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Minister's Messages Archive

December 2015

Deliverance of Here and Now

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

      These days it is getting colder in the morning and in the evening. But what about that heat wave in October? That was interesting. Winter is here again, and the year is coming to an end. This is my second full year as the OBT minister. I was able to experience many new things this past year. For instance, it was my honor to speak as the Japanese keynote speaker at the SD Conference, and I also enjoyed the Golf Gathering with the many participants who attended. As I have worked at this temple since December 2013, my third year will begin this month.

     There are two services on Sundays, one in Japanese and one in English. It is always my great pleasure to see members attending these services. At the Japanese service, I usually read from a Buddhist book entitled “The teaching of Jodoshinshu” published by Hongwanji. There are some brief Dharma messages in the book. I would like to introduce one of them today. The title is “Deliverance of Here and Now”. 

“Those who meet the teaching of Nembutsu are not saved at their afterlife, but here and now. 

The Amida’s vow to release us from suffering is working now. Shinran said (in Lamp for the Letter Age: “At the time shinjin (or our entrusting heart) becomes settled, transformation (into the stage of truly settled) too, becomes settled ”. When we rely on the Amida’s vow from the bottom of our heart, our deliverance too, becomes settled. Amida, our ultimate reality, embraces and never abandons us. When we realize Amida’s working, we, the mortals in bondage by our worldly desires, would be aware that we will be released from our desires, the cause of our sufferings. 

Our lives that are full of sufferings transform into a life of joy when we are embraced by Amida’s great wisdom and compassion. We are led to the ultimate reality. Deliverance of here and now is Jodo Shinshu.”

 

    It would be difficult for me to understand this passage before I studied Jodo Shinshu. I would question what Amida is, first. What is the vow? What is Shinjin? What on earth are they talking about? I suppose people who received a modern higher scientific education would not understand any of this. I can only appreciate the passage because I studied the foundation of Buddhism and Jodo Shinshu at Buddhist school.

    In my understanding, an objective of learning Buddhism is “to know ourselves”. Amida is “thusness”, in other words, the resource of our lives. Can you answer the origin of life? When I ask this question to high school students, they answered that it is their parents. However, in case of this question, I asked about the original life. I cannot clearly answer this question, because I do not know the answer. No one does. We now know about DNA and many of us realize that apes and humans evolved from a common ancestor over a long time. These facts help clarify how and where we came from, but still, many questions remain. Although scientists are searching for answers in different ways from religionists, the goal is the same. That is to see the world clearly. In my opinion, the historical Buddha was not only the founder of Buddhism but also one of our great scientists. Science tries to uncover the reality of the natural world. Buddha teaches us about our reality. Both strive to teach us to see things clearly, without delusion. 

    Do you appreciate the benefits of the sun? Do you feel gratitude for the sun? We cannot live without the sun. I have spoken to this before; the sun is a valuable resource in our lives. There are some exceptions, but generally, we live cheerfully thanks to the sun. In the passage above, if you change the word of “Amida” to “the sun”, the content of the passage may be a little more understandable. “Shinjin” means “to rely on” or “to entrust” in English. Regardless of our trust or reliance, the sun shines on us gently and equally. If we take the time to appreciate it, we would realize that every moment of our lives is precious, like a miracle. Our gratitude would then arise spontaneously. We are embraced by great workings to live now. Through this awareness, our perception of the world would dramatically change and our ordinary life would shine like gold. You would understand how valuable your life is. This awareness and gratitude are the wisdom to release us from our delusive minds.

     Like this, Jodo Shinshu is not a Buddhist sect to only talk about afterlife, but also includes studying and listening to the great wisdom of the Buddha. This will enable us to know ourselves, and to appreciate our lives, here and now. 

     Thank you very much for the great support this year. I humbly appreciate your kindness. 

Namo Amida Butsu


November 2015

Shining Life

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

      There are merely two months left this year. Time is going fast. As last year, I will go back to Japan for two weeks to help my family temple for Hoonko. I am looking forward to seeing beautiful autumn leaves there for the first time since last autumn.

After I was assigned to Oxnard, I had some surprising things. One of them was what this temple had all Buddhist Sutras called “Daizokyo” donated by the Hiji family. They are one of the most precious treasures of OBT. Sakyamuni Buddha left a large number of teachings which are said to be 84,000. I would like to try to read all his teachings at least one time during my life. It is said that Shinran’s master, Honen read through all Sutras five times, and learned them by heart. Although he was a very smart person as being called “Honen of Wisdom”, he chose and cherished only three teachings of all Sutras called “The Three Pure Land Sutras” in his school, Jodo Shu. These teachings are the cornerstone of the Pure Land Path. You may notice OBT has four scrolls in the Naijin. They are the Three Pure Land Sutras. You may think why four scrolls are there. The reason is that the most important sutra of the three Sutras, the Larger Sutra has two volumes. In the first volume, it is described how the Bodhisattva named Dharmakara became Amida Buddha. And the second volume is about why we need “Namo Amida Butsu”. In the middle of the first volume, we can find Dhamakara’s 48 vows which the Bodhisattva declared in front of other Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and devas. The 18th vow is the most important one of the vows, and it is called “The Primal Vow”. This vow is the reason which we can believe that we will be born in to the pure land. Other vows are of course important as well. This time, I would like to introduce the third vow. 

If when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not all be the color of pure gold, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. 

Dharmakara( Amida) declared that if all beings do not shine like gold in his land, he will not be a Buddha. Gold is a symbol of the most valuable things. This vow teaches us that each life is the most precious as it is. However, how is the reality? Now, there are a lot of people who are suffering from such as discrimination, prejudice and persecution. When Sakyamuni Buddha was alive, many people were suffering from the caste system in India, and the situation still has not changed. Speaking in a more familiar example, bulling in school is also a kind of discrimination and persecution. When I was a middle school student, I witnessed a lot of bullying at my school and it chilled my blood.

In Buddha’s teachings, there is a concept called “諸法無我Shoho Muga(all things lack inherent identity)”. It is not easy to understand this concept. Since the word sometimes is translated as “interdependence”, we can interpret it as we are helping each other to sustain ourselves. In other words, we are relative existences and no one can live alone. Therefore, we should respect each other. However, we cannot often realize this fundamental truth because of the deep darkness of our delusion. We need the light of wisdom which dispels our darkness.

Amida’s wisdom and compassion are likened to the sun. We cannot live without the sun. We can say the sun is the resource of our lives. The sun shines equally upon us regardless of race or nationality, young or old, good or evil. The sun shines even dust particles. There is no distinction under the light. Like this, when Amida’s light of great wisdom and compassion shines upon us, our lives shine like Amida reflecting the light. Amida’s land, the Pure Land consists by our shining lives with our respectful and compassionate minds. This is the meaning of the third vow. I think this symbolizes the Buddhist ideal of the realization of peace equality of society as well as Amida’s third vow. Therefore, we should live in daily life as for the forth one of the Shin Buddhist Life Principles; “Rejoicing in the Compassion of the Buddha, Respecting and aiding all sentient beings, I will work towards the welfare of society and the world”.

In this way, it is our joy and comfort to realize that we are shined by the light of Amida’s great wisdom and compassion and we are released from our darkness of delusion.

Namo Amida Butsu


October 2015

Emancipation for foolish beings

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

    There are only three months left this year. Every day in Oxnard is a precious gift for me. One of the reasons I can think so is this city’s pleasant weather. In addition, OBT member’s great help and support for me is a big reason too. However the most decisive reason is to be able to live with Shinran’s teachings anytime, anywhere now.

 

While persons ignorant of even the characters for “good” and “evil”

All possess a sincere mind.

