Half of the year has already come and gone. I am surprised that time goes by so quickly.
Ontario government announced that we moved to stage one in June. But as you know that we shouldn’t let our guard down yet. Even though our temple will reopen the doors for Sunday services, we will ask you to keep social distancing and wear a mask inside the temple’s building to protect everyone’s life.
I would like to start my Dharma Talk by reading the Wasan, which was written by Shinran Shonin.
“To be transformed,” means that evil karma, without being nullified or eradicated, is made into the highest good, just as all waters, upon entering the great ocean, immediately become ocean water. (Translated by Rev. Takamoro Shigaraki)
Shinjin(信心) means entrusting heart. Rev. Shigaraki translated the shinjin to pure mind and true mind. Because Amida Buddha created the shinjin for all sentient beings who have Bonno(煩悩) “blind passion.”
Shinran Shonin referred to its sense of “benefiting others,” for this mind embraces all living beings, and enables them to enter the arena of truth. In other words, shinjin is the mind of living in the truth and working to guide others to that truth. Shinran Shonin says that shinjin is the activity of guiding our impure minds to purity and truth, little by little.
In Jodo Shinshu, we call it tenjo (転成) which means “turning and becoming.” Our minds are always not- true and full of lies. However, as we hear the Buddha-Dharma on the path of the nembutsu, realizing shinjin and
encountering the Buddha, and, as that nembutsu and shinjin deepen, then our own personal subjectivity and lives slowly turn from emptiness into truth.
The structure of shinjin is such that we awaken to darkness and light at the same time. However, in actuality, when we live in such shinjin, darkness and light, don’t remain in simple contradictory opposition. Rather, shinjin functions to turn darkness into light, little by little. This can help us understand more deeply what Shinran Shonin wrote in the wasan when we hear it for the second time. “To be transformed”means that evil karma, without being nullified or eradicated, is made into the highest good, just as all waters, upon entering the great ocean, immediately become ocean water.
This Wasan lets us know that we live our lives with bonno “blind passion.” Even when we live in shinjin, we still create evil karma. Even though our evil karma and thought doesn’t leave us, our minds are slowly, slowly transformed into the mind of the Buddha and the pure life of the Buddha’s Pure Land.
When I studied about this, my sensei Rev. Teramoto gave me a good example. He said to transform into the mind of the Buddha is just like the waters of many rivers that flow into the ocean. No matter how pure or defiled the waters may have been, when they enter the currents of the great ocean, they all change into the same, clear ocean water.
What he wanted to say is if we were the pure or defiled waters, the great ocean is Amida Buddha’s Pure Land. And the river is shinjn, because shinjin guides us to Amida Buddha’s great ocean. In Jodo Shinshu, we must understand we are bonbu “a person who has deep desires and attachments” every time we place our palms together to be humble. And we should understand that we receive guidance or the shinjin from Amida Buddha. The shinjin is not created from our mind. Therefore we call the Amida’s compassion and wisdom is tariki (他力)“Amida’s other power.”
Shinran Shonin, was a humble mentor even though many people respected and looked up to him. Even though he practiced and learned the Buddhist path, he said that he didn’t know anything about Buddhism. He just relied on Nembutsu, because he knew that Amida Buddha’s light of wisdom shined on him just as he was. For Amida Buddha, there is no distinction between a person who is rich or poor, knowledgeable or foolish, good or bad.
Three years ago, I saw a senior temple member talk with a young person in the temple’s social hall after Sunday service. The young man talked about the teachings of the Buddha proudly. I thought he learned about Buddhism in school or by himself. The senior member, she just listened to his knowledge quietly. After they finished talking, she came to me, and said she felt ashamed when she was listening to the young man’s talk, because she thought that she didn’t remember or learnanythingaboutBuddhismeventhoughsheattendedour Sunday services many times. Then she said to me “Sorry sensei.”
When I heard that, I really respected her, because she knew she didn’t know. Even though she thought she didn’t know anything, I knew she always placed her palms together and recited nembutsu in the temple. She relied on Nembutsu from her heart. I thought that was enough. I don’t want to say the young man who showed off his knowledge to others is a bad person, because I think he studied a lot, and I respect him, too. But at the same time, I hope he realizes no one has to prepare anything to be chosen by Amida Buddha. Amida created shinjin “pure mind” for all sentient beings and the shinjin “entrusting heart” guides us to and along the Nembutsu path so that we enter the Nirvana in Amida Buddha’s Pure Land.
