Anything Can Happen

The Taste of the Nembutsu cover image

A message from Rev. Bruce Nakamura which appears in the book, “The Taste of the Nembutsu,” published in 2016 by the HHMH State Ministers’ Association. The book is a collection of dharma messages by each of the active ministers.

To extend the reach of the dharma within these messages, we will publish one per week on our website.

Anything Can Happen…

Rev. Bruce Nakamura

An interesting article entitled “The Five Things We Cannot Change,” written by Dr. David Richo, Ph.D. recently caught my attention. It seemed to offer parallels to Buddhist perspective and Teaching. Dr. Richo explains the “five unavoidable givens or five immutable facts” that visit all of us many times over until we die.

They are:

  • Everything changes; everything ends.
  • Things do not always go according to plan.
  • Life is not always fair.
  • Pain is part of life.
  • People are not loving and loyal all of the time.

Everything changes, nothing remains the same. Look at ourselves. Look at the world around us. Take note our thoughts, words and deeds. Is this self changing, growing, and developing into a more loving, caring, kinder human being? See the amazing universe? Countless atoms and molecules are moving, stirring and shifting. The universe is energy in constant transformation and flux. No matter our desire to hold on, grasp, cling to human life, that life is but a moment in an infinite process of transformation.

In some way, we are observers, witnesses to the changes in and about us in this vast universe. Yet to a real degree, we are also responsible for our thoughts, words, and deeds. They translate into what we do and how we live in family, community, and the world. Our human attitudes have direct and indirect outcomes that affect our situations in the larger picture of life. The complexities of human activities have already proven so powerful as to affect the well-being of human and natural environments around the world.

Everything ends. No matter how deeply we love someone and treasure our relationships, as we are born to life, so must we die to life. No matter how we take care of ourselves and others, do everything to look younger and healthy, we have limited control over a life that comes to an end, sometimes even abruptly. Nobody escapes this basic truth of change and uncertainty.

Things do not always go according to plan. While many of us live in an “urban jungle”, we mostly find ways to juggle our schedules. We check our “to-do” lists, update our schedules, get on our cell-phones, negotiate with others, and for the most part, things seem to pan out…that is, until we paint ourselves into a corner.

Human relationships are especially difficult, even unpredictable. It can be difficult to “read” others; and even more difficult to “read” ourselves. “But, I did what I thought she wanted me to do! Now… why is she so upset with me?”

Life is not always fair; Pain is part of Life. “Fair” is the way life goes when we get our own way. We like to think we mostly get what we want, but we also get what we don’t want. Believe it or not, life is not just about me! The world, after all, does not revolve around me or you.

However, having said that, we often repeat the same behavior while expecting a different outcome. Alas, it’s painful to let go of our expectations, even when we’re the “good” guy. It’s difficult to admit that anything to do with letting go has first to do with what’s happening to our heads, our hearts and our hands, not necessarily in that order. Letting go is the hardest thing; it’s a kind of openness, an honest entrusting that we—you and I—are all in it together…no matter what.

People are not going to be loving and loyal all the time. “I love you! Do you love me as much as I love you?” Love, fidelity, loyalty; these ideals are desirable human traits. We try to emulate them and expect others to do the same. After all, weren’t they part of our vows taken when we got married? But that’s not going to happen all the time. Even when two people try to work things out, stuff just happens… no matter…

People should genuinely love us, but sometimes they don’t have the capacity or will, no matter how much they try. Sometimes they’re not going to love or show us the loyalty we think we require to make that relationship work. Sometimes they just can’t because they don’t know how. Betrayal? “How could he? How could she?” Yet, other people may be filled with the kind of pains that rob them of self-worthiness and the willingness to trust, that has nothing to do with loving or showing you how loyal they should be to you.

So if someone can genuinely love us—that’s wonderful! And if we can love and forgive ourselves fully and completely when something bad happens, now that’s even more amazing!

Dr. Richo, as does the Buddha-Dharma, touches upon a universal truth, which is: anything can happen to anyone, at anytime, anywhere. It’s just so very difficult to accept when it happens to us. If we’re open and aware, we might discover, though sometimes very slowly, that this self is not especially entitled to either excessive boasting or self-pity. We might even begin to grow by letting go an infantile attitude that we somehow deserve special treatment over others, or just as bad, that we are not worthy at all.

Instead, waking up to the reality that “anything” can happen to us, has the power to make us more humble. It can make us experience a sense of shared comradeship, a basic commiseration with everything in this vast, unpredictable, universe. There can be something even consoling and inclusive about being in this world with everyone and everything else, no matter how difficult life gets…and it certainly will. We might even experience that we are a living part of a great world—an all-inclusive compassion as gratitude, that, while each and all of us exist momentarily, it is indeed a miracle that we too experience this joy and gratitude that can be shared with others.

Our True Pure Land Buddhist (Jodo Shin) tradition offers this universal experience of brother and sisterhood with all other beings, human, and otherwise, as the Universal Vow of the Buddha’s Wisdom and Compassion or Namo Amida Butsu.