On Being Strong, Powerful and Rich

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Although January is a very busy and celebratory month, February, despite being the shortest month of the year, is also a very busy month for Americans. For example, President’s Day is observed in February. It is also the month when we observe Superbowl Sunday. It is also when thousands if not millions of men, some to repay the debt created on Superbowl Sunday, take the time to say, “Thank you” to their significant other on Valentine’s day. February is also the month when many Buddhists throughout the world take the time to remember the Buddha’s entering into pari-nibbana or the “perfect” nirvana that comes when one no longer has a physical body to worry about. February, however, is also a special month at the Venice Hongwanji because it is also during this month that our Women’s Association takes the time to remember Lady Takeko Kujo, who was instrumental in founding the Buddhist Women’s Movement in Japan and ultimately throughout the world, and all the late women who have helped to establish, support, and advance the Buddhist Women’s Movement here at the Venice Hongwanji.

Partially because of my age, I have been very lucky to have been treated by many of the current members of our Women’s Association (Fujinkai) as their own son (although others say they wish to see me more as a brother). With this kind of association I have been treated to many meals, received many gifts, and have been exposed to many a wise word — both in praise and in caution — that only experience can bring. This relationship, although some will overlook it as “natural,” is a very important one to have at the temple. Not only do I benefit from it personally, not only is it the kind of relationship that brings warmth and caring to the temple, but it is also a relationship that helps us to see how true the words of Shinran Shonin are. In Chapter 5 of the Tannishou, for example, Shinran Shonin is quoted as having said:

As for me, Shinran, I have never said the nembutsu even once for the repose of my departed father and mother. For all sentient beings, without exception, have been our parents and brothers and sisters in the course of countless lives in many states of existence. On attaining Buddhahood after this present life, we can save every one of them.

[Collected Works of Shinran (CWS), p. 664]

It is a passage that can help us to see beyond the distinctions that we create to separate ourselves from others. In seeing each other in this way because of the Nenbutsu, hopefully we are helped to realize one of the benefits that shinjin (faith) has in the present life or the benefit of constantly practicing great compassion (for the full list of ten, please see p. 112 CWS).

In a world where we are taught that you have to be strong, powerful, and rich, at the temple we are very lucky, thanks in part to our Women’s Association, to see living examples of how being strong, powerful, and rich can all be had with kindness.

Rev. John Iwohara
February, 2014