An Informal Q&A Session with the Ministers of Jodo Shu North America Buddhist Missions
QUESTION: JODO SHU AFFILIATION
For those of us who are officially unaffiliated with Jodo Shu, how may we become more formally affiliated? Is there some way to become directly affiliated with the LA Jodo Mission, for example?
Our feeling is that “affiliation” is a combination of community and communication.
We hope that the following can help give our English-speaking followers a greater sense of belonging to our congregation.
1. Jodo Shu newsletter: Please contact us at email@example.com to be added to our newsletter distribution. Please forward your email as well as your “snail mail” address as we are also planning a more Western-friendly e-newsletter. There are about three newsletters that go out every year.
2. Transfer of merit: Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 213.346.9666 if you would like to discuss with Rev. Tanaka a remote transference of merit or dedication of merit for the deceased. A small donation would be greatly appreciated for remote services.
3. Regular Q&A on Facebook: Please post your questions on Facebook, and on the Google Groups Web and we will try to answer them expeditiously. We are often on travel and are in the midst of preparing for our 800th Grand Memorial service so please be patient if we take a bit to answer. Please believe that expanding our congregation to include you, our non-Japanese speaking followers, is a very high priority for us.
4. Education and Study: We have a variety of textbooks (suggested donation $10). We also have all texts of the Light of Wisdom series from Bukkyo University available to you. We will be posting available titles on Facebook. Please be patient, as we will be collecting donations off line until our online “store” goes live.
5. In the future: We will be kicking off the Jodo Shu N.A. Web effort soon and have plans for community engagement, including an online community, bidirectional online discussions between ministers and congregation, regular written sermons, and a place to make donations for remote merit dedication. We have limited resources as we prepare Grand Memorial outreach, so please be patient – but this project is a high priority for us.
How can I best go about learning how a typical prayer/meditation session (otsutome) goes?
1. There is a complete Otsutome translation on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=190132417681703
2. More Otsutome translations and audio at http://www.jsri.jp/English//otsutome/otsutome.html
3. This year we are planning on an informal video on Otsutome practice for the home, and a video of our Otsutome services in the temple. Targeting this spring. The planned DVD is of the Goju Soden sermons –the Otsutome videos will be made available separately and on a complimentary basis on Facebook.
QUESTION: JUZU USAGE
The juzu used in Jodo Shu has two rings. Can a video also be made to show how it is properly used?
The large bead represents Amida Buddha. Start with this bead, holding it between your thumb and index finger. The second ring should be placed between your fourth and pinky fingers. Count one recitation of “Namu Amida Butsu” for each bead. When you’ve completed a single round, move forward by one bead on the second ring. When you’ve completed the entire second ring, move one of the little beads on one of the tassels up. When you’ve moved all the little tassel beads, move up the larger beads on the second tassel. This is why when calculating how many Nembutsu recitations a single pair of juzu can deliver, we multiply the number of beads in the first ring by the number of beads in the second, by the number of beads in the first, then the second tassel. (3 videos posted on Facebook)
QUESTION: OBTAINING JODO SHU JUZU
How does one go about getting authentic Jodo Shu juzu?
Jodo Shu prayer beads are available at the Los Angeles location for a suggested donation of $20, payable to Jodo Shu North America Buddhist Missions. We are happy to send Jodo Shu o-juzu to you. Please send your address and donation if you would be so kind, to:
Jodo Shu North America Buddhis Missions
442 E. Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
We also have colorful decorative wrist beads available for a suggested donation of $10. These items can also be found in our store.
QUESTION: GOJU SODEN
Will Goju Soden be held this year at Jodo Shu North America Buddhist Missions in LA?
Goju Soden is typically held once every ten years in Japanese temples, and the retreat hosted in December in Los Angeles was the first time for Goju Soden in the continental United States. While it is very time and resource intensive to produce, it is a very moving and rewarding experience for ministers and congregation alike – and as you know, Goju Soden is the highest lay conferral available to Jodo Shu followers. While we won’t be holding a full Goju Soden retreat this year, we will be hosting a mini-Goju Soden review session with two sermons by Rev. Arimoto who officiated over the full retreat last December and invite our congregation from L.A. and around the world to join us. The agenda for the June 25 and 26 events include officiation by Jodo Shu Chief Abbott the Right Reverend Yuishin Ito, sermons by Rev. Arimoto, a purification service for children, enshrinement ceremony for our new Ojizo-sama statuary from Japan, and Gagaku imperial court music and dancing. As the agenda is finalized, we will keep our virtual friends posted. Suggested donation: $30 adults, none for children.