I make a display of knowing the words “good” and “evil”;

This is an expression of complete falsity.

 

This verse was written by Shinran at the age of 88. Those who are not educated often notice the essence of things. However those who think they are wise, they sometimes stay away from our truth. I may use example of “Ivan the Fool “ written by the great Russian writer Tolstoy. The main character, Ivan, is a fool. He was not tempted by devils because he knew the devils temptations were meaningless. However Ivan’s elder brothers, who were arrogant, were easily deceived by the devils tricks and ruined themselves. The Shinran’s verse concisely teaches us what the true wisdom is.

 

Our tradition, Jodo Shinshu has three features. They are “Other Power” “Birth in the Pure Land” and “悪人正機Akuninshoki( The evil persons are the right object of Amida’s salvation)”.

In General, “evil persons” mean like those who commit crimes, but in this case, they mean “凡夫Bonbu(foolish beings)”. What is Bonbu? Or who does the word point to? In “A Record in Lament of Divergences” written by Yuien, who was a Shinran’s disciple, appears a very famous passage.

 

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

 

   What do you think? You may think it is contradictory. If those who strive to try good things, or to strive not to do bad things, are good persons, and opposite persons are evil, the passage should be as “Even an evil person attains birth, so it goes without saying that a good person will”.

   Shinran continuously 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 true cause of birth.

   When I began to study Jodo Shinshu, I could not understand these words at all. However, I was getting realize the reason. It was because I did not think I was an evil person (Bonbu). On the contrary, I thought I was a good person so it is a matter of course that I would attain Buddhahood by Amida’s great power. However, when I was reflected upon the wisdom of light of the Buddha, I realized my true state. I sometimes easily hurt someone’s heart, and take many lives directly and indirectly to live during my life. I am far from a so-called good man. Since I am frantic to live, it is difficult for me to gain good deeds in daily life. I wondered whether it is possible to attain Buddhahood the way I was. At the time, Shinran’s words shined upon me. “That is why, I want such you (Bonbu) to be attained Buddhahood and lead you to the world without any sufferings”. The Amida’s great compassion touched me. Since everybody is a foolish being full of blind passions (Bonbu), Amida’s great wisdom and compassion that let all sentient beings be attained Buddhahood are wondrous. Thus, in the case, good people mean the ignorant of themselves. Evil persons mean those who be aware of their true state. 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 there is the great Buddha called Amida who aspires to release us from our sufferings. Let us rejoice and appreciate to encounter and to be able to listen to Shinran’s magnificent teachings now.

NamoAmida Butsu



September 2015

What we should not forget

Rev. Masanori Watanabe 

    The time flies so quickly and Autumn Equinox is coming. How was your summer break? Oxnard’s summer is pleasant because it is not hot and humid like Japan. Since there were many events from last June to August this year, time passed so quickly. The SD conference was a success because OBT members and Pasadena members worked as a team. Obon went well too. I am proud of it as OBT minster. My ministry in Oxnard will pass two years soon. I truly appreciate OBT members’ support.

    I participated in some temples’ Obon Festivals this summer. These were all lively. Obon dancing was very exciting. Participants looked full of enjoyment. I felt happy through dancing with them. This kind of unity is unlikely to encounter at ordinary times. I noticed many familiar faces at temples where I visited. Most of them were surely BCA temple members but there were quite a few non-members of BCA. Regardless of whether they are members or not, the people look forward to the annual big event. This reminds me of our ancestors’ efforts to transmit this tradition to America. 

Generally speaking, we cannot live without others support. We can show examples such as our food, clothing and shelter. These are usually provided by others. When it comes to food, usually we cannot eat living things, but we take lives directly and indirectly. Even  vegetarians eat plants which have lives. We cannot live without many sacrifices. We should not forget this. Unfortunately, it seems to me that Japanese people recently have a tendency to forget the wisdom which our ancestor transmitted to them. For example, young Japanese children have school lunch at elementary school and middle school. Teachers usually lead them to say “Itadakimasu (a word of appreciation for food)” before eating lunch. I heard some parents complained to the teachers because the parents thought since they paid lunch money, their children did not need to say “Itadakimasu”. 

There is also this kind of story. One day a family was in a restaurant, and when a waitress served their meal, children said “Arigato( thank you)”. Then the parent scolded their children that the children did not need to say that because they would pay for their meal. What do you think about these stories? Do you think the stories are funny and extreme examples? I strongly believe if we do not humbly listen to the wisdom which our ancestors transmitted for us, we will see those kind of scenes more. “ Itadakimasu”, “Arigato”, “Mottainai(Don’t be wasteful)”... These are wonderful Japanese words based on Buddhist concepts. The words have important messages for us from our ancestors. We should not forget these… How many of us say, “Itadakimasu” before we eat? A lot of us I guess. 

Many of the traditions which we inherited, especially Buddhism, is a wonderful treasure for us. We should not take them for granted. As for the three treasures, to encounter Buddha Dharma is rare and wondrous. I think it is our responsibility to preserve our traditions such as Obon, to protect Buddha’s teachings and to transmit these to the next generation as our ancestors did for us. This is one of the best things we can do during our earthly lives. 

In September, we will have Rev. George Matusbayashi as a guest speaker for Autumn Higan service. Each day will never repeat itself, and every service is just one time. Please do not miss this precious and important opportunity. 

Namo Amida Butsu


August 2015

Buddhism is Just Listening

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

    I feel a little bit empty, now that Obon is over. I would like to thank those who worked hard at the Festival. The event was a success. I really enjoyed it and I cannot wait until next year’s OBT Obon Festival.

What will you do during the summer break? Go somewhere? Watch movies? I like watching movies on DVDs and painting. I also like reading, so I am going to read books that I haven’t had the chance to read. Do you like reading books? When I was in my teens and my twenties, I read many books. I would become absorbed in reading novels. They were very interesting. The books that I read long ago still comfort and encourage me today. Usually books are not expensive, but sometimes they are a big influence on one’s life, and that makes them precious. For example, I wanted to be a cartoon artist when I was a child. However, after I read Van Gogh’s letters, my enthusiasm to be a painter grew. Van Gogh died long ago, on July 29, 1890, and I read his letters long ago, but I still hear and listen to his words. Although I did not personally know Van Gogh, I feel like I knew him as a friend. 

Now, as a Jodo Shinshu minister, I diligently read Shinran Shonin’s words. His words encourage and comfort me. It is like he is always with me through his words, and this makes me truly happy. Although it is very hard to find good friends in life, I am convinced that I have found a true friend, as well as a great teacher, in Shinran Shonin. 

Sakyamuni Buddha said,

Though he should live a hundred years, not seeing the truth sublime, yet better, indeed, is the single day’s life of one who sees the truth sublime.”

                                                                           Dhammpada (Sakyamuni Buddha’s words)

      Thanks to Shinran Shonin, I am able to encounter Sakyamuni Buddha’s teachings and the Pure Land Path. As described in The Three Treasures, it is very rare and wondrous. The Buddha’s words express great wisdom and compassion of life. Just as we need good food to sustain our health, we need good teachings to nurture our hearts and minds. Thus we should listen to Buddha’s teachings diligently in our daily life. Life is not limitless. We should carefully choose how we spend our precious time, because our ways of life form our lives. We are what we do. If each day of our lives includes Buddha’s teachings, then our lives will become more enriched.

 

     Our tradition’s eighth leader, Rennyo Shonin said,

Listen to the Buddhist teaching, even if you must take time out from your daily business. To believe that you will listen when you have some spare time is shallow thinking. There is no tomorrow in listening to the teaching.”

