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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.


10-21-18 Eshinni and Kakushinni Memorial Service

 

Hello everyone!

Thank you very much for attending today’s very special service.

I am very honored to conduct the service for the OBT Buddhist Women’s Association.

As I always say, the BWA is the backbone of a temple.

I am happy to express my appreciation to the BWA through this service for their tireless work and endless support.

 

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

 

Although I never told your father about the dream in which I saw him as an incarnation of Kannon Bodhisattva. Since then I never regarded him as just an ordinary person and continued to serve him. I hope that you too will appreciate him in the same way. Thus, regardless of how he died, I firmly believe that there is no doubt about his birth in the Pure Land. And I understand also that our son, Masukata was at the bedside of father as he passed. Even though they are bound karmically as father and son, this is an especially significant karmic happening, and when I think of this, I am very pleased and happy.

 

These are the words from Eshinni’s letter.

Namo Amida Butsu

 

I am happy to see all of you at this service.

Last year, I could not deliver a Dharma message for Eshinni’s and Kakushinni’s memorial service because of my illness.

Thanks to all of you for your help and support, I can be here now.

Now, I am appreciative of each day of my life.

As a Buddhist, it is my great pleasure to be able to share Buddha’s wonderful teachings with all of you because it is said that, in Buddhism, all sentient beings are Bodhisattvas, in other words, future Buddhas.

According to Buddha’s teachings, if one realized that they are Bodhisattvas, they are both striving to study Buddhism and to share the teaching with others.

All of you and I are here to listen to Buddha’s teachings and to be pleased with them and with the Sangha, so I believe we are all Bodhisattvas. We are following what Buddha taught.

 

The Buddhist Churches of America will host the World Buddhist Women’s Association Conference in San Francisco next year, so I would like to speak about Eshinni, Kakushini and the BWA today.

 

As you know, Eshinni and Kakushinni were the wife and daughter of Shinran Shonin. Jodo Shinshu would not have progressed without their support and dedication. 

It is said that when Shinran Shonin was exiled to Echigo, currently Niigata prefecture, Shinran and Eshinni got married. Eshinni supported Shinran diligently.

It is a common, but true story that in the shadows of the men who achieved great feats, there were the strong supporting efforts of their wives.

Daughters too, sometimes help. Kakushinni, Shinran’s daughter, made the foundation of our tradition’s mother temple, the Hongwanji Kyoto. Hongwan means the primal vow or Amida Buddha’s 18thVow. Ji means temple. 

Hongwanji was originally the place of the grave of Shinran Shonin. Kakushinni built a mausoleum, called the Otani Honbyo, for Shinran in Otani, Kyoto.

Kakushinni held the post called Rusushiki, to maintain the mausoleum.

This mausoleum subsequently became the Hongwanji, and Rusushiki became the archetype of the tradition of a Shin Buddhist Abbot.

Thus, we can say Shin Buddhism owes its current development to Kakushinni.

 

I usually felt in Japan, and now in America too, that there are more women than men who attend services. 

When I was in Japan, I often spoke at my family’s temple, and 80 % of the attendees were women. 

At special services, my family’s temple served a meal called Otoki to the attendees.

My temple’s BWA members came to the temple in the early morning to prepare the Otoki.

I have witnessed their efforts many times, so I am truly grateful to our BWA members.

I am deeply aware of the significance of the BWA in the preservation and development of a temple. It is very difficult to sustain a temple without the BWA’s contributions.

Of course, I have been greatly helped by the OBT’s BWA members. 

I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

While our male Sangha members are very important too, I think October’s Eshinni’s and Kakushinni’s Special Memorial Service is a good opportunity to express our gratitude toward our female members’ dedication and hard work.

 

At the beginning of my message, I read a passage. It is the words of Shinran’s wife Eshinnni.

This letter was written after Shinran’s passing.

At that time, she was in Echigo, now Nigata prefecture, to manage her family’s property.

From Echigo, she wrote the letter to Kakushinni, her youngest daughter in Kyoto.

In the letter, she mentioned that she was thinking of Shinran as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva, Kannon, Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit.

She wrote in her letter that:

When we were at a place called Sakai-no-go in Shimotsuma of Hitachi province, I saw the following dream.

The scene appeared to be a dedication ceremony for a recently completed temple.