QUESTION: HONEN AND THE UNFORTUNATE
We have read the story of how the Monk Myohen had a dream about Honen feeding rice gruel to the unfortunate. Do you think that Honen, in his daily life, helped the poor and unfortunate?
Honen most definitely dedicated his life – both his philosophy and daily life – to helping the less fortunate. Nembutsu was indeed originally designed for the weak and ignorant. Honen taught that the “unfortunate” could gain riches through Nembutsu. Wealth and fame mean nothing for birth in the Pure Land.
QUESTION: ICHIMAI KISHOMON (SINGLE-SHEET COVENANT)
The single-sheet covenant states that reciting Nembutsu is not meditation, but also states that reciting Nembutsu and believing in birth in the Pure Land naturally gives rise to the three minds and four modes of practice. It seems this is a standard Mahayana train of thought whereby mantra recitation (Nembutsu) assists in accumulating merit and wisdom, which would then lead to a realization of some sort on the bhumi path.
Exactly. That is true. The difference is that mantra recitation is designed for monks.Nembutsu recitation is designed for the weak, ignorant, the unschooled. But the connection is absolutely correct.
QUESTION: AMIDA BUDDHA IN DAILY LIFE
How does Amida Buddha affect your daily lives? (Originally asked of virtual sangha, but asked for Bishop Atone as well)
(A rough transcription of a conversation with both Reverends Tanaka and Atone) Can’t you tell by looking at me? I’m so happy! In all seriousness, to be born in the Pure Land means happiness – eternal happiness. But in this world, we’re born suffering. We might experience one day of happiness, and the other 99 are made up of “repenting” with Nembutsu. The “narrow white path” to the Pure Land is a description of this world – our world – where one percent of our lives is made up of happiness, and the other 99 percent of rage, greed, and suffering. But without suffering, there is no Buddhism. The Amida Sutra says the teaching of Amitabha is the most difficult to believe. Because it is so simple, it requires a leap of Faith.
QUESTION: NON-RETROGRESSION IN JODO SHU
Is the stage of non-retrogression equivalent to the stage of the “stream winner” as described by the Theravadans?
(A rough transcription of a response from Dr. Atone) In the Mahayana and Theravada tradition, bodhisattvas are realized in this world and they can attain that state, with supernatural powers, as humans. But in Jodo Shu, non-retrogression occurs only after birth in the Pure Land. You might say that Honen was a bodhisattva as a common mortal, but he only claimed to be ignorant. He may have been reborn to help people – but no bodhisattva while “alive” would refer to himself as such. The goal of the bodhisattva is twofold: to pursue the Buddhist path, but more importantly, to save other people. In Jodo Shu, bosatsu (bodhisattva) is along the path to the transformation to Buddha after birth in the Pure Land.
QUESTION: HOW DOES KOKORO TIE INTO JODO TEACHINGS?
What might Rev. Atone say about kokoro and how this ties in with Jodo teachings on the Three Hearts, etc.?
(A rough transcription of a response from Dr. Atone) In English, “kokoro” is considered heart and mind. In Japan, we add in “reason” and “emotion.” The three hearts are included in the chanting of Nembutsu, and chanting is the physical activity that nourishes Faith. And in turn, Faith encourages Nembutsu. “Kokoro” is a holistic view of approaching both Faith and Practice in Jodo Shu. A more detailed paper on kokoro by Dr. Glenn T. Webb, Professor Emeritus at Pepperdine University, is forthcoming in the Bukkyo University “Light of Wisdom” series this April.
QUESTION: THE TSUNAMI
What should the recent events in Japan mean to us as Jodo Shu Buddhists?
