we do not possess the Tathagata’s or Buddha’s Wisdom of Compassion.
Teaching of Shinran tells us only the Nembutsu is true, real and sincere. The Nembutsu is “Namo-Amida-Butsu” that shows respect and appreciation to Amida-Buddha. Amida-Buddha accepts us just as we are. There is no distinction in Amida’s Compassion, because Amida’s light(灯) dispels the darkness of ignorance; Thus Amida is called “Buddha of the Light of Wisdom.”
The DENTO HOKOKU Service (伝灯奉告法要) does not just announce to us the change of the Gomonshu. It informs Shinran and Shakyamuni that the teachings about Amida-Buddha are being passed to a new generation. Amida Buddha’s Wisdom and Compassion was so profound that it was passed down through many different periods in history. Let’s all work together to ensure we make it available for many more to come.
STORIES FROM THE PRESIDENT – Roy Kusano
This is it. I’ve been informed by our Esteemed Editor that this will be my last story for the Guiding Light. So I have to make my final words count. No more rambling to fill space. No more silly stuff. Oh, what to say…?
2016 was memorable to be sure. We lost a minister, we gained a minister. We said
goodbye to some precious members and friends. Some became older and more frail. Others were felled by illness. Yet our Temple calendar was busier than ever, and the volunteers, veterans and newbies, delivered better than ever.
Then, at the end of the year, something happened to me at the Temple service last Sunday December 18. The second last service of 2016. It turned out to be Bodhi Day, the service to observe the day when Shakyamuni Buddha became enlightened. I’m sure there is a lot more to the story than that, and most of you know it. I didn’t know that when I went to Otera that day but it turned out to be one of my best Sundays of 2016.
Rev. Yoshi, more irrepressible by the week, declared that it was a Special Day. Why was it a Special Day? “Because” he said, “Rev. Christina and I (Rev. Yoshi) are both here!” Well, that in itself is a very Special Day, for sure. But there was more. For a Bodhi Day, the Hondo was hardly packed. Maybe a couple of dozen in the congregation. Most times I prefer it like that. In a selfish way, it feels as if the Hondo is my private sanctuary; the ministers are talking to me and not to an audience.
But Bodhi Day was much more special than that. With so few in the Hondo, for the first time I picked a seat in the row right in front of a couple of l-o-n-g-time members. Brother (89) and sister (88) sitting side-by-side. I listened to them chant. I listened to them sing the gatha. I listened to them recite the Nembutsu. I could not bring myself to utter a word for the duration of the service because I wanted to absorb every sensation. I was completely enveloped by their sibling presence. They were totally embracing the Buddha and the Dharma that morning. How absolutely beautiful and innocent and pure this was. As a wretched bonbu, I have no hope that I will ever get to the Pure Land, but that morning, I came as close to the brilliant light as I ever will. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
It was the best ending to my four years here that I could possibly have wished for. Those two members represented all that is good and hopeful about the Temple and its members and supporters. Feeling the strength of their devotion I feel most assured about the future of the Temple, its ministers and its members. I wish all of our readers the very best of health and happiness for the New Year and many, many years beyond. At the same time, I ask you to continue to help our Toronto Buddhist Church and our ministers grow the Dharma throughout our community. I’ll be seeing you…
The Value of Failure
Watching Canadian and American political contests over the past couple of years, I’ve been struck by how many candidates feel they must deflect any suggestion that they may have made wrong choices. I encounter similar people at work sometimes too: people who believe that any conflict is solely the other person’s fault, and who can’t admit to anything less than perfection. Such behaviors are rooted in a need to assert and protect the ego at all times and at all costs.
I do this sort of thing too—ego-defense is a mighty hard habit to kick. But the truth is, I’ve learned far more from my failures than my successes. From the point of view of Shin Buddhism, making mistakes and being imperfect are more than just disappointments to be avoided or covered up—they are the defining characteristics of unawakened, foolish beings like myself. In order to make any progress, a person like me needs to abandon the narcissistic pursuit of success and understand who and what I am. Reflecting inward, discovering the limits of my abilities and the many ways that I bring suffering to myself and others, is a humbling process. It provokes a deep sense of skepticism about the competency of the self, and a realization that the self-centered ego isn’t really something worth defending so zealously.
When we truly see that imperfection is who we are, apologizing and accepting responsibility for mistakes becomes much easier (easier, I said—I can’t say it becomes actually easy!). If you understand that you’re an ignorant being, not a buddha, you can accept that your missteps are going to pile up the further you go. And once you’ve become skeptical of the self, room begins to open up for a broader perspective. What do we find? That thankfully, we don’t have to do it all ourselves. In fact, we can’t.
That’s not bad news, it’s a relief. When we fail on our own, we can discover how to turn to others for support as we walk together. In Pure Land Buddhism, we rely on tariki as we pursue the Dharma. We translate tariki as “other power,” and remind ourselves that power-beyond-self, embodied by the infinitely compassionate Amida Buddha, is ceaselessly supporting us and drawing us toward liberation.
Back in the 1990s, Hillary Clinton introduced North America to the African saying that it takes a village to raise a child. I’ve long felt that in a similar way, it takes a village to produce a buddha. Awakening is not something we gain for ourselves simply through our own actions, it’s something that we receive from the support and training of all those around us. Only in the coming together of all the necessary causes and conditions—from the presence of the sun and rain, to the help of Dharma-friends, to the many strangers and creatures who make our lives possible—can we make any progress at all, let alone complete the path to awakening.
When we turn from asserting the self to sensing the ever-present role of others in our lives and liberation, the heart swells and gratitude rises up. In the Shin tradition we express this gratitude by saying “Namo Amida Butsu,”—“Thank you, Buddha of Limitless Wisdom and Compassion.” Looking back then, we may see that failure is the first step to humility, to gratitude, to compassion and wisdom. But none of it’s possible if we can’t accept our shortcomings.
By Jeff Wilson
WHEN WE CALL AMIDA’S NAME
We are almost at the end of 2016.
For me it was a very big year, leaving Japan to live in Canada. But right away I was able to meet many new people in Canada.
How about you? Maybe you were also able to meet new people this past year. But some people had to say good bye to someone they loved this year. This year has not only good memories but also some sad memories.
