THE BOUGHS THAT BEAR MOST, BOW LOWEST
To begin this Dharma talk, I would like to introduce my favorite saying. “実るほど頭を垂れる稲穂
かなminoru hodo koubeo tareru inaho kana.” That means “The boughs that bear most, bow lowest.”
Just as rice plants droop as the seed ripens, so human beings also become more humble as they become more learned and virtuous. When I googled, that tells me that there is a similar saying in English that “The more you know, the more humble you become.”
I really like the Japanese version. The image of a bowing plant is less direct and makes it easy for me to
understand. The other reason is because there was a rice field next to my house in Oita.
In March it was bad weather a couple of days. I was very worried about being able to get my car out of the parking lot due to the heavy snow, because there were memorial services. But when we were holding the memorial service, the sun came out, and it was a beautiful day. When I left the temple, I saw families playing in the park next to the temple. It looked like so fun. I wanted to play in the snow too, but I decided to go back home after the memorial service, because I was exhausted.
Even though I was feeling tired, the sun was still shining and giving us energy. I wrote it was bad weather, but it was beautiful and good weather too.
There was another funeral service in March in Hamilton. I knew the person who went to the Pure Land
well, because she always attended the Hamilton Buddhist Temple’s services. Even though she was a senior member, she came to the temple before anyone else to prepare tea and coffee for the refreshments. And she was sometimes the last person to leave the temple after cleaning up.
When I helped her collect dirty dishes, she always said to me, “Sensei, please leave them. You don’t have to clean up!” But I loved talking to her while we did the dishes together.
She was honest and very humble. When I talked to her about Shin Buddhism, she said “I don’t know all the doctrines of Shin Buddhism, but I heard that Amida Buddha settled all things to accept us to the Pure Land unconditionally.”
Many of us may know the Jodo Shinshu teachings that say we are accepted just as we are through Amida Buddha’s other-centred power. But when I talked with her, I sensed that she understood that teaching with the heart-mind, not with her head.
I still remember that one day she said “I am not good Buddhist.” I thought she was a good person and a
good Buddhist, because she always helped others without asking for anything in return. But she said No. I wondered why she would say that about herself.
Even though she was very kind and thoughtful, maybe she felt it was not very much. Maybe she understood that as humans, our kindness is limited compared to the great benevolence of Amida Buddha. When we compare our own compassion with Amida’s great benevolence, we might feel small,
because our compassion is limited.
Amida Buddha is also called a Buddha of the immeasurable light and life. The light expresses Amida’s great wisdom and the light expresses Amida’s great compassion. When we encounter the Immeasurable light and life, it’s hard to say out loud that I am a good person or Buddhist.
I think if I told her “You are so humble,” her answer would also be humble. She would give the credit to
Amida Buddha and say “Amida Buddha grew my Buddha seed, and that is what makes me humble.”
I don’t want all of you to say you are a bad Buddhist, like she said about herself. But we can learn
something from her behavior.
Last year, I was invited to her house to do her own funeral consultation with her. I usually do funeral
consultations with the family after someone has passed away, but she wanted to prepare and make sure everything is settled and let her family know they didn’t need to worry. When I did her funeral consultation, I thought she already accepted her death. It’s very difficult to consider our own
death, because it makes us feel anxiety.
The death we can know is the death of others, but not our own. In other words, we can think about the
experience of death of others through funerals. However, no one can experience their own death. Moreover, it is impossible to do your own funeral by yourself.
In my last (March) Guiding Light article, I introduced you to a book written by Erich Fromm. He said “The future is full of uncertainty. Nothing is certain in the future. The only thing that is certain to happen in the future is death.”
Thinking about death leads to isolation. That isolation creates a sense of loneliness. That loneliness creates great anxiety. Even though we wish to go to the Pure Land with others at the same time, it’s impossible.
Therefore, there is a phrase “独生独死独去独来 dokusho dokushi dokkyo dokurai” in our larger sutra. That means all sentient beings are born alone and must die alone. No one can replace them. This is truth.
When we are anxious when faced with this difficult truth of death, this is when we can encounter the
meaning of Nembutsu. This is when we can appreciate Amida Buddha because Amida Buddha has fulfilled the primal vow never to leave us alone. The Amida’s activities embodied sound of Namo Amida Butsu reaches us whenever and wherever.
The Nembutsu is the great compassion of Amida Buddha that never overlooks any of us. That is why whenever we hear the Nembutsu, we feel a sense of relief. At the same time, we cannot help but hang our heads in humility. It is like “the boughs that bear most, bow lowest.”
Rev. Yoshimichi Ouchi