I just came back from giving a speech in front of 120 ministers in Japan. We are all soliciting monetary donations, we’re volunteering time, we’re shipping off things – clothes, shoes, food. Volunteering your time is great, because lay people can do this easily.
But I told the ministers that what they have to do is recite Nembutsu. The merit of Nembutsu will transfer to those who perished, and their loved ones who remain. Things and money, and volunteer work and time are all wonderful. But Nembutsu, the merit from Hotokesama is supreme. This, we must do. And this too, is something that we all can do, ministers and lay people alike. Nembutsu has merit, and it transfers. Everyone can do it.
It is the most important thing. The events of Japan, those who have passed on, and those who have lost loved ones teach us this – they remind us of the importance of the transferable merit of Nembutsu.
Namu Amida Butsu and Gassho, Joji Atone
PURE LAND DEATH STORIES, Bishop Joji Atone
An answer to the question: “Does Jodo Shu collect Pure Land Death stories? And if not, why not?”
Yes, Jodo Shu does collect death stories; there are many in Japanese but not translated. To me personally, they aren’t “necessary,” per se. As with many things, Jodo Shu and belief in the Pure Land is a leap of Faith. In Jodo Shu, birth and death are one and the same, there is no distinction. Once you’re born, you die – and vice versa. If you recite Nembutsu, the concept of death and the proof of rebirth don’t matter.
Take my mother, for instance. She’s in her 90s and she says she’s “too busy to think about dying.” With Jodo Shu, fear of or preoccupation with death goes away. You’re going to the Pure Land, so there is no fear of death. You’ll hear a Pure Land Buddhist saying that he or she is “excited about Amida coming for me.”
I was in a hospice once, and everyone was concerned about what death is, and what it brings. There were Christian ministers speaking about Heaven and Hell. In Pure Land, there is only the “Realm of Buddha.” Just say Nembutsu, and you will go there. It’s something to look forward to.
My Kendo master used to say to me, “If you have wealth, desire, greed, you’ll get good care in the end…but mentally it’s Hell because of your attachments.” There’s no need for things, and no need for fear. Similarly, the Tibetans don’t fear death, because they believe in transmigration. There is no death. You are reborn, or reborn as a heavenly being, or reborn into Buddha’s realm. Either way, there is no death to fear.
I sometimes wonder if the Western religions, which were born in the desert, have a predisposed disdain for the laws of nature – or rather a metaphorical fear of death…because nature in the region is so desolate. In the Far East, the leaves fall in the winter, but the flowers are in glorious bloom once again in the spring. This is illustrative of death and birth in the Pure Land. This is a natural cycle, and something we accept.
That said, I understand that Jodo Shu devotees wish to hear these stories not due to fear of death but as a means of inspiration and strengthened faith. There isn’t a lot that is translated into English, but please do have Faith. I hear these stories all the time. I visited a Jodo Shu minister friend of mine two days before his death. His eyes did not move from the ceiling of his hospital room, and his hands were pressed together in prayer. For at least those two days while he welcomed his death, and probably longer, he was transfixed by Amida who had come for him, and utterly focused on his passage. He was ready to be born in the Pure Land. I do hear these stories, and I’ve seen Amida Buddha at work in my personal experience.
DEVOTION, Bishop Joji Atone
A reply to the question: What advice would you give to those who aspire to look to Amida Buddha as savior in this life and after death?
As Jodo Shu Buddhists, we believe that Amida will welcome us at the time of our birth in the Pure Land, but literally our faith is in the 48 vows of Amida Buddha. These vows mention things such as beings appearing golden and equal in appearance…but the most important of these is the 18th vow:
“If, when I am to attain buddhahood, all sentient beings in the ten directions who hold faith with genuine hearts and who wish to be born in my land are not born there with just ten moments of being mindful of me, I will not realize enlightenment. Excluded only are those who have committed the five grave offenses and those who have abused the true Dharma.” (Five grave offenses: killing one’s mother, killing one’s father, killing an arhat, causing blood to come out of the body of the Buddha, causing a schism in the Sangha.)
This is Amida Buddha’s vow of Nembutsu, Namu Amida Butsu.