(Shin Buddhist Service Book, page 18)


     Like Rennyo Shonin’s words, let us listen to Buddha’s great wisdom in our daily lives. Usually there is no regular service in August, but that shouldn’t keep you from the Buddha Dharma. Buddha’s teachings are available in many forms to those who seek them out. Books and the Internet are great resources to explore. I will also open the temple on Sundays at 10 am. If you are interested in studying Buddhism with me, I welcome anyone. I am available to anyone who opens their heart and mind to the Buddha Dharma. We can listen together. 

Have a good summer vacation!

Namo Amida Butsu



July 2015


Embraced by Great Compassion

                                                                                                  Rev. Masanori Watanabe

First, I would like to thank all of you who worked so hard on the Southern District conference. Thanks to you, the event was a success. It was my honor to speak there as a keynote speaker. It was a precious experience. I hope you enjoyed yourself and learned something through the conference.

   The Obon Festival is coming very soon. As you know, Obon is a very important opportunity to remember those who have gone before us with gratitude for enabling us to exist and to encounter the Dharma. This occasion came from a Buddhist story from the Ullanbana Sutra. Ullanbana means to suffer as if being hung upside down. I will share this story at the Obon service, which will be held at the temple during the Obon Festival. I think some of you already know the story; however, if you are interested or do not know it, please attend the service.

  Every year, I look forward to Obon. We can play games, eat delicious Japanese food and enjoy the Bon Odori dances. Through this festival, I can feel joy and gratitude toward my ancestors because this tradition has been transmitted to us, from them. Although I am still young in spirit, I am over 40. I sometimes think back on when I was child. It was very fun. Every day was like an adventure. I did not realize then that childhood was a bright and golden time. After I lost my grandparents, I often felt alone. I took their love and affection for granted. It took awhile, but I came to understand that their love was very precious and wondrous. Although they are gone, I feel they they watch me with smiles in my memories. 

 As the Lager Sutra says,

 “Further, in the midst of worldly desires and attachments one comes and goes alone, is born alone, and dies alone.

On the other hand, as Sakyamuni said, we are interconnected. When the light of Buddha’s great wisdom and compassion shines upon us, we can realize that we are not alone. Please remember your deceased loved ones. They will be smiling in your memories. They have already gone, but they are still living in our hearts. When they live in our hearts, we are never alone. They are always watching us as Buddhas. 

  Buddha has no shape or color, and since Buddha has no shape or color, Buddha comes from nowhere and there is nowhere for him/her to go. Like the blue sky, Buddha arches over everything”.

 (The teaching of Buddha, page 27)

As long as we remember the deceased, they are always with us, and guide us with the great wisdom and compassion called Amida. As we are allowed to live with many benefits, like sunlight, we are always bathed by the great Buddha’s compassion. His wisdom is light.

Shinran Shoninn wrote the following verse:

Seekers with the burden of evil karma should simply say the Name (Namo Amida Butsu)

Realizing that they, too, are embraced by the light,

And that although their ignorance and blind passions prevent their seeing it,

The light of great compassion nonetheless constantly shines on them

(Shoshinnge, Shin Buddhist Service Book, page 87)

  Obon is a good opportunity to realize Buddha’s compassion and wisdom. Please enjoy the festival and celebrate our interconnectedness with gratitude for your deceased loved ones. 

Namo Amida Butsu



June 2015


Perceptions

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

Last month we celebrated Mother’s Day. This month we will honor our fathers on Father’s Day. When I was young, I didn’t appreciate the great love and affection my parents had for me. At that time, I didn’t realize the enormous amount of care I received from them, but because of my Buddhist studies, I know I shouldn’t have taken it for granted. Today I am truly grateful for my parents’ love and affection. 

On June 13, 2015, the Southern District Conference will be held at Quiet Cannon, Montebello. This conference is being co-hosted by the Oxnard Buddhist Temple and the Pasadena Buddhist Church. This year’s theme is “Perceptions”. The English keynote speaker is Rev. Harry Bridge from Oakland Buddhist Church. He is a musician. I am the Japanese keynote speaker. I am a painter. Therefore, this year’s conference will be from an artistic perspective and I hope it will be interesting to you. 

I am a Japanese, and sometimes it is not easy for me to understand English nuances. Thus I am not sure of the appropriate Japanese translation of the word “Perception”. Some people say it is “Right View”. However, I cannot determine whether this is correct or not, because I do not know what the Right View is. On the contrary, I do know something about wrong views. According to Sakyamuni Buddha’s teachings, we are dominated by many wrong views. We need to realize this. Perhaps “seeing things as they are” is the right view in Buddhism, but this is very difficult for us to do. For example, in the past, many Europeans believed that the sky, the universe itself, rotated around the earth. However, now most people understand that the earth is rotating and in orbit around the sun, thanks to Galileo Galilei’s theory. When Galileo was alive, only a few astronomers such as Nicolas Copernicus understood this reality. Only a few people had the right perception that the earth is not the center of the universe. As we learned more, and we began to understand the true nature of the universe, our perception changed. So has my perception of my parents. As a child, I thought the universe revolved around me. As I learned more, particularly from the Buddha’s teachings, I realized this perception was wrong. It was very humbling to realize that I had maintained a wrong view for much of my life. Therefore, understanding the nature of our “Perceptions” is important in Buddhism. I hope you can gather some ideas to ponder at this conference. I am looking forward to seeing you.

Lastly, the Obon Festival is coming soon. Obon is a day to remember with gratitude those who have gone before us and who enabled us to exist and encounter the Dharma. It is a very important opportunity to acknowledge and express our gratitude for our deceased loved ones. I truly believe this is a “right view”. We will start Obon dance practice on June 16. It is always fun, so please join us!

                                                                                                                 Namo Amida Butsu


May 2015


The Celebration of Shinran’s Birth and Mother’s Day

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 

      Ohigan, Chicken Teriyaki and Flower Festival have already gone, and Gotan-e (Shinran Shonin’s Birth), Mother’s day and Strawberry Festival are coming up in May.

      Gotan-e is the service to celebrate our tradition’s founder, Shinran’s Birth. It is said that he was born on May 21st, 1173 in Kyoto, Japan. Thus we, Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, have a special occasion to celebrate Shinran’s birth in May. It will be conducted on May 10th at the Oxnard Buddhist Temple. Please come to the temple on this day. 

     Speaking of May 10th, it is second Sunday of May, in short, Mother’s Day. In Japan, flowers, especially carnations are sent to mothers with gratitude. This tradition originated from the United States. During the American Civil War, a woman named Ann Jarvis proclaimed “Mothers Work Days.” Ann was a peace activist who had cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the war. She created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to take care of the soldiers like mothers. After two years of Ann’s passing, her daughter Anna held a memorial for her mother at a church in Grafton, West Virginia which Ann had been teaching Sunday school on May 12th, 1907. Since Ann had loved white carnations, Anna dedicated them to her mother. Later, Anna made a proposal of Mother’s Day as a national holiday with her friends to appreciate mothers’ love and affection. In 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers. White carnation became the symbol of the day.

      Buddha’s great compassion is sometimes likened to mother’s love and affection. Even though you cannot imagine about Buddha or his great compassion, you would be able to associate it with mothers’ warmth and kindness. As I wrote before, human cannot live alone shortly after birth. Others’, especially mother’s help and support are necessary. I now fully appreciate my parents, especially my mother’s parental love and affection. However, before I learn Buddhism, I was not grateful for that, on the contrary, I had been taking it for granted. I was sometimes hard on my mother that I did not ask her to be born when I had been facing misfortune. Despite of during of those times, she listened and said to me that“ I am happy you are here.” I am just grateful for her words. I think the one who accepting someone that “you are fine as you are” is mother.