The temple faced the east, and it must have been an evening festival, for the light from the candle stands was burning brightly in the front of the temple where there was a piece of wood placed horizontally, as if it were a torii on which were hung the images of Buddha.

One did not even have the ordinary face of the Buddha-all was light, and the center seemed to emanate from the head of the Buddha-and I could not see any figure.

There was nothing but rays of light.

The other image clearly showed the face of Buddha, so I asked,

“What is the name of this Buddha?”

I didn’t know who answered, but there was a reply,

“That one which shows only rays of light is Honen Shonin.

He is none other than Seishi Bosatsu, Mahasthamapraptra Bodhisattva.”

So I asked again,

“Who then is the other image?”

“That is Kannnon Bosatsu. He is none other than Shinran.”

As soon as I heard these words, my eyes opened and I realized that it was all a dream.

But I had heard that such dreams should never be revealed to others, and I also thought that no one would believe it, even if I had related it, so I did not tell anyone.

I did tell your father, however, about Honen Shonin in my dream,

And he said,

“There are various kinds of dreams, but this is reveals Honen Shonin to be an incarnation of Seishi Bosatsu, which is frequently reported from various places.

Seishi Bosatsu is unexcelled wisdom itself and that wisdom is manifested in the form of light.”

 

It is said that Kannon and Seishi are with Amida at any time.

Kannon symbolizes Amida’s great compassion. This Bodhisattva is always listening to all people and trying to lead all sentient beings to the Buddhahood by all means of its great compassion.

Eshinni respected Shinran not only as her husband but also as Kannon.

Like Kannon, Shinran’s teachings and spirit are still leading us to the ultimate wisdom and calmness called Nirvana.

Shinran’s life was not an easy road, but a very bumpy one because of leading an ascetic life for 20 years, being exiled, being betrayed by his oldest son, disowning the son, and there was even more. 

However, he never stopped sharing Buddha’s teachings with as many people as possible.

Eshinni and Kakushinni were always supportive of Shinran.

Thanks to their efforts, Jodo Shinshu is presently the largest Buddhist denomination in Japan, and Shinran’s teachings has spread to the world.

The temples’ BWAs have taken on the spirits of Eshinni and Kakushinni, continuing to support Shinran’s teachings. Thanks to their tremendous efforts through the years, you can listen to Jodo Shinshu here now.

We should not take this for granted.

Therefore, today’s service is dedicated to the BWA, let us express our appreciation by saying Namo Amida Butsu. 

 

Please join in Gassho,

 

Buddha is a good friend to all people. If Buddha finds a man suffering from the heavy burden of worldly passions.

He feels compassion and shares the burden with him.

If he meets a man suffering from delusion, he will clear away the delusion by the pure light of his wisdom.

Like a calf which enjoyed its life with its mother, those who have heard the Buddha’s teachings are afterward unwilling to leave him because his teachings bring them happiness.

 

These are the words of Sakyamuni.






In The Light That Surpasses All Thoughts or Ideas, Take Refuge

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 

     The year is nearing its end. You must be preparing for Thanksgiving and welcoming in the New Year. There is the Shotsuki service combined with Eitaikyo on November 3. This is an important opportunity for people to express reverence for the lives and actions of those who have died, and to make donations for continuing the cultivation of the Dharma. Without the temple, we would not encounter the Buddha’s and Shinran’s teachings. Please try to attend the service.

 

I believe you are becoming more familiar with Jodo Shinshu through attending services and listening to Dharma messages. This teaching is based on the Pure Land Path. What is the essence of the teaching? It is Namo Amida Butsu. Namo Amida Butsu is to recite Amida Buddha’s name and it is called “Nembutsu”. According to a Buddhist dictionary, the Nembutsu was originally meant to contemplate on the Buddha. However, in Jodo Shinshu, the Nembutsu is to recite the name of Amida Buddha.

