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Minister's Message



OBT Resident Minister: 
                    Reverend Masanori Watanabe 

I am from Saitama, a city next to Tokyo. I graduated from Nihon University college of Art where I majored in sculpture.

My mother is from a Jodo Shinshu temple family and when I was 33 years old, I decided to study Shin Buddhism at Tokyo Bukkyo Gakuin.

 After graduation, I worked as a Shin Buddhist minister in Hiroshima for 5 years. In 2011, I went to New York for one year to pursue my love of art. During that time, I had the opportunity to visit the New York 

Buddhist Church. While attending the church, I was given the opportunity to participate and help at services. It was at this time that 

I developed an interest in the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA). I subsequently took part in the International Ministerial 

Orientation Program (IMOP) at the Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley, California in 

the fall of 2012 with the intention of becoming a BCA minister.

In December 2013, I was assigned to the Oxnard Buddhist Temple and Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara.

Some of my favorite things to do are painting, listening to music, watching movies (especially classic black and white movies) and reading.


June 17 Sunday Service

 

Good morning everyone!

Happy Father’s Day.

Thank you for attending today’s service, despite it being Father’s Day.

I am always happy to share Buddha’s teachings at this temple with all of you.

I would like to begin my message with a reading of a passage, so please join me in Gassho,

 

It is difficult to meet true teachers

And difficult for them to instruct.

It is difficult to hear the teaching well,

And more difficult still to accept it.

 

This is a verse of Shinran’s Hymns of the Pure Land.

 

Six years ago, I was living with an old African-American Jazz musician for five months in the upper westside of Manhattan. I rented a room in his apartment. He was in his early 80’s. He used to be a musical actor, but after a serious car accident he became a singer.

At that time, I was going to an English language school in New York City. My generation of Japanese students did not learn English from native English speakers during our compulsory education. We just learned how to read and write English, and so I did not practice other communication skills such as listening, comprehension, and correct pronunciation. As you know, I am still struggling with these skills.

When I came home from school, I usually tried to talk with the old musician. Since he was an actor, he was very particular regarding the use of English. He sometimes made fun of my awkward pronunciation. When he mocked me, it made me mad. I did not like his attitude but I tried to think positively. In one light, he was my landlord, but in another, he was a strict English teacher helping me become a better English speaker. Thanks to his corrections, his teachings, my English became better. I could not appreciate it at that time, but I want to express my gratitude to him now.

 

When I was a child, I was not interested in Buddhism. My step grandmother was the resident minister at my family’s temple in Hiroshima and she was always eager to teach Jodo Shinshu to me. But I did not want to know about Buddhism and so I did not appreciate her eagerness at all. Now, I am truly grateful to her for her guidance. Without her, I would not be a Jodo Shinshu minister.  

 

The musician and my step grandmother were both good teachers for me. My grandmother, in particular, led me to true wisdom. It was very fortunate for me to meet her in this world. In both cases, however, it took me a long time to realize the value of their teachings.

 

Teachers are very important.

I would like to talk about a person who was able to encounter a true teacher. His name is Rev. Sonam Wangdi Bhutia. Perhaps, you have read about him in the Wheel of Dharma. Last year, he came to America from Nepal to visit some BCA temples. He used to be a Tibetan monk.

Rev. Bhutia was born in North India and when he was 16 years old, he received permission to enter a very difficult ascetic practice on a mountain for three years and three months. During the practice he could not talk to anyone besides his Buddhist teacher. He accomplished his difficult ascetic practice when he was 19 years old and he received the title Dupla, which is considered as a Bodhisattva in Tibetan Buddhism, a superior achievement. 

After this great accomplishment, however, did he gain a peaceful mind? The answer is no. He suffered from the title. He said at an interview that,“My life changed greatly.  Many people respected me so much.  I could not walk outside freely.  I no longer could live like before.  My life became more difficult.  People saw me as a “great man,” but I was the one deeply confused by such recognition.”

However, one day his life was changed.

He said, “I met Mr. Hiromichi Mukaibo in Bodhagaya in India.  He was physically handicapped.  I first thought he was not happy because he had a severe physical disadvantage. So I told Mr. Mukaibo, “trust yourself to Buddha and ask for help.”  He said “I am happy because I am already in the light of Buddha.”  I thought he was lying.  I felt it strange to find a content person with a handicap. This was how the discourse between us began.

I will describe Mr. Mukaibo. He had a car accident when he was 19 years old. His body below the neck was completely paralyzed. However, when he was 26 years old, he encountered Buddhism, specifically Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, and his life totally changed. He found his hope from the teaching.

