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Dharma Talk – June 2021

“Ittekimasu” and “Itterasshai”

The Toronto Buddhist Church changed many things from last year because of COVID19.  For example, we used to invite many temple members into the building for a monthly memorial service. When I held this service, I saw over 100 or 200 people in the Hondo. We used to have refreshments after every Sunday service in our social hall. The temple prepared coffee, tea and snacks.

Sometimes a member brought Onigiri, a rice ball, for everyone. I really enjoyed drinking coffee and talking with you, our temple members. Unfortunately, we had to stop inviting people to visit.

We had to change the format not only of the Sunday service, but also of the funeral and memorial services. A family who had lost their loved one could invite their family and friends to a funeral service, but today there is a limitation of attendance and no refreshments after the service. Actually, I always looked forward to the refreshments not because I could eat Sushi, but because I could talk with the family and their friends. I really miss this, especially sharing memories of the family and their friends.

Even though we had to change many things due to COVID19, I didn’t change the format of funeral consultations. Even when the family lives far, I still ask them to come to the temple in person for the consultation. If they cannot visit in person, I ask them to connect via zoom.

If I only needed the information of the family’s home address, phone number, email address and their deceased’s age, birthday and date of death, I didn’t have to ask them to come to the temple, because I may be able to complete all information for the service through email exchanges with the family. But I ask them to come to the temple, because they often let me know about their loved one’s history, personality and loving memories during the consultation. When I listen to their treasured memories, it tells me the family had special moments with him or her in their lives, and they treasured sharing their life with him or her. When they share their treasured memories with me, I usually don’t talk about myself, because I want to listen to them. One day, a family asked me “what is your treasured memory with your family?” When he asked me this, I felt ashamed. I had asked the same question to many families, but I had not asked the question to myself.

When I went back home, I asked myself again what is my treasured memory of my family. Both of my parents worked and they were always busy. When I was a child, we didn’t go to Disneyland, didn’t go camping, we didn’t go fishing and there was no Christmas party in the Buddhist temple. On Shakyamuni Buddha’s birthday, we had to invite temple members to hold a Buddhist service, but there were no presents for a child. There were not many special family events in my life. But I remembered one of my family’s treasured memories. My parents always said “Itte Rasshai” to me when I went to school. When I heard that, I always responded “Itte Kimasu.” Both mean, “see you.” But “Itte Rasshai” is said by someone who is staying and “Itte Kimasu” is said by someone who is leaving. If I didn’t respond “Itte Kimasu,” my parents grabbed my hand and waited until I said “Itte Kimasu”. I did not understand why I had to respond every time until recently. I understood the reason when I took a Buddhist study class over zoom last month.

The teacher, Rev. Yamamoto, works in a hospital as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist chaplain in Japan.

He said “Itte Rasshai” is short for “Itte (Bujini Kaette) Rasshai.” Itte means to go, Bujini means to be safe, and Kaette Rasshai means to come back here. So “Itte Rasshai” means “You are going somewhere. Please come back here to see me again.” He also said “Itte Kimasu” is short for “Itte (Bujini Kaette) Kimasu.” That means: “I am going somewhere. I will come back here again to see you.”

I am not sure that my parents knew the meaning of “Itte Kimasu” and “Itte Rasshai.” But I could say that the simple exchange of conversation had deep meaning. I feel nostalgic when I say Itte Kimasu and Itte Rasshai. And I sometimes remember the memory of my parent’s smile when I hear the words from others. Rev. Yamamoto told us when he meets a patient, he doesn’t talk a lot, because he wants to listen to the patient’s words. But one day, he talked about Jodo Shinshu teachings to a patient, because she asked him about Buddhism. He explained to her the meaning of “Itterasshai” and “Ittekimasu.”

When he left her room, she said “Itte Rasshai,” because she wanted him to come back to meet her again, but she also said, “I may be going to Itte Kimasu.” He did not understand, because there was a schedule to meet her next week, but Itte Kimasu means she might leave. After one week, when he visited her room, she was not there, because she went to the Pure Land. He recited Nembutsu in front of the room that she already left. Then he understood the meaning of her words.

Shinran Shonin said when we pass away, we enter Nirvana to prepare to become a Buddha in Amida Buddha’s Pure Land not because of our own effort or power, but because of Amida Buddha’s compassion and wisdom. We call it “Tariki” which is often translated to “Other Power” in English. Some people think when they go to the Pure Land, they will stay there forever, but in Jodo Shinshu, we believe we come back to this world again as a Nembutsu to encounter others with Amida Buddha. Shinran Shonin wrote that in the Wasan.

“Amida Buddha has fulfilled the directing of virtue,
Which has two aspects: that for our going forth and that for our return. Through these aspects of the Buddha’s directing of virtue,
We are brought to realize both mind and practice. ”

Therefore when Rev. Yamamoto did Gassho (placing his palms together) and said Nembutsu, he understood the true meaning of the patient’s words, because she came back to this world and encountered him with Amida Buddha as a Nembutsu. The words “Ittekimasu” and “Itterasshai” are a casual exchange of conversation. But when I hear these words, the exchange of conversation warms my heart, because the words Ittekimasu and Itterasshai tell me my home is there. And I think Amida Buddha also says “Itterasshai,” which means we don’t have to worry about anything, because Amida always prepares everything for us.

Amida Buddha’s lights of wisdom and compassion always shine on us not only when we enjoy our life but also when we feel sad.

In Gassho, Rev. Yoshimichi Ouchi (TBC Resident Minister)