Sensei’s Monthly Message
Sensei’s Monthly Message
On the fourth Wednesday of the month, our Young Adult Buddhist Association (YABA) has been holding their monthly discussion class. Recently, however, they have been talking about texts that are important to the Jodo Shinshu tradition. In April, they talked about the Shoshinge, and in their May meeting they talked about the Tannishou. Although the Tannishou was not written by Shinran Shonin, it remains a very important text because it includes within it many of the lessons shared by Shinran Shonin to those who called themselves his students. It is called Tannishou or “Passages Lamenting Differences” because the author felt that even only after about thirty years since the death of Shinran Shonin, divergent explanations about what Shinran Shonin was trying to share became prevalent. In what we might call the “forward” of the text is written:
and the author points to the responsibility of the person who has received the teachings to transmit these teachings in a direct manner so that, like themselves, all who follow may have the same opportunity to experience the same liberation as did Shinran Shonin.
In talking about the Tannishou, however, we discussed how the text can be divided into three sections. The first section talks about what the essential teachings of Jodo Shinshu are as shared to the author. This section is comprised of the first 10 Chapters. The second section, the section where the text gets its name, talks about the divergent views that existed at the time the Tannishou was written and explains why these are divergent views in contrast to the correct view. The final section gives the author’s perspective on what it means to receive and ultimately to share.
As part of the discussion, a question came up that caught me by surprise and a question that I was not prepared to answer. I was not prepared to answer because it was a question that helped me to see what I was doing “wrong” in my ministry, and one that I was not ready to confront at the time of the question. Paraphrasing, the question was, “Why was there a need to write the eight chapters in the second section of the book? Why do I need to know what is being taught incorrectly?”
Indeed, why is there a need to tell people what not to believe? From that perspective, I did not have an answer. On the other hand, I began to ask myself, “Who are these people?” and “Why would they deliberately say something that is not true?” Could there be that many devious or deviant people? Then it struck me. These people were all probably very “good” people. I can’t imagine that most, if any, deliberately tried to change the teachings. They were all probably very sincere in trying to help other people meet with the Vow. If this is true, then we are left with the question, “What happened?”
In my case, I am sometimes caught trying to explain something that I lack the words to explain. I sometimes try to explain by way of analogy. Analogies, unfortunately, are not always accurate. Some are even mis-leading. I sometimes find myself trying to explain the analogy more than I do the original and more important initial question of “What is Nenbutsu, and how does it relate to me in my life?” In taking the focus away from this crucial question, and even avoiding it sometimes because of things like not wanting to look bad, I am doing exactly what the eight chapters of the Tannishou are warning me not to do. These eight chapters, I am now able to say, are meant to tell me what I am willing to do in the name of personal pride. The Tannishou, then, is not just for those seeking Nenbutsu, but also for those who, like me, claim to have already received the Nenbutsu and are living a life to help share it with others. Thanks to the YABA I have become a little more aware of the difference between wanting to propagate myself versus wanting to share the Nenbutsu. For this I am grateful.
Rev. John Iwohara
May 3rd, 2013
In the month of April our temple turns its focus onto the youth. Not that we ignore the youth during the other parts of the year, but during the month of April, as we remember the birth of the historical Buddha, we turn our main attention to remembering and sharing in the joy and potential of our youth. In an era where we sometimes find ourselves wondering, “Is this the kind of world we want to bring our children into?” we are reminded of the innocence we used to have when there were fewer bruises and scars on our egos and we could just walk up to a total stranger and suddenly become “best friends” if even for an instant. We are also reminded that every child, each and every one of us, has the potential to become a Buddha.
Why are we so fascinated by youth? Is it simply because we feel that we have lost something important that we wish we could take back? Is this what we call innocence? Is this why we reminisce? I do not have an answer. However, in watching the young children at the temple play, even if it is after a funeral or memorial service, I find myself constantly awed and moved by how easily children can turn any location and any circumstance into a playground. I can’t help but feel hope when I watch children play. As adults we spend so much time fighting that it’s good to see people, even if they are little, playing with each other. Although, as we get older, we experience more and more of what we call the tragedies of life, and because of this we sometimes conclude that younger children are able to play because they do not really understand hardships including death, I find myself not wanting to make the mistake of forgetting how to understand and appreciate life.