PRACTICE, from The Promise of Amida Buddha, The Teachings of Honen Shonin
Translated by Joji Atone and Yoko Hayashi Horiuchi
Q: You have instructed us on the issue of faith for the attainment of birth in the Pure Land. What should we learn about practice for birth in the Pure Land?
A: Practice should be based on the instruction of the four modes of exercise for birth in the Pure Land. The first is to exercise nembutsu in infinity, the second is to exercise nembutsu in reverence, the third is to exercise nembutsu in continuity, and the fourth is to exercise nembutsu in purity.
First is to exercise nembutsu in infinity. The Essentials for Birth in the West, composed by Master K’uei-chi, interpreted this to mean, “One who has the first awakening of aspiration for enlightenment and continues the practice of nembutsu, never regressing until enlightenment is attained. Master Shan-tao also interpreted, “One should continue to practice the vocal nembutsu without resting until one draws his last breath.”
Second is to exercise nembutsu in reverence. This means that one should always be mindful of and revere Amida Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha of the Pure Land. This is taught in the Collection of Essentials of Attaining Birth in the Pure Land. The Essentials for Birth in the West also describes it:
“There are five kinds of exercising nembutsu in reverence: 1: The adoration of karmically related sages, 2: The adoration of karmically related sacred teachings, 3: The adoration of karmically related virtuous teachers, 4: The adoration of comrades traversing the same path, and 5: The adoration of the Three Jewels.
“First, the adoration of the karmically related sages means that whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, do not turn your back to the west. It is said that neither should you weep or expectorate facing the west or relive oneself in that direction. Second, the adoration of karmically related images of a buddha and sacred teachings means to create and paint the image of Amida Buddha. If it is impossible to make many images of Amida Buddha, just fabricate his image and the images of his two attendant bodhisattvas. The adoration of sacred teachings means to carefully store sutras such as the Smaller Sutra in a five-hued bag and to read it and encourage others to read it. Enshrine these images and sutras in your home, offer incense and flowers, and worship them while repenting your karmic defilements during the six periods of the day.
“Third, the adoration of karmically related virtuous teachers means that when hearing of a teacher of Pure Land Buddhism, do not hesitate to travel a thousand yojana to serve, respect, and make offerings to that teacher. Even if the teacher belongs to a traditional school other than Jodo Shu, arouse in your heart a respect for him. Should you belittle and look down on such a person, you will have committed a grave offense.
“Endeavor to become a virtuous teacher for the masses and encourage them to be born in the Western Pure Land. This is because living in this house on fire will cause you to sink to a depth from which there is no escape. In this world on fire, the practice of Buddhism is extremely difficult; therefore, encourage others to rely on the Western Pure Land.
“Once birth in the Pure Land is achieved, you will naturally promote studying the threefold discipline and all wholesome deeds will become part of your being because there is no basis for committing unwholesome deeds in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha.
“Fourth, the adoration of comrades traversing the same path refers to the practitioners who observe the same practice you do. They may have deterrents too grave for them to practice, but the support of a good friend will certainly help them to persevere. The result of the suitable karma of comrades is to help and save one another. Accordingly, deeply trust and honor each other.
“Fifth, the adoration of the Three Jewels means that you should revere the paintings and wooden images of a buddha, the teachings of the bodhisattva, pratyekabuddha, sravaka, and holy adept, including even those who violate the precepts. Never be conceited. A tree may be slanted because it is bent and fallen over; likewise if there are hindrances to your facing the west, you need only to think that you are facing the west.”
Third is to exercise nembutsu in continuity, which is explained in the Essentials for Birth in the West as:
“Continue to recite nembutsu and nurture the heart that seeks birth in the Pure Land. At all times, direct your thoughts to birth in the Pure Land. For instance, there may be a person who loses his wealth to a trickster, descends into vulgarity, and lives a life of hardship. One day his thoughts suddenly turn toward his parents and he wishes to race home. Nonetheless, he has no escape plan from his present state and continues to live in a land far from home. He thinks of his parents day and night and can hardly bear the pain of longing for his home. In time he formulates a plan and is able to return to his homeland, care for his parents, and enjoy a carefree and happy life.
