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Dharma Talk – January 2021

Amida Buddha is Our Parent

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! We had very difficult and tough challenges in 2020 due to COVID-19. We still have to take care to keep social distancing and wear a facemask when we meet someone. However, I wish to meet you without a facemask and talk at the temple’s social hall again soon.

Many temple members worked and supported the Toronto Buddhist Church in order that we could continue holding our Buddhist services in 2020. I really appreciate all your efforts and help for the temple.

In Japan, they traditionally wish happiness for the New Year. I think that it’s not only a Japanese tradition but also many people all over the world wish to have the happiest time in 2021.

However what is ultimate happiness for us who follows Jodo Shinshu Buddhism? In
general, some people may say it’s like winning a lottery. But as you know, sometimes money creates
other problems with a friend or family member. Or if we receive a little bit of money from winning a
lottery, we might not say it was ultimate happiness.Moreover we might complain about the amount of money, because human always want to get more. What I want to say is a human can always wish for happiness but how long does the happiness last?

When I hold a workshop for high school students, sometimes they ask me how does Buddhism makes people happy? When I hear this question, I always remember a story by the late John Lennon.

John Lennon said that when he was a young boy, growing up, his foster parents told him, “John, the most important thing in life, the most important thing, is to be happy.” So, when he was in grade school, the teacher assigned a task to the class and asked each child a question. The question was: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” John Lennon said, “I want to be happy!” And the teacher said, “No, John. You don’t understand the question.” John Lennon said, “No, you don’t understand life.”

When I heard the story, I thought John Lennon must have received so much love from his foster parents. The parents wished him happiness and John understood their wishes.

By the way, in Shin-Buddhism, we believe to encounter Amida-Buddha’s compassion or to say “Namo Amida Butsu” is true happiness. Amida Buddha wishes for us to know true happiness. In other words, he has been reaching out to us to have the ultimate happiness, before we wish it.

The Larger Sutra says, When Amida Buddha was Dharmakara Bodhisattva, Amida vowed that “If, when I attain Buddhahood, all sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, and desire to be born in my Pure Land, and call my Name even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”

That sutra tells us that Amida Buddha had vowed that we should be born in his Pure Land. When we receive his compassion, we will know the awakening of faith has come to us. And all sentient beings attain one moment of joy because Amida Buddha has awakened and attained perfect Enlightenment, and he has been wishing for us to call “Namo Amida Butsu” and for us to desire to be born in his Pure Land.

I think that we always wish for our own happiness but we usually forget that someone wished for our happiness before we wished it.

When I was a child, I used to live with my siblings, parents and grandparents in the family temple. Both of my parents worked, so my grandparents always took care of me. They were always kind, and I felt their love so much. When I had trouble in school, they listened to my worries and they gave me advice. I really appreciated them because they were always by my side and they didn’t say they were too tired to take care of me, even though I was such a Yancha-boy (difficult boy).

One day I asked my grandmother why she called Amida-Buddha “Oya-sama (親様)”? “Oya” means a parent and “sama” represents our respectful mind. She said, because Amida Buddha was like a parent. Even if she had difficulty in her life, Amida Buddha was always beside her, and Amida-Buddha wished for her happiness to be born into the Pure Land. She placed her hands together and recited “Namo Amida Butsu” to feel Amida-Buddha’s great compassion. When I visited Vancouver a couple years ago, I remembered this memory.

When I visited Vancouver, I met a Japanese senior Buddhist minister and an American Buddhist minister. The American minister brought his son who was around 4 years old. Before we had dinner, the boy begged

me to carry him. At first I enjoyed carrying him, but after 15 minutes, my arms started to get tired. And after 20 minutes, I didn’t want to carry him anymore. I asked the Japanese senior minister if he wanted to carry the boy instead of me. He knew I was tired. Then he said “When you were a child, your parents probably never said they were too tired to do something for you. They always found the strength to help you.”

I thought he didn’t want to carry the boy at that time. However, I felt embarrassed saying I was too tired to carry the boy, because I remembered the memory of my grandparents.

The next day, he did a Dharma Talk in the Vancouver Buddhist Temple. He said that Amida-Buddha wishes us happiness, and never abandons us even if we are difficult. It’s like our parents. For example, if a baby cries, his mother holds him gently and says, “You don’t have to worry about anything, because mommy is always with you.” His mother gives her son peace of mind because she wishes happiness for him and the baby relies on his mother for her love.

Then I understood the reason why my grandmother called Amida-Buddha “Oyasama (親様)”, because Amida-Buddha kindly embraces us with his great compassion, and never says he is too tired to watch over us. When we place our hands together, we know we are relying on his compassion and we can feel ultimate happiness.

Amida-Buddha was her parent but Amida is also the senior minister’s parent and my parent, too.

Amida-Buddha has attained perfect Enlightenment and his light of compassion and wisdom allows all sentient beings to become a Buddha in his Pure Land. Amida-Buddha wishes for us to know the true happiness. And he has been reaching out to us to have the ultimate happiness, before we wish it. When we say “Namo Amida Butsu” we encounter Amida-Buddha’s compassion. This is our true happiness in Shin Buddhism.

Rev. Yoshimichi Ouchi