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Dharma Talk – March 2021

Width and Depth of Our Life

Those who truly attain Shinjin.  As they utter Amida’s Name, Being mindful of the Buddha always, Wish to respond to the great benevolence.

by Shoshin Nenbutsuge Wasan.

This Wasan tells us that when we say Nembutsu, we truly attain Amida Buddha’s great compassion. The Buddha always is with us. When we feel sad, our Buddha also feels sad with us.

The purpose of Buddha-Dharma is to cultivate our higher wisdom and to lessen our self-centered greed; in other words, to remove our “unawareness and worldly passion.” Stated in yet another way, the goal is the attainment of Buddhahood. And the Jodo Shinshu teachings of Shinran Shonin introduces us to the meaning of life and liberation, based on Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. This teaching is significant for anyone seeking the way to real emancipation from the cycle of suffering. Therefore, the Jodo Shinshu teaching refers to this as life and liberation.

When I was a university student, I wrote a graduation thesis on QoL (Quality of Life). QoL measures the happiness of our life, not the length of our life. Mankind has wished for longevity for a very long time. And they believe it makes for a happy life. In China or Egypt, a long time ago, many kings wanted to keep their own power for as long as possible, and they set out with determination to find the elixir of life. You may think it’s just an old story. But I think it’s not SO different from today. Medical technology has been evolving and helping to prolong our lives as long as possible. Of course medical technology is very important for us and we really need it today. But when I was writing the thesis, I thought that we couldn’t understand or measure the happiness of our lives by its length or quantity.

When I studied QOL, I read Rev. Daiei Kaneko’s books. He said, “When we measure the happiness of our life, it’s more important to have width and depth than length in our life.” The width is flexibility. In Buddhism, we call it “Shin Shin Nyu Nan.” It means to have a soft or flexible mind. If you have flexible thinking or an open mind, you may be able to accept anything. Or even though you don’t accept someone’s opinion, you may listen to and think about the person’s idea. But if you are stubborn, you don’t care about others opinions. For example, if your mind is like a wall of concrete when someone talks to you, you don’t “catch” their words. Like a ball, their words just bounce off of you. It means you don’t hear anything. We don’t have to agree with everyone’s opinions even going so far as changing our own opinion. However, it’s very important to listen to and consider them, because it will help us to broaden our view. Old Japanese art usually has a large border around the picture, because this empty white space helps to showcase not only the subject of the artwork but also the background. I think we also need this border in our mind. If you have this space in your mind, it can give you the flexible mind needed to see the whole picture more clearly. Rev. Kaneko called it the width of Life.

The depth of life is to know the value of our life. For example, I received my life from my
ancestors. Therefore my life has been continuing for a long time. When I visited my family’s grave in Japan, I felt that there were many lives before me, and they gave me my life. Even though I’ve never seen their faces, I wanted to place my hands together in front of the gravestone. So my life is mine, but my life is also the life of others because I have received this life from others. Rev. Kaneko also said, “Our life changes depending on how deeply we listen to the teaching of the Buddha.” The teachings of Buddha let us know our life is uncontrollable, which causes us suffering.

When we face suffering, we usually blame it on others or the situation. However, if we listen to the teachings and accept that our life is uncontrollable, we won’t blame other people, because we will blame our self-centered greed instead. I think if we listen to the teaching of the Buddha, we will have width and depth in our life. And I believe it improves our QOL. Because the purpose of Buddha-Dharma is to cultivate our higher wisdom and to lessen our self-centered greed; in other words, to remove our “unawareness and worldly passion.” And the Jodo Shinshu teachings introduce us to the meaning of life and liberation, based on Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.

When I wrote this Dharma Talk, I remembered one Buddhist service. It was 3 years ago. I just came back to Canada from a business trip to Japan. I was so exhausted because of jet lag. When I arrived home, I went to bed right away, but I received a phone call from the Temple president. He asked me to hold a cremation service the next day. And he told me the person who passed away was a 21-year old Japanese girl. She had only been in Canada for 2 months on a working holiday VISA. I was sure she wanted to learn English to make Canadian friends, and she really wanted to have a great time and new experiences in Canada. However, instead, she suddenly had a car accident…

The next day, I met her family at the crematorium. Then I saw her mother’s eyes were so red. She must have been crying all day. But she hid her eyes and she said thank you for coming to do the service. Her smile was warm but it was also a very sad smile. It’s impossible to understand how deep the suffering is of a family who has lost their child. Moreover, the parents came to Canada, not for sightseeing, but to collect their daughter’s ashes.

We sometime open the casket during the service, but the crematorium told the family, they could not open the casket, because there had been so much damage to her face and body. It was a hard time for them, because that was to be their last moment to see or touch her face. The parents put their hands on the casket, and the mother said, “I will never forget your smile, and I really appreciate you for you were born in my family. Thank you for many treasured memories.”

I usually try not to cry during a service, because the family is standing in the saddest and most difficult situation. But, I could not stop myself from weeping at that time, and I could not find any words to offer the family. I was so disappointed with myself because I usually talk about Buddhism in front of many people, but this time I could not say anything to the family. But I heard one voice from her father, he just said “Namo Amida Butsu”. Then I realized I did not have to find any words for the family because they knew she was already in Buddha’s compassion. Her life was very short if we compare it to our lives. But we cannot or we should not measure each life by time, but by the quality of the life lived. She had shared valuable time and special moments with her family. Remembering that I also just placed my hands together towards her casket and said Nembutsu with her parents.

Rev. Yoshimichi Ouchi