“This analogy holds true for nembutsu practitioners. Their good hearts have been distracted and injured by worldly passions, leading to a loss of the precious jewels of merit and wisdom. For many eons they have descended into the transmigration of the six delusive worlds and suffered physically and spiritually. Now, they have a favorable encounter that shows them there exists a compassionate father in Amida Buddha. They should pray in thanks for his benevolence and continue to desire birth in the Pure Land until the end of their lives.
“For this reason, keep birth in the Pure Land in your heart and never include practices other than nembutsu.”
Fourth is to exercise nembutsu in purity, which is stated in the Essentials for Birth in the West: “Exclusively aspire for birth in the Pure Land, worship Amida Buddha, and do not include practices other than nembutsu. What is essential is the daily recitation of nembutsu.” Master Shan-tao thus stated:
“Exclusively recite the name of Amida Buddha, worship him, and praise Amida Buddha as well as all the celestial beings of the Pure Land, excluding any other practice.
“One hundred out of one hundred exclusive nembutsu practitioners will be born in the Pure Land. Rarely, one or two out of one hundred practitioners of the miscellaneous practices will be born there. Those who follow the miscellaneous karmic conditions not only hinder their own birth in the Pure Land but also become a hindrance for birth in the Pure Land for others who follow the right practices.
“I saw everywhere that the differences existed because monks and lay people in their understanding and practices: some observed the exclusive practice of nembutsu and others the miscellaneous practices. Earnest practice of nembutsu results in ten out of ten births int he Pure Land; the miscellaneous practices result in not one birth out of one thousand.”
Monk Huai-kan, a disciple of Master Shan-tao, said, ‘If one desires to perform the practice for birth in the Western Pure Land, he must not omit the four modes of exercise, he must exclude the three categories of undesirable acts, disavow all vows and practices established by buddhas other than Amida Buddha, and only aspire for birth in the Pure Land practice with the Western Pure Land in mind.
KOKORO, Dr. Glenn T. Webb
Excerpt from “Light of Wisdom”
If I had to put into words what I think the concept of Buddhist kokoro is all about, knowing what I know about the languages and religions involved, I would say that it is a sense of one’s place in the universe as a tiny link in a measureless, unimaginable, selfless Self that knows no boundaries of any kind until Enlightenment is attained. To me that means the independent, self-assured me that has his life under control is an illusion. And he cannot work through that illusion until he enters the Self as described above. My American pride may be dimmed a bit by that realization, but I figure I will be made more useful to society as a result.
The Buddhist version of kokoro has colored my thinking to such a degree that I no longer think, when I get really angry at something, that I should control my anger because God is watching. Instead of launching a carefully reasoned defense of my position with appropriately harsh words for my opponent, I meekly admit that the situation is mine, and my opponent is me. At least that’s what I try to do. It is so much easier to let the angel on my shoulder shame me into gentler behavior, and punch out the devil on my other shoulder. It is so much harder to take full responsibility for everything.
…Over and over again I watch in amazement as my Japanese friends confront reality with a nod, indicating that they accept the karmic pain and pleasure swirling around them. It used to bother me when they on rare occasion expressed their feelings with words such as “Well, it can’t be helped!” or “Well, this is your good destiny!”
But over the years I have come to recognize such expressions as springing directly from…kokoro, their heartfelt acceptance of a delicate connection of good and bad, produced over a very long time by many relationships and situations. The voices they have heard are very soft, and require breathless attention. Snap judgments would be completely out of character for my friends, as would pronouncements of guilt or innocence. They show a restraint that I respect and even envy.
Buddhism speaks of the potential in all beings to wake up to their true nature. That nature is referred to in various ways in Buddhist scriptures. Buddhatva is one. Buddharidaya is another. Bodhi-citta is yet another. However we define it, I think understanding the Japanese concept of kokoro as citta (or as spirit, heart, and mind) is a matter of understanding the voice of the Buddha nature in all beings. That nature is our collective nature.
By implication we all have it, we all share it.