Rev. Bhutia continued, "I looked at Mr. Mukaibo with doubtful mind for the two years. I sought ways to rectify him because I thought "He must be misunderstanding Buddhism,"

As I said, at that time, I was suffering from the deep defilements after years of ascetic practice.  Although I had gone through difficult training and gained temporary peace of mind, I hardly could separate myself from the delusions arising inside of me.  My state of mind at that time was something like a meal without dashi(which means broth, or seasoning).  The meal may taste good, but it without dashi, it is not complete. As we kept exchanging emails, Mr. Mukaibo started to answer the problems that I had.”

Rev. Bhutia had wondered why this person says he is very happy despite his physical difficulties. Now, he understood the reason. It was because of Shinran’s teachings. Mr. Mukaibo helped Rev. Bhutia develop a strong interest in Jodo Shinshu. Rev. Bhutia said, “Encountering Jodo Shinshu was an eye opening experience.  Jodo Shinshu is far different from ascetic practices. Jodo Shinshu is for everybody.  Anybody can rely on the power of Amida Buddha, the primal vow of Amida Buddha, wholeheartedly.  No ascetic practice is necessary.  The important thing is to realize and deeply understand how the Primal Vow is being delivered to you.  This is the real dashi (or seasoning) for the meal.  This dashi suits anywhere and any meal. It is universal, regardless of place and time.”

Thanks to a meeting with Mr. Mukaibo, Rev. Bhutia found the way that he was seeking. He met his true teacher in Buddha Gaya. It looks like it was just a coincidence, but I think it was inevitable for him, because he was seeking to find a way. If he was content with the idea of living as a Tibetan monk, he may not have found Jodo Shinshu. Therefore, it is very important to be seeking a way.

Mr. Mukaibo built a facility in Nepal to help people who are disabled like him. With financial support, he sent Rev. Bhutia to Japan to study Jodo Shinshu. Through studying the teaching, Rev. Bhutia decided to abandon his great title and became a Jodo Shinshu minister. After Mr. Mukaibo’s passing in 2006, Rev. Bhutia changed the facility in Nepal into a Jodo Shinshu temple.



This is now Katmandu Hongwanji.


I heard that there are more than 700 temple members because of Rev. Bhutia’s efforts. He is truly grateful to Mr. Mukaibo for his guidance to Jodo Shinshu.

Taking over a wish of Mr. Mukaibo’s, Rev. Bhutia wants to build a Buddhist college in Buddha Gaya where Sakyamuni attained enlightenment.

Rev. Bhutia is a great minister. I am also influenced greatly by Mr. Mukaibo’s life. I really look up to Rev. Bhutia and feel a strong connection with him as another of Mr. Mukaibo’s students. I would like to visit Katmandu Hongwanji or invite him to our temple sometime. It would be great to meet him. 

 

Please join me in Gassho,

 

It is difficult to meet true teachers

And difficult for them to instruct.

It is difficult to hear the teaching well,

And more difficult still to accept it.


Namo Amida Butsu


July 2018


Those Sentient Beings Who Encounter This Sutra Will Attain Emancipation in Accordance With Their Aspiration

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 

     Here comes the Obon Festival! Many people will gather at our temple. It is not just a fun event. Obon is a Buddhist occasion to be thankful for our precious lives and to feel gratitude to our ancestors, remembering our indebtedness to them through dancing. No one can exist without ancestors. Let us fully enjoy this Buddhist event, expressing our joy of life on July 14. The Shotsuki and Hatsubon service will be on July 21 at 10:00, and the Obon Cemetery services will be on July 22 at the Ivy lawn Cemetery at 9:30 am, the Japanese Cemetery at 10:30 am, and the Conejo Cemetery at 11:30 am.

 

     According to an article I read, the global population is about seven billion, and over the past 40 years, it has increased at a rate of one billion every 12 years. Although it took 200,000 years to reach one billion, we now add a billion people every 12 years. It is said that the population will be 11 billion around 2100. As you know, we experienced very unusual weather earlier this year. We are really feeling the effects of global warming. I heard that some researchers claim that half of the global population will not be able to survive to the end of this century because of global warming, rising water levels, temperature increases, desertification and other environmental catastrophes. I am not sure if this will really happen or not, but most of the scientists agree upon this outcome. I am convinced that each of us should not be indifferent about environmental disruption and political issues, for ourselves and for future generations.

