The Taste of the Nembutsu cover image

A message from Rev. Toyokazu Hagio 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.



Rev. Toyokazu Hagio

When you eat at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and you pile a lot of food in your plate, but you can’t eat all of it, you throw away the leftovers. Or sometimes when you have a free day, you spend a whole day without doing anything. What do we say in Japanese? The expression is “Mottainai,” uttered when something useful, such as food or time is wasted.

Mottainai is Japanese term meaning “a sense of regret concerning waste when the essential value of object or resource is not properly utilized.” Mottainai is a compound word, mottai+nai. Mottai (勿体) refers to the essence of thing or the quality of entity; in other words, the function of body, thing, and Nai (無い) indicates lack or negation. Therefore, the original meaning of mottainai is “The essence or quality of the thing or body does not exist”.

So now let me give an example. I have a bowl and two pencils. What is the original function of this bowl? We use it to serve soup or noodle, so we should serve soup or noodle in the bowl, but if I put this bowl on my head, like a hat, I kill the function or quality of bowl. That is the meaning of mottainai. Likewise, the pencils’ functions are to draw a picture or to write a letter. But instead of doing these, I use them to pick my nose or to scratch my ear. This too, is “mottainai.” This means that I have negated or killed its essence, its quality; it means “mottainai! What a waste!”

When I look around this hall, I can see many people, chairs, flowers, floors, wall, electric fans, window blinds, and so on. And also through the window I can see trees, buildings, birds, ocean and much more. We have to know that each of these things has its own individual characteristic, its own reason for existence, but if we ignore the characteristics of these individual things and use them only for our convenience, it means that we are killing the “life” in them, or mottainai, therefore, we must think about each individual significance or meaning.

The Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 winner Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist, is a promoter of “Mottainai,” an environmental protection concept in English stated as, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

Our next step is to consider our own life, its individual significance or meaning. I’d like to ask you, have you ever thought about why you were born in this world? It’s a kind of tough question, so we should ask Shinran Shonin. According to Shinran Shonin, the meaning of birth in this world is to encounter the Nembutsu Teaching, Amida’s Universal Vow, and especially hard to encounter is the decisive cause of birth to Pure Land. The Pure Land has many meanings in the sutras: Peace Land, Happy Land, Flower Land, Western Shore, Precious Home, and Land of no conflict. Also Buddha says that the Pure Land is the destination of life, future life, home town of life, and return place of life. As Shinran Shonin mentioned, if we do not encounter the decisive cause of birth to Pure Land, it is the truly “Mottainai” for our life.

So I’d like to explain Pure Land as a return place of life. Daily, we wake up, eat breakfast, go to school for study, or to work, then after 5 p.m. we go back to home, but if we don’t have a home as return place, even study hard or work hard, we can’t spend a day peacefully, meaningfully.

Our life is also like a journey or trip. When you go to Hilo airport to leave on a trip, and you meet a friend who asks, “Where are you going?” you can easily give your destination, but if you answer “I don’t know where am I going?” you will be suspect. Your friend might ask, “Are you all right?”

When someone asks “After this world, where are you going,” I wonder how many people could answer, “I’m going to such and such a place”.

I have thought that journey’s destination was the designated place, but once Mr. Tomisaburo Hasegawa, a woodblock artist, said that journey’s destination is the place you return to, because a journey does not finish until you return to where you departed from. The place you are going from now is only object passing through in your journey. As you know, many Hawaii people like to go to Las Vegas where there are so many pleasure things such as casinos, shows, shopping, parties, and so on. They can enjoy playing and spending time over there, but even you might hit a big jack pot such as a half million or one million dollars, if you lost your place in Hawaii to return to, what do you do?

If you lost your family, home, property in Hawaii, you must worry about even tonight. Because you have a return place in Hawaii, you can stay, spend and enjoy your time in Las Vegas. No matter how much you may become great, famous, powerful and rich in this world, if you don’t have the return place of life, you can’t send a peaceful, meaningful life, it might be miserable, or “Mottainai” “What a waste!”

And also, on September 7, 2009, we have the great opportunity to attend the Shinran Shonin Commemoration Service at here Hilo Betsuin, one chance in our whole life. In Christianity, it is a very significant and holy matter that the Pope goes around places and conducts or performs a service. In Buddhist, Dalai Lama is reborn as Buddhist leader. Similarly, our Monshu Eminence Ohtani, a direct descendant of Shinran Shonin, is also the inherent spiritual leader of our Jodo Shin Buddhism. So if you miss this great precious opportunity, it is truly “Mottainai.” Let us willingly, positively participate in these events and encourage your friends to join us. In Gassho.