In my work, I have had a lot of opportunities to pay my last respects to someone at their funeral service. Whenever I performed a funeral service, I felt sad. It made me even sadder when I met a family at a consultation for a funeral service for a beloved person. At a consultation, I usually ask the family about a deceased’s character or personality. On occasion a family has told me with a smiling face that the father was stubborn or the mother was strict. However the family will tell me with tears in their eyes that their parent, despite being strict, always gave them tender love.
Whenever I heard their stories I felt that as a minister I was sharing an important time with the family.
On one occasion a son said to me that he could not meet his parents anymore. I told him that this was not true. A deceased person who has encountered Amida-Buddha’s vows becomes a Buddha in the Pure Land.
Every time we say Namo-Amida-Butsu we are together with our loved ones. When we call Amida Buddha’s name we are all universally embraced with Amida’s deep wisdom and compassion.
Rev. Yoshimichi Ouchi
This past month I was confronted with a very curious aspect of human development called “identity”. My four-year old son started Junior Kindergarten and right away developed a very interesting way of seeing difference. He does not identify with visual differences, in that he does not distinguish skin colour or what we would typically classify as race. Instead
he sees difference in language. People either do or do not speak the same as we do. This is all the more interesting because he also believed he was part Japanese because he knows some Japanese words. According to my son if you can say “itadakimasu” you are Japanese.
With some delicacy my husband and I tried to explain that we are not Japanese, but that many of the members of the Temple are Japanese and Japanese Canadian. We explained our temple members are not together because we are Japanese, but because we are Buddhist. As it so happens, shortly after this discussion we were driving by the Temple and someone was outside cutting the grass. “Is that one of our Buddhists?” he asked. “Yes he is a Buddhist like we are.” I replied happily.
Of course as all parents do, I worry about what being a Buddhist will mean for him when he is older, and I recently heard a talk that increased this concern. In short, this was a discussion about the difference between “Heritage Buddhists” and “Convert Buddhists”. Essentially, Heritage Buddhism is the Buddhism that was brought to North America by people who immigrated here, and Convert Buddhism was brought to North America by the Theosophical Society and westerners who travelled to Asia and brought back a desire to meditate. Two distinct streams. One is a cultural “heritage” while the other one seems more aligned with self- exploration and curiosity. Heritage implies a sort of ownership while the Convert appears to be a kind of interloper. I worry this kind of terminological distinction does not bring people together, but pushes people apart.
I worry that if people persist in using this kind of terminology will I be raising my son in a tradition where some people will think he does not fully belong anywhere? Or will our children see beyond race and labels and allow their common beliefs to shape our community and a common identity? When he gets older and ventures beyond our temple will people still see him only as ‘the white guy’ and ask him questions that I get asked today when I am outside the walls of our Temple? “Why aren’t you Christian?” “Did you become Buddhist because you are obsessed with Japan?” (My favorite was when a lady from Japan visiting Canada scolded me because I became a minister in a Japanese religion rather than a white one, but that is another story) Or will the strength of the Nembutsu teaching and its ability to transcend borders eventually prevail and become the norm for us all?
Our Temple is very fortunate. We are located in what is often referred to as the most culturally diverse city in the world. Toronto has over 200 ethnic groups. We are used to seeing diversity. It is our way of life. When someone from any given background walks through our doors they are welcomed with open arms. If someone wants to learn about Buddhism, we want to teach him or her. All people are different and those differences make us beautiful. We do not have different kinds of Buddhists. We have different kinds of people who come together proudly to practice Nembutsu as one.
It is easy for us to see difference and to focus on the differences alone. However, acknowledging difference but then finding common ground is how bridges are built and communities grow.
Seeking Enlightenment Quickly
From January to April each year on the last Sunday of each month we meet for “Let’s Talk Dharma”. It is an open ended discussion group with little formality. We have been lately starting with Reverend Ulrich’s “Loving Kindness Meditation”. It seems to generate lots of discussion.
Within this LTD group there are several who express frustration at not being able to attain enlightenment quickly. After all they say, that is the goal of being Buddhist, isn’t it?
Hmmm, let me pause here dear reader and let us contemplate that statement “ to attain enlightenment quickly”.
Enlightenment, that is what Prince Siddhartha who became the original Buddha, Shakyamuni, attained after many years of struggle, of trial and error. His story is well known to you so I shall not repeat it here. Let us just say he did not attain enlightenment quickly or easily. He endured years of ascetic practice before he found the ‘middle way” which led him to enlightenment.
Shakyamuni Buddha also prophesized that the Dharma, as practiced by him, would go through three stages, as form (where those of his time could hear the Dharma directly from him), in it’s last stage and when it has become extinct. Dear reader, we are in that stage of dharma (as practiced by Shakyamuni Buddha) that has become extinct.
Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism like us was also born in the age of Dharma as extinct (as practiced by Shakyamuni Buddha). He also struggled mightily on Mt Hei, the seat of Tendai Buddhism. After twenty years he left Mt. Hei, totally disillusioned. Then he encountered Honen Shonin, his Teacher.
(From The Jodo Shinshu Seiten, BCA, page 161 to 162)
“Previously on Mt. Hei, Shinran had practiced the Nembutsu as one of the four Samadhis in Tendai (Buddhism) ……but Honen’s Nembutsu sounded quite different to him and, in fact, was. The Nembutsu Shinran practiced on Mt. Hei was entirely based on his (own) will and effort…..Honen reversed this mental attitude. He taught Shinran the Nembutsu based on Amida’s (48) original vows and supported by His ( Amida’s) Will.
Shinran faced a new wall, this new wall was how to comply with Amida’s Will by giving up his self effort.”
So back to our LTD members and their frustration at not attaining enlightenment quickly. Prince Siddhartha struggled for years through many difficult practices before he became Shakyamuni Buddha. Shinran Shonin spent twenty years on Mt. Hei practicing Tendai Buddhism before he abandoned those practices to encounter his Teacher Honin Shonin’s Nembutsu practice.
So to my dear frustrated LTD members, do not despair; do not give up hope. Keep in mind the struggles of Prince Siddhartha and Shinran. Persevere (by letting go of your self effort) and let the compassion of Amida Buddha come to you through the Nembutsu and Amida’s 48 vows that it embodies.
Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu
Dennis Madokoro, Minister Assistant
Stories from the President – Colours
Recently, young Yoshi-sensei delivered an interesting discourse about colours. He said in effect that he wore a different “colour” depending on his social or professional circumstance at any particular time. When he hung around with his buddies at the pub, he wore a cool, laid
-back colour. When he went shopping at the supermarket, it was whatever colour he happened to be wearing, because there was little chance that he would be recognized. When he had an audience with the Bishop or attended an important meeting, he changed to a conservative, professional colour. His colour metaphor made this dubious but universal tendency very vivid and made me reflect why we act this way.
For sure, we all wear a different colour for every different situation we find ourselves in each day. It may be instinctive, but in fact we are really conscious of it. So much so, that consultants charge hefty fees to tell us how to dress and behave for job interviews. Love life coaches teach us how to wow a first date – what to say, what to wear, even what to eat. The uniform for Bay Street power brokers today has changed from the three-piece suit with a pocket watch and chain and Gucci loafers of 40 years ago to a painfully tight dark suit by Alfalfa paired with Size 18, pointed, lace-ups. (Obviously men’s feet have grown since 40 years ago.) I’m now too old and feeble in every way to care much about how today’s woman dresses to impress, although I have noticed that the majority of Bloor/Bay shoppers dress as if they are about to walk the red carpet at TIFF.
Awareness of “colours” is sadly essential to survive today. To be un-colour-savvy can be disastrous as we all know. I will never ever forget the abuse and ridicule I suffered on my first work trip to Tokyo (very Japanese then) in 1972. I was one of them, I thought. I had no idea that a light brown, wide-lapel suit with brown ankle boots and shoulder-length hair would single me out, especially in black suit, shiny black oxford Marunouchi. And then, my Canadian-Kagoshima-ben really upset them. There is a reason why my daughters do not have Japanese middle names and why despite many return trips I did not introduce my wife to Japan until more than 30 years later.
And then there was THE INCIDENT. There was a time whenever I was a little down that I went shopping. So it was that day. I went to a famous menswear shop and tried on a pair of ridiculously expensive pants. But as I turned this way and that way in front of the mirror, the pants just didn’t feel right. The mature-ish sales lady with an intimidating accent (why do mature-ish ladies with intimidating accents sell ridiculously expensive men’s pants anyway?) pondered my posing for a little while, chin resting in hand. Finally, she reached a verdict. The problem, she decreed without a hint of pity, was that no pants would ever look good on me because I had no butt. NO WHAT? NO BUTT? I never ever think about my nether region. How can I ever see back there? Why should I care? But, I started to sweat and fret when it hit me that even though I never bothered to check out my posterior, maybe others did. Over all these years, how many thousands, maybe millions, have walked behind me on a crowded street and snickered to one another: “The poor guy’s got no butt.” Shamed, deflated, the defeat lingered. I recalled the early 80’s, when Jesse Barfield, one of the most revered Blue Jays of all time patrolled right field at Exhibition Stadium. According to many women in the know (there are so many in the know), he was the most exciting batter ever to step into the batter’s box. They would swoon shamelessly every time he leaned into the plate to ready himself for a mighty swing, or even the most timid of bunts. If there was a statistic
for best batter’s butt in baseball (there are so many new stats now) he would easily own the Best Batter’s Butt (BBB) in Major League history. Today he remains the gold standard. So after decades of sad and sagging neglect I discovered in one terribly rude moment that the one area that women and many men coveted so much was the one area where I had a very visible vacancy. Oh, how could I face anyone. I thought briefly about walking backwards on bustling downtown streets (think moon walk) so people behind me couldn’t see my glaring deficiency. But I decided people would notice me even more if I walked backwards in front of them for more than 30 seconds, and worse, they might turn mean and not bother to warn me that I was moon walking through a red light.
So why are we so neurotic about the way we present ourselves? Surely it’s not because it’s wired into our DNA. In each case, we dress, behave and talk, I think, in a certain way in each different circumstance because we feel that we want, maybe even need, to be accepted by someone or to impress someone. Are we convinced that others around us have a certain expectation of us? After all, a hermit who lives all alone in a cave has no need for a change of clothes, never mind a can of Old Spice. The way we think others see us dictates how we see and feel about ourselves.
One of the great Buddhist mantras is: “Come as you are.” Do we really believe that to the extent that we follow it? Bishop Kodo Umezu, Bishop of Buddhist Churches of America, recently reminded us of Shinran Shonin’s thoughts about how each of us is seen by the Buddha:
‘In reflecting on the ocean of great shinjin (the Buddha’s mind and heart), I realize that there is no discrimination between noble and humble or black-robed monks and white-clothed laity, no differentiation between man and woman, old and young.” (Collected works of Shinran, p. 107)
Even though it comes straight from the pen of the great Shinran Shonin do we really subscribe to it? When we see others, so many of us ignorantly and instinctively colour everyone else as black or brown or yellow or white, or woman or man, or Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Buddhist, or liberal or conservative, or rich or poor, or successful or failed, or smart or stupid. Or we colour someone either as a foreigner or as one of us depending whether he or she speaks a language which is familiar enough to us. Having experienced this ourselves we try so hard to conform to what we believe to be the accepted “colour”. If we are unable to wear the right colour, there is a good chance that we will suffer some rejection, whether subtle or overt. Terribly sad.
Yoshi-sensei’s lesson too was that before Amida Buddha we are always just what we are. We don’t need to try so hard to change or disguise what we are. And everyone is perfectly acceptable just as he or she is. So let’s everyone, when we are at the Temple or away from the Temple, accept others in the same way that Amida Buddha accepts us. I think he is saying that sometimes it’s ok to be colour-blind.
When new people visit our temple I often give them a tour of the building. I explain some of the more subtle details of its construction such as the glass above the front door and the framing of the door and how it is representative of the traditional Japanese gates or torii, the way the tiles are laid in a way that leads you “in,” and how the glass wall in the lobby was built in a way that your eyes are drawn upwards to see the hanging scroll. There are so many beautiful aspects in our temple. We are truly fortunate to have such a precious space to gather.
One element our visitors often find compelling is inside our Hondo. Inside the Hondo every natural line leads towards Amida Buddha. The hardwood is laid pointing towards the Buddha. The grains on the walls all lead towards the Buddha. Everything is constructed in a way that brings it all together at this point. The statue of Amida Buddha is the focal point. This has always been the way I perceived it, and this was how I described it. That is, until recently.