At the temple I am a very lucky person. I am lucky because I find myself in an environment where even as I am constantly challenged by life’s hardships I am also exposed to all the things that make life so worth living and sharing. I am, for example, not only able to watch the young children play, but I am able to watch the older adults smile as they watch the children play. Their bodies may not be youthful anymore and not able to move like the children they are watching, but their eyes are oftentimes just as youthful. Their smiles are just as innocent, but mixed with a twinkle of wisdom, and perhaps even a sprinkling of joy that comes from knowing that they had a hand in helping to create a world, or at the very least a temple, where children can still play and grow up knowing that their full potential can always be achieved, that they too can Enlighten the world by becoming a Buddha, through Namo Amida Butsu.
Rev. John Iwohara
April 1st, 2013
The heart is a fickle thing. Although even as a child I never really liked the idea of having to get up an hour earlier just because it was spring, and as I grew older I felt somewhat validated after learning that not all cultures took the trouble of moving their clocks either forward or backward an hour, I also began to recognize that my perception of time has changed, ironically enough, over time. While younger it seemed that I used to think I would always have all the time in the world to do things. Homework, for example, was something that could always be done later. The seconds, when I would take the time to count them, would always last, it seemed, forever. The last five seconds of school before summer vacation sometimes seemed almost as long as summer vacation itself. Time was something that took “forever.”
Now that I am much older and summer vacation a thing of the forgotten past, the seconds seem much heavier but at the same time much more fleeting. Seconds no longer seem to last forever. Now, I don’t seem to have enough of them however many I might have. The world, it seems, no longer wishes to share its time with me. The things that could always be done later now seem like they have to be done earlier, so much earlier now that instead of being due tomorrow everything seems like it was due yesterday. The last five seconds, the seconds we would cavalierly count down for dramatic emphasis before throwing up the winning shot we were sure to make, is now a pressure filled, eyebrow sweat producing race to get all the piles of things done before the buzzer tells us, “You are too late.” When did time become so heavy? When did it become so short?
Or, did it? Have the seconds really become shorter? The obvious answer is, no. It is my heart that has changed. It has changed so much that the seconds that used to last forever have now become my judge and tormentor. But the seconds really don’t care about the status of my heart. All they are really interested in doing is counting the passing of time in a steady and constant fashion. It is neither friend nor foe. My heart is what has transformed. The heart is a fickle thing.
Given how fickle my heart is, is it really something that I can rely on given that it is something that can transform what was once an innocuous, gentle thing into a judgmental and harsh reality? What heart can stay constant? What heart can stay pure? In relating to us the heart of Amida Buddha in fulfilling his Vows, Shinran Shonin writes:
Given that, at the very least, we can imagine this kind of heart, a heart (mind) that can stay constant and pure, can someone like myself ever learn to emulate it? Shinran Shonin responds by telling us this is not really something we need to worry about:
It is the heart or mind of the Buddha that is constantly thinking of me. I am a person who at one extreme can see time as lasting forever and being so abundant that it didn’t really matter, to the other extreme of seeing time as being so short that it can run out at any time. I spent my time either not caring or panicking. The Buddha, on the other hand, used all that time to think of me and insure that I would be able to fully appreciate and participate in my life with humility and gratitude. This, to me, is important because whereas my heart may be a fickle thing, my life is not.
Rev. John Iwohara
March 10th, 2013
In the month of February, our Fujinkai (women’s association), together with all Nishi Hongwanji temples with a Fujinkai, will take the time to remember the life of Takeko Kujo (October 20, 1887 – February 7, 1928). In conjunction with this service we will also be remembering all the late members of our Fujinkai.
In holding this and other memorial services, there are not a few people who ask, “Why does Jodo Shinshu put so much emphasis on dying? Why don’t we celebrate the happier times?” Part of this “emphasis” exists because of what the historical Buddha taught. He began by explaining how life is suffering: birth, old age, sickness and death are suffering. If the Buddha ended his explanation here, then Buddhism would be a very depressing teaching and probably would not have survived beyond the lament of the Buddha. Fortunately, however, the Buddha’s Enlightenment and the awareness he shared did not end here. He went on to tell us how we can transcend the suffering that is a part of our very existence. In beginning with this very somber truth, the Buddha also helped us to understand why we need religion in the first place. If we were completely satisfied with our lives there would be no reason for us to seek out the truth. We only really look towards religion when we think, “There has to be something more. There has to be something better.”
