Reverend's Message - November 2013

"ISSHIN One Heart: Grateful and Determined"
一心直進 isshin jikishin (one-heart/mind-directly-proceed)


Rev. Dean Koyama

In Shinran's major work, the Kyogyoshinsho's Chapter on Shinjin, Shinran quotes from Zendo, (the 5th of the 7 Patriarchs), The Parable of the Two Rivers and White Path:

Suppose there is a traveler journeying over one hundred thousand miles toward the west, when suddenly he comes upon two rivers in a single channel. One is a river of fire and extends to the south. The other is one of water extending north. Each river is one hundred paces across, immeasurably deep and endless. Dividing the river of fire and water is a single white path four or five inches wide. This path, from the eastern bank to the western bank, is one hundred paces in length but billows of water surge over the path and flames sweep up to scorch it.

Now this traveler has already ventured many miles without seeing anyone. But all of a sudden he sees a band of robbers, and wild beast that have snuck up behind him and threaten to kill him. Fearing for his life, the traveler at once flees toward the west when without warning he is upon the great river of fire and water. He reflects, "I can see no end to this river either to the north or the south. In the middle is a white path, but it is too narrow to cross. How can I escape? Assuredly, this day I shall perish. If I turn back, the robbers and beast will get me. If I venture on the path westward, I will plunge into the river of fire and water."

There are no words to express the terror and despair that fill him at this point. He thinks to himself, "If I turn back now, I will die. If I remain here, I will die. If I go forward, I will die. There is no way for me to escape death. Therefore, I choose to go forth, venturing on this path. Since this path exists, it must be possible to cross."

When this thought occurs to him, he suddenly hears an encouraging voice from someone on the eastern bank, "O traveler, just resolve to follow this path forward! You will certainly not encounter the grief of death. But if you stay where you are, you will surely die."

Further, someone on the western bank calls to him, "O traveler, with a mind that is single and determined, come at once! I will protect you. Have no fear of plunging to grief in the water or fire." The traveler, having heard these words spoken to him decides that he must venture forward immediately. He gives no backward glances. He thinks only of the path and advances directly forward with a mind that is single and determined. And he is able to cross the river reaching the western bank where he is freed forever of all afflictions and his joy is boundless.

There are many interesting metaphors in this parable. Ultimately, the traveler going west symbolizes a person who questions himself and the meaning of his life drifting on the surging and tossing river waves of greed and anger. This is a person of ordinary life, not one capable of doing austere and disciplined meditative practices or extremely altruistic good moral deeds. In this parable, the traveler realizes that there is nowhere to go, but because the white path exists, he with one heart/mind decidedly and determinedly decides to proceed forward. This parable is used by Shinran Shonin, the founder of our Jodo Shinshu tradition to describe a state of mind when one has awakened to the realities of human life and realizes that one is embraced within the Wisdom and Compassion of Amida Buddha, of Life itself, and of innumerable others. This may sometimes be referred to as the mind of Shinjin.

Our 100th anniversary is quickly approaching. We have less than a year to go. In a way, we too have come upon a crossroad like the traveler confronting the river of fire and water. We are grateful to our past 100 years of pioneers and members who have led us up to this point in time. And it is up to us who have inherited this tradition, this temple to make a determination on which direction we should proceed.

In my short time here, I have heard a variety of opinions on which way we, as a temple, need to go. I have had the privilege of hearing and participating in many strongly emotional debates. It is heartwarming to see, feel and acknowledge their conviction and dedication. And at times when my opinion differs from others, I have to remind myself of what brings us all together. It is the one heart of Nembutsu. Nembutsu literally means to think of or remember the Buddha. When one is able to remember the Buddha, one focuses upon the matters that are truly important in our lives. And in response a feeling of gratitude and appreciation arises causing us to want to do something. At the very least, it is to humbly acknowledge ourselves as simple ordinary beings, who are not always perfect, and say Namo Amida Butsu.

Because of the many unknowns, our future is unsettled. However if we follow the example of the traveler and realize that because of the existence of the white path of Nembutsu illuminated by Shinran, we must, with one heart of gratitude, decidedly and determinedly proceed forward into the next 100 years.

In Gassho,
Rev. Dean Koyama

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