Focusing on the statue in our Naijin (altar area) has been a regular practice for me. I would bring myself to sit in the Hondo when I felt sad, scared, inadequate etc. I would look up at Amida Buddha and talk to him like a friend. It was very comforting. However, I came to realize that I was not noticing his response. His response was all around me, but I was too focused on my own perspective to notice.
One day it occurred to me that rather than thinking about how everything leads towards the Buddha, perhaps everything is emanating from the Buddha. It is a fairly simple consideration, but philosophically it created some major adjustments for me. I always saw the rays of light emanating from the Buddha, but still there was something inside I was hanging on to that was bringing my focus in rather than out. The woodgrain can also be seen as an extension of these rays of light.
The Buddhist teachings are meant to help us manage our lives. They are meant to teach us to treat ourselves with compassion and share that compassion with others, and there is always something to have gratitude for. These teachings can leave the Hondo with every person who enters once we realize there is more than just our own perspective that are influential.
The next time you are inside our Hondo, please look around you and notice the small detail of the lines in the grains of wood. It is a small detail, but within this detail you can almost feel the embrace. The embrace reminds you to take this comfort and share it with others to the best of your ability.
The previous Gomonshu Koshin Ohtani said, “When Amida Buddha shines upon me and all the rest of life, we are linked together as lives saved by that light. All things on earth, all things in the universe, are in the fold of this great life-force linking us all together.”
“Come As You Are” *
An Interview with Ron Shimizu
Q: What brought you to Temple?
In short – my wife and kids led me to the Temple.
Q: How was that?
Edy and I met during the 1977 Japanese Canadian Centennial in which we were both involved due to our interest in the Japanese community and I suppose our heritage. So when we found ourselves as parents with a couple of kids in the early 1980s we wanted them to know other Japanese Canadians (other than relatives) and have a sense of community. The old TBC was close to where we lived back then so Edy decided to take Aja and Tomo there, but she found only a few children there at the time. Kunio Suyama told Edy if she promised to bring the kids there every Sunday he would see the kindergarten re-open. So Aja and Tomo were duly brought to the Temple on Sundays and they were joined by Alana and Brendan Wyatt and later others. I must admit that I was not a regular temple visitor in those early years at all. I slept in on Sundays or was too busy fixing up our old house. As the kids continued to go Dharma school and Edy volunteered as all Dharma school parents did, I found myself getting more involved.
Q: What made you stay with the temple?
It was and is the people at the temple. Helping out with kids outings, Camp Lumbini, Hoonko, Family Banquet, Bazaar and Mochi Tsuki were all events through which I found friendship and fellowship . The ministers through the years – Rev Fujikawa, Rev Grant, Doreen Sensei, Rev Masa, Rev Kikuchi, Rev Tomo, Rev Makino and today Rev Christina and everyone else I met at the temple were really friendly and welcoming. It wasn’t too long before I found myself in the TBC Sangha, my first real experience with a longstanding temple organization. Here I learned about Temple history from Sangha members who were with the temple from the 1950s. I found their dedication to the temple, its ministers and the congregation really impressive. My involvement sort of grew from there with a stint on the old TBC board, on the New Temple Building Committee and the Education/ LDC committee.
Q: What role does Buddhism play in your life and involvement with the temple?
I worked in the environmental protection field for over 35 years. I found the basic tenets of Buddhism underpinned a modern environmental perspective. To me these values are:
Seeing things as they are;
Recognizing the limits of a self centred view of and approach to life;
Recognizing the connectedness of phenomena – that everything is related to everything else; Realizing that change is constant and everything is impermanent;
Recognizing a Oneness of it all and;
Being compassionate for all living things and having a sense of gratitude for life.
I believe that carrying these values into personal and societal decisions and actions will hold all of us in good stead and make the planet a better place. I view the temple as a repository of those values – so when I sing the Tisarana – I am reminding myself of those values and replenishing my faith in them.
* From a poem in Taitetsu Unno’s book Bits of Rubble Turn To Gold.
Dharma message from our new Minister, Yoshimichi Ouchi.
Hello, my name is Yoshimichi Ouchi.
I’m came here (to Toronto Buddhist Church) on the 15th of April. I was born in Oita prefecture on Kyushu Island. I spent 6 years in Shiga, Kyoto and Osaka prefectures studying Buddhism after graduating high school. During that time, I worked at a temple in Osaka prefecture for 2 years. That temple was on the outskirts of Osaka city. There were many rice fields around the temple. One day, when I finished a memorial service, I said to one member who owned a rice field… “Today it’s raining, and it is so cold, it’s not a good day, is it?” He said to me “Today is a good day, because my rice field needs rain to grow!!” I thought Oh, it’s true… because, the farmer needs rice, the rice needs rain.
I saw him a month later, and again it was raining, I said to him… “Today is a good day because your rice field will grow very well!!” But, this time he said to me “No, today is not a good day, because I had planned on harvesting my rice.” One day he thought rain was good, but the next rain was bad.
So today I would like to talk about EGOCENTRICITY, about only thinking of oneself. When we only focus on ourselves, we create distinctions between right and wrong, myself and others. The Sutra said, in the sky there is no distinction for east and west; people create the distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.
For example, one old man said “young kids are bad, because they don’t know anything!!!” But 3 days later he said “I want to be younger, because I cannot remember anything!!!” On the other hand, one young guy said: “Today I’m so happy, to live is amazing!!!!” But 3days later he said “oh… Today I want to die… I’m so tired of life…”
We can change our minds very quickly and easily, but there are things we cannot change, like the weather, age and life. Think about when you say something about me to someone else, for example; Rev. Ouchi is good or bad. When you say this, please do not forget 3 words. These words are “just for me”. “Rev. Ouchi is good just for me” or “Rev. Ouchi is bad just for me” People often talk about each other, and decide if you are good or bad. But as I said before “when we only focus on ourselves, we create distinctions between right and wrong, myself and others.”
The Sutra said, in the sky there is no distinction for east and west; people create the distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true. We create distinctions. Like the rice farmer’s view of the rain, Things are judged as good or bad depending on the situation. If somebody says that you are bad, please don’t pay attention, because it is “just for them.” Please remember your family and friends who love you, and remember Amida-Buddha loves you, just as you are.
Namu Amida Butsu
THIS MONTH WE ARE FEATURING ARTICLES SUBMITTED BY MEMBERS OF OUR TEMPLE.