Shinran Shonin claimed that the most important essence of Jodo Shinshu is “Shinjin”. Shinjin is one of the highest teachings of pivotal importance in the Jodo Shinshu tradition; without it, there would be no Jodo Shinshu. In Shinran’s commentary, he wrote that Shinjin is that sentient beings, having heard how the Buddha’s Vow arose-its origin and fulfillment-are altogether free of doubt. This meaning is difficult to understand for many people. My understanding of Shinjin is to accept everything as it is, because I understand that Amida and the Pure Land realized by Amida’s Vow symbolize the great purpose for all beings to exist. That is why Amida is described as immeasurable life and wisdom; in other words, the Dharma is beyond our thoughts. It is immeasureable and incomprehensible. For example, I do not know why I am here as a human on the planet named Earth. However, we are all sure that we are existing here right now. The earth is like an atom, from the viewpoint of a galaxy. A human being is also like an atom, from the viewpoint of the earth. Our lifetime is but a moment, as compared with the time of the universe. Still, we waver between hope and despair during our lives, and sometimes for trivial reasons. It is just a mystery to me. The only ones who are able to explain the reason for our existence would be the enlightened ones, like Sakyamuni. Therefore, as skillful means, Sakyamuni taught the inconceivable lesson to his disciples as Amida (“A” means non or un, Mida means “to measure”, in a word, the concept of Amida refers to infinity). We are living a mysterious existence. One of the seven masters, T’an-luan, described Amida as “the light surpassing all thoughts and ideas”. The compassionate light always shines upon us. Shinran wrote verses about Amida’s great insight in the Shoshinge:

“In the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life, take refuge! In the Light that surpasses all thoughts or ideas, take refuge!  

Sakyamuni Buddha appeared in this world solely to share the ocean-like Innermost Aspiration of Amida.

We multitudes of beings living in a time of five defilements should entrust ourselves to the truth of the words of the Buddha...

The light of all-embracing Compassion shines on us and protects us always, breaking through the darkness of ignorance; even so, the misty clouds of greed, anger, and hatred continue to extend over the sky of true and real Shinjin, or True Reality.

However, just as clouds and mists obscure the sunlight, brightness, not darkness, prevails under the clouds and mists.”

 

Our lives would shine more brightly when we realize and appreciate this amazing lesson. The core of Buddhism is the realization of our realities. Everyday life with mindfulness of Namo Amida Butsu is the important process of the realization. The term Namo, with which the phrase Namo Amida Butsu begins, means “to rely upon, to entrust, to salute, to honor, etc.” The complete phrase, Namo Amida Butsu, therefore means, I entrust myself and rely solely upon Amida (the inconceivable and amazing insight or reality). 

Although as clouds and mists, our base passions and delusions prevent us from our realization, like the warm sunlight Amida’s light (as wisdom) always leads us to the ultimate calmness as Namo Amida Butsu. It is the illumination to realize the Dharma as the calling from your true self, your Buddha-nature.


                                                                                                                                                                                                            Namo Amida Butsu 


I Lack Even Small Love and Compassion, and Yet, For Fame and Profit, Enjoy Teaching OthersRev. Masanori Watanabe

 

     There are only three months left in this year.  Every day I live is very wonderful and precious. There is a special service in October.  The Eshinni and Kakushinni Memorial service is on October 21stat 10:00 am.  As you may know, the history of the BWA originated from Eshinni and Kakushinni.  Now, the BWA is crucial support, like a temple’s backbone. Please try to attend this very important service.

 

    I would like to introduce Shinran’s verse this month.

 

            I am such that I do not know right and wrong 

            And cannot distinguish false and true;

            I lack even small love and small compassion,

            And yet, for fame and profit, enjoy teaching others.

 

    This verse was written by Shinran at the age of 88.  He passed away when he was 90 years old, so this was written very late in his life.  Although Shinran is regarded as a great religious leader, his sincerity appeals to me very much.  Shinran thought of himself as an evildoer during his life.

    Our tradition, Jodo Shinshu, has three features.  They are: “Other Power”, “Birth in the Pure Land”, and “Evil persons are the right object of Amida’s liberation”.

 Usually, “evil persons” mean people who commit crimes; in this case, “evil persons” mean “Bonbu”.  What is Bonbu? In “Note on once-calling and many-calling”, it is described that:

 

    “We are full of ignorance and blind passion. Our desires are countless, and anger, wrath, jealousy, and envy are overwhelming, arising without pause; to the very last moment of life they do not cease, or disappear, or exhaust themselves.” 

 

    In “A record in Lament of Divergences” written by Yuien, who was Shinran’s disciple, a very famous passage appears.

    “Even a good person attains birth in the Pure Land, so it goes without saying that an evil person will.”