    I am very weary of the shootings in America and I am very sad about the disputes in the world. Why can’t we understand and help each other? In Buddhism, the definition of “hell” is “the world where people cannot understand each other, although they have language”. Therefore, this word reflects the current state of our society we are living in.


    The period when Shinran lived was also full of unrest and Mappo. The city of Kyoto was overcome with dead bodies, because of wars and natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tornados, fires and famine. It makes sense to me why Shinran said “hell is decidedly my abode whatever I do” in the Tannisho (the record in lament of divergences). My greatest question is how Shinran was able to come to the end of his life with utmost joy, in spite of witnessing such miseries. I think you would like to know the reason too.

    What we do know was that Shinran led an ascetic life on Mount Hiei as a Tendai monk for 20 years, from nine to twenty nine years old. Since he could not find comfort through this type of life, he descended the mountain. I assume he could not live on the mountain while averting the realities he faced. He did not only want to find the way to be emancipated from all sufferings and worries for himself, but also for everyone else, For this, he faced the realities and considered very deeply how he should live. This was his most important question. He thought over and over about it. During these times, he encountered Honen, the founder of Jodo-Shu. Thanks to the great guidance of Honen, Shinran found the way he sought. It is the “nembutsu teaching” or the “Pure Land Path”. This way is a path of Mahayana Buddhism (Buddhism for everyone). The Pure Land Path teaches that those who recite the nembutsu (Namo Amida Butsu in Japanese or Namos Amita Buddha in Sanskrit) with sincere minds and the deepest reliance on Amida’s great wisdom and compassion, will be emancipated from all of their sufferings, despite their defilements by base passions. Honen gently taught ordinary people who were illiterate to say Namo Amida Butsu. Many found comfort thanks to the teaching. Of course, it was not just consolation. Honen was called “Honen of Wisdom” when he was a Tendai monk on Mount Hiei. He read all of the Buddhist sutras, over 80,000 teachings, five times. He was a wise person, and he concluded that the Pure Land Path is the way for those who live in their age of decadence they called Mappo.

     The essential teaching of the Pure Land Path is based on the “Three Pure Land Sutras”, and among them, the “Larger Sutra” is the most important teaching. Sakyamuni declared at the end of the sutra that:


    “Now I have expounded this sutra for all sentient beings, and have enabled you to see the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and everything in his land…In the future, all the sutras will become extinct. However, out of compassion and pity, I will ensure that this sutra alone remains for a further one hundred years. Those sentient beings who encounter this sutra will attain emancipation in accordance with their aspiration.

-The Larger Sutra, the second volume


     In Mahayana Buddhism, we are now living in Mappo (the age of decadence). In this period, there are no people who will be enlightened and no practitioners of right Buddhist ways. Only Buddhist teachings remain. In other words, we are in “the age of people who cannot understand things rightly”. Therefore, if we really want to find the way to be enlightened (or to be emancipated from our delusions), we should seriously consider what we listen to and how we live through these tough times.

Namo Amida Butsu

 


June 2018


May 27 Memorial Day Service at the Ivy Lawn


Good morning everyone.

Thank you very much for gathering here for the Memorial Day cemetery service.

It is very special that you are here and paying your respects and gratitude to your late loved ones. We lead a good life by remembering the wonderful and precious time we shared with our deceased loved ones and by living cheerfully following the Buddha’s teachings. 

I would like to begin my message with a reading of Shinran’s verse, so please join me in Gassho,

 

The light of wisdom exceeds all measure,

And every finite living being

Receives this illumination that is like the dawn,

So take refuge in Amida,

The true and real light.

 

This is from Hymns Based on Gathas in Praise of Amida Buddha.

Namo Amida Butsu

 

This is the fifth time I have conducted the Memorial Day cemetery service here. I see some familiar faces, but I also miss some people, whom I’ve seen in the past, very much. We have to acknowledge that time never stops for anyone. However, I can feel their warm smiles and kindness in my heart. As Buddhas, they are always encouraging me. Buddhism teaches us the perfect calmness of the afterlife; meanwhile, it also gives us wisdom about how we should lead a better life today.

The key to leading a good life is to have gratitude for your own life and feel appreciation for everyone and everything that supports you. Your family, friends, and all the benefits of the universe, contribute to your well-being. Gratitude is the magic word that releases you from your delusions.

Mental health is as important as our physical health, because our mental condition affects our physical well-being. As Shakyamuni said, the secret of health for both mind and body is to live wisely and earnestly for the present.

In Japan, there is the phrase “Kotodama”, which literally means “the spirit of language “ or ” the miraculous power of language.” Most Japanese believe that language has a strong power to affect our lives. 