By Cary Kataoka
On Saturday March 26th, I was privileged to attend a Lay Leaders Workshop “Dharma Time” led by Socho Aoki.
During the workshop, Socho Aoki posed a question “what does Buddhism mean to you?”
For me, the answer was that it has been a source of answers for me. Answers to questions such as “is this all there is”, “is there more to life than those things that you can see and touch”, “what happens when we die”.
It was really that moment that I realized that I am a Buddhist – I don’t think I specifically allowed myself to think of myself a Buddhist until then.
Following the workshop I took a little time to reflect on how grateful I am to the Temple and our ministers for the guidance provided to me.
I felt further gratitude for how Jodo Shinshu Buddhism helps to provide an ethical framework within which I can guide my children.
I hope to continue to have the opportunity to show my thanks by doing my best to continue to support the Temple as a member and active volunteer.
By Amy Wakisaka
My children often question why I volunteer at the temple so much. All they see are the issues and stress I go through in trying to build a program or working with others both locally and nationally. They often question if this is worth it.
When I was growing up, the temple was like a second home where we met our extended family , attended services, attended Dharma School , learned Japanese folk dancing (odori), made new friends, attend the many social functions at the temple and, one of my favourites…the summer youth retreat, Camp Lumbini. It was also at the temple that I first met the person who was to become my life partner
I remember spending long hours playing with friends while waiting for my parents to finish their meetings, volunteer work or attending a temple sponsored event. The temple also existed in our everyday lives with our home altar, my grandparents’ ashes, their homyos (Dharma name cards) and pictures beside the altar. Rituals of offering freshly cooked rice and perhaps a persimmon or other treat as well as bowing at the altar and reciting the Nembutsu (Namo Amida Butsu) was a part of our daily lives. Attending the observance of Obon at the cemeteries and participating in the Japanese folk dancing later in the evening to celebrate those who have passed on before us were also important traditions for me.
My parents used to discuss temple challenges to overcome or discuss projects at the dinner table and they often asked my brothers and I for our input. Sometimes when I returned home from school a minister (local or from another Canadian temple or from the USA, Hawaii or Japan) would be discussing local temple or national
programs with my father in the dining room. Both my parents volunteered many long hours at the temple and in the community. I sometimes wondered if my parents cared more for others than their children due to the long and frequent absences from home.
When Mrs. Mary Ishiura (the wife of Bishop Ishiura of Toronto),was saying her goodbyes to friends in Toronto before she left for California, she looked directly at me and told me that I have great potential to help the church and told me that it was time to get involved and to give back. I knew that she was encouraging not only me but everyone else in my age group to help the same temple which nurtured us and helped us to develop as individuals.
I didn’t answer Mrs. Ishiura’s request immediately and drifted away from the temple as I focused on post secondary education, a career, marriage and family. During this time, I watched my father from the sidelines as he continued with his national and local temple work and the Japanese Canadian Redress work. Later, I realized that the energy and time my parents invested in the temple helped me to become more self sufficient and independent as they would leave tasks for me to do and I learned to take ownership of them.
Many years later with the arrival of Rev Makino to our temple from Hawaii, the late Tom Allen and the late Hik Koyata both encouraged my husband Larry and I to get involved with the administration of the temple and tempted us with the opportunity to help in committee work which included working closely with an amazing group of professional, warm and interesting people. Rev. Makino also inspired me to listen more to the Dharma (teachings) and use it to live my everyday life. I had previously read and thought about Buddhist teachings but it wasn’t until Rev. Makino told me to “feel” the Teachings deep in my gut and heart that I glimpsed what joy and peace Buddhism can bring.
When I returned to help and attend temple services, it felt like home and it represented a warm return to see the many elders who were like my extended family in the past. These people had helped watch over me as a child and I felt a deep sense of gratitude to them as well as the desire to aid the temple in any way that could possibly bring these wonderful temple elders and statesmen joy and happiness. It was an opportunity to express my respect and gratitude for their part in watching out for me as a child and also for their untiring work, effort and dedication to our temple and to Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. It seems like the volunteer spirit in helping the temple to the best of my abilities is imbedded in my DNA.
Volunteering nationally with the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada has exposed me to new Dharma friends across the country whose company I enjoy immensely. They, too, use their energy and efforts to advance the teachings and to support the temples and Jodo Shinshu communities across our country. When we work together, we feed and grow great Dharma energy which uplifts and sustains me. How lucky am I to have encountered these people and had the opportunity to help the temples in Canada!
I realize now that the Three Treasures of the Buddha, Dharma (teachings of the Buddha) and the Sangha (the community of followers) are and always have been important to me in my daily life. The values of gratitude, compassion, understanding, empathy and a questioning mind developed through my early interactions at the temple. I hope that I have passed on the same qualities to my children and that they too will eventually return
to the temple which gave us all the teachings of the Buddha and to give their energies in gratitude. It is also my hope that my children will also someday understand why it is important to me to devote many of my volunteer hours to help our temple.
I volunteer at the temple locally and also nationally to answer Mrs. Ishiura’s call to give back in gratitude for all which I had received in the past and with joy as I keep the teachings alive which nuture the elders, my community, our sangha, my family and myself.
Namu Amida Butsu
THIS MONTH WE ARE FEATURING ARTICLES SUBMITTED BY MEMBERS OF OUR TEMPLE.
“Life is dukkha”
“I beg your pardon;; I n
ever promised you a rose garden.”
By: John Skelton, February, 2016
As I write this, we are well on our way into a new year, and 2015 is fading into the rear-view mirror. For many, the transition period from one year to the next is happy and exciting – a time for parties, shopping, gift-giving, and uniting with family and loved ones over sumptuous dinners.
But for some, December greets them with sadness or even depression. One’s family might live far away, making it impractical to connect. The month may mark the passing of a partner, friend or close family member. The chaotic busy-ness of the time may have become overwhelming. A financial crisis might mean that children go without presents, or worse, the little ones might endure hunger. Whatever the cause, not everyone looks forward to the holidays with the good humour of Jolly Old Saint Nick.
Most Buddhists will know that one of the fundamental truisms of our teachings is that being human means that we will suffer. We are taught that the First Noble Truth, revealed by Shakyamuni Buddha, is that “Life is dukkha.” Most of us have understood that to mean that life as a human is inescapably bound to pain and suffering, and that we are locked in to a cycle of samsara. That can be a very disconcerting thought.