CALMNESS THROUGH NEMBUTSU, Dr. William R. LaFleur
Excerpt II from “Concentration and Understanding”
A Bukkyo University Los Angeles Extension Lecture
In his extremely helpful essay, “The Historical Development of Nembutsu,” Dr. Atone points out that Shan-tao in China and Honen in Japan insisted on the importance of vocalizing the Nembutsu. He writes of the “milestone” achieved when these two figures achieved a “transformation of Nembutsu from mental to vocal.* I think this is very important. Although I surely am no expert on these things, if I understand correctly, Shan-tao and Honen were pointing out something they had come to realize, namely that beneficial meditation will not just go on in the mind; to tap into the emotional resources for calmness there within the body, it needs bodily articulation. In Nembutsu the mind is joined as one with the vocal chords, the tongue and the lips. And even when Buddhists referred to the “mind of Buddha,” they say that “mind” in full body – as in the much admired Buddhist sculptures that show Buddhas and bodhisattvas seated in perfect tranquility. And, to state something obvious, we humans cannot sit unless we are embodied beings. And saying “Namu Amida Butsu” is something we do with our mouths because we who are en-bodied are also, if we can say so, “en-mouthed.”
Some contemporary philosophers, by the way, are finally starting to realize this. Some of them now regularly point out that we humans not only have bodies, but are bodies. And to say this is not to descend into materialism; it is, rather, to fill out the details of what the spirituality of human beings will be like. Dogen and Honen would, in spite of minor differences they had, agree on this point.
Most of my own experience is this has been through the practice of meditation in the zen tradition. But I think it is not fundamentally different from the Nembutsu practice and, as Shan-tao and Honen insisted many centuries ago, the Nembutsu provides for far more people a more accessible venue for bringing a peaceful heart and consciousness where there before had been only a writhing soul and psyche of insatiable desires. Nembutsu turns on within us the emotion of calmness.
I witnessed this with my own eyes many decades ago while traveling alone in Japan. I was staying alone in a Japanese inn in Kyushu and having breakfast in my room. In an adjacent house there was a middle-aged woman sitting before a small altar and chanting the Nembutsu: Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu…again and again and again. She did this in an audible but not bothersome way for a couple hours and, since she herself was sitting by an open window and allowing herself to be visible, I did not feel I was being intrusive by simply noticing her in her chanting and that in her face and bodily posture there was a perceptible peace and tranquility. And I thought to myself: Ah, this is the Nembutsu! This is how it so powerfully transforms a person’s mind, a very ordinary person’s mind, into a Buddha-mind (busshin) right in the middle of an ordinary mundane morning.
*Joji Atone, “Historical Development of Nembutsu” in Bukkyo University – Los Angeles, ed., Teachings of Honen (Los Angeles, 2007) p. 119.
MORE THAN THOUGHTFULNESS, Dr. William R. LaFleur
Excerpt from a Bukkyo University Los Angeles lecture
To practice the [Japanese] term omoiyari is to get not only into the ideas in the head of another person but also into his or her fundamental emotions. Emotions and ideas are inseparable; they come to us and are in us as things packaged together.
As someone who sometimes translates things from Japanese to English I almost always find a problem knowing which way to go when I come to the term omoi in a text…In English we easily differentiate “thinking” from “feeling” and, incidentally, often assume thinking is a better way to get to the truth. We who think of ourselves as intellectual tend to be a bit suspicious of feelings. In much of Japanese, however, the thinking/feeling connection is much closer. It is not automatically assumed that thinking is better, cleaner, and more “objective” when cut off from emotional involvement. And from what I can tell this has a good basis in Japanese Buddhism. The greatest teachers of Buddhism…did not assume that ideas alone would be convincing. Honen, for instance, knew and taught that the power of Nembutsu would come by doing it…and especially by having it as a consistent pattern of practice. Many Christians say something similar about prayer.
Incidentally, in a clear break with much of the emphasis in the West’s tradition, some recent researchers even here have been discovering that ideas and emotions are, in fact, inextricably tied…My point here however is that when we want to understand and respect other persons or communities we need to enter into not only their thought but also the feelings involved. Let me give you two examples from my own experience of how I have witnessed this working. One was shown by a Buddhist and the other by a Christian.
