Flying Geese and the Dharma

The Taste of the Nembutsu cover image

A message from Rev. Bert Sumikawa 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.


Flying Geese and the Dharma

Rev. Bert Sumikawa

After the BWA convention in Canada, a group of us took a tour of the Canadian Rockies and Glacier Park. On the earlier part of our trip, we bused down into Montana and stopped at this little restaurant to enjoy lunch. After lunch I went out of the restaurant and saw a little lake, and saw a mother goose with a few goslings swimming around in the pond, just slowly meandering around, dipping deep into the water at times, looking for something to eat, or maybe she was teaching her kids how to survive in the world.

It reminded me about the nature of geese. The nature of geese and its behavior reminded me of my responsibility as an individual when working together as a team. I think that it is an appropriate and a great analogy to share when we face the challenges that we have today, in the sustenance and maintenance of our temple.

Did you know that geese are very different from other kinds of birds? It is about the way geese fly. How do geese fly that is different as compared to a duck or pigeon or mynah birds? They fly in a V formation! So why do they flew in a V formation? I learned that when the geese flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the birds behind it. This means that the geese that follow are being held up by a little bit of air pressure created by the geese in front of them.

And, as the geese that follow do not have to work as hard to fly, geese are able to fly long distances and flying in a V formation in a group gives them a 71% greater distance compared to if the geese were flying alone.

People that work as a team to share a common goal or have a sense of community, get to where they are going quickly and easily because if they are working as a team, therefore they are relying on the thrust and energy of each other.

When geese fly in a V formation, the goose that is in front, the lead goose, is doing most of the work. Since that goose has to fight the force of the wind, and has to determine the direction that the whole group is going to fly to, that lead goose has to fight the drag and the resistance. That lead goose takes the point and breaks the wind for the geese behind it. The other geese that follow benefit from that draft and as a result, they don’t have to work as hard. You can see this in sports and other activities. Bicyclists, drag racers, speed skaters, cross country skiers and others do the same thing when traveling in a group. They follow right behind someone so that they can conserve fuel and energy.

Something about geese that is also different is that when the geese are flying in a V formation, you can hear them coming from a long distance away. You are able to hear them honking. That is because the rest of the geese are honking from behind to encourage the geese up front.

Then, when the lead goose gets tired, it drops back and another goose takes point, moves up to the front, and so these geese take turns in doing the hard work. They take turns in leading the group. So that makes sense, taking turns in doing the hard job and stepping up when a lead goose is tired because keeping up in this kind of pace is like being in charge of an organization alone, and this leads to burnout ultimately, if it’s the same people taking point all the time.

In our sanghas, we are thankful and grateful that we have many people stepping up to maintain and sustain our temple and its many activities. Our temple leaders, board presidents, members who chair the many committees and many others that have led and are continuing to lead us into a common direction so that we may be better able to fulfill our mission, and that is, that we are the center of Shin Buddhist spiritual growth, learning and compassionate service to our community.

When it comes to geese that fly to the South in the Fall, and then back up North again when it gets warmer, they would not be able to complete their journey if they were to fly alone. But together, they are able to successfully complete their journey to get to their natural home, to nest, to raise their young, and to continue their life cycle. When it’s time to do the hard tasks, we , like geese should also take turns in taking the lead, or to at least come out and help the team.

This team also includes our children. They are a part of a team at home. This includes doing chores at home helping out as a family, working hard in school, and doing your best in various activities and in athletics, to give your best effort.

For members, it is of paramount importance that we as a sangha help out and support our temple in its many, many activities. I have heard people say that we need more activities. But, activities mean people, and without people, we cannot have activities can we? Working as a Sangha is not always fun and games and making the tough decisions is not easygoing, and it rests on these leaders. But, things have to get done, and somebody needs to take charge, because they do not get done by itself. All of us have to do our part.

Continuing on with the story of the geese, when a goose gets sick or it can’t continue to fly in formation anymore, it flies out of formation, but it does not go to the ground by itself. One or two of the other geese will also fall out of formation, follow it down and will stay with that goose and help that goose and protect that goose until it got better or until it died. Only then, will they either try to rejoin there original group or try to find another group to join. Only then, will they take care of themselves. Geese truly care about each other, and it shows how they work as a team, it shows in their interactions with each other.

Although they are birds, geese can teach us a lot about the Buddha dharma, and a lot about life as well. We can learn from the geese that we are karmically bound to each other, that we are interconnected and that we are not separate from one another. Like in the mythical Indra’s Net that I mentioned earlier, we are all bound together like a web, and each is as precious as the other, shining brilliantly and reflecting a beautiful like upon one another.

We like geese can work together and accomplish much more than we would if we were to try to do it ourselves.

The founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism Shinran, understood this reality of interdependence with regard to living life together in a community or a sangha. Shinran referred to us, or our sangha in the phrase, Ondobo, Ondogyo, or fellow travelers on the Nembutsu Path, or fellow travelers on the Dharma Path. Each one is also, though an individual, are traveling together. I truly believe that this term, although a strictly religious one, can be applied here, as essentially, everything that we do in the community of the temple, is the dharma, for in each and every instance, there are lessons to be learned, not only to see ourselves as we truly are, but also on the path to become a true human being.