What is Most Essential?

The Taste of the Nembutsu cover image

A message from Bishop Eric Matsumoto 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.


What is Most Essential?

Bishop Eric Matsumoto

As a preface, I would like to share where I got the hint for this message. Do you remember the NHK Drama “Princess Atsu” or “Atsuhime”? In a dramatic episode near the end of the show, she known as Lady Tensho-in, the widow of the 13th Tokugawa shogun, who is faced with announcing to all the women who live and work in the Ooku or Inner Chambers of Edo Castle, of which there were over a 1000 of them, that in less than a month they will all have to vacate the castle. As she makes this announcement, she assumes the responsibility of looking after the welfare of all the women while also trying to contribute towards making the transition of power to a new regime peacefully without bloodshed. As she takes on this challenge, she makes one final request of the women as their leader, saying they must leave this castle which has been the home of the Tokugawa’s for over 200 years, but asking them not to forget “Tokugawa no Kokoro.” She was told by her late husband the real “home” of the Tokugawa is not this physical structure of the castle, but wherever you are, for it is you who has the “kokoro” of the Tokugawa within you. As her final request, she asks the women, whom she considers to be a part of her family, to pass on to future generations the legacy of the Tokugawa with pride, dignity and honor. When I heard her say this, I thought to myself, as a Buddhist, what is our legacy? What is most important for us to awaken to and pass on/share with others?

As I thought about it, the words of Sakyamuni Buddha came to mind. As he was about to pass into the Great Nirvana he said “Make my Teachings your light. Rely upon them…Respect each other, learn together, practice my Teachings together…the true Buddha is not a human body, it is Enlightenment. A human body must die, but the Wisdom of Enlightenment will exist forever in the truth of the Dharma…after my death, the Dharma shall be your teacher. Follow the Dharma and you will be true to me.” Sakyamuni Buddha with his last breath is pointing out what is the most important or essential. And thus what has been passed on for over 2500 years from ancient India to the rest of the world including our own Hawaii is the Dharma or Teachings. For us, as followers of the Pure Land Tradition, it is the Nembutsu. Deeply reflecting, it is not enough to only pass on the physical container of the Dharma–the temple. What is most essential is our sharing with others the Nembutsu Dharma through living it as exemplified by the lives of Honen Shonin and Shinran Shonin.

Honen Shonin was once asked by a disciple named Horenbo, “From olden days, memorial temples were built for distinguished masters. However, there are none in praise of your great achievement. Where shall we build a temple for you?” Honen Shonin replied, “The Nembutsu Teachings will not permeate among the people even if you build a temple in my honor. I have devoted my entire life to spreading the Dharma because I want people everywhere to receive the Nembutsu teachings. Therefore, any place, whether a king’s palace or a thatched hut, any place where people recite the Nembutsu is my temple.”

Shinran Shonin probably inherited this tradition from Honen Shonin for he did not build any temples nor did he consider others as his personal disciples. Shinran Shonin’s understanding was that we are all disciples of the Buddha and fellow travelers along the Nembutsu Path. What is most important is living the life of Shinjin-Nembutsu, realizing the Awakened Mind of True Entrusting, and reciting the Nembutsu of Gratitude. For Shinran Shonin too, for people everywhere to rejoice in Amida Buddha’s warm embrace was most important and he fondly said, “If you are rejoicing in the Nembutsu, know that there are two people rejoicing; if there are two people, know that there are three; for that other shall be I, Shinran.” Shinran Shonin’s unending gratitude and dedication to sharing Dharma, in response to Amida Buddha’s Great Compassion, is expressed by his words known to us today as “Ondokusan:”

By the Benevolence of Amida’s Light,
Utmost we entrust, deep thanks express;
For our debt to teachers for their guidance true,
We dedicate ourselves in gratefulness.

It is the conviction that these Nembutsu Teachings, Amida Buddha’s Compassion, is too priceless to lose and must be passed on to future generations that has motivated Followers of the Nembutsu to establish and preserve temples as places to hear the Dharma and, I will add, share the Teachings with others.

What is most essential is to become awakened to “Hotoke no Kokoro”, or the Buddha’s Heart and Mind. There is a saying “Learning the Great Compassionate Heart of the Buddha.” Let us realize, Amida Buddha’s Heart and Mind, (A)Mida no Kokoro, Go-Hongan- Amida Buddha’s aspiration to equally embrace and save one and all! At first glance, this may not seem so earth shattering, but when you think about it carefully, it is a very different perspective from the one that is prevalent in our world today. The Peace and Happiness that Amida Buddha speaks of is not a peace and happiness for only a few, or select, but all forms of life/existence. While fully realizing that it is impossible for me, a foolish being or bonbu to exhibit anything close to the Buddha’s compassion, may we at least embrace Amida Buddha’s aspiration of peace and happiness for all existence and take to heart the words of Shinran Shonin from which the theme for his 750th Memorial is taken “May there be peace in the world and may the Buddha’s Teaching spread.” Entrusting in the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Infinite Light.