Lastly, I would like to repeat Rev. Shigaraki’s words. Shinran Shonin says that shinjin is the activity of guiding our impure mind to purity and truth, little by little. Our minds are always not-true and full of lies. However, as we hear the Buddha-Dharma on the path of the nembutsu, realizing shinjin and encountering the Buddha, and, as that nembutsu and shinjin deepen, then our own personal subjectivity and lives slowly turn from emptiness into truth.
Rev. Yoshimichi Ouchi
Shinjin and Trauma by Dennis Madokoro, Minister’s Assistant.
Hello, and how are you managing during this crazy year and a half of Covid? Difficult, yes? Tiring, yes? But here we are, still alive and doing the best that we can.
For me, these past few months have been particularly troublesome. You see, I recently went through the trauma of a heart attack.
I had been experiencing what I first perceived to be a series of heartburn. It turned out to have been a
series of angina, mini heart attacks. Fortunately for me my girlfriend Inge took me to Emergency at Markham Stouffville Hospital. There, after doing some blood work, they found my enzyme level to be high. I was admitted to the Cardiac Ward. One day later, I was bumped up in the queue for an angiogram and the insertion of two stents. Two of my arteries were 90 % and 80 % blocked. The operating surgeon told me calmly as I lay on the operating table that he called these the “Widowmakers.”
I was very lucky and I am extremely grateful for the good work of the nurses and doctors at Markham Stouffville Hospital and at South Lake Hospital where the procedure was done.
Life is indeed impermanent and this was for me a wake-up call. This Truth which we often hear from our ministers was made very clear to me during my four day stay in our excellent Health care system. For me, at age 76 and with a Family history of heart issues (my mother passed at age 58 from a massive heart attack) I was a prime candidate for a heart attack. Up to that point, I considered myself to be in good health, doing tai chi and lightweight exercises on alternate days. As we are told in “White Ashes”, we do not know when the winds of impermanence will arrive. In the morning we may be in radiant health, in the evening we may be white ashes. So, my takeaway from this is to not take this short life that we are so fortunate to have for granted.
In past articles, I have talked about Shinjin. This heart attack trauma has put a whole new perspective for me on Shinjin, that moment of ultimate brevity, that Joy of being truly settled. During the recent Eastern Buddhist League virtual conference, the keynote speaker was Reverend Kaitlyn Mascher Mace and her joint seminar with Reverend Todd Tsuchiya on the topic of “Crossing Over”. Her theme focused on the crossing over from Jiriki (selfpower) to Tariki
( Other Power). She spoke of Shinjin as that moment of ultimate brevity when we cross to Other Power as the culmination of a deep relationship with the Vow.
I believe that this heart attack trauma has allowed me to truly see myself as a “foolish being” who is full of blind passions. Up to that point, I thought that if I did all the right things, like eating right, exercising right, that health wise, I would be ok. Wrong. Foolish me. I had trying so hard to do what I thought were the right things( Jiriki) that I thought I had things under control. Wrong. Foolish me. When I finally let go and let go of all my foolish striving, all my studying of so many books and just receive the Vow, the Nembutsu, I was free.
You know I golf a little. There is a lovely book called “Golf is not a Game of Perfect” written by Dr. Bob Rotella. To shamefully paraphrase that title, Jodo Shinshu and Shinjin is not a Life of perfection. In fact, Jodo Shinshu and Shinjin teaches us to embrace the discomforts, the difficulties that life throws at us. Each of those experiences, like my heart attack trauma, teaches us something. Even then, no, especially then, when we put our palms together and say Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, and bow our head in gratitude, we are always embraced by the Vow, never to be abandoned. How fortunate are we!
As Reverend Kaitlyn said, ” we do not have to be concerned, how much more so it is for the evil person and that is me.”
Shinjin does not mean that we will be happy all the time.
That is not possible. Life keeps coming up with more issues, more traumas. But Joy is possible all the time. We can embrace those difficulties with joy in our hearts. I can truly say that during my heart attack trauma, I felt calm and ready for whatever would happen, even my death. However, I survived, thanks to our wonderful Canadian Health system and the joy that I feel is amazing. Little discomforts, little difficulties these days tend to roll off my shoulders. I truly believe that Jodo Shinshu and the Nembutsu teaches us to embrace all the ups and downs of life with this Joy.
Dear Reader, I hope that you too will experience this Joy as we say,
Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, and bow our heads together.
Dennis Madakoro, Minister’s Assistant
Amida’s Compassion and Our Compassion by Joanne Yuasa, Minister’s Assistant.
“The compassion in the Path of the Pure Land is to quickly attain Buddhahood, saying the nembutsu, and with the true heart of compassion and love save all beings completely as we desire.