    What do you think of this passage?  You may think it is contradictory.  If those who strive to try to do good things, or strive not to do bad things, are good people, then the opposite types of people must be evil.  It seems that the passage would be better if it were rearranged, such as, “Even an evil person attains birth, so it goes without saying that a good person will”.

    

     Shinran repeatedly said,

 

It is impossible for us, who are possessed of blind passions, to free ourselves from birth-and-death through any practice whatever. Sorrowing at this, Amida made the Vow, the essential intent of which is the evil person’s attainment of Buddha. Hence, evil persons who entrust themselves to other Power are precisely the ones who possess the cause of birth.”

 

           As Shinran expressed in the verse above, we usually want to be superior to others, and we mainly think about our own profits.  However, no one can live alone. We need each other. Therefore, we should respect others as much as we value ourselves.  I know it is difficult for us because of our base passions, such as self-centeredness. Everybody is foolish and full of base passions; in other words, we are all “Bonbu”.  That is why it is wondrous that Amida’s great wisdom and compassion let all sentient beings attain Buddhahood. Thus, in this case, “good people” means they are ignorant of themselves.  Those who think they are good, are one step further away from realizing that they are foolish.  The term “evil persons” means those who are aware of their true state of foolishness.  That is why Shinran said, “Even a good person attains birth in the Pure Land, so it goes without saying that an evil person will”.

It is very wonderful that we have the great Buddha, called Amida, who aspires to liberate us from our delusions, which are the causes of our sufferings, through awakening to our true wisdom, Buddhahood. Let us rejoice and appreciate our opportunity to encounter and to be able to listen to the magnificent teachings, the Buddha Dharma. 

Namo Amida Butsu


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. This is not just a fun event. This 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 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 200,0000 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 and for future generations.

    I am very weary of the shootings in America and I am very sad about the disputes all over 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 of lament in 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 based on right Buddhist ways, but 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

 






Embracing and never abandoning those beings who are mindful of Amida Buddha

Rev. Masanori Watanabe


     Our summer break is almost over and the new season looms ahead. Summer is the time for Obon, and this year’s Obon was very lively as usual. I would like to thank all of the helpers and participants very much. All together, we made a special event.


     Our teaching is Jodo Shinshu, which means the “Pure Land Path” in English. It is said that the founder of this denomination is Shinran; however, according to the “Record in Lament of Divergences”, he did not intend to organize a religious group. In fact, it was his daughter Kakushinni and his followers who established this Buddhist sect. Shinran was just pleased with Amida Buddha’s primal vow as an individual. Many people, especially ordinary people who did not know about the Pure Land Path, had empathy with his belief and responded to him. 

     In the Record in Lament of Divergences, Shinran said:

     “For myself, I do not have even a single disciple. If I brought people to say the Nembutsu through my own efforts, then they might be my disciples. But it is indeed preposterous to call persons “my disciples” when they say the Nembutsu having received the working of Amida.”

     He also said:

    “When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas (eons) of profound thought, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Prime Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma.

     The Record in Lament of Divergences is a dialogue between Shinran and his disciple, Yuien. Similar to Socrates and Plato, Shinran and Yuien's discourse clarified and established a path. Yuien wrote the Record in Lament of Divergences and distilled Shinran’s thoughts and beliefs through these quotes. 

     As you may know, more than 30,000 people commit suicide every year in Japan. The number of suicides appears more like a tally of casualties in a war. I have thought a lot about this, and I believe they all commonly suffer from isolation. It might appear, and they might even think, that other issues caused their suffering, such as illness or debt to others. But in the end, isolation causes the most serious mental torment. Perhaps due to other issues, many of us choose to isolate, rather than engage. I know this well. When I was younger, I saw a TV commercial for the prevention of suicide in Japan. I was impressed by it. The catch phrase was “We do not say we are all important, but we say YOU ARE IMPORTANT FOR US”. I think this catch phrase has common points with Shinran’s teachings. Amida Buddha’s Vow is for all sentient beings; while on the other hand, it is just for the sake of myself alone as well as yourself alone! Under the Buddha’s great wisdom and caring, no one is alone. 

    Amida’s great caring embraces and never abandons those who are mindful of the Buddha’s Vow. In the Contemplation Sutra, Amida’s caring is described by Sakyamuni as follows:

    “The Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Amida) possesses eighty-four thousand major physical characteristics, each having eighty-four thousand minor marks. Each mark again emits eighty-four thousand rays of light. Each ray of light shines over the worlds of the ten quarters, embracing and never abandoning those beings who are mindful of the Buddha.”