     Opposite word of “taking for granted” is “Gratitude.” Although we do not usually express our appreciation to our mothers, it is wonderful to say “Thank you” to them through this national holiday.

     If one’s mother already passed away, I think she is still with him/her. When one remembers his/her mother, one will feel her. She is always with him/her. Like this, Buddha is something that we can feel within us.

     Our tradition’s founder Shinran Shonin said;


                                            “Sakyamuni and Amida are our father and mother.


     Buddha’s compassion is like parental love and affection. But Buddha’s is unlimited and equal. That is why it is called the great compassion.

     Let us express our gratitude to mothers through Mother’s Day. Let us appreciate for great wisdom of the Buddha and Shinran’s efforts to spread his teachings to us through his birthday celebration, Gotan-e service and say Namo Amida Butsu as Thank you.                                                    

Namo Amida Butsu



April 2015


Hanamatsuri (Flower Festival) 

Rev. Masanori Watanabe 

      Flower Festival has come again. In Japan, many things such as school start in April because of the fiscal year system. Although it is a long time ago, I sometimes look back on memories of my entrance ceremonies with beautiful cherry blossoms in this season. 

      Speaking of April, Hanamatsuri( flower festival) is a very important occasion for Buddhists. It is also called Kanbutsue( bathe-Buddha-gathering). This service celebrates the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, who became Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha. According to one tradition, the Buddha was born in India in 463 B.C. . In the region where Nepal borders India, Siddhartha was born to king Suddhodana and Queen Maya. 

     Gautama is the Buddha’s father’s surname. It means “blessed cattle”. The Buddha’s first name, Siddhartha means “every wish fulfilled”. Sakyamuni or the World-honored one is his honorific name. Sakyamuni means “ the sage of Sakya clan”. After Siddhartha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, he was called these names. In general, Buddha or Hotoke-sama is popular as his honorific name. It is said that Siddhartha’s mother, Queen Maya, was princess of the kingdom of Koliya to the east. She intended to give birth to Siddhartha in her mother country. However she suddenly went into labor in Lumbini garden, she gave birth to Siddhartha there. According to the legend, he was born from the Queen Maya’s right side. There is a legal regulation of ancient India called the Manu regulation. When Brahma, the one of three supreme gods of Hinduism, created the world, Brahman appeared from his mouse, Ksatriya, royalty, appeared from his sides, Vaisya, the common people, appeared from his thigh, Sudra, the lowest class people, appeared from his legs. In India, the right side is considered pure and the left side is considered impure. Thus the legend implies that Siddhartha was born as a legitimate prince of a royal family. As I wrote in March’s Prasada, it is said that baby Siddhartha immediately stood up, and with his right hand raised toward heaven and his left pointing toward earth, he took seven steps and declared, “In heaven and on earth, I alone am honored”. Seven steps symbolizes transcending the six realms ( Hungry ghost, Animal, Asura, Hell, Human, Deva ) of suffering and to reach the ultimate calm.

     When Siddhartha declared the words, gentle rains fell in Lumbini garden to bathe the baby Buddha. From this story, we pour sweet tea over a statue of the Buddha. Why is the service called Hanamatsuri( flower festival)? It is because we decorate a beautiful flower pavilion ( hanamido) used to shelter the Buddha statue and to make the flower garden of Lumbini, and express our gratitude to our beautiful and precious lives through the decorated flowers.

     One more thing, why is a white elephant statue in the Hondo? Because in India, the elephant is a holy animal and the white elephant represents the Buddha. After Queen Maya had a dream that a white elephant came down from the sky and entered her womb, she became pregnant. 

     I hope you understand the origin of the service. Hatsumairi, infant presentation, will be held at Hanamatsuri. Parents formally present their child to the Sangha for the first time on this occasion and promise to help them learn the Buddhist path. If there is a child who has not visited the temple yet, I recommend taking them to this service. Oxnard ’s Hanamatsuri will be held on April 5th, 10:00 am. Before the service, a Hawaiian Breakfast will be held at the social hall. Please join us by all means. I am looking forward to seeing you at the temple.

 

Namo Amida Butsu


March 2015


Gratitude

                                                                               Rev. Masanori Watanabe

     It is getting warmer. Although Oxnard is pleasant throughout the year, I think the spring that follows our winter is special for us. I have already been living here more than one year, and this is my second spring living and working in Southern California. I truly appreciate OBT members’ support.

    Speaking of the month of March, we can remember Chicken Teriyaki and Spring Ohigan. OBT’s Teriyaki Chicken is exquisite. The secret of the taste will be in the sauce. It is no wonder that many people buy OBT’s Teriyaki Chicken. I am also looking forward to eating it. During the month of March, we celebrate Spring Ohigan (equinox). Ohigan week is a time to visit the graves of our deceased loved ones. This custom is an important opportunity to express our gratitude to them. Unlike other animals, human beings cannot live alone shortly after birth. In order to grow and develop, human babies need the help and support of their parents and others. In other words, our lives exist now thanks to others such as parents. It is not a matter of course; it is a very special and precious relationship. There is a famous Buddhist legend. When Gautama Siddhartha (he was called Sakyamuni Buddha later) was born, he walked seven steps. And then he said, “In heaven and on earth, I alone am honored”. 

I strongly believe that this “I” does not only represent Siddhartha, but also each individual. I think he wanted to say that each life is unique and precious because one cannot find oneself anywhere else. We each are only one existence. I heard that the probability to be born as someone is one in 250 trillion. It is likened to winning the lottery continuously 1 million times. That is why I can say our lives are like miracles. If our parents did not meet, we would not here. If our grandparents were different, our parents and we could not be here. I do not know the reason why I am here and am living now. It is a mystery to me. If we were not guided by the Buddha’s wisdom, it would always be an unanswered question. However, thanks to the mirror that is the Buddha’s teachings, we can reflect upon ourselves and discover, little by little, our truth. There is a joy of awareness. We can listen to the Buddha’s teachings now because of our ancestor’s efforts. They preserved the temple and spread the Dharma during their earthly lives. As the Three Treasures proclaims, it is rare and wondrous to have been born into human life and to be able to listen to the Buddha Dharma. Our deceased loved ones are watching and guiding us as Buddhas. Therefore, it is very important and wonderful to pay our respect and gratitude to the deceased through the Ohigan Service and visiting their graves. 

     On March 28th and 29th, Rev. Jon Turner from Orange County Buddhist Church will come to the Oxnard Buddhist Temple as a guest speaker for the Spring Ohigan Service. Rev. Turner has a mathematics (BS)/computer science (MS) background. He is now a Buddhist Minister and eagerly spreads the Buddha Dharma utilizing many different venues such as meditation or movies. His messages are always interesting. Despite his very busy schedule, he has made time to share the Buddha Dharma with us. Please do not miss this special opportunity. We are looking forward to seeing you at the Oxnard Buddhist Temple. 

Namo Amida Butsu 



February 2015


Nehan-E

Rev. Masanori Watanabe 

We celebrated the New Year’s Day a while ago, and February has come very quickly. There is a very special service in February; it is the Nirvana Day Service, “Nehan-e.”
  “Nirvana” or “Nehan” means “Enlightenment”. The Japanese word “Nehan” is a translation of the Indian words “Nirvana”(Sanskrit) or “Nibbana” (Pali), meaning “the state of a flame being blown out”. “Flame” represents our desires and “the flame of life.” Therefore, the word of “Nirvana” or “Nehan” can also have the meaning of death. The death of the Buddha is referred to as “the Great Extinction,” a sense of “absolute nirvana.” It is said that Sakyamuni Buddha passed away on February 15th. Therefore, we Buddhists hold his memorial service in February. It is a very important service for us. As a Buddhist, please attend this service.
 