Kitayama Masamichi was a Japanese scholar of literature and someone who, most often in the faculty cafeteria of Kyoto University near his home, with enormous generosity and without compensation tutored me many, many times and over many hours in my reading of Japanese medieval literary and Buddhist texts. He gave much time and energy to me and, although he is no longer alive, my debt is deep. He insisted I understand both the ideas in those texts and why they felt extremely valuable to not only medieval people but also himself. But I never fully realized the extent of his omoiyari to me until what turned out to be our final meeting, one in which we shared certain of our life experiences. It was then for the first time that he let me know he had been in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped…and that he still retained on his back the scars that had been burnt into his flesh by the blast. But even then there was not the slightest hint of resentment against Americans who had dropped the bomb. Over the years of our relationship he had steadfastly refrained from saying anything that might cause me to feel somehow a sense of guilt, an American’s guilt, about the past. That past was passed and he had let it go rather than bring it up in a way that might cause me to feel badly and thus, cast a pall over our relationship. This was a marvelous instance of omoiyari, of respecting and treasuring the feelings of another human that great steps are taken to avoid hurting them.
My second example comes from…my paternal grandfather, a strong but always empathetic and compassionate Christian. His approach to life and to others was always positive – and this was in spite of an irregularity in his body, a feature that became immediately obvious when he met and interacted with other people, especially for the first time. Persons who shook hands with him were often somewhat surprised to realize that my grandfather’s right hand, the one they had grasped in greeting, lacked two fingers – its forefinger and ring finger. You would immediately feel that when shaking hands with him. If the other person appeared surprised or taken aback by that, he would smile, take a quick look down at their hands and say of his own unusual hand: “it’s no big deal.”
As children, we were, of course, very curious about my grandfather’s three-fingered hand. And so were were also amazed to learn how it gotten to be that way. I was impressed by what now, looking back, had been the omoiyari he had shown when an accident had deprived him of his two fingers.
My grandfather LaFleur had arrived in America from Europe at age three with his parents in 1892. And, given the poverty of immigrants then, he had gone to work already at age twelve in a factory in New Jersey. Those, of course, were days when even children often spent many hours each day, six days a week, laboring. My maternal grandfather had, in fact, been sent into a factory at the age of nine.
But in those days, early ones of the 20th Century, factory conditions were often brutal and unsafe. And during one of the first days of his employment my grandfather’s hand had gotten caught in the gears of a huge machine. Two of his fingers were first smashed and then detached from the rest of his hand. When the bleeding had been sufficiently staunched he was sent home in what in those days was a horse-drawn ambulance. But he realized that if that ambulance were to stop in front of his home, his mother would think that something absolutely horrible had occurred and would herself be plunged into a state of great shock. And so, recognizing this and wanting to avoid undue shock to her, this twelve-year-old lad asked the ambulance driver to stop at a place well before the location of his own home. There he dismounted the ambulance and walked the remaining distance – all so that he could arrive at the door in a less frightening fashion and in that way let his mother know that, although he now would be a son with only eight fingers, he was otherwise intact. His mother’s feelings were in this way protected and she was kept from shock. Already in my boyhood that story about my grandfather’s sensitivity to another person’s feelings impressed me deeply. I think it well expressed the kind of exemplary Christian he was but also, as I look back at it now, demonstrated a good deal of what Confucians and Buddhists would call “filial piety” (oya koko), respect for one’s parents and ancestors. Surely, though, this was the practice of omoiyari, putting one’s self so much into how another person might feel that a loving concern to avoid damaging those feelings takes shape.
We can and should employ omoiyari when trying to understand the feelings and emotional states of someone whose religious perspective we assume we do not share. And I think we will be surprised then to discover that we will be, in fact, able to understand more than we thought we could.
FAMILY, Rev. Ryokei Arimoto
Excerpt from Rev. Ryokei Arimoto’s Goju Soden Fivefold Transmission Sermons
It’s relatively easy for us to humbly bow to people in public. However, when we get home we tend to become selfish. The most important lesson here is to become a man of humility who can bow to your own family.
Isn’t it true that it is our own family… parents, spouses and children, to whom we must bow in gratitude? Aren’t we most likely to trouble our family, the most important people in our lives?
