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Dharma Talk – September 2023

Amida’s Ote-mawashi

Last month we had Obon services at the cemeteries, Japanese Canadian Culture Centre and this temple.
This year, many people attended the Hatsubon service which is the first Obon service. This service is held for families who have lost their loved ones from July 2022 to June 2023. After the service, some of the attendees told me that they had come to know the truth of life and encountered Jodo Shinshu teachings through the grief of losing their loved ones.

To know the truth of this life is to know that this life is uncertain. And to encounter Jodo Shinshu teaching is to encounter the Amida Buddha’s Ote-mawashi (お手回し).

O(お) means honorable. Te(手) means hands.

Mawashi(回し) means surround. It literally means that honorable hands surround us. Or it could be translated as to hold something gently. But in Jodo Shinshu, we have one more meaning of Ote-mawashi.

In Jodo Shinshu teaching, we use the word Ote-mawashi to mean to expect in advance what is needed, and to prepare it in time for the occasion.

So Amida Buddha’s Ote-mawashi means that Buddha already has prepared to lead us to the Pure Land where we will go after this life. That tells us our lives do not end in death.

Today, I would like to write about Buddha’s Ote-mawashi and what the Ote-mawashi tells us in our lives.

On a personal note, I received a call from my parents’ home 2 months ago. When I answered the phone, I was told that my father had fallen at a temple where he was on a business trip.

He was taken to the hospital, had emergency surgery, and was there for a while. He is now back home in good health. But when I received the call, I had a bad feeling in my head that it “might be…”

I met him just three months ago in Japan. I thought that occasion might have been the last time I saw him. Considering that, I thought that I should have spent more time talking with him when I was in Japan.

Unexpected separation is not something that happens only to those who are old. Including myself, if I meet with an accident or an illness, I know this life is uncertain.

When I am reminded of this truth that I don’t know what will happen to me tomorrow, I always remember one sentence from a Letter from Rennyo.

Rennyo wrote in the letter “Though in the morning we may have radiant health, in the evening we may be white ashes.” It means that someone who goes out in the morning, may return home in the evening as a deceased person.

When I studied Rennyo’s teaching, my sensei said to me that “people tend to think of life and death as a timeline. Therefore, they often misunderstand that they are living toward death. But, Yoshi, we are not living toward death. We are living with death on our shoulders.”

As a Buddhist minister, I have witnessed many occasions of separation. Through these occasions, I am taught that we are always living in a world of impermanence.

And, for me, it’s important to keep in mind what my sensei said, “We are not living toward death, but we are living with death.” By keeping his words in my mind, I always consider “my life is uncertain and impermanent” that gives me a great opportunity to encounter what I can rely on something beyond life and death.

Human beings tend to want to make life beautiful. I do this too. In life, we look ahead to goals for the future. These goals give us hope, and reaching goals gives us joy in living. However, when we think about it, we end up saying, “It’s all right while we are alive, but when we die, our goals will not be achieved, and there will be no hope. When we die, we are finished.” Because our goals and hopes in this world can only be held while we are still alive.

However, Buddhism doesn’t consider “death is the end” at all, because there is Amida’s Ote-mawashi that guides us to the Pure Land. Therefore, in Buddhism, “death” is expressed in terms of “nirvana” in Skt. and “Ojo(往生)” in Jpn.

Nirvana is a state in which all worldly desires have been eliminated, and “Ojo” literally means “birth in the Pure Land.” We will be reborn in the Pure Land to become Buddhas. Through the guidance of Amida Buddha and saying the Nembutsu, we are all reborn in the same Pure Land.

In the Buddhist teachings, there are as many Buddha Pure Lands as there are Buddhas. But people who say the Nembutsu will meet together again in Amida Buddha’s Pure Land. We call this teaching Kue-issho (倶会一処).

A few years ago, I had a memorable experience regarding this teaching. It was when I did a makuragyo service for a temple member who had been told that she did not have long to live by the doctor. She had lost her husband a long time ago. At the end of the makuragyo service, she cried, and said, “I will go to be with my husband soon. He will not be lonely anymore.”

I wanted to encourage her, so I said, “Don’t worry, I don’t think he feels lonely because he was born in the Pure Land” Then she said, “No, Sensei. He feels lonely, because he must miss me. I have been lonely ever since I lost him. He was a person who always understood my feelings. So, I am sure he missed me as much as I missed him.”

She seemed to be pleased with the thought of being born in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha where her husband was. I thought her description of how she and her husband understood each other sounded like there was “compassion” – feeling the same thing together.

I think this compassion is the activity of Amida Buddha, the compassionate activity from the Pure Land. Through her words, I was also able to encounter Amida Buddha’s compassion again, and I did Gassho from the bottom of my heart-mind.

We understand in our heads that we will die someday, but it’s difficult to accept this in our heart-minds. However, we who have encountered Amida Buddha’s Ote-mawashi can understand that death is not an absolute end.

Amida’s Ote-mawashi guides us to live with Nembutsu and leads us to the Pure Land at the end of our human lives. It also leads us to do Gassho with great relief and comfort.

In Gassho

Reverend Yoshimichi Ouchi