I am not at all sure that a message this dark is exactly what the Buddha would have liked to convey.
Many scholars have argued that the translation of the Sanskrit word “duhkha” (Pali: dukkha) as “suffering” in English is awkward and problematic. It certainly has a very negative connotation to it. In fact, the concept of dukkha is so central to our faith that newcomers might turn away from the teachings because of that perceived negativity.
Some have proposed that a better translation for “dukkha” might be “discomfort” or even “dis-ease.” Sensei Fredrick Ulrich of the Manitoba Buddhist Temple once described dukkha as the feeling one might get from riding in a carriage that has one wheel out of alignment. It wobbles, and makes for quite a bumpy ride!
So, perhaps rather than trying to translate dukkha into English, we should conjure up a vision of riding along in the Ox Cart of Life along a cobblestone path to get the feeling that “life is a bumpy ride.” And I am sure that we can all relate to that.
The First Noble Truth reminds me a little of an old song from 1973, warbled by Country and Western songstress Lynn Anderson, named “Rose Garden.” It’s opening lines are:
I beg your pardon,
I never promised you a rose garden, Along with the sunshine,
There’s got to be a little rain sometime, Acceptance
Many of us who have encountered Buddhism have heard or read about the First Noble Truth, but have we really accepted it? I know that at first, I did not. While I might have understood this Truth intellectually, I hesitated to embrace it. Some might misunderstand it, and consequently fear it. Some will try to find ways to cover up the reality of dukkha, just as young Siddhartha Gautama’s father tried, with love, to do for him. I discovered, as did Siddhartha, that it is precisely that denial that increased my anxieties, and stood in the way of living a happy and contented life.
For me, acceptance was an important first step to spiritual growth. After acceptance came three more important
life lessons: gratitude, meditation, and compassion. I will write about these three lessons in future submissions.
I had to come to realize the simple reality that, as the song says, no one ever promised me that life would be a rose garden, and “along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometimes.”
It is by embracing that rain that we can grow into truly fulfilled human beings, filled with gratitude that simply by virtue of being born into this world, we have truly been blessed.
Things never seem to progress in our lives in exactly the way that we would like. When we are young, we want to be older. When we are old, we want to be younger. Blondes want to be redheads, and redheads want to be brunettes. We want a fatter paycheck, and when we get it, we complain about the taxes. We are never satisfied
Would we not be a lot happier if we simply accepted who we are?
Acceptance means developing the ability to embrace life on life’s terms. Sometimes karma deals us a really bad hand. A family member dies suddenly. The stock market crashes and our life savings disintegrate. Our marriage breaks up. What are we to do?
In September of 2015, my dear friend Fred died suddenly and unexpectedly. I met him when I was 17 years old, and we were friends for over 40 years. I was shocked and speechless. I was hurt and saddened by the loss. But in time, I realized that there was nothing that I could do about it now. So, I came to accept this sad and painful event. I also contrasted my own sadness with that of his wife and children, and understood that my sad- ness could never reach their level of pain, and that to be of any help to them, I had to accept the reality that Fred was gone, at least as a physical manifestation here on Planet Earth.
Strangely, once I accepted that Fred had actually died, I was able to see more clearly that his life is eternal. He lives on through the good work that he did, through the very real impact that he had on hundreds, if not thou- sands of lives, and through the love and compassion that he encouraged. He died. But he lives on. When I think of him (and I do every day) I still feel a pang of sadness, but I remember that he lives on, just in a different form.
We all know, I think, in our rational minds, that uncomfortable things will happen to us in our life. But when those painful things actually do happen, our intellectual understanding of acceptance is put to the test. We often fail to accept, even though we know intellectually that we must accept. This causes pain.
How do we move from this intellectual understanding of acceptance to a heart-felt understanding of accep- tance? Faith offers that path for me. I trust in the reality of the compassion of Amida Buddha. I must trust the teachings. That complete trust is, one might say, shinjin.
There is a wonderful prayer that is Christian in origin. I have taken the liberty to modify it a bit for my Dharma friends. As Buddhists, we do not practice petitionary prayer. But if you are suffering, and you are struggling to find a way to accept, reciting this might offer some comfort:
With the Compassion of Amida Buddha as my Guiding Light
May I find the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change
May I find the courage to change the things I can change and may I gain the wisdom to know the difference.
Stories from the President
The Kitchen Faucet
My kitchen faucet dripped for months, maybe it was years. My dear spouse tolerated this with a grim smile for the longest time. I was finally shamed into acting when our esteemed Bishop accepted my invitation to stay overnight, and after pouring himself a glass of Toronto’s finest tap water, he spent way too much of his precious time in the kitchen trying to jiggle the tap handle to stop the dripping.
So, as Lord of the Kusano Kastle, I finally resolved to tackle the problem once and for all. After all, I was very confident of my handyman skills, and I had all those tools in the basement that I had bought my dear spouse over so many years. I was also comforted by the fact that my faucet was made by a famous faucet manufacturer who guaranteed its products for life. It had to be an easy job. And so here for all my fellow Buddhist DIYers, is my Step-by-Step No-Brainer Guide to fixing a leaky kitchen faucet.
1. Take photos of your leaky faucet (with lifetime guarantee) with smart phone and drive to national big-box hardware store.
2. Shanghai aproned clerk away from other impatient customers at national big-box hardware store and show dozens of photos of leaky faucet, pleading that broken cartridge is stuck in the faucet and can’t be returned.
3. Drive home with new cartridge home and proudly announce to dear spouse that problem soon to be fixed. 4. Do not get depressed when dear spouse informs you that cartridge is the wrong part.
5. Let wrong cartridge sit on kitchen counter for a couple of months.
6. Research Google for proper cartridge and print results of research.
7. Drive to national big-box hardware store with wrong cartridge and show aproned clerk a picture of the correct cartridge from Google research.
8. Drive home with correct cartridge with high level of self-satisfaction.
9. Let sit on kitchen counter for a couple of months.
10.Turn off water.
11.Spend three hours trying unsuccessfully to remove old cartridge from faucet with every wrench in tool
12.After finally removing old cartridge, spend two hours unsuccessfully trying to install new cartridge. 13.Finally unsuccessfully try to bang new cartridge with hammer and bend new cartridge out of shape. 14.Drive to national big-box hardware store and buy brand new brand-name faucet set.
15.Drive home with new faucet and open box with much tanoshimi.
