Meaningful Reflection on Life Challenges

The Taste of the Nembutsu cover image

A message from Rev. David Nakamoto 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.


Meaningful Reflection on Life Challenges

Rev. David Nakamoto

We gather here today in the spirit of Buddhist brotherhood and fellowship — of loving hearts that shall always be guided to be quick to help and sympathize and to be slow to criticize or hurt. Bind us together with ties of conscious unity, so that a fellowship of love and a warm human understanding may readily emerge in our associations with one another, at whatever point of life we may touch. May we be utterly sincere, entirely devoid of selfishness, and wholly open to the warm and compassionate light of Amida Buddha which will guide us unerringly towards the attainment of higher goals.

In deep gratitude and appreciation for the countless blessings we enjoy, we repeat the holy name. Namo Amida Butsu

Good morning and Aloha. Thank you for inviting me here to your beautiful Lahaina Temple for your Autumn O-Higan Service. I am honored to be here.

As you know O-Higan is an ancient practice of Buddhist followers who place emphasis on this period for spiritual and moral benefit. It is a time when the cold season of winter is ending, and the hot season of summer begins, when the hours of daylight and darkness are equal, and the days are seen as delightfully ideal and enjoyable.

The word Higan is a Buddhist term and was originally taken from the Sanskrit term “Paramita” which is translated as “gone to the other shore.” The words “other shore” refer to the “World of Nirvana.” In contrast to this, is the transient world of illusory birth and death.

In Buddhism, the Bodhisattva practice of the Six Paramitas is the means by which one crosses over to the “Other Shore,” crossing over the illusory ocean of birth and death to the other shore of Nirvana.

In our Jodo Shinshu practice, it is in the realization of Amida’s Compassionate Vow that there arises within our hearts a natural expression of gratitude for salvation that is assured.

I am sure you have heard this explanation of O-Higan many times before, and so I do not want to take too much time on it. For us, it may be a good time for the emphasis on reflection.

A reflective thought for me, brings us to this past September 11th which was the anniversary of the tragic event that took the lives of so many innocent people in New York City. All temples throughout the State were requested to ring their temple bell. I rang the temple bell that morning last week at the same time of the first attack of the World Trade Center which was at 8:46 am. Some Ewa Hongwanji members present also participated by each ringing the temple bell as a symbol of their honoring the victims who lost their lives. We held a short service where I shared some reflective thoughts on this horrendous tragedy that has rocked the world and has set in motion continued violent actions in Iraq.

Monshu Koshin Ohtani shared a message at the 13th World Buddhist Women’s Conference held three weeks ago in Honolulu. He stated that looking at today’s world situation, we can see that there are many problems which negate the dignity of life such as terrorism, disputes, poverty, oppression of human rights, and the destruction of the environment. All these problems are deeply related to our own attitude by which we have extended limitlessly without giving any heed to the existence of other lives.

As shown in the basic Buddhist Teaching of dependent causation, all life on the earth is interconnected and lives in mutual respect of each other. The Primal Vow of Amida Tathagatha which calls out to “the sentient beings of the ten quarters” is directed equally and without discrimination toward all living things. In living in the aspiration of Amida Tathagatha, we not only come to notice our own limitation and ignorance as a human being but also are able to live hand in hand with one another as fellow practicers. No matter how difficult our situation may be, we must firmly accept Shinran Shonin’s wish of “May there be peace in the world, and may the Buddha’s teaching spread,” and make every effort to build a world in which all the lives, regardless of race or country, can fully live with joy and to the utmost.

I share these profound words of the Monshu as they relate powerfully to the events such as the 9-11 attack. Shinran in the Collected Works of Shinran says, “In the final analysis it would be splendid if all people say the Nembutsu, not with thoughts of just yourselves, but for the sake of the country and for the sake of the people of the country.”

The 9-11 attack and its destructive result bring to bear upon us and upon people throughout the world the notion of suffering. This suffering, however, can bring the opportunity for learning, and growing can arise.

Rev. Ken Tanaka gave the keynote address at the 13th World Buddhist Women Conference where he presented a metaphor of a person struggling alone in the ocean who is exhausted dealing with suffering and yet continues to rely on himself in dealing with his struggles. For him, being lost and not knowing which way to go, his thoughts might be on drowning in this deep ocean. When he is absolutely clear that he is unable to deal with the struggle himself, he lets go. With this he just floats as he no longer struggles. He now sees the ocean as a friend rather than an enemy. Amida Buddha who represents the ocean has been there all along. Amida accepts me just as I am– a realization with which there is another stage, one of gratitude. Gratitude for this realization: Amida has been there all along.