Experiencing death is one of those times when we are especially motivated to seek out the answers that religion can and has provided to humanity. Confronting death is typically when we most want to understand the meaning of our lives because we begin to wonder, “Is this all there is?” In being forced to confront this unease of ours, we begin to more fully appreciate and understand the words of the Buddha: “Life is suffering.” In this statement, we come to realize here is someone who understands what I am feeling. Although it may be true that “misery loves company,” what we really want is to get beyond our misery. We want to be happy.
In remembering the lives of people like Takeko Kujo and our late fujinkai members, we discover that we are not the only ones that want us to be happy. All those that have gone before us have worked very hard, on our behalf, to help us be able to meet with a teaching that can help us overcome our misery when we most need to be freed. This is one of the reasons why we hold memorial services. It is not to dwell on death. It is to help us to appreciate the gift of the Nenbutsu and to help us to re-discover all those who have helped us to hear and then to receive this gift when we most need to hear and receive. In helping us to receive this gift from our past, and through this help us to really receive the gift of life in the present, Takeko Kujo helps us all to re-connect with our shared past in writing about what she was able to receive from Rennyo Shonin. Here are some of her words, left for us in her work “Muyuge,” that hopefully helps us to remember not just the gift of her life to us, but all the lives that we have become a part of through Namo Amida Butsu.
Rev. John Iwohara
February 2nd, 2013
“Happy New Year” is a greeting we are all familiar with. We all seem to know not only how, but when to say these words. It may not seem a big enough deal to write about, but I am constantly amazed at what we as a society are able to do sometimes. Society, for example, helps us to maintain our culture. Our culture informs much of what we do. For example, we know to say, “Happy New Year!” What we do defines much of who we are. Being who we are, in turn, helps to create the society we all participate in. A lot is going on even in something as simple as a New Year’s greeting.
How does a society decide what to keep as part of its culture? How does this knowledge get passed on? Although I am not prepared to answer my own question, part of the process that makes all this possible is what we have come to call, “tradition.” Tradition is a very important part of institutions, and in particular religious institutions like our Venice Hongwanji. We preserve these traditions because it helps connect us to our past. This definition of tradition, however, is looking at tradition in only one direction. Tradition is also a part of the path to a shared future. Because tradition honors the past and gives us a direction towards the future it also helps us to understand how important “today” is.
It is a today that asks us, “What is worth protecting?” and “What is worth passing on?” It is also, hopefully, a today that helps us to see what it is that we have received and a today that reminds us of our responsibility to pass it forward. Helping us to understand, realize and appreciate the importance and rarity of this moment we call today is the reason why our temple works so hard to share the Nembutsu.
One of the final passages quoted by Shinran Shonin in his Kyogyoshinsho is:
In ending the Kyogyoshinsho and passing on the Nembutsu teaching, we are being asked to begin living our lives with the Nembutsu.
Rev. John Iwohara
January 3rd, 2013
Although the analogy that I am going to make is not the most appropriate, I hope that it adequately describes why I think religion is important. There are few, if any, who will argue against the importance of health. One of the ways that we try to maintain and possibly even boost our health is by taking vitamin supplements. Our desire or perhaps even need to maintain our health can be seen in the growing number of places where we can buy supplements; it can also be seen in the growing number of supplements available for us to buy. We can find vitamins in the water that we can buy now, in our cereal and even in places like candy bars (perhaps it is designed to make us feel less guilty in eating something we probably shouldn’t). One of the more popular vitamins is vitamin C.
For the longest time, I was one of the dwindling few who did not take Vitamins. I figured why spend extra money on something that can already be found in your food. In decreasing amounts of available vitamin C, and in the foods that I find myself eating not infrequently, vitamin c can be found in Green and Red Chili Pepers, Parsley, Broccoli, Strawberry, Orange, Lemon, Cauliflower, Garlic, Grapefruit, Spinach, Cabbage, Potato, Cranberry, Tomato, Pineapple, Grape, Carrot, Onion, Apple, and Eggplant. Not a shabby list.
