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Dharma Talk – January 2022

“The Sounds of the Bells– Listening to Every Sound”

Happy New Year!!

January in Toronto seems to be a month of cloudy skies with rain, snow and hail. However, if you look carefully at the cloudy sky, you will see that no two clouds have the same shape, and they all change their shape depending on the weather and temperature of the day. Therefore, when I am shoveling snow or cleaning up fallen leaves, I can feel the coming of the beautiful winter season again and again when I look up at the sky.

Last month, I watched a TED Talk called, Words: Your Most Powerful Weapon. In this talk, the speaker talked about the fundamental principle of communication. What do you think it is? Maybe you would guess it’s our words, or maybe our voice. But actually, it is listening.

The problem is many people don’t listen. Half the time when we are speaking with someone, we are not absorbing what the other person is saying, because we are too busy thinking about what we are going to say in response, or we are wondering when our turn will be to speak. Sometimes, we don’t even let the other person finish.

When I heard her speak, I  agreed with her. I realized that I am guilty of this, too. When I talk with a friend, or when I attend a class or workshop, I’m always thinking about how I should respond or about what I want to say in my turn. And if I don’t have to say anything, my brain stops thinking and I’m not absorbing what is being said to me. But LISTENING or HEARING is very important.

We listen to or hear many things, not only during a conversation, but everywhere. Think about the temple, even. For example, I’m sure you have noticed that when we start a Buddhist service, we sound the bell. A Buddhist temple has many kinds of bells. We normally have the…

Bonsho(the largest bell), Kansho(the 2nd largest bell),

Daikin(the 3rd largest bell), Chukin(the medium-sized bell),  Inkin(the smallest bell)、

Sawari(the flat bell) and

Kei(the board bell).

Why does the temple have so many kinds of bells? Well, the bells have 2 main jobs.

The first is to tell the time. A long time ago, people did not have a watch or a cell phone, but people could know what time it was when they heard the bell. Even to this day, when you walk outside, you may hear a bell sound from a church. So it is still telling us time. The biggest bell, which you cannot see it at a temple in Japan, tells us when it is 6 am, 6 pm.

Secondly, the bells in the temple also tell us what we have to do when we attend a service. You can hear them before a service, before we do silent meditation, before chanting, at the end of the chanting, and before we do Gassho by placing our hands together.

So we hear the sounds of the bells when we do ritual things. One of my Senseis told me that it is very important to listen to the sounds during the service. He also said visiting the temple helps us to hear many other kinds of sounds better, because the temple makes us feel calm.

 Sometimes when I am in the temple, I hear birds chirping in the morning and sounds of insects, raining and snowing at night. My sensei also told me if I practised listening to a lot or if I listen to every sound carefully, I might be able to hear Buddha’s voice (Namo Amida Butsu) from the bottom of my heart.

He said that when he visited a temple, he could hear the voice in his heart. He had lost his wife and he had suffered pain, however, when he placed his hands together and recited Nembutsu, he felt calm and peaceful. Because of this, he could hear Amida Buddha’s voice.

The voice told him that he did not have to worry about his wife and himself, because Amida Buddha accepted them just as they were.

To practice listening is very important in Shin Buddhism.  Hawaiian Hongwanji-ha Buddhist temple says;  “While other schools of Buddhism seek to “attain” or “realize” enlightenment, the Shin Buddhist path is one of simply listening and opening one’s heart to receiving it.

Trying to attain enlightenment can be like trying to grab a snowflake that falls. Once you grab it, you have crushed it. But if you open your hand and allow the snow to gently fall into your hand, the snowflake becomes yours, without any effort in grasping.

Simply Listening to and Receiving the Dharma. This is the Shin Buddhist path. Rather than pursuing enlightenment, we simply listen to the Dharma and receive it, and allow it to unfold into our hearts and minds.

This does not require any particular lifestyle. You don’t have to become a monk or sit for hours in meditation. You can listen to the Dharma in your everyday life, no matter what you do or where you are.

Listening to the Dharma can mean listening to sermons or lectures, but it can also mean listening or talking to anyone. You never know who might be your teacher of the Dharma, if you have the ears and heart to listen. A taxi driver could be a teacher, or a bartender, or your worst enemy.”

When we are with family or friends, we usually speak our own opinions to them but let’s try listening to their stories, too. I hope that attending the service is helping you to feel calm and to hear many kinds of sounds better.

And if you listen to everything carefully, you might be able to hear the Buddha’s voice from the bottom of your heart when you place your hands together