16.Crawl under kitchen cabinet on my back and try to install new faucet. For two hours endure Asian water
torture as water drips constantly and mercilessly on my forehead.
17.Finally discover that new brand-name faucet is defective and also missing an essential part.
18.Drive to national big-box hardware store to return new faucet and buy new, new brand-name faucet. 19.Drive home with new, new faucet and install within an hour. Almost faint with tremendous sense of
20.Turn on water only to discover that new faucet has a small leak.
21.Leak slowly disappears. Total investment: 11.5 hours not counting sweat, stress, water torture and gas
for trips to national big-box hardware store.
So what? There were lessons. Yes, indeed, life is Suffering. And Imperfection too. Maybe I should have hired a plumber. But I needed to suffer and I needed to experience my imperfection. If we weren’t humiliated, we would become complacent with our well-being and we would be smirking all the time, no? And Inter- connectedness? For sure, I learned that everything is inter-connected but it helps when all the parts fit together properly. Compassion? Absolutely. I couldn’t have done it without the patience and understanding of my spouse (and all the tools I bought her over the years). Always encouraging, she handed me the various pieces and tools like a nurse in the O.R. Seriously, though, the whole exercise proved to be a form of meditation. While it was a mundane job, I was me, my mind totally in the moment, the whole time. Unbelievably, no swearing. Try it some time – you will feel a stran ge, happy peace, and you may stop a leak while you’re at it.
TBC Kansho Bell: A Brief Background & History
Gong ….. Gong …… Gong ……….
Those are the deep resonating sounds from our temple kansho bell which reverberates when struck to call ministers, congregants and visitors to our temple Hondo (Worship Hall) to signify that a service is about to begin.
The kansho bell at our temple is situated in the northeast corner of our Hondo. Have you ever wondered where this beautiful large bell came from? Was it purchased? If it was purchased, how much did it cost? Where did we get it from and when did we get it? What is the history of the bell? It’s not something that you can go to the local Lowes, Home Depot, WalMart or any other common retailer to purchase.
One of the familiar customs which I have personally come to appreciate at services is the Gong ….. Gong ….. Gong ………. resulting from the striking of the kansho bell. For me, it initiates an automatic meditative state in which I begin to relax, concentrate and focus on the service which is about to begin. While intently listening to the ringing of the kansho bell sometime last year and being a little on the inquisitive side, I asked some elder statesmen at our temple about some information on our temple kansho bell. Most did not remember too much about the history of our bell. However, I struck a gold mine of information when I asked Mrs. May AkiyeTakahashi if she remembered or knew anything about our kansho bell.
It turns out that Mrs. Takahashi’s parents, Suekichi and Masa Kodama were the wonderful, thoughtful and very generous benefactors of our temple kansho bell. Mrs. Takahashi reluctantly informed me of the history of the bell. She was reluctant to say much because her parents always wanted to keep their donation quiet as they did not donate the bell for any personal recognition but purely as their quiet contribution to help spread the Dharma.
Mr. Suekichi Kodama’s main reason for having the bell custom manufactured in Japan and shipped to Canada was that he always said “Come, come, let’s all listen to the Dharma.” Mrs. Takahashi vividly remembers to this day her father’s constant phrase to the children and everyone else of “Come, come, let’s all listen to the Dharma” and “Everyone, come and listen to the Dharma and then you will be able to experience gratitude.” He genuinely felt that the kansho bell would be the perfect way to continue to call people to listen to the Dharma teachings if he could arrange to get the bell manufactured and shipped to Canada for Toronto Buddhist Church.
The Late Rev. Kenryu Tsuji was instrumental in helping Mr. & Mrs. Kodama in arranging to manufacture and purchase the kansho bell as a donation to Toronto Buddhist Church. One of the things which Rev. Tsuji insisted on was having the family name/mon on the kansho bell. He explained that it was a custom to have this identification on the bell. Mr. Kodama apparently finally reluctantly agreed to this as Rev. Tsuji was insistent on this identification. The Kodama Family name is on the bell and is identified in Japanese characters.
In the summer of 1957, the kansho bell finally arrived in Toronto from Japan. It was huge and heavy. Mrs. Takahashi, laughing, recalls the excitement when the bell was delivered to their family home. Can you imagine the sight this would have been! Her brothers had a tow truck which was used to carefully transport the bell to Toronto Buddhist Church at 918 Bathurst Street. Since then, the bell has been relocated to its current home at 1011 Sheppard Avenue West.
The next time you are in attendance at our temple and you hear the Gong ….. Gong ….. Gong ………., please try to concentrate on and revel in the truly wonderful deep sound and resonance which our beautiful kansho bell creates and fondly remember with gratitude Mr. Kodama’s heartfelt and genuine wishes of “Come, come, let’s all listen to the Dharma.”
With gratitude and in Gassho,
I’m teaching a course on Buddhism in North America this term, and one of my students, who was also in my Introduction to Buddhism course, had a query ready for me right on the first day. When I asked the class what questions had about Buddhism before we started our scheduled material, she shot her hand up and said, “According to Buddhism, how were humans created?”
I’m always interested in the questions my students ask, because there’s usually a story behind them. In this case, the student, who comes from a Buddhist background, was curious because she’d been exposed to Christian ideas about the book of Genesis in the Bible. Christianity considers the origins of humanity to be extremely important (as did the Jews, who created the story). In fact, this matter is so important that right there on the first page of the Bible there are two different stories about how human beings were created. In the first, men and women are the last thing God creates, on the sixth day of the world. In the second story, God creates a man from dust, then creates the animals, and finally creates a woman from one of the man’s ribs. So what do Buddhists say, my student wondered.
I told her this is a natural question to ask since we’re surrounded by a mostly Christian environment. However, when we look back into earlier history, we find that Buddhists didn’t really bother about such matters. Scattered about the huge number of Buddhist sutras and commentaries one can find a few stories about how each world system comes into creation, is eventually peopled by humans and other beings, then falls apart due to natural processes and is replaced by a new cycle of creation and destruction. None of these accounts are in very important texts, and many Buddhists of the past were unaware of them. Belief in these stories wasn’t considered a requirement for Buddhist practice. The truth is, Buddhists just haven’t cared about where people came from—they’ve cared about what life is like for people and how to replace their suffering with happiness and peace.