Unfortunately, it is also true that human beings cannot synthesize vitamin C internally and need to “bring in” the vitamin. Most other animals can synthesize vitamin C internally, and their normal levels of cellular vitamin C are considerably higher than those achieved with the Recommended Daily Intake set for humans. Animals that produce vitamin C internally also produce more vitamin C when they are stressed. Vitamin C is necessary for the production of collagen and other biomolecules, and for the prevention of scurvy. Vitamin C is an antioxicant which has led to its endorsement by some researchers as a complementary therapy for improving general health.
Given all these advantages, it is no wonder why people go to the trouble of taking vitamin C even while it is possible to get vitamin C from the normal foods we should eat. Unfortunately, although it is possible to get vitamin C from foods, I do not always eat as well as I should. Because of this, there may be times when my levels of vitamin C, among others, may not be as high as it should be. Especially when I feel fatigued, I find myself naturally reaching for vitamins to supplement my diet.
Religion, I think, is very much like this. It is possible to “nourish” one’s spirituality by just “living” your life. But, especially given our lifestyles in the “modern” age, are we necessarily getting enough to appreciate, enjoy, and be able to share this life of ours? Or, are we simply living to work and work to live? If we find that we cannot nourish our humanity from within our “regular” lives, then perhaps we might want to consider supplementing that life with something from the “spiritual” life shelf. Perhaps we should take the supplement called religion. One such religion that I know I can recommend is Jodo Shinshu.
Rev. John Iwohara
December 4th, 2012
What is the difference between proselytizing versus propagating from a Jodo Shinshu perspective? In other words, “What does it mean to propagate in Jodo Shinshu, especially in light of the fact that Jodo Shinshu Buddhists seem to take great care in saying that they don’t proselytize?”
One of the unique features of Jodo Shinshu, and one of its many strengths, is the fact that Jodo Shinshu has always embraced family and family life. Jodo Shinshu temples reflect this strength and, because of this, temples devote a lot of time and energy on the youth and programs directed towards them. For example, it is not unusual for a Jodo Shinshu temple to have a Dharma School program that covers the K-12 grades, a Sangha Teens program dedicated to middle-school students, a Jr. YBA for senior high-school students, and scouting programs such as Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. One expression that is often heard to rally the temple and its supporters is, “For our children, for the youth.”
This is a particularly effective rally call because we want to give our children, our youth, all the wonderful things that we have received. To accomplish this, we all work very hard to ensure that the Nembutsu and the temple is one of those things that we pass on to them. This desire, the desire to propagate, was one of the organizing principles behind the Buddhist Churches of America’s (BCA) revamped Dharma School program of over a decade ago. At that time, the BCA, as a system, introduced the expression Ji-shin-kyo-nin-shin (自信教人信) or “To have faith (shinjin) one’s self and to teach others to have faith” to its membership and, in particular, to all the Dharma School teachers found throughout the BCA and its temples.
Quoting the passage more fully, however, Shinran Shonin records for us in his Kyogyoshinsho:
To realize shinjin oneself and to guide others to shinjin
In this quote, Shinran Shonin helps us to see that propagation is a response to the gratitude we feel towards the Buddha’s benevolence. We want to pass it on, because of the great value we have found in our lives because of the Nembutsu: it is among difficult things yet even more difficult.
On the other hand, however, Shinran Shonin is also quoted as saying:
When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma
Although it goes without saying that Shinran Shonin propagated (if he didn’t, Jodo Shinshu would not exist today), what does it mean for him to have said that it was for himself alone? Can a person burdened with heavy karma propagate? Would we follow somebody who states that his desires are countless, and that his anger, wrath, jealousy, and envy are overwhelming, and that he can’t stop it (see Notes on Once-Calling and Many-Calling, CWS, p. 488)?