     By the way, do you know why the Pet Memorial Service is combined with the Nirvana Service? It is said that when Sakyamuni Buddha passed away at the age of 80 in Kusinagara, not only his disciples, but also all beings mourned his passing. Have you ever seen a depiction of this scene? In the picture, you will find many animals. Animals also mourned Sakyamuni’s passing. Therefore, we remember our dear late pets through the Nirvana Service. I myself had two dogs when I was a child. It was tough to take care of them at that time because sometimes they barked at someone in the middle of the night. However, when they died, I felt very sad like I lost a member of my family. I think your dear late pets were also part of your family. Please attend the Nirvana Service on February 15th and pay your love and gratitude to your late pets through the service. If you inform me your pet’s name, I will read the name at the service.


     Lastly, here is a listing of other February events:

1. Los Angeles Betsuin will host a special seminar featuring a great Jodo Shinshu scholar, Rev. Chiko Naito, from our mother temple, Hongwanji. He will speak about Jodo Shinshu teachings at the Betsuin on the 7th from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.  I will attend.  I hope you will also attend and not miss this very special and precious opportunity. 

2. The Oxnard Buddhist Temple (OBT) BWA will host the Tri-County BWA Seminar on the 22nd. Registration will start at 1:30 pm, with the opening service beginning at 2:00 pm. After the service, there will be movie and refreshments in the social hall. We hope to see you there.

 3. A Zen Buddhist minister, Rev. Shumei Kojima from Zenshuji, will be a guest teacher on the 23rd for the OBT English Buddhist Study Class. His class will start at 7:00 pm at the social hall. If you are interested in Zen Buddhism, please attend this class.

                                                                                    Namo Amida Butsu



January 2015


Ho-onko

Rev. Masanori Watanabe


 
Happy New Year! I appreciate your kindness during the last year. I learned a lot through working with members to preserve the temple and I again realized the importance to spread Buddha’s teachings. I will keep trying my best the same as last year. I look forward to your continuing support. 

Speaking of the month of January, there is a very special service for us. It is Hoonko. HoOn means gratitude, Ko means Buddhist lecture meeting.  In other words, it means the memorial service for the founder of our tradition, Shinran Shonin. Since we appreciate encountering Jodo Shinshu teaching with joy through Shinran’s memorial day, it is also called “御正忌報恩講Goshoki (this means memorial day) Hoonko”. His memorial day is on November 28 in the lunar calendar (Japanese old calendar). Thus in November, Hoonko is held at many Jodo Shinshu temples in Japan. However, this special service is held in January at our mother temple, Hongwan-ji. American Jodo Shinshu temples also observe Hoonko in January. This is because they use the lunisolar calendar. In that calendar, Shinran’s memorial day is on January 16. The name of the service, Hoonko, comes from the third Abbot “覚如上人Kakunyo Shonin" ‘s private notes called “報恩講私記Hoonko Shiki”. They were written for Shinran’s 33rd year memorial service. In these notes, Kakunyo expressed his deep gratitude to Shinran, stating that we should recite the Nembutsu with joy and gratitude, for because of Shinran, we are able to encounter and listen to the Pure Land Teaching. 

Before I came to America as a BCA minister, I was working in a big temple in Hiroshima for 3 and one-half years. In the season of Hoonko, for about one month, hired ministers including myself, split up to visit the temple’s members’ homes. We chanted Shoshinge and delivered a Dharma message at each home. Each of us visited, on average, about 20 homes a day. We would begin around 7 am, and finish around 5 pm. Shoshinge is long to chant, so my voice became hoarse every day. It was quite tough, but I now look back on those days with nostalgia. It wasa very precious experience for me. I learned a lot of important things through visiting members inHiroshima. I have heard some of the members already passed away. I feel a little bit lonely when I remember their smile and kindness and think we cannot meet again in this world. At such times, I hear Shinran’s words:

 

My life has now reached the fullness of its years. It is certain that I will go to birth in the Pure Land before you, so without fail I will await you there.”                                                                               -quoted from a letter of Shinran-

 

Shinran taught us that we are still connected with the deceased who have already become Buddhas and who live in the Pure Land through Nembutsu. According to Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings, Nembutsu is Buddha itself. Reciting the Nembutsu means calling out Amida Buddha’s name. All Buddhas are always with Amida, praising His name. Thus, when we recite the Nembutsu, we can hear Buddhas’ voices and feel that our deceased loved ones still live within us. When I think like this, it makes my heart warm and I spontaneously recite the Nembutsu in Gassho with gratitude.

 

I am sure it is rare and wondrous to listen to Shinran’s teaching even now. Thus let us recite the Nembutsu with joy and gratitude through the Hoonko Service.

 

Namo Amida Butsu



December 2014


Thank you 2014 Hello 2015

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 

Time really does fly. Although I feel I came to Oxnard just the other day, one year has already passed. 
During those initial months, I was struggling to adapt to my new surroundings. Thanks to the members’ tremendous support, I think I am gradually improving as a minister. I am truly grateful for it.

 In December, there are annually events at the temple such as Bodhi Day Service, Oseibo, Mochitsuki, and New Year’s Eve Service. Perhaps you will celebrate New Year’s Eve with your family and friends.

New Year’s Eve Service will be held on December 31st at 7:00 pm. Please come to the temple. 

As you know, at the New Years Eve Service, we toll the bell 108 times. The origin of this custom is unclear, but it may be from China. The number represents the amount of our Base Passions. There are various views about this Buddhist number. Generally speaking, the number means the six senses : sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, consciousness(6); like, dislike and neutral(3); purity and impurity(2); the past, present and future(3); 6×3×2×3108. In short, from the Buddhist perspective, we have many Base Passions or worldly desires in Buddhist views. Base Passions are called Klesa in Sanskrit. It is not easy to define the term of “Base Passions(煩悩Bonnou)”. According to a dictionary, Base Passions are mental functions which disturb and pollute the mind and body. 

When I was a child, my mother often took me to a temple near my family’s house in Saitama. I enjoyed “甘酒Amazake ( a sweet drink made from fermented rice)” at the New Year’s Eve Service. In retrospect, it was wonderful that I was able to find such pleasure from something so simple. At that time, I was not really interested in Buddhism, and did not remember the minister’s message. And yet, the temple was some how comforting to me. Its positive impression has remained with me. 

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, said in his speech at Stanford University that he didn’t expect anything from learning about calligraphy at college, but he realized later that it was very meaningful for him. Ten years later when he was designing the first Macintosh (Mac) computer, it came back to him. As a result, the first Mac had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. He said; You can’t connect the dots (experiences) looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Similarly, I was probably influenced unconsciously by visiting the temple, and Thereby led to Buddhism. Thus listening to the Dharma at temple is important. It might have a significant meaning for you and somehow connect you to your precious and special life. 

New Year’s Eve Service and New Year’s Day Service are important occasions to reflect upon our own lives. By all means, please come to the Temple.

 Namo Amida Butsu



November 2014


Eitaikyo

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 

Halloween is already over and there are only 2 months left in this year. Lately, it has been cool in the mornings and evenings. I feel that winter is just around the corner. 

I am going back to Japan to help my family’s temple for 10 days at the end of November. It will be time for the Hoonko Service at the temple. After the service, I will visit temple members’ homes to chant Shoshinge (Shinran’s verse) before the family altar and deliver a Dharma message. It is conducted sitting on my knees (正座 - seiza). Usually it takes about one hour at each house. I am not sure if I can do this as I used to because I’ve gained weight!  Nevertheless, I am looking forward to seeing the members for the first time in a year.