If you hear bad words or negative words about you, they will affect you mentally, and sometimes even physically. However, if you hear good words or thoughtful words, they will cheer you up. Words are not random masses of letters. Words have their own spirit and they affect people’s lives. Therefore, it is important to use right speech. This should be based on right views and right thoughts. But the world is full of wrong views, such as discrimination, prejudice, hatred and so forth. Therefore, we should be steadfast in our use of right speech.

Malicious words do not only hurt others but also yourself, and as a result, you will lead a wild life. However, if you endeavor to use kind words to others, people will also return kind words. Others will show their sincerity and you will lead a peaceful life. In truth, words are not just words. They affect many aspects of your life.

Namo Amida Butsu is also a phrase. But many people are helped to lead a better life through reciting this phrase. Why? Because they know that this phrase includes the great Buddha’s unmeasurable compassion and wisdom. This phrase is the Buddha itself. The Buddha’s caring is like a mother’s unconditional love and affection. When a child is in trouble, the child will call “Mother, help me!” And she will come right away and help and embrace the child.

Like this, when you say Namo Amida Butsu, Amida and all Buddhas, including your deceased, are always with you and encouraging you in your heart. 

 

Sakyamuni Buddha said in the Amida Sutra that,

 

“If simply repeating the holy name can do this, how much more would be possible if one is able to concentrate his mind upon this Buddha!

Those who are thus able to recite the holy name, when they come to the end of life, will be met by Amida Buddha and the Bodhisattva of compassion and wisdom and will be led by them into the Buddha’s Land, where they will be born in all purity of the white lotus.

Therefore, everyone should keep in mind the words, Namo Amida Butsu or Whole-hearted reliance upon the Buddha of Infinite Light and Boundless Life!”

 

I would like you to remember the deceased with their kindness and smiles when you say the Nembutsu. You will realize that you are never alone. This phrase is a great wish, and it gives you wisdom to lead a wonderful life. Life is difficult. But by saying Namo Amida Butsu with gratitude, you can live cheerfully.

This is the way to help yourself in life.

 

Please join me Gassho,

 

“Buddha will never disappear as long as enlightenment exists. Enlightenment appears as the light of wisdom that awakens people into a newness of life and causes them to be born into the world of Buddha.”

 

Namo Amida Butsu 


May 27 Japanese Cemetery Service (Memorial Day)


Good morning everyone.

Thank you for gathering at this Japanese cemetery for the Memorial Day service.

I would like to begin my message with the reading of a passage, so please join me in Gassho,

 

To live a single day and hear a good teaching is better than to live a hundred years without knowing such a teaching.

Those who respect themselves must be on constant guard lest they yield to evil desires. 

Once in a lifetime, at least, they should awaken to the true self called Buddha nature, in their youth, or in middle age, or even in old age.

 

These are the words of Sakyamuni Buddha.

 

It is very important to respect those who have already passed away, because we are living in history and these people built this history. We have received many benefits from their efforts and sacrifices.

Unfortunately, some people vandalized the graves here.

The vandals are leading a wild life because they do not know how much they are supported by society. They do not feel a part of society because they are self-centered. Self-centeredness is one of our delusions. No one can live alone. This is a very simple truth.

However, some people are becoming more foolish, living in this fast-paced society.

They are intending to pursue a better life, but actually, they are heading for their own ruin because of their foolishness.

Now it is time to awaken to how we should live wisely.

Life is impermanent. Belongings are impermanent. Your belongings may be useful during your life, but sometimes they will cause disputes with your family even after your death. Belongings do not give peace.

We deserve to have a peaceful life.

How can we do this?

Perhaps it is to realize our truth little by little, through listening to the wisdom that our ancestors have transmitted.

 

In the Chapter of Luke, Jesus said, 

 

“Love your neighbor as yourself! You are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed. You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. Give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you!”

 

The Buddha said, 

 

“The one who protects his mind from greed, anger and foolishness, is one who enjoys real and lasting peace.”

 

The deceased show us our reality. They show that our lives are limited and so very precious.

I would like you to realize this and awaken to what we should think and do right now.

Everyone has a right to be happy. I strongly believe that to live a wonderful life, we need to endeavor to listen to wise people and learn from them.

The Buddha’s teachings are a good place to start. They always encourage us to be truly wise.

I am happy that I have had the opportunity to tell you about these important things on this occasion. Our meeting today is a consequence of your deceased loved ones’ great compassion.

 

Please join me in Gassho,

 

To live a single day and hear a good teaching is better than to live a hundred years without knowing such teaching.