Chances are we would not. It is perhaps from this point of view that proselytizing is not something that Jodo Shinshu is geared towards accomplishing. Given that we would probably not want to listen to or follow a person of heavy karma, how did Jodo Shinshu become something that I could meet, and something that I would want? How did it propagate? In the declaration that the Vow of Amida was “entirely for the sake of myself alone” and statements like, “I do not have even a single disciple” (CWS, p. 664), Shinran Shonin is telling us that the Nembutsu is not something he can give us. Instead, all he can do is share his joy in knowing that he is “embraced and not forsaken.” He shares his joy of knowing that his life matters because everything the Buddha has done was all for him. At the temple, hopefully we are able to discover that talking about and sharing the Nembutsu, meeting others, working and playing, laughing and crying is all there just so that I can receive and hear the Nembutsu. Recognizing this and awakening to the great compassion I am a part of, is how we can respond in gratitude to the Buddha’s benevolence. We are able to declare, “How glad I am to have been born.” Because we are burdened with heavy karma, this is among difficult things, yet even more difficult.
Rev. John Iwohara
November 1st, 2012
What we “do.”
Our Sunday Family and Dharma School Morning Service begins with the ringing of the kansho (service bell). Prior to the ringing of the kansho, the onaijin (inner altar area) is decorated with flower arrangements and prepared by lighting candles, burning incense, and the offering of obuppan, or the food offering of rice to the Buddha. The incense burner in the gejin (outer altar area, the area where everyone sits) is also lit so that oshoko (incense burning) can be done by everyone who comes to the service. After the ringing of the kansho, the daikin (large gong) is struck twice and the chanting of the Sanbutsu-ge (“Verses in Praise of the Buddha”) begins. The Sanbutsu-ge that we chant is a Chinese translation of a text originally written in Sanskrit.
Following the chanting, our service chairperson recognizes, introduces, and welcomes any and all visitors to the temple in English and Japanese. After getting to know everyone, we read the Golden Chain and sing a sanbutsu-ka (“Song in Praise of the Buddha”). The Three Treasures are then read in both English and Japanese and is followed by the English Dharma message for the day. We then read the Six Paramita in both English and Japanese. Although our Sunday service attendees are used to the reading of the Six Paramita, this is a reading unique to the Venice Hongwanji and was introduced by the late Rev. Ryuei Masuoka who helped to found the Venice Hongwanji as a temple. We then recognize birthdays, make announcements, sing one more sanbutsuka, and end service with a Buddhist reading that both reminds us of the impermanent nature of our lives and how, because of that, we would want to live our lives as compassionately as possible. Following all this, we dismiss both the children and adults to their Dharma School classes. While the children are moving off to their classes, the obuppan is taken down, and the candles are extinguished. People who have not had time to do oshoko are also encouraged to do oshoko at this time. I mention these things to help point out that a lot of things happen during Sunday service.
What’s the big deal?
From a “cognitive” point of view, our Sunday service is robust with sensory stimulation. This is important because an environment rich in sensory information is highly conducive to the cognitive development of children. These considerations are particularly important now because much of our public education can no longer afford to provide as rich an environment as it once used to. For example, many schools are forced to eliminate its music programs.
Whenever someone comes to the temple, however, the first thing they will notice is the onaijin. The onaijin, as a symbolic representation of the Buddhist realm of enlightenment, tries to direct our six senses towards enlightenment and away from what Buddhism has come to call the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity. These elements are what lead us to be bound to the world of suffering or the world of birth-and-death. The onaijin, in other words, is trying to help us discover the world of enlightenment. Because of this, the altar area — besides being the focus of the ritual service — also has the function of encouraging all of us to explore our environment. The different altar pieces used for the ritual service also vary in terms of size, shape, color, and usage. Because of this, children are exposed to items that allow them to practice observing and labeling things that can also help them to understand the world outside the temple as well.
As participants of the ritual service, we become engaged in the touching, handling, and rubbing of such things as the o-nenju (mindfulness beads), ground incense, and service books to name a few. In opening up the service book, however, our children are also exposed to several different languages that include English, Chinese and Japanese. They are also exposed to terms in Sanskrit and Pali. They smell the incense; hear the bells, gongs and voices. They are exposed to many ethnic treats and are challenged to think. All six senses are engaged.
Finally, part of the reason that any parent would want to have their children participate in a religion is for the emotional stability that religion has to offer. Research in cognitive development indicates that neural networks continue to develop into the teens, especially those for emotion. This point should probably not be overlooked especially when we are no longer surprised to hear words like “angry,” “disenfranchised,” and “lost” used to describe our youth. The learning environment that the Dharma School is able to provide can help to promote such skills and emotions as introspection, gratitude, appreciation, and, as mentioned previously, patience.
