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Dharma Talk – July / August 2022

We are already halfway through the year 2022. As you all know, it is a wonder how quickly time flies. Time is funny. Its value is fixed, but depending on our situation, it can seem so much longer or shorter. When I studied history in high school, I felt the class was forever. When I looked at the clock, I thought it was
broken because the minute hand seemed not to move correctly. But I realized that I looked at the clock too many times. Now, I enjoyed learning history because it is very meaningful for my life. And I feel time goes too fast when I read a book. So, we can spend time so carefully or waste it.

By the way, there was a wedding ceremony at the Toronto Buddhist Church in June. I guess Buddhist weddings are becoming popular now. This year, already 6 couples asked me to hold their weddings. What a sweet moment to send off a couple who are going to start their future life together in front of Amida Buddha. And it is a very precious moment. I wished those happy moments could last forever.

But when I thought about it, I always remembered my brother’s wedding ceremony that was held 7 years ago. During the ceremony, an officiating minister said to my brother and his wife that you have been facing each other, but now you must face the same direction and start a new life together. This time, now, when you are making your vows in front of Amida Buddha to start that process, maybe the happiest moment of your life.

In other words, the two of you will have more difficulties to overcome than happiness. (When I heard that I thought he was a real Buddhist, because he talked to them not only about happiness but also suffering which that is a part of the teachings of the Buddha during the wedding ceremony.) Fortunately, they are both dedicated Buddhists. They understood what the officiating minister wanted to say. The officiating minister went on to say, “Perhaps in the future, there will be more suffering for both of you than happiness. And you must strive to live through that suffering in the same stride. However, there will always be some suffering in life that cannot be resolved by two people alone. At such times, please listen to the voice of Nembutsu and rely on Amida Buddha.”

When a Buddhist minister holds a service, they must chant sutra and perform Buddhist rituals, because the rituals and liturgies of Buddhist wedding and funeral, it does not only give us a great opportunity to encounter Buddha’s teachings, but also it teaches us about turning points in our lives. In my case, most people request me to hold a funeral rather than a wedding. And I always consider that all these funerals are valuable and honorable. Recently I had a very precious encounter at the makuragyo service as well.

A family asked me to hold a makuragyo service, because their mother had chosen to have a medically assisted death. I have witnessed several of these situations in the past. What they all have in common is that they are prepared to die and are treasuring every moment with their last energy. People tend to want to decide if something is good or bad when discussing such sensitive topics. But I cannot judge whether their decision is good or not about the medically assisted death. I believe I just need to respect them and their families’ decisions as a Buddhist minister. And it is most important to be close to their grief as a human being.

When I did the service for her, I chanted Shoshinge. She closed her eyes during the chanting, but when I recited Nembutsu at the end of Shoshinge, she moved her mouth saying Namo Amida Butsu and did Gassho. After the chanting, I usually say that you don’t have to worry about anything because Amida Buddha is always beside you. But before I say that, she said 「先生、私は何も心配してい ないよ。だって阿弥陀さまは、いつも私のことを見 守ってくれていたから。」She said “Sensei, I’m not ever worried about anything, because Amida Buddha is always accepting me just as I am.” When I heard that, I thought she was sincerely taking refuge in Amida Buddha’s compassion and entrusting everything to the Buddha. Then we shook hands and said「お浄土でしましょう。」 “See you in the Amida’s Pure Land.”

Again, time is a very interesting thing. The time she had the makuragyo service might have been a short time in her long life. It may also not have been enough time for her children and grandchildren to accept her passing and say “goodbye.” However, it was a time they would never forget, and I believe it became so meaningful for them. Even though the time was short, the time will be alive in their long life.

Time is always moving, and we cannot go back to the past. It is like the flow of the river. Water of the river will not come back to the same place, because the river constantly flows. That is why Buddha teaches us that we cannot change the past, but we can change how we view the past.” In other words, Amida’s compassion let us know to accept sorrow like sorrow, but not to let it remain sorrow.

As I said any Buddhist service gives us not only an opportunity to encounter Buddha, but also it teaches us about turning points in our lives. Therefore, there are memorial services held on 49th days, 100 days, first year, 3rd year and so on in Buddhism. And these services are very important because they are way to feel the connection with the deceased.

There will be Obon services and we will be gathered for the service in July. I am looking forward seeing you at the service and doing Gassho with you to Amida Buddha through our loved ones who went to Amida Buddha’s Pure Land.