In this life no matter how much pity and sympathy we may feel for others, it is impossible to help another as we truly wish; thus our compassion is inconsistent and limited. Only the saying of nembutsu manifests the complete and never-ending compassion which is true, real, and sincere.”
(from Tannisho: A Shin Buddhist Classic. By Taitetsu Unno 1996, Buddhist Study Center)
I write this in the echoes of the news of the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School. This was shocking and saddening news. The cultural differences, as well as the geographic and historical contexts of this story, might lead it to feel distant from here in Toronto. But I believe it’s important as Buddhists – and as Canadians – not to turn away from this news and the ways it impacts us as a society today.
At the most fundamental, Buddhism teaches that because of the interconnectedness of all things, suffering anywhere is poisonous to us all. As we open ourselves up to the ultimate reality of the oneness of all things, we have to recognize that like a cancerous cell, even a little bit is a danger to the entire body and seed for more suffering. We have to look squarely and honestly at suffering in this world to address it. Even just acknowledging it is not easy, as might have been experienced by the news of the remains of the residential school children.
This difficult activity of acknowledging suffering is compassion in its original meaning, “to suffer with” and is a central theme in Jodo Shinshu. The quote above, from Tannisho, a compilation of teachings from Shinran, touches on the complexities around compassion as a human activity. Caring for others, and wanting to help others is part of the human experience. It is difficult, indeed impossible, to completely eradicate suffering as long as we live in this realm of conventional truth, where we experience the world inevitably through our discriminatory minds and bodies. “Discriminatory” means we are unable to experience the world without filtering it through ourselves – our minds, our hearts, and our bodies. As such, we can never know what is truly helpful for others. Shinran saw it as impossible to save even himself, let alone others, because our compassion as human beings is limited, forever tied to our whims, and changing times and conditions.
In Jodo Shinshu, we emphasize the compassion of Amida, which is immeasurable, limitless, and absolute, unlike human compassion. It is this very immeasurable compassion out of which Amida Buddha fulfilled the creation of the Pure Land, as well as the nembutsu, for us humans, tied to conventional truths. It is this immeasurable compassion on which Shinran and Shin Buddhists rely, for rebirth in the Pure Land. Amida’s compassion is not such that it “fixes” or “erases” our suffering human life, but can be a comfort and a source of resilience to endure difficult things in our lives, knowing that rebirth in the Pure Land and eventual Buddhahood is guaranteed.
I think the passage from Tannisho is a reminder that we are compassionate beings, and we should help, but that we should be mindful that no matter how much we want to eradicate suffering, we are unable to do so. This doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up and not do anything! In this world, we have to act to make sure all are able to live their lives to their fullest potential without fear of harm. I like the way Rev. Dr. Bloom put it in his comment that Buddhist activism “give(s) substance to the Buddha’s compassion within the world”.
The hardest part of helping might be to know “how” to help, especially if we are to understand that our compassion as humans is limited. Somewhere we can start, which is familiar to Shin Buddhists, is to practice listening. Particularly about the residential schools, you can listen to or read the testimony of survivors. Some of these can be accessed for free at the website for National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (nctr.ca) as well as the website The Legacy Project: Trauma Story Healing (www.traumastoryhealing.ca/). Residential school systems are still relatively recent; the last one in Canada only closed in 1996. For understanding that goes even further back, a place to start would be to learn about the land you live on. For example, the Toronto Buddhist Church is situated on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Haudenosaunee and has been a sight of human activity for millennia.You can find information about indigenous territories and treaties on the interactive map at Native Land (native- land.ca). It is important to see, through Right View (one of the
Eightfold Path), the truth of the land on which we work, learn, play, and engage in our faith traditions.
My point is not to suggest anything about the religious identities of those involved in the residential school system. We cannot judge anyone else’s religious paths or spiritual beliefs. These are my personal thoughts on the way my views on social justice and my identity as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist intersect in my life. I am a settler Buddhist immigrant who grew up on the unceded and ancestral lands of the Squamish nation and the Tsuleil Waututh nation (North Vancouver). I currently live on the ancestral lands of the Haudenosaunee (North York). The Pure Land of Amida Buddha is for all, without discrimination, but before rebirth there, we can contribute in each of our own unique ways; to give, as Rev. Dr. Bloom put it, “substance to Buddha’s compassion” towards a just society on this land.
Namo Amida Butsu in gassho, Joanne Yuasa (TBC Minister’s Assistant)
Works referenced: Alfred Bloom, Strategies for Modern Living: A Commentary with the Text of the Tannisho. Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1992