Pass the Nembutsu Sash

The Taste of the Nembutsu cover image

A message from Rev. Tomo Hojo 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.

Pass the Nembutsu Sash

Rev. Tomo Hojo

Times flies by. More than five years have passed since I came to Hawaii. When I first came to Hawaii I was young and skinny but Hawaii is comfortable, temple members take good care of me and then there’s all the tasty food. My waist became bigger and bigger every year.

I didn’t think that it was a problem because it is a natural thing for a person living in Hawaii but I realized it was a problem recently.

Some of you know that five Hongwanji ministers ran the “Honolulu Rainbow Ekiden” in Honolulu.

Ekiden is a long distance relay race. You receive a sash from your teammate and wear it and run; after running your route, you pass the sash to the next runner. It is a traditional Japanese relay race.

As you know, weight is strongly related to running. Long distance runners are usually skinny, so I focused only on passing the sash to the next runner. Fortunately, I was able to pass the sash.

At the end of the race, we were 25 out of 120 teams. Ministers are always working in their offices which is unhealthy, so I think 25 out of 120 is good.

Ekiden is great because it is a group sport where you count on each other to finish the race, unlike an individual sport where you do it yourself. If you don’t pass the sash, the race would end and you would let your team members down.

This time five ministers ran the Ekiden and I was the first runner. When I held the sash it felt heavy. The sash is actually tiny and light but it was heavy to me. When I think about the sash, it is similar to our lives.

We receive the Nembutsu teachings from our parents and grandparents and live in the Nembutsu. During our lifetime we pass this teaching to the next generation. Shinran Shonin quoted the following sentence to the True Teaching, Practice, and Realization:

In order that the process be made continuous, without end and without interruption, by which those who have been born first guide those who come later, and those who are born later join those who were born before. This is so that the boundless ocean of birth- and-death be exhausted.

(The True Teaching, Practice, and Realization, CWS Page 291)

When we pass the teaching we should know what our teaching is. Shinran Shonin’s understanding is that we go to Pure Land by reciting the Nembutsu with a true entrusting heart, which we call Shinjin. He said:

Attainment of Buddhahood through the Nembutsu: this is the true essence of the Pure Land way.

(The True Teaching, Practice, and Realization, CWS Page 55)

The Nembutsu is the only way to go to the Pure Land. We will become Buddha in the Pure Land, after this life. The only action we need to take is to accept Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow as true and say the Nembutsu in appreciation. We hear this message in the temples often but I think some people of today may wonder: Do I really want to go to the Pure Land?

We have never been to the Pure Land. We have never seen the Pure Land. It seems that most people want to stay in this world as long as possible. They are attached to this world.

For most people, this is a very comfortable place to live.

However, unpleasant things do happen but many things are better now than they were in the past. Through technology life is better now. If I feel hot, I can turn on the air conditioner. Medicine is improving so we can live a lot longer and with greater comfort and less pain.

If we do get sick, we can be treated with new drugs and get well quickly.

Life is more comfortable and healthier than 50 years ago, but even science and technology can’t find a solution to death. We can’t stay in this world forever.

This is why we should listen carefully to where we will go after this life. When I die, nobody can go with me. Even if you have a strong love for your husband or wife you can’t go with him or her. We also cannot change places with a dying person, nor can a dying person change places with us.

One old woman who lost her grandchild said, if it were possible she would like to change places with her grandchild. I understand her thinking even though such a thing is not possible.

Everybody dies sooner or later. If we don’t know where we will go after this life, we may not feel at ease. For example, we can sit down and listen comfortably to the dharma talk at the temple because we have a home to go back to after this service.

If you don’t have a home, you might not listen to Dharma Talk. You would need to find a place to sleep tonight. It is the same with our lives.

You have peace of mind knowing that you are going to the Pure Land. This is promised to you by Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. You know that your loved ones are waiting for you. When you do leave this world, you will not be alone. Amida Buddha will be with you.

Even when we do not think about Amida Buddha, Amida Buddha is concerned about us like a precious child and is saying I’m always with you, even though all people may abandon you, I will never abandon you. Please call my name. I’m here. Let’s keep listening to Amida Buddha’s calling voice. Namo Amida Butsu.