The Eitaikyo (永代経) Service will be celebrated at our temple in November.  Eitaikyo means “perpetual (eitai) chantingdokuof sutras (kyo)”.  It began as an annual and perpetual service conducted for the deceased. In Japan, it is customarily a time for monetary gifts to be donated to the temple to ensure its future. In the Jodo Shinshu tradition, Eitaikyo is an opportunity for the living to express reverence for the life and actions of those who have passed away and to make donations for the continuing cultivation of the Dharma. When we think of the deceased who preserved the church and the Dharma, we should remember their hard work and dedication and be grateful to them.


Ten years ago, soon after I became a Buddhist minister, the temple president often told me that each pillar of the temple was built with its members’ dearest wishes to protect and spread the Buddha Dharma. At first, I thought he exaggerated, but now I really understand the meaning of what he said. For instance, the Oxnard Buddhist Temple has a long history (1929 ­- current day), and throughout this time, the temple received tremendous support from its members. As the current minister of the OBT, I truly appreciate their support.


My family’s temple also has a long history. Its history can be traced back to the Edo Period (1600-1867). The temple is located in a small village on a mountain in Hiroshima. It has no hospital, no post office, no store. A bus comes twice daily. I think the temple is like a landmark. If one does not have a car in this village, (s)he cannot go shopping. There are about 40 members in my family’s temple, and most of them are in their 80’s. When the Buddhist temple bell is tolled, the members come to the temple, walking very slowly. My family’s temple is poor, so we cannot invite guest speakers. When I lived there, I usually conducted the service as a minister and delivered a message as a speaker.  I think they were probably tired of hearing my Dharma message, but they always listened to it, nodding. When I read Gobunsho (letters of Rennyo Shonin), they listened earnestly, their heads bowed.  I was very impressed by their demeanor.  I learned what Buddhism is from them. 


For the past 15 years, my sister has been living in Italy.  For the first 7 years, she studied Tibetan Buddhism at a Tibetan institute near Pisa. Sometimes she returns to Japan. One day when my sister and I were having a casual conversation, she asked me why temples and churches are holy. It was an unexpected question, so I was at a loss for a reply. She answered that it is because people who have holy minds gather there. I thought that made sense. A temple itself is holy, but the pure minds of its members who seek the Dharma embody this truth in the same way. I strongly believe that temples have been preserved by their members’ dearest wishes, so the history of a temple represents the wishes of its members.

Eitaikyo is an opportunity to express our gratitude to ancestors - in other words, the deceased who protected our temple. As the Three Treasures says, it is hard to be born into human life, and to be able to listen to the Buddha Dharma. Thus it is rare and wondrous we can hear the Buddha Dharma at OBT. Let us Gassho and recite the Nembutsu, being thankful for past and present members’ efforts at this service.

Namo Amida Butsu



October 2014



The beginning of Hongwanji and BWA

 

Rev. Masanori Watanabe


 

The Autumn Equinox has already passed, and the end of this year is approaching.

I am look forward to the Halloween in October. In retrospect, it was also in October 2 years ago that I visited the OBT for the first time. I was warmly welcomed by Rev. Adams and the OBT members as an IMOP student. I look back on the Autumn Seminar and Halloween Party at that time with nostalgia. I think it is a curious chance and very privileged for me to be here as resident minister now.

 

There is the Eshinni’s and Kakushinni’s Memorial Service in October. As you know, Eshinnni and Kakushinnni were the wife and daughter of Shinran Shonin. The prosperity of Jodo Shinshu would not be like now without their support and dedication. It is said that when Shinran Shonin was exiled to Echigo( Niigata prefecture of current), Shinran end Eshinni got married. Eshinni supported a lot Shinran since then. It is the same old story that in the shadow of the men who achieved the feat, there is the great support of their wives.

Kakushinnni is the person who made the foundation of our tradition’s mother temple, Hongwanji in Kyoto. Hongwan means the primal vow of Amida Buddha( The 18th Vow). Ji means temple. Hongwanji was originally the grave of Shinran Shonin. Kakushinnni built a mausoleum called Otani Honbyo(大谷本廟) for Shinran in Otani, Kyoto. Kakushinni held a post called Rusushiki(留守識) to maintain the mausoleum. This mausoleum became Hongwanji later , and Rusushiki became the archetype of tradition of Shin Buddhist Abbot. Thus, we can say Shin Buddhism owes current development to her.

 

I usually feel in Japan, and America too that people who attend a service are more women than men. When I was in Japan, I often spoke at my family’s temple, and 80% of attendees were women. At special services, my family’s temple served meal called Otoki(お斎)to attendees. My temple’s BWA members came to the temple in the early morning to prepare for Otoki. I have seen it many times so I am truly grateful to BWA members who grew old. I feel deeply significance of BWA to preserve and develop a temple. It is very difficult to sustain a temple without BWA’s contribution. I am been helping a lot by OBT’s BWA members. I would like to thank them form the bottom of my heart. I am sure that male members are very important as well, but I think it is a good opportunity to feel gratitude toward female members’ dedication through October’s Eshinni’s and Kakushinni’s Special Memorial Service.

 Eshinnni’s and Kakushinnni’s Memorial Service is planned on October 26th. There is a Halloween Party after the service. Please come to the temple by all means.

Namu Amida Butsu 

 


September 2014


Autumn Equinox

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 

Autumn equinox has come. I hope you had a good time during your summer break.  For me, it was a precious time to reflect upon my days since I came to Oxnard.  I have gotten a lot of support and have learned many things as a minister during my stay here. I truly appreciate it.


We will have a guest speaker for our Autumn Equinox Special Service. The Reverend Katsuya Kusunoki of the Buddhist Church of Lodi is going to teach us about the Shoshinge, which is the principal sutra of Jodo Shinshu (Shin Buddhism).

Please come to the temple to attend this service and dont miss this valuable opportunity. 


I chant Shoshinge every morning in the Hondo. Originally, Shoshinge was our traditions founder, Shinran Shonins, verse. It is from his writing called 行信証Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho" which means the True Teaching, Practice, and Realization of the Pure Land Way.  The eighth abbot of our tradition, Rennyo Shonin, made it into a sutra and popularized it among Jodo Shinshu followers.

Now, I enjoy chanting Shoshinge every morning, but I didnt really like to chant it when I was young. I think there were two reasons for this. 

One, is the sutra is long. When I was chanting it, I always hoped that it would finish quickly. The second reason was that it was too difficult to understand, and seemed just a mass of Chinese characters for me. 

But as I got older and studied Buddhism, I realized that Shoshinge is Shinran Shonins compassionate wish to release us from our own suffering. 

Our tradition is Jodo Shinshu. The principle teaching of this tradition is that through reciting the Nembutsu (Namo Amida Butsu) with sincere mind, we will be released from all suffering. Everyone can be saved with no distinction between people young and old, good and evil. It seems very simple. Attaining enlightenment through hard training is called 難行Nangyo (Difficult Path).  In contrast, the Pure Land Way of our tradition is called 易行 Igyo (Easy Path). Shinran Shonin said in his writings and verses that although reciting the Nembutsu looks easy, if we dont know the wish in the Nembutsu, it will be to no avail.

Whose wish?

It is the wish of Bodhisattva Dharmakara.  He contemplated for a very long time (called 5 kalpas) on how to release all sentient beings from their suffering, and became a Buddha called Amida.

He achieved great powers such as immeasurable wisdom and life for us.

It is a completely altruistic wish. We call it Amidas great wisdom and compassion.

At first, I could not accept this story. I thought it was a fantasy. But through studying Buddhism diligently, I realized that I cannot judge if it is true or not, because I dont know everything about the universe.