Because Buddhism more or less lacks creation stories, it was relatively easy for Buddhists to accept modern theories of evolution once they appeared. Today, most Buddhists affirm evolution of species (though this doesn’t mean that everyone is very clear on the details), and there aren’t any conflicts between Buddhists over the origins of humanity. Given how much trouble has been caused in history over competing ideas of religious truth, I’m glad that this is an issue that Buddhists don’t have to worry about.
Jeff Wilson Sensei
“En 縁 (Interconnectedness / Interdependence)”
We are all born into this world because of our connection to our parents. Likewise, our parents share a connection with their own parents. If we were to go back twenty generations, those ancestors would number one million forty-eight thousand five hundred seventy-four people. It is said that twenty generations is about six hundred years in total. Therefore, six hundred years ago, our ancestral forebears numbered well over one million forty-eight thousand. If even one of those people had died in infancy, I would not be the person I am here today, or I may not have even been born into this world.
This is what Buddhism means when it encourages us to realize that our lives are not our own. It is for me to realize that my existence is not just mine alone.
From this point of view, we can see that being born into this world as a human being is indeed, a rare and difficult thing. Furthermore, encountering the Buddha-Dharma and attaining shinjin (the heart that entrusts to Amida Buddha), is even more difficult. Out of the joy that Shinran-shonin felt in encountering the teaching of Amida Buddha, he composed the following wasan (Hymns),
Through countless kalpas and innumerable lives,
We did not know the strong cause of liberation;
Were it not for our teacher Genku,
This present life also would pass in vain.
A transliteration of the above wasan is as follows; “No matter how many times I have traversed through the cycle of birth-and-death, I was not aware of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, which is the cause that would free me from the world of delusion. If I had not encountered Master Genku (Honen-shonin), I would have lived my life in vain and remained in the world of delusion.
Just as these verses infer, Shinran-shonin felt that it was highly unlikely that he should meet someone like Honen- shonin, and moreover, it was equally unlikely that he would have come across the Nembutsu teaching. However, the underlying feeling that is also expressed, is his joy of having encountered them and having the path toward the Pure Land revealed to him.
I am working on inviting a Japanese speaking minister to Toronto Buddhist Church as early as this spring. Please support your minister and your board for this transition time.
Namo Amida Butsu Tatsuya Aoki
Bishop, Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada
“No one is as deaf as the one who does not want to listen.”
Occasionally I will find myself in the midst of a conversation and my thoughts will suddenly be pulled away from what the other person is saying. Instead of listening I will think about something totally unrelated such as “I need to go to Costco today to pick up food for the temple food drive. Oh! While I am there I should run over to Home Depot and grab the wood I have been meaning to buy. Oh wait! I don’t have the measurements. I need to remember to call Dave to get the measurements.” By the time I complete this
unrelated thought, I realize I have no idea what the person I am “listening” to just said. I can hope they did not notice but I know from my own experience it is often easy to see when someone is not listening. In fact, as someone who frequently has a lot to say, I have seen this a lot.
I recently came across an article in Business Insider that explains not listening to others is not only something that we all do frequently, but has become an epidemic. Speech Coach Nick Morgan says that people “nod and smile a lot to show they’re listening, but it’s not really happening.” People’s minds drift off to other subjects or they will instead think about what to say next. I see a lot of people smiling and nodding during my Dharma Talks…
Listening is an important skill. How do you feel when you notice the person you are talking to is not listening? For many of us when we realize the person we are talking to is not listening we feel unimportant, which if happens often eventually may lead to feelings of loneliness. It is equally damaging for the inattentive listener. If you are not actively listening you are not gaining valuable insight. If what is being said is not important to you, you are still missing the personal connection that could be developed between yourself and the speaker.
I can tell this kind of inactive listening happens at our temple during service. For example, when we read the Shin Buddhist Life Principles it can sometimes sound like it is being read by robots. We say it all the time so we are used to it. We can anticipate the next word without thinking. I know many of us will switch to “autopilot” because if the translation is slightly different from what we are used to we stumble over our words. So are we even listening to what we ourselves are saying? We need to consider what value we are inadvertently placing on the Buddhist Teachings when we do this. Also, what kind of confidence do we have in ourselves if we are not even paying attention to what we say?
It would be impossible to be perfectly attentive 100% of the time. We are human. We are foolish beings. Even so, we all could try a little harder. Try harder to listen to each other. Try harder to listen to yourself. Try harder to listen to the Dharma and express it in a way that is deep and meaningful.
Namo Amida Butsu, Rev. Christina Yanko
Like a lot of folks, Kristen and I like to watch TV in the evenings after the kids have gone to bed. One thing we watch are survival shows, such as “Survivorman” and “Man vs. Wild.” These are reality programs where a person or small group of people intentionally maroon themselves in difficult environments in order to demonstrate wilderness skills and test their mettle against the elements. Part of the appeal of these programs is seeing whether they’re up to the challenge, and imagining what you might do in their place. I always like to think I’d do a great job at it, but realistically, I’d probably be eaten by a bear. Or even a squirrel.
One thing that these shows demonstrate is the contextual nature of our moral behaviours. For instance, stranded people often have to choose whether they will act just like they would in regular society, or whether they will adjust their actions so that they survive. The biggest example is around eating. Vegetarianism is easy enough to support in Toronto—but alone on the Arctic tundra, not so much. We just watched a program where a group of regular British women were stranded on a desert island, and happened to befriend a couple of wild piglets. When the women failed to find any substantial food after many days, they were faced with the question of whether they would kill and eat their pets. It was very emotional for them, but after they’d resisted as long as they could, pork chops ended up on the menu.
I’m a vegetarian myself, and don’t want to cause other living things to suffer just to feed my belly. But that’s a decision I’m enabled to make because of the comfortable situation in which I live. Pushed to the brink, I would probably be looking around for some barbeque sauce. This is just the fact of human existence, a fact that Shinran Shonin recognized 800 years ago in Japan. While he urged us to be good and moral people as much as possible, he also comforted his followers with the acknowledgement that we are not total masters of our lives, and life can push us do to things we abhor yet are powerless to avoid. In these times, we are embraced by the boundless compassion of Amida Buddha, which never abandons anyone, no matter what mistakes they make or what difficult choices they come to. I’ve long appreciated that caring pragmatism of Shinran: do your best, but when you fall short, the Buddha is always there supporting you.
Jeff Wilson Sensei