These things that are being discussed are not trifle. Our Dharma School staff is aware of the huge potential that can be found in religious education and is also part of the reason why our entire staff has gone through a rigorous training program (approximately 70 hours of class time over a 12 month period) that is recognized and endorsed by the Buddhist Churches of America through the Dharma Award.
Rev. John Iwohara
Then Vaidehi, seeing the Buddha, the World Honored One, tore off her ornaments and prostrated herself on the ground. Wailing bitterly, she faced that Buddha and said: “World Honored One, what evil Karma have I committed in a previous life that I should bear such an evil son? World Honored One, what conditions caused you also to become a relative of Devadatta? i
The above passage is taken from the Contemplation Sutra, one of the three Sutra that lays the foundation for Pure Land Buddhism. In this passage, we find Vaidehi, the Queen of Rajagrha and the mother of Ajatasatru, beseeching the Buddha to tell her of a place where she can be freed from her suffering. In the question that we find her asking, we can easily surmise that much of her suffering is due to her son, a son who has just usurped the throne from her husband, the King Bimbisara, and has imprisoned him to die.
I wanted to quote this passage because this is one of the few places where a direct question to the Buddha is left unanswered. While growing up and attending school, many teachers would say, “There are no bad questions, only bad answers” to encourage students to ask questions. Just asking questions does not particularly feel “normal” to a person growing up in an Asian culture. Much of this attitude, I surmise, can be found in this and other places where the Buddha does not answer. The Buddha seems to be saying, “Yes, there are bad questions. Those questions I refuse to answer.”
That is not to say that the Buddha discouraged questions. All the Sutra, with the notable exception of the Amida Sutra (another of the three foundational Pure Land Sutra), for example, begin because of a question. The Larger Sutra, the main Sutra that establishes the Pure Land tradition, begins with Ananda noticing how “splendid” the Buddha looks and then asks the question, “For what reason does his countenance look so majestic and brilliant?” ii In other words, Ananda asks the Buddha, “How come you are looking so good today?” On the surface it doesn’t seem all that remarkable a question. It doesn’t seem that much more significant than asking, “How have you been?”
Vaidehi’s question, on the other hand, seems much more poignant; it seems like a question that could start a Sutra. It sounds like a question that should start a Sutra, unlike the seemingly insignificant “Why do you look so good today?” one that actually introduces us to Amida Buddha. Why? How did this happen? Is it because Vaidehi’s question is so negative sounding and Ananda’s question more positive? When you consider the fact that Sakyamuni Buddha begins to share the Dharma by saying, “Life is suffering,” it hardly seems that he was averse to negative tones. What makes Vaidehi’s question a “bad” question is the fact that she is, while asking the question, deceiving herself. In asking the question, she seems to be taking responsibility for her current situation, but the way she asks her questions clearly reveals that she, in fact, blames her son for her predicament. A religious life cannot begin without “me” clearly in the center. This attitude is clearly expressed by Shinran Shonin when he declares, “When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone!” (Tannisho). iii
On the other hand, that is not to say that the religious life is a selfish one. Ananda’s question, for example, clearly reveals that he could see how happy the Buddha was. He is someone who cared so much for the Buddha that he could see these kinds of changes in his appearance. He could sense the joy the Buddha felt and asked to share in it. The Buddha naturally obliged, and through this has allowed all of us to share in the joy of Namo Amida Butsu.
What is a good question? In looking at some of the questions found in the Pure Land Sutra it seems that a good question is one that can answer both a personal search and one whose answer can be shared with others. “How have you been?” can be a good question if it is asked sincerely because it addresses a need to know how your friend is, but also because it is a question that reminds us how much nicer life is when we can care about each other. No wonder this kind of question is the one that helped all of us to hear about Namo Amida Butsu.
Rev. John Iwohara
September 1st, 2012
Living in Southern California, it is almost impossible to live without driving a car. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that I spend a lot of time inside a car and driving. Because of the many miles I have been driving over the years, every now and then I can’t help but to think about how wonderful driving is. I say wonderful because driving also means having to experience things like rush hour traffic, people cutting you off, getting lost, and a whole list of other assorted adventures, including getting you to your destination in hours instead of days.
