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Dharma Talk – June 2022

Last week, I had dinner with my friends. My friend’s son taught me a good word. I would like to talk a little about it at the beginning of this Dharma article.

We had home-cooked sushi for dinner. He asked me to pass the soy sauce. When I handed it to him, he looked at me and said, “Thank you so much.” When I was a child, my parents always told me that I should be able to say “thank you” and “sorry” to others. So I said to him, “You are very good at saying thank you.” Then he told me, “It’s natural to say thank you when someone treats me well.”  When I heard that, it made me wonder if I was saying thank you when people were kind to me, especially when I was busy, or if I was overlooking the kindness of others. We adults may think we are teaching children many things, but I believe we are learning a lot of things from them. Moreover, when I said, “thank you” to him for passing the wasabi, he said, “Thank you for saying thank you.” We were having a good time in this way.  When we enjoyed eating sushi, he asked me one question. He asked, why I did Gassho placing my palms together before and after meals?”

So today, I would like to write about Gassho and tell you why we do Gassho to Amida Buddha.
Gassho and bowing are very important rituals for us to express our respect and gratitude to the Buddha. Gassho and bowing are not a way to ask for happiness from Amida Buddha. There are several origins of Gassho. One is to show that there is no hostility. You cannot act violently with Gassho, can you? Another origin is that in India, since ancient times, the right hand has been considered pure and the left hand impure. Therefore, it is said that the appearance of those two palms together is to represent equality that transcends any distinction or discrimination. A Jodo Shinshu minister translated this into English as Oneness, because he thought the right hand was Buddha who has pure mind and the left hand a was human beings who has Bonno, blind passion.

The Sutra on Immeasurable Life says “When Amida Buddha was a bodhisattva named Dharmakara, the bodhisattva turned three times to the right around the master Sejizai-O-Buddha, and the bodhisattva got down on both knees on the ground and did Gassho in praise of Sejizai-O-Buddha’s virtues.”  Amida Buddha praised the master Sejizai-O, and inspired the wish to save and accept all sentient beings into the Pure Land. From this sutra, I might be able to say that we bow in Gassho in adoration for Amida’s actions to express our respect and gratitude.

When I studied Jodo Shinshu rituals at Nishi-Hongwanji Temple. My senseis taught me how to do gassho and bow many times because it’s an important ritual for us.   Some of you might have heard how to do it, but I would like to share it again.

The first step is to place your palms together in front of your chest. The hands are placed at a 45-degree angle to the chest. The 45-degree angle can be achieved by placing the second and third joint of the thumb on the chest. And the bow is also 45 degrees. If you bow your head, it is hard to tell how much 45 degrees is. One trick is to keep the Gassho hands level with the ground. This means that you have fallen to 45 degrees, and you have made a beautiful bow. This is the manner of Gassho and bowing. I have given you a detailed lecture with numbers, but the important thing is to show respect and gratitude to the Buddha.

I have seen an unforgettable Gassho here in Canada. It was when I performed makuragyo, last rites service, in an emergency room of a hospital for a temple member who had suffered a stroke. When I started sutra chanting next to him, he moved his left arm to his chest and did Gassho. I was surprised when I saw him, because I had heard from the doctor that his left side body was no longer movable due to a stroke. He was slowly moving his mouth and chanting Shoshinge and recited the Nembutsu. I felt that his appearance was more beautiful than the manner I had learned at Nishi Hongwanji Temple. It was exactly the way he was doing Gassho with Amida from the bottom of his heart.  Last month, I visited a senior home to see his wife. When she did gassho to Amida Buddha, it was not 45 degrees, but it was so beautiful and meaningful for me. 

In concluding today’s Dharma Talk, it’s important to say thank you. I think some people think it’s easy to say it, but I’m sure that will be good practice for us to know everyone lives by supporting each other and your life is not your own property.  In other words, our lives are supported and kept alive by various other lives. When we understand the nature of life, we can say “Thank you” with Gassho in our hearts. And when we pass away, we would like to end our lives with Gassho in gratitude to Amida Buddha, just as the other Jodo Shinshu members did.

Just as Amida Buddha, who was once the Bodhisattva of the Dharmakara, showed respect and gratitude to the master Sejizaio, it is an important ritual for us to do Gassho and bow to the Buddha.

In gassho