Because Ohigan is a term that literally means “The Other Shore,” it is a season and a service that makes us think about what the Pure Land might or does mean to me. One of the things that the Pure Land does force us to think about is the inevitability of going to the Other Shore; it forces us to think about what Rennyo Shonin called goshou no ichi daiji (“the single greatest thing following birth”) or death.
In thinking about this, I was once again reminded of a conversation I had with my then 5 year old daughter. For some reason, she came to my wife and me and asked, “Am I going to die?”
I looked at her and, while wondering why she wanted to ask such a question, answered, “Yes you will.”
She then stated, “But I don’t want to die.”
“I don’t want you to die,” I replied.
“Are you going to die?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Is mommy going to die?”
“Yes, she will.”
“But, I don’t want you guys to die.”
“Thank you. Nobody wants to die, but because we were all born, we all have to die.”
“Are you scared?”
“It can be scary.”
“I don’t want to die.”
“I know. But, that’s why it’s so important to live.”
There have been other conversations. One that I want to paraphrase here is that the “importance of living” is not anything like what we have come to call Carpe Diem. Although Carpe Diem is often presented in romantic and idealistic terms, it also tends to lead to a life of abuse: it almost seems to be a way for us to numb ourselves to death by overstimulating ourselves. If it is not Carpe Diem, then how does one experience the importance of living? My “answer” and the one that I have shared with my family is “appreciation.” This, I think, is one of the main ideas that Shinran Shonin tried to share with us in his understanding and appreciation of the Nenbutsu. He expresses this with words like (in translation), “extol,” “praise,” “deeply understand,” “appreciate.” Hopefully, this is how I am living my life. Hopefully, this is what I have been able to share and express to my family: both the one at home and the one at the temple.
Rev. John Iwohara