I began to feel Amida, Sakyamuni and Shinrans compassion little by little, through reading and chanting Buddhist sutras. They are always watching and guiding us through their Buddhist teachings.

For instance, Hang in there is just a phrase, but when someone says this, one can feel his or her kindness by these words. In short, words are the means to convey ones thoughts and feelings to others. 

Sutras are also just a mass of words. But we can feel the Buddhas compassion by reading and chanting the Sutras with understanding. 

We can hear the Buddhas voices in the Sutras. They are always with us and guiding us, so we dont need to worry.

Thats why reading and chanting the Sutras is very important to us.

The eighth abbot, Rennyo Shonin also said, Buddhism is just listening humbly to the Buddhas voices.  

We can listen to their voices, and feel their compassion, through reading and chanting Sutras.

Amida Buddha lets us feel Buddhas compassion anytime and anywhere.

How?

It is Namo Amida Butsu. 

Through calling Amida Buddhas name, we can realize that Amida Buddha and all Buddhas are always with us regardless of location or time.

Thus, it is very important to come to the temple to chant sutras and recite the Nembutsu.

Lets enjoy and learn deeply about Shoshinge at the Septembers Equinox Seminar, and feel Shinrans compassion.

Namo Amida Butsu



August 2014


ARIGATO!

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 

Because of the great effort of so many of our members, the Obon Festival of 2014 was very successful. I truly appreciate everything you did. Since it was my first Obon in Oxnard, I was nervous before the festival, but I was able to genuinely enjoy it with all of you. Thank you very much.

 I wrote about the origin of Obon in the July newsletter. The important point of this observance is to feel our indebtedness to our ancestors. We could not exist without them. We should never forget their love and affection.

 When Japanese people express gratitude, they say “Arigato.” Arigato means rare or precious. For example, when someone does something special for someone else - it is not an ordinary thing, but a special thing. Japanese people understand this very well. So they say “Arigato” as thank you.

 

I wonder how often we truly feel gratitude in our lives. When I was in Japan, I sometimes saw scenes where people didn’t say thank you, even though they were met with kindness. We cannot live without the support of others. We can realize this by just looking around. Most of the things we use every day were made by others. We are alive, surrounded by kindness and tenderness from others such as families and friends. In addition, the sun shines every day, the air is always supplied for us, this earth is filled with beautiful nature, and we can wet our whistle with fine water.

We cannot live without these things. We should be grateful to live with so many great benefits. Our existence itself is very precious - like a miracle.

Therefore, Buddhists, especially Shin Buddhists, don’t say “I am alive,” but say “I am allowed to live.” To realize this is an important issue in order to live with health and happiness. 

 If you want to know how to feel gratitude, please subtract from your possessions, starting with your body parts. Then, you will understand how you are fortunate. If we think it is an ordinary thing, we want more and more because our desires are bottomless. 


Sakyamuni Buddha said “少欲知足(Shoyoku-Chisoku)”. It means “If one doesn’t want too much, one can feel contented in one’s life.” The Buddha knew that human desires are endless, and they are like a fire. The fire of desire consumes us with suffering and agony. But if we feel content, satisfied, we are able to control our desires and lead a peaceful life. However, I know that many people think desires are good motivation to succeed in life.

But we don’t live alone. We should live helping each other, because as a net is made up of a series of knots, so everything in this world is connected by a series of knots. We are interdependent. The fire of desire not only burns the self, but also causes others to suffer. To remind us of this, Sakyamuni Buddha taught us that it is better to be content and appreciate what we have. 

 

To feel gratitude and to feel contentment are very important in life. The Buddha taught us that it is true wisdom to live with gratitude. Every year, our ancestors teach us this truth through the Obon service and festival.

Namo Amida Butsu



July 2014


Obon has come!

Rev. Masanori Watanabe


 Obon has finally come! The Obon season brings the real feeling of summer, and many people look forward to the Obon festival. Since this is my first Obon here in Oxnard, I am very excited. There will be some new events this year. I hope you enjoy them!


  The other day, I was invited to speak to the Oxnard Rotary Club, and I explained the origin of Obon. I would like to introduce it to all of you as well.

  The word “Obon” comes from the Ullambana Sutra. Ullambana means to suffer as if being hung upside down. The sutra tells the story of Maudgalyayana, one of Sakyamuni Buddha’s ten great disciples. He is known as Mokuren(目連) in Japan. He had the strongest divine powers among the Buddha’s disciples. Using his divine powers, he tried to see what was happening to his mother after her death, only to find she had fallen into suffering in the realm of hungry spirits. Whatever she tried to eat turned into fire and could not be eaten.

 Maudgalyayana was shocked to see his mother suffering so much, as if she had been hung upside down, and he sought the counsel of the Buddha. The Buddha then told his disciples to donate food and pray for their mother’s happiness on July 15, the day that their rainy season practices come to an end. Maudgalyayana followed the Buddha’s instructions. The disciples who received the food were very happy, and they ate, drank and danced. Their joy reached the hell of hungry spirits. Maudgalyayana’s mother was able to eat some of the donated food.

 From this event, Obon, which venerates one’s ancestors, came to be carried out on July 15.

 

 This is the origin of Obon that people generally believe. After I became a Buddhist minister, I heard a different version of the story from the resident minister of the temple where I was working in Hiroshima. I don’t know the source, but I would like to present this version to you as well.


 Maudgalyayana lost his father at an early age. He was raised by his mother alone. I think it is very difficult for a single parent to raise a child alone, regardless of the environment and country.

 His mother did anything for her child, even though in some cases, people talked about it behind her back because of some of the extreme things she did. After her passing, Maudgalyayana became a great disciple of the Buddha. He was sometimes talked about behind his back because of his mother’s actions. Since he was very sincere, he couldn’t stand such criticism. 

One day, he complained about this to the Buddha. “Why do I have to be criticized by people because of my mother?” Sakyamuni Buddha admonished him calmly.  “Your mother suffered as if being hung upside down to raise you. Why did she do this? It is because of her unconditional love for you. It was to bring you up to be completely fulfilled.” When Maudgalyayana heard this, he realized his foolishness and his mother’s great love and affection for him. He was released from his sufferings, and swore to be a great arhat for his mother. He began to dance with joy. Since it looked like fun, people joined him. This is the origin of Obon dance.

 

 Therefore, Obon is a very important time to feel obligation to our ancestors, and to show our gratitude to them. Please attend the Obon service and Obon festival.

Namo Amida Butsu

 



 June 2014


Versa (Ango)

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 

             It has been 6 months since I was assigned to the Oxnard Buddhist Temple in December. I can’t believe that it is June already. I am still learning about this temple, its members and the English language. I am enjoying meeting people and sharing the Buddha’s teachings with all of you at this temple.

             In June, it is the rainy season, called“梅雨(Tsuyu)”in Japan.It is around this time that the pleasant spring season changes into the hot and humid season of summer. In the past, I did not like this season because food spoils so quickly in the heat.

             One day, when I was talking with a member, I said to him, “I don’t really like the rainy season.” And he said, “But farmers are very grateful for the rain.” I was startled by his words. I learned a very important thing from him. Thanks to this rainy season, enough water goes to the crops, and water which quenches our thirst is stored before the midsummer. If we only consider things based on our selfishness, the rainy season would just seem unpleasant for us. However, if we take a broad view of things, we can see that it is a blessed rain which allows the crops that feed us, to grow.