How is all this possible?
I began to ask myself this question when I noticed how “orderly” driving really is. I began to notice these things on my way home one night. The headlights of the car lighted up the road ahead of me, and I realized that what we call “driving” is getting into a moving vehicle and following painted lines on the pavement. When we do this, we are somehow allowed to get to where we want to go. Simply incredible!
How did all this happen?
I suppose we can begin with the invention of the wheel. After this, I’m sure that people began to apply this new technology to all sorts of applications. Imagine how wonderful the wheel was. People no longer had to carry things. All they had to do now was push things. Even now, in our modern world of electronic convenience, we still use the wheel to help us make our daily lives easier and more care free. Remember when they first began to put wheels on suit cases? From this simple beginning someone came up with the idea of domesticating animals to pull these wheel bearing devices instead of having a human being pulling or pushing these things. Travel and transportation was greatly facilitated by this new idea.
Of course, using animals had its limitations. Animals did not always follow the directions of their drivers and animals could be frightened. Because of these limitations, someone came up with the idea of having horseless carriages. The idea of the car was born. Improvement after improvement was added to the automobile. Lights to allow the driver to drive at night, horns to warn pedestrians and other vehicles, wind shields, wipers for the windshields, turn indicator lights, internal combustion engines, bucket seats, power steering, standardized configuration so that things like steering wheels are all on the same side of the car regardless of what car you might be driving, places to put your cups down, locking doors, alarm systems, remote keyless entry systems, automatic transmissions, cruise control, seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes, navigators, and the list continues to grow.
Other ideas and technologies grew with the car to make driving more convenient. We have things like the “club,” “diamond” lanes for car pools, new fuel mixtures, signal lights, street names, free ways that are connected, inter-connected and that go every which way, road signs, maps that have drawings that correspond with the road signs allowing you to figure out which way to go, gasoline stations, rules and laws for driving, drivers’ licenses, paved roads, and even the painted lines. All these different things, all this human history just because someone somewhere came up with the idea of a three dimensional circle, the cylindrical thing we call a wheel. It is very difficult to imagine all this sometimes. Perhaps that is why it is so easy for us to take driving for granted.
Although it is sometimes difficult for us to fathom how much was involved in the development of the car, and motorized transportation, it is still possible for us to chart its development. However, it does seem that we tend not to bother ourselves with these “trivial” matters, and because of that it also becomes easy for us to take these things for granted. On the other hand, however, a whole world can open up to us when we stop to consider just how marvelous painted lines on a paved road really are.
If failing to consider all that is involved in the mechanical contrivance we call driving is easy, then it is even easier for us to fail to consider all that is involved in what we call life. Fortunately, just like noticing painted lines on a paved road can open up a new world for us, hearing Namo Amida Butsu — the fulfillment of the vow made by the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light (Amida Buddha) — opens us up to the universe we call life. When we do, we are allowed to discover why Jodo Shinshu Buddhists equate life with compassion: my life is supported and nurtured by countless lives, and is constantly being embraced by the infinite life we know as Namo Amida Butsu.
As a final comment, it is sometimes sad to see how we often fail to consider the importance of our own lives as we continue to run down the hill we call technological advancement. My observation of painted lines on paved roads, for example, is in marked contrast to what the 12th century Matsuwakamaru (Shinran Shonin) was able to see. In a poem attributed to him when he was nine years old, he writes:
The vain cherry blossom that believes there is a tomorrow; Will not the storm gale in the middle of the night?
Shinran Shonin was able to observe certain truths by looking at the trees. I, on the other hand, look at asphalt pavement. It is a world where mechanical and electronic things are easier for us to see and comprehend than the lives which surround and support us. Although our lives are definitely more convenient than the lives lived in the 12th century, it is also a life that we have given a dollar value to. I suppose this is part of living in the 20th and 21st centuries. In this automated, cement poured world we have created for ourselves it is comforting to know that we can still hear and say the same Namo Amida Butsu—the calling voice of Amida Buddha that reminds us about the sacredness of all life—the life that Shinran Shonin was able to hear and express through the Nembutsu those many centuries ago.
Rev. John Iwohara
August 3rd, 2012
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