Reverend's Message - December 2013
"Overdoing Things Cannot Lead to Happiness"
Rev. Dean Koyama
Born into a kingdom afforded Prince Siddhartha a life of luxury. However, despite being surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful things, he felt a shallowness to his life. He had no real purpose. As he opened his eyes, he realized that people still suffered through old age, sickness and death. Although he had a family, a wife, a young child and a whole kingdom, Prince Siddhartha made a difficult decision—to leave them all behind in search for an answer to his question of life: "How can I enjoy my life knowing there is so much suffering in the world?"
He thought that by giving up attachments to material and physical things, he would get closer to the truth. The more attachments he was able to abandon, the closer he would be able to see clearly the answer to his question. So he cut off his hair, renouncing his worldly lifestyle and called himself Gautama. He abandoned his clothes made from the finest of silks, for a robe made of thrown out pieces of fabric. He abandoned the comfort of his home and delicacies made by his cooks, for a bowl with which he would beg for food.
In his quest for the truth, he studied and practices with the wisest teachers of his day. The methods of his practice were unbelievably intense. He spurred himself on with the thought that "no one in the past, present, and or future, ever have or ever will practice more earnestly that I do."
The sincerity and intensity of his practice were so astounding that before long, other monks became followers to support and look after him while he practiced. For six long years he practiced very severe and difficult tasks of abandoning all attachments to all things. He sat in mediation and ate only roots, leaves and fruit. He practiced fasting, which was thought to be one of the best ways to acquire wisdom and clarity. He lived on a grain of rice a day and In fact, he became so thin that his bones protruded from his transparent skin and he looked like a living skeleton. He suffered terrible pain and hunger, yet continued to meditate until he was in a state near death. Yet despite all of this, he did not find the wisdom or the answers to his questions.
Soon after that, a young girl named Sujata saw this starving monk and took pity on him. She offered a bowl of food for him.
Siddhartha then realized that "Neither my life of luxury in the palace nor my life as a monk in the forest is the way to freedom. Overdoing things can not lead to happiness."
I was reminded of this simple truth when we moved our sons into their dorms for college.
When we first took Justin to UC Davis, we found that the dining commons did not resemble the cafeteria that I remembered in college. Back then, we were lucky if they had food that you could tell what it was. You just went down the line with a tray and they plopped the food on your plate. These new dining commons were just like the Food Court at Valley Fair Mall. You can get whatever you want. They had the typical hamburgers and French fries, spaghetti, cold cut sandwiches and a salad bar. But in addition they also served Chinese Mongolian Bar-B- Q, pizza, and soft serve ice cream. This was the similar situation when we moved our two younger sons into their college dormitories. In fact, they became even more elaborate.
As part of the program during freshmen orientation, all the parents got to sample the food. I went for the Mexican fajitas tortillas, beans and rice. Note that I passed the healthy salad bar. I went back to try the tri-tip steak sandwich with French fries and a bowl of clam chowder. For drinks? Soda fountains were all over the place with free refills! I got a Diet Coke. Why get a Diet coke when eating so much? It didn't make any sense. Then, of course, I had to have dessert: Apple pie and gelato ice cream with coffee. As you can imagine, I wasn't feeling very well after I ate. I couldn't move. I couldn't breath because I ate too much. I had to loosen my belt and unbutton my pants so I could feel better.
As Siddhartha realized, ―Overdoing things cannot lead to happiness.
So he ate the small bowl of rice and drank the milk Sujata had brought. Having been nourished by the food and revitalized, Siddhartha once again renewed his attempt of achieving some sense of enlightenment.
He meditated on his breathing in and breathing out. He sat there for many days, first in deep concentration to clear his mind of all distractions. Thoughts of desire, craving, fear and attachment arose; yet Siddhartha did not allow these thoughts to disturb his concentration.
He began to feel calm as he let these thoughts go. He realized the impermanence of life and understood how to end sorrow, unhappiness, suffering, old age and death. Siddhartha finally understood the answer to the question of suffering and from that point on, he was known as Sakyamuni the Buddha.
From birth, Siddhartha lead a life of luxury where he could have everything and anything that he wanted. Yet he realized that that kind of life did not fulfill him with peace and happiness. In pursuit of his quest for Enlightenment, Siddhartha went to the other extreme and abandoned everything including his home and family to the point that almost brought him to death. Having experienced these two extremes, he realized, ―Overdoing things cannot lead to happiness. This is known as the middle path.
During these busy times, if it is at all possible, let us try to keep these wise words of the Buddha in mind. We may face stress and tension as we try to keep all of our family and work obligations. We may over indulge in parties and meals. So in the midst of all these busy and frantic times that are upon us, let us try to take a moment of peace and just try to catch our breath and calm our minds. If we are too busy to even do that, let us just do the Nembutsu – be mindful of the Buddha and recite Namo Amida Butsu so that we can remind ourselves of all the many wonderful things that make our lives possible and enjoyable.Have a wonderful Holiday season,
Rev. Dean, Linda and the Boys