     As Aristotle said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves”, so our lives are determined depending on our thoughts and actions. Although Jodo Shinshu is the teaching of “Other Power” and Amida’s Vow is shining on all sentient beings, if you do not realize this, you cannot be pleased with it. That is why I urge our Sangha to listen to Sakyamuni’s teachings, particularly the Three Pure Land Sutras. Jodo Shinshu is not a teaching just to prepare for the afterlife. It is the teaching to give us the wisdom how to live brightly and cheerfully now. Therefore, let us diligently listen to the teaching in our everyday life with gratitude. This is the way you will be released from your sufferings and worries as a Jodo Shinshu follower, and realize the firm pleasure called “Shinjin”, the most important matter in Shinran’s teachings. 

Namo Amida Butsu



July 22, 2018 Obon Cemetery Service 


Good morning everyone.

Thank you for gathering for today’s Obon cemetery service.

I am very happy to discuss the Buddha Dharma with all of you at this special occasion.

Life is not permanent for anyone.

No one can avoid death.

This is an undeniable reality for all of us.

Because if this, I believe we need to consider how we should spend our precious time. 

Thus, it is important that you are here to learn to the wisdom, which came across more than 2,500 years ago, and has been conveyed through countless people. 

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


The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past,

not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles,

but to live wisely and earnestly for the present.


-These words are quoted from Buddha’s teaching called Dhammapada-


As you know, Obon is a special occasion to remember our indebtedness to our ancestors and to feel gratitude for our precious present lives.

No one is here simply like a bubble appearing out of nowhere.

We are all connected to our ancestors. 

It is hard to imagine but according to the Buddha, the source of life is oneness. 

Thus, we should respect every life regardless of whether the person is still alive or deceased.

Although we had to bid farewell to our loved ones when they pass, as long as we remember them, they are always with us.

They are living in our hearts, as we will live in our descendants’ hearts.

Our earthly life is limited, making each life precious and special.

The value of things in your life will change depending on your way of thinking.

If you do not realize the preciousness of this life, you will face the end of it before you know the true value of the life that is given to you.

Therefore, I strongly believe that we have to seriously consider what we should do during this precious time on earth.

If you do this, your life will be much more meaningful.

I would like to introduce a man who lived like this.

He is Steve Jobs.

I respect what he thought and did during his life.

Coincidentally, I have the same disease that he had, so I feel a strong empathy with him.

He gave a very impressive message at Stanford University’s graduation one year.

I will quote a portion of this.


“My third story is about death. When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like “if you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”

It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself. 

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important thing I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choice in life, because almost everything-all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things just fall away in the face of death,

Leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. 

You are naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”


I am not sure he was a Buddhist or not, but I know that he used to study Zen Buddhism.

I think what he said is very similar to what the Buddha taught us.

We just live in the present moment.

We cannot change anything about the past and the future.

However, we can do something right now.

The value of your life will be determined by your thoughts and actions.

As a Buddhist, I recommend to live being mindful of Buddha’s wisdom.

Buddhism is not the way to blindly believe the dogma.

It is the way to be released from your delusions and fixed ideas, such as prejudice and hatred, and to live brightly and cheerfully just as you are.

Whether you are happy or discouraged, please remember our deceased loved ones are always guiding us through Buddha’s wisdom and their gentle calling “Namo Amida Butsu.” Amida Buddha symbolizes the ultimate source of life and wisdom.

Let us be grateful for today’s special occasion to be reminded of this important event remembering our ancestors.

Please join me in Gassho,


Sakyamuni Buddha appeared in this world

Solely to share the ocean-like innermost aspiration of Amida.

We multitudes of beings living in a time of five defilements

Should entrust ourselves to the truth of the words of the Buddha.

When one thought-moment of joy and gratitude awakens in us,

We shall experience liberation without severing blind passions.

When ignorant and wise people, including grave offenders and slanderers of the Dharma, are in the grasp of the Vow.

They are like the waters that, on entering the ocean, become one in taste with it.


-These are the words cited from the Shoshinge, written by Shinran-


I would like to thank you for attending today’s service.

Please have a good summer vacation.

See you in September.





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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