            The birthplace of Buddhism is India. This season is the rainy season in India as well. Vegetation is lush, and animals and insects become active. When Sakyamuni Buddha was alive, monks practicing asceticism didn’t practice outside during this rainy season. They settled in one place in order to avoid unnecessary killing caused by such things as unmindful trampling and stepping on things. In Sanskrit, it is called Versa, which means rainy season. It is translated into Chinese as Ango(安居). This custom of settling in one place during the rainy season spread to China and Japan. Therefore, it may be said that Buddhists should listen to the Buddha’s teachings diligently in this season.

            There was a Japanese haiku poet I like named Taneda Santouka (種田山頭火). He was a monk as well as a poet. His haiku are all beautiful. This is one of them:

 

山があれば山を観る If there is a mountain , I will see it.

雨の日は雨を聴く       If it is a rainy day, I will listen to the sound of rain.

春夏秋冬                    In the four seasons

あしたもよろし          Morning is wonderful

ゆうべもよろし          Evening is wonderful

 

It is hard to express the nuance of this haiku in English. I think this haiku is very beautiful. In every single thing, there is a good point. We should accept it as it is. This haiku teaches us this important thing. But our ego-selves judge everything according to our own likes and dislikes, and our own perception of good or bad. It produces dark feelings in our mind and heart, which causes disputes and sufferings. 

              The Buddha Dharma is the light to shine on the darkness of our ego-selves. The light shines on us equally, and dispels the darkness like the sunshine. We can’t live without the sun. So, in this way, we also need the light of Buddha’s wisdom. I think it is the cornerstone of our lives.

             As in the Jodo Shinshu Creed:  revering the light of the Buddha, reflecting upon our imperfect selves, we will strive to live a life of gratitude. Rejoicing in the compassion of the Buddha, respecting and aiding all sentient beings, we will work towards the welfare of society and the world. Let us live cheerfully with the Buddha’s teachings.

Namu Amida Butsu



May 2014

Shinran Shonin’s Birthday

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 

I wrote about the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha last month, and now I would like to write about our Jodo Shinshu tradition’s founder, Shinran Shonin, this month.

 

 Shinran Shonin was born on May 21, 1173. During his lifetime Japan was in great upheaval. There were many kinds of disasters such as wars, crop failures, earthquakes, typhoons, great fires, and widespread famine. People who lived at this time were probably acutely aware of impermanence. This era was called Kamakura-Jidai (鎌倉時代). During this time many traditions of Japanese Buddhism appeared.

Also at this time, studying Buddhism was generally allowed only to people of high status, but ordinary people began to learn about Buddhism from new traditions such as the Pure Land Way. Perhaps they wanted to find the meaning of life through Buddha’s teachings.

Shinran Shonin was ordained as a monk of the Tendai school at the age of nine. The verse which he wrote at that time is very famous.

 

                    ”明日(ASU) あり(ARI)(TO) 思う(OMOU) (KOKORO) (NO) (ADA)(ZAKURA)

            夜半(YOWA) (NI) (ARASHI) (NO) 吹かぬ(FUKANU) もの(MONO)(KA)(WA)

Like cherry blossoms are the hearts that 
Tomorrow they think they might. 
For who can tell but there may be 
A tempest in the night.

 

It means, “Cherry blossoms in full bloom today, a sudden storm in the night may scatter.” Shinran didn’t want to wait until morning for his ordination even though it was already late in the evening. He felt there was no guarantee of a tomorrow in this impermanent world. He wanted to become a monk right away to find the truth of his life.  So that evening, the ritual was performed and he entered the priesthood. 

He continued studying for 20 years at Mount Hiei, but he could not find his peaceful mind and enlightenment through the ascetic training there. Then he heard about Honen Shonin(法然聖人), who used to study on Mount Hiei.

Honen was 40 years older than Shinran Shonin. He was called “Chie no Hounennbo(智慧の法然坊)”, which means Honen of wisdom. He was very intelligent and memorized all the sutras by heart. However, he renounced his status as a great Tendai monk, and he left Mount Hiei. He began propagating the Pure Land Way to people, and recommending they recite the Nembutsu. Honen’s teachings began to spread among the people. Shinran Shonin had a strong interest in his teachings. He hesitated at first, but then decided to visit Honen Shonin for 100 days and asked many questions. Shinran Shonin was very moved by Honen Shonin’s teachings, and decided to become a disciple of Honen Shonin. Like Honen Shonin, Shinran Shonin left Mount Hiei and he devoted his life to the Pure Land Way. 

At that time, Tendai school and the other traditional schools had the blessings of the court, so renouncing his status as a Tendai monk meant becoming a mendicant, a vagrant. In spite of this, he rejoiced in Honen’s teachings and propagated the way to recite the Nembutsu to people. He spent his later life with Namu Amida Butsu in joy.

He expressed his feelings like this;

 

   Seeing the sentient beings of the Nembutsu

   Throughout the worlds,

   Countless as particles, in the ten quarters,

   The Buddha grasps and never abandons them,

   And therefore is named “Amida.” 

 

Now we can listen to Shinran Shonin’s teachings more than 800 years later, thanks to the people who protected the teachings and the temples. It is a wonderful thing. We are very fortunate, and should be grateful to be able to hear these teachings. There is a special service to celebrate Shinran Shonin’s birthday called “Gotan-E” in May. Please come to the temple for this special service.

Namu Amida Butsu

 


April 2014


My First “Hanamatsuri” in Oxnard

Rev.  Masanori Watanabe

The school entrance ceremonies are held across Japan in early April, when the school year starts.  The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the petals shed after reaching its peak around this time alsoWhen I was a child, I remember I was anticipating and excited to embrace the “nenshi” the beginning of the year or event.  Now, as a Buddhist when April comes around, I instantly think of “hanamatsuri”.

The Buddhist temples in Japan celebrate the Hanamatsuri on April 8 commemorating the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha.  Hanamatsuri is also known as “Kanbutsue”.  The meaning of Kanbustue means to “pour”.  Altars are created and decorated with flowers around a statue of baby Buddha. The sweet tea (ama-cha) is poured on the Buddha's head to celebrate his birthday.  The statue of the baby Buddha, with his arm extended, illustrates the merits of Amida Buddha, reaching out to all beings.  The pouring of sweet tea on the statue of baby Buddha (kambutsu) represents the gentle rain which fell on Lumbini Garden that day.  The legend states that Maya Devi, his mother, gave birth to the child on her way to her parent's home in Lumbini garden.  While she was standing, she felt labour pains and catching hold of a drooping branch of a sal tree, she gave birth to a baby, the future Buddha.  The infant Buddha then took seven steps with one hand pointing upward, while the other points downward and declared , “Above heaven and below heaven, I alone am the world-honored one,” referring to his unique status as a Buddha-to-be.  Normally, we cannot imagine that a new born baby will walk seven stepsHowever, we should keep in mind that these stories are meant to educate us.  The six realms of suffering are the hell realm (jikoku),the hungry ghost realm (gaki), the animal realm, the Asura (shura) realm, the human realm and lastly the Devas (heavenly beings) realmEach realm has its own pros and cons.  These seven steps represent how the infant would transcend the six realms of suffering and take the extra step into the awakened life that is the Buddha’s.

In heaven above and on earth below, I am the most honored one. I shall dispel the suffering that fills the world.

This statement is not self-righteous but is made to keep us from taking our lives for granted, because if we take life for granted we cannot understand the potential of our humanity. I truly believe the potential of our human birth is demonstrated by the words of the new born child:

The human life is on this earth is given to us and no two lives are identical.  It is precious like a treasure and a miracle.  We are the ones by having been born into the human realm, who have the power to dispel the suffering that is found in the world.

Let us celebrate Sakyamuni Buddha’s birth and through this description of the Buddha’s birth, we are given a grand vision of the meaning of human life that we must not take for granted.

Namu Amida butsu 

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