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Dharma Talk – May 2022

“Sounds of C and D”

For the past two months, I visited Montreal and Winnipeg to hold their Buddhist memorial services. It was a great opportunity for me to do Gassho and recite Nembutsu with them again, because I was not  able to visit there for a long time due to Covid.

When I took an airplane, I got stopped at the security check because they found a machine in my bag. They took out my YAMAHA tuner. I always bring the tuner when I visit other temples, because I want to check my sound and the pitch of my voice before chanting Sutra. They also found my kimono in my bag. They asked me what my occupation I answered them I am a Buddhist minister and explained to them I need the tuner for changing. They said “Wow, I have never seen Buddhist minister. Could you please show me how to use this tuner?” I chanted a part of Shoshinge to show them the tuner was working. It was a little bit embarrassing because other passengers looked at me and what I was doing at the security checkpoint.

It was trying to go through the security check, so I bought a coffee and took a seat because I wanted to relax. When I read a book at a café, a couple asked me to lend them my cell phone charger. I said “Sure.” Couple of minutes later the couple asked me “Are you from Japan?” because I think they saw my book that was written in the Japanese language. They asked me what do I do in Toronto. I answered them “I am a Buddhist minister” again.

After telling them who I am, they were so excited to ask me many questions about Buddhism. I wanted to use this time to read a book, but we had a great time talking about Buddhism. They were curious about Buddhism, but they didn’t know about its principles of Buddhism. So I explained to them about “Three Treasures” and “Four Noble Truths.” When I talked to them, it reminded me of something I learned in the Hongwanji School a long time ago.

We call Buddhism “Bukkyo仏教” which (literally) translates as “The teaching of the Buddha.” In this word Bukkyo, there are 2 more concepts: the understanding that “The teaching is the Buddha 仏即教”, and “The teachings that guide us to become a Buddha 成仏教.”

I think many people have heard the first translation but the second and third translations are also very important, because every Buddhist sect has different practices and style of meditation, but the purpose and goal of all Buddhists are the same. It is to become a Buddha, or to be accepted to become a Buddha.

For example, when someone wants to go to the top of a mountain. Some people walk and climb to the top of the mountain, but some people ride a car to the middle of the mountain and walk to the top, or some people take a cable car to the top and never climb or walk. Everyone has different ways, but they reach the Top of the Mountain in their own way. However, it’s easy to get lost if we rely only on our own ideas or practices. So, we need a guide to walk in the mountain to go to the top of the mountain.

The same is true in Buddhism. The Top of the mountain is to become a Buddha. So, each Buddhist school has different ways, and we need guidance to walk on Buddhist path to become a Buddha. The guidance is sutras for us because they are Sakyamuni Buddha’s words.

In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, we have three sutras they are called the three Pure Land Sutras. They explain to us not only Buddhas’ names and Amida Buddha’s 48 vows but also  shows us what Amida’s Pure Land is like.

The larger sutra which is the most important sutra in Jodo Shinshu that says that in Amida’s Pure Land, there are beautiful trees blowing in the cool breeze, there are lakes of clear water, and it is filled with voices that tell us the truth. There, we are emancipated from our desire and blind passion, and give us true liberation from the cycle of suffering. When we hear that, we imagine that Amida Buddha’s Pure Land is a good place, not only a beautiful and comfortable place.Shinran Shonin who is a founder of our Buddhism sect wrote about the Pure Land in his wasan that “清風宝樹をふくときは いつつの音声いだしつつ 宮商和して自然なり 清浄勲を礼すべし.” It says, “Pure wind blows in the jewel-trees, the trees produce the five tones for the scales. The two kinds of tone of “kyu宮” and “sho商” from five tones sounds are harmonious and spontaneous. The harmonized sound pays homage to Amida with respect and purity.”

Eastern Asian musical scales have 5 sounds Kyu, Sho, Kaku, Chi, and U. Kyu sound represents the C sound, and the Sho sound represents D sound  (Kyu=C, Sho=D). When we hear the sounds of C & D together, we feel uncomfortable, because it is not in harmony. However, the wasan said “自然なりJinennari”, which means the disharmonized sound becomes beautiful sound in the Pure Land.

When I read this wasan, I thought that the sounds of Kyu(C) and Sho(D) in the wasan are referring to us who have a bonno. We live our lives thinking we are right. We even try to make others right by putting forth what we think is justice. In a world where everyone believes they are right, there is constant fighting. It is not that Kyu is wrong or Sho is wrong. But when Kyu and Sho are put together, they cannot be in harmony with each other.

Amida Buddha was sad about our situation and vowed to open a pure land where Kyu and Sho would naturally harmonize with each other. This is what we can read from his wasan.

At some local temples in Japan, Amida Buddha is sometimes called “oya-sama親様” which means “honored parent.” It is easy to see Amida Buddha as a parent because Amida Buddha’s compassion and wisdom are like the care of a parent..

For example, two siblings, child C and child D fight a lot. Of course, the parent does not want them to fight so the parent acts as peacekeeper to stop the fighting. The parent as a peacekeeper does not take sides and gives affection to both children. When the children feel the embrace and acceptance of their parent, the children calm down. When they are calm, it is an opportunity to self-reflect and step back and see their role in the situation.

I think we tend to judge others’ behaviors as right or wrong without reflecting on ourselves. In Buddhism, it is the most important to practice self-reflection. The more we learn about Buddhism, the more we realize that we are living with bonno that keeps us ignorant so we need to listen to the Buddha Dharma.

In Jodo Shinshu, it is said that listening to Buddha Dharma is very important, because that lets us know that Amida Buddha established the Pure Land to accept us just as we are. Moreover, Amida has wished for us to be reborn into the Pure Land as a Buddha before we wished for it. When I realized that, I cannot help saying Namo Amida Butsu.

In Gassho