Those who respect themselves must be on constant guard lest they yield to evil desires. 

Once in a lifetime, at least, they should awaken to the true self called Buddha nature, in their youth, or in middle age, or even in old age.


Namo Amida Butsu


June 2018

Those Who Have Encountered Buddhas In Their Previous Lives, Will Rejoice

In Hearing This Teaching

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 

Obon is around the corner. Let’s get in the mood. Our Obon is on July 14 from 1 pm to 8:30 pm. Obon dance practices start on June 19. The Rennyo Memorial Service will be held on June 3 at 10:00 am. This special service is combined with Father’s Day and Dharma school Award Day. It would be great if you can join in the Dharma school children’s celebrations at the service. We are looking forward to seeing you at these events.

 

Jodo Shinshu (Shin Buddhism) is a Buddhist denomination that was started in Japan. How can we recognize whether a teaching is Buddhist or not? Simply put, it is whether there are “teaching, practice and realization” of the Buddha in the teaching. “Teaching” is of course refers to Buddha’s teachings. The basis of nembutsu teaching is the “Three Pure Land Sutras”, and the most important one among them is the “Larger Sutra”. “Practice” is daily training based on Buddha’s teachings. The common image of this will be leading a rigorous ascetic life. In Jodo Shinshu, “nembutsu” is our practice, and for Zen Buddhism, it is “sitting meditation”. Practice means different things in different sects. Lastly, “realization” means “to attain enlightenment” or “to become a Buddha”. These teachings and practices should be guaranteed by the Buddha in his Sutras that through them, people will be able to attain enlightenment. 

When Shinran was alive, nembutsu teaching was criticized by other Buddhist sects that it was not a true Buddhist teaching because there is no ascetic practice. “No practice is no realization”, they contended. Shinran countered by writing his commentary, “The True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way”. Shinran declared in his commentary that nembutsu teaching surely is a “practice”, and thus is an obvious Buddhist teaching. Moreover, we now live in the age of decadence, or “Mappo”, and therefore, it is very relevant in our fast-paced world.

Nembutsu teaching was not well-known by the people until Rennyo appeared. Thanks to his efforts, Jodo Shinshu has thrived as the largest Buddhist denomination in Japan. I think this shows that Jodo Shinshu teaching is really needed by the people living today. 

It is one thing to understand that our main teaching is based on the Larger Sutra, but another thing to know the reason why our practice is “nembutsu”. When I did not know much about Jodo Shinshu, I also wondered why there are no ascetic practices, such as ritual devotions under a waterfall or running up a mountain all day. However, my question was answered by understanding the 17thvow of Dharmakara.

(17) The Vow that All the Buddhas Praise the Name

“If when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters should not all glorify and praise my name, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.”

Therefore, merely citing the nembutsu is the path for everyone (countless Buddhas), and not just for those who have the time for rigorous ascetic practices. But this does not mean the path is an easy one. Nembutsu teaching seems simple, but it is not easy. Sakyamuni Buddha taught us in the Larger Sutra that:

 

“People who lack roots of good, are not able to hear this sutra, but those who observe the precepts without fault are able to hear the right Dharma. Those who encountered the right Dharma are holding fast to it, they dance with great joy. For those of arrogance, wrong views, and indolence, it is hard to accept this teaching. Those who have encountered Buddhas in their previous lives will rejoice in hearing this teaching.”

-The Larger Sutra, the second volume

 

“Reliance on Buddha is not something that is added to the worldly mind-it is the manifestation of the mind’s Buddha nature. One who understands Buddha is a Buddha himself; one who has reliance on Buddha is a Buddha himself.” 

-Mahaparinirvana-Sutra

 

Dharmakara, during his ascetic life of five kalpas, helped bring us closer to self-realization. Dharmakara made it possible for everyone to follow a true path. The Bodhissatva promised that those who aspire to be born in his Pure Land with sincere mind and say his name with the deepest reliance, will be born there as a Buddha. This is his primal vow, and this was achieved 10 kalpas ago when he became Amida Buddha. As future Buddhas, we praise his name as Dharmakara did in his 17thvow. This is “nembutsu”. In essence, since your heart (Buddha-nature) already knows what Buddha is, you can say “Namo Amida Butsu” with joy. According to the 17thvow, if you feel comfort and joy when you say the nembutsu at temple, home or anywhere, you will be promised to be a Buddha. This utmost pleasure is shinjin, and nembutsu in daily life is obvious in our practice as well as our realization.

Namo Amida Butsu


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