To the Family, Relatives and Friends of the late Colonel Ellison Onizuka and the Members and Supporters of Kona Hongwanji,
As you gather at Kona Hongwanji, on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the passing of the late Colonel Ellison Onizuka and his fellow Astronauts in remembrance of them, I am sure there are many who can still vividly recall the scene of the exploding Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986 which left us in shock and disbelief. For the people of Hawaii, it was sad, to say the least, as we lost one of our greatest home grown heroes. A local boy who grew up in rural community, but through education, perseverance, personal commitment and diligence went on to become a national hero as an elite NASA astronaut recognized by the world for his contributions and especially his encouragement to the youth to ever aspire for bigger and better things for the sake of humankind. In a message he delivered to Konawaena’s Graduating Class of 1980, he said,
“If I can impress upon you only one idea… Let it be that the people who make this world run, whose lives can be termed successful, whose names will go down in the history books,… are the adventurists, the explorers, and doers of this world. When they see a wrong or problem, they do something about it. When they see a vacant place in our knowledge, they work to fill that void.” “Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds… to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.” “Your vision is not limited by what your eye can see, but by what your mind can imagine.” “…your education and imagination will carry you to places which we won’t believe possible.” “Make your life count—and the world will be a better place because you tried.”
As I reread his words and as a Jodo Shin Buddhist, the life of Sakyamuni Buddha and Shinran Shonin come to mind. These two individuals were, to use Ellison’s words, explorers and doers, when they saw a wrong or problem, they did something about it. When they saw a vacant place in our knowledge, they worked to fill that void. Sakyamuni Buddha addressed the sufferings of the world by sharing the Wisdom of Enlightenment. As Prince Siddhartha, he realized that there was a void (ignorance or lack of true understanding) and sought to fill that void. By virtue of his attaining Great Insight, the void was filled with the Wisdom of Enlightenment which continues to guide people to this day bringing meaning to people’s lives. Shinran Shonin having experienced the Great Compassion of Amida Buddha shared the Nembutsu Teachings which has brought hope and joy to countless people for centuries. They are perfect examples of Ellison’s words “Make your life count-and the world will be a better place because you tried.”
It is this expression “Make your life count-and the world will be a better place because you tried” which lingers in my mind on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary. This, I believe, is Ellison’s encouraging message to us. As we listen to the news, nowadays, we may feel overwhelmed and helpless with all the negative things that are happening around the world and even in our own Hawaii, but his encouraging words ring in my ears. Let’s try to make that difference. Let us try to be that difference. Challenging, and maybe impossible, as it may be for me as bonbu/ordinary foolish being, I should not give up. Just as Amida Buddha does not give up on this bonbu I (Eric), let us not give up on ourselves and our world. Let us live life of nembutsu in which we aspire to cast off our negative qualities in grateful response to Amida Buddha’s Unconditional Compassion and continually go to the Buddha-Dharma for guidance.
To conclude, I wish I could be there today in Kona with you all of you to remember and honor Ellison not only the famous astronaut, but a fellow Jodo Shin Buddhist, but even though I am not, I would like to ask you to please join me in gassho to recite “Namo Amida Butsu” in grateful response to Amida Buddha’s Great Wisdom and Compassion which is reaching out to embrace all of us and seeking the happiness, in the truest sense of the word, the happiness of all life, all existence. Truly, how fortunate we are to have encountered Namo Amida Butsu or All-Inclusive Wisdom and All-Embracing Compassion. Namo Amida Butsu. Entrusting in the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Infinite Light.