With this gratitude which comes from a deep appreciation, having had to experience the struggle of life, the wish is to share this with others. We not only worry about our own suffering but also look at others. For Shinran, he was keenly aware of the suffering of others. In Buddhism, to be truly compassionate is to feel the suffering of the other person. It is compassion with empathy or to feel the pain of suffering of the other.

The 9-11 attack was tragic; however, there were many instances of truly compassionate acts demonstrated by heroic individuals. Firemen, police and rescue personnel risked their lives to save other lives. Many even died giving up their lives while attempting to rescue people from the burning buildings and recovering those lost and covered in debris from the collapsed buildings. True compassion was manifested in these acts of bravery; we admire their spirit and are grateful for their actions. In times of need, we can see the beauty of human kindness and compassion come flowing forward. Great humanity exists amongst us.

The point in Buddhism is to be aware and the teachings of Buddha to guide you. Therefore sufferings and demonstrated acts of true compassion can be again an opportunity for reflection that can lead us to learning and growth.

Reflecting on the 9-11 tragedy can also help us reflect on contributing to peace in this world. Peace however, begins with me. It needs to be apart of ourselves so that it can be manifested in our lives and therefore impact the world around us. Amida’s boundless compassion supports us assisting us in the awareness that our self-centered nature is so strong and that even though you know that Amida surrounds you, you are still attached to self. Amida’s calling is the call from self-power to Other power. This is Amida’s working or Other Power. Freedom and liberation begins here and leads toward peace.

An interesting aspect made of the 9-11 tragedy is in the fact that on that particular date, September 11th, another tragedy occurred that the people primarily on the Island of Kauai suffered. This, of course, was Hurricane Iniki. I happened to be living on Kauai at the time, and I remember vividly the damage and destruction that occurred. Much of the island was in a chaotic state. Damage to homes and building was tremendous. All power and telephone lines were down. With no power, water was not available for a while. Basically all normal life activities came to an abrupt halt. Assessment of damage by families was the first step and then to secure shelter, food and water. Red Cross shelters sprung up, supplying food, water and other supplies to long lines of people.

Some tragic loss of life occurred as I knew of one person who took his own life due to sustaining heavy losses of his property,

As I went about the normal business as all those in the community, we stood in long lines to get propane gas and ice. What I noticed and to my amazement was that people accepted their situation and kept their spirits up, conversing with one another about their situations. They confided in one another and supported one another.

In my job with a social service agency that served Hawaiian families, I experienced that people responded selflessly. When I offered them supplies for their homes, their response was, “Please give it to the other family; they may need it more than I do.” I had much difficulty distributing the supplies.

An interesting observation I had was that the people of Niihau who are known to be hardy people who live simply, began sending their generators to Kauai for families to use as they knew they could do well for themselves with using basic supplies such as charcoal and kerosene lamps.

On my street, families shared their food with neighbors; a genuine spirit of ohana was occurring. Here I thought to myself, how is it that in this time of real struggle, there still exists a wonderful spirit of support for one another. This interdependent nature of things that is part of our Buddhist understanding, is actively working. Although the experience of this natural disaster brought with it much suffering, the irony is that it also brought the opportunity for learning and growth and in this case the beauty of the spirit of kindness and compassion.

In conclusion, as we discuss tragic events such as 9-11 and Hurricane Iniki, the sufferings and struggles that we encounter in life are ironically rich sources by which we reflect for ourselves true meaning in our lives. The struggles present opportunities for truly appreciating the preciousness of this life. We know that the lotus blossom blooms in the muddy water. With an appreciation of struggle in the many kinds of conditions that we face, we can come to understand and appreciate the true beauty of life.

In reflection during this our O-Higan, perhaps the important thing that we need to remind ourselves of is, the need to listen, hear, be sensitive to what goes on in our lives and the lives of those around us, and be open to opportunities to learn and grow. We need to study in the sense of supporting dharma learning. The Sangha and temple activities can be a great support as we help one another in learning and thereby naturally transmitting the teachings to others. Amida’s Great Compassion is now and has always been supporting us toward this goal.

Namo Amida Butsu