No, the subject should not be “we,” but “I,” because in this session we are dealing with the idea of acquiring the personality trait, “chiki,” meaning, “I need to know.” I have to establish my “chiki” first, before I can preach to you about being appreciative of family.
It is I who burden my own family. It is not somebody else’s business but mine. Because I deliver sermons at many occasions as preacher, I feel like a very seasoned person. But once I get home, my true character shows. I have done many things to my family which I regret.
I came across an essay written by Rev. Yoshio Higashi, Jodo Shin Shu minister, who also was a school principal. He is a famous minister who published many writings. He is highly respected as a great practitioner of Nembutsu and a man of admirable character. I was surprised to read his essay and to find that he regrets being inconsiderate toward his family. Having read that even this great man regrets the way he treats his family, I reflected upon myself and it goes without saying that I realized that I am very inadequate as a family man. I wish to introduce you to his short essay, entitled “Really Sorry.”
“I am sorry for not being able to do anything good for you,” muttered my wife.
No, it is I who does nothing for you.
It is I who does nothing for you, where you always cook for me, see that I’m properly dressed, taking care of the laundry.
It is I who is really sorry for not realizing my inadequacies until you apologized to me.
I am truly sorry.
Husbands, please take this message to heart.
Although publicly praised a great man, Rev. Higashi regrets being so self-centered that he never once expressed his appreciation to his wife. I am just the same. I order my wife to wash my dirty underwear, taking it for granted. Even when my wife looks tired, I’m never concerned enough to ask her if she is all right. I have never washed her underwear. I thought it was more than right that she wait on me because I provided well for my family. But thinking about this, I came to realize that my family is too good for me. I apologize to my wife.
It doesn’t mean that we will become a great person because we participated in Goju Soden. The true value of participating in this retreat is that we come to realize, “I trouble my family without even considering what they mean to me. From now on, I need to become a man who can put pride aside and say, “I’m sorry,” with feeling.
It is not fair for gentlemen if I stop here. So I wish to add a lesson for ladies, too. Not a few wives complain that they are afraid of their husbands’ conduct once they leave the house. They have no reason for concern. I wish to come to the defense of all men because I know that we always have our families at heart. It is said that seven enemies await a man once he leaves home, and he is dealing with these enemies every single day.
I wish to introduce a letter which proves that a man always worries about his family.
Some of you may remember that a Japan Airlines aircraft crashed into the mountains and 520 people died in the accident. This is a note written by Mr. Hiroshi Kawaguchi of Kanagawa Prefecture who perished in that plane crash on August 12, 1984. Mr. Kawaguchi jotted down a note addressed to his wife and children when the aircraft was about to crash. I cried when I read the note, which was printed in the newspaper. I am going to read it to you now. Please imagine that he was writing as the aircraft was going down and Mr. Kawaguchi knew he was going to die.
These are the circumstances under which he wrote this note.
Mariko, Tsuyoshi and Chiyoko,
Please help your mom; keep the family together.
I am mortified.
I don’t know the cause of this disaster but I know I won’t be rescued.
It’s been 5 minutes now.
I don’t want to fly again, ever.
Deities in heaven, please save me.
I never imagined that the dinner with the three of you last night would be the last…
There was an explosion, the plane filled with smoke, then it began to lose altitude.
Where are we going?
Tsuyoshi, I’m counting on you.
Mom, I’m sorry I’m leaving you this way.
Please take care of our children.
It’s 6:30 now.
The plane is circling and dropping.
I thank you for my wonderful and happy life.
Mr. Hiroshi Kawaguchi left this note, seconds away from dying. He was concerned about his family until the very moment of his death. All the other passengers involved in the accident must have had the same thoughts as Mr. Kawaguchi.
Usually, it is difficult for us to imagine and understand the hardships and suffering of our parents, spouses and children. But I hope each of us will appreciate the fact that we may have been troubling our families in many ways. Although you may have been unaware of it, you are here today thanks to your family’s support. If we truly realize this, we should press our palms together, bow our heads without a second thought, and recite Nembutsu.
Namu Amida Butsu.