Reverend's Message - April 2014

"...It is Outta Here!"

Rev. Dean Koyama

Knowing truly that the Primal Vow--
The perfect One Vehicle that brings about sudden attainment--
Grasps those who commit grave offenses and transgressions,
We are quickly brought to realize that blind passions and enlightenment are not two in substance.
(Collected Works of Shinran, Hymns of the Pure Land Masters, page 369.)

"He hits it hard, he hit's it deep! It is outta here!" will be a repeated phrase that our San Francisco Giants fan will be looking forward to hear many times during the 2014 Major League Baseball season. Recently I was able to attend my very first spring season game down in Arizona while visiting my son who is finishing up his college career at Arizona State.

I love baseball. When I was young, I loved to play. I would try to organize a game with my school friends everyday after school. And then as a young father, I loved to go out to the fields and hit and throw the baseball around with my kids.

As I am preparing for the start of this year's season, I am reminded of an incident that happened several years ago while we were living in Puyallup, Washington. One day in the early spring, the sun decided to make a rare appearance. The two older boys were playing for real teams with uniforms and went out to the back yard to warm up for their afternoon practice. Tommy, who was at the time only 5 years old, was still too young to play on a team.. Not wanting to be left out, Tommy, brought his mitt, plastic bat, and a lime green tennis ball out to the backyard to "practice" before going to his brother's practice. He even brought out his little plastic Little Tykes tee-ball tee to practice his hitting.

I was very impressed with his style and form. He was actually hitting the ball quite hard. Being in the long awaited sunshine, getting out of the house, breathing fresh air had also energized him as well. Sometimes the ball would just fall off the tee; sometimes he would hit a "good one." Regardless, he would joyfully retrieve the ball at full speed and do it all over again. If I didn't know better, I would think that Tommy had some Golden Retriever blood in him the way he ran around and was enjoying himself. His face was beaming just like a dog wags his tail in anticipation of having a ball thrown so that he can run at full speed chasing it.

I was secretly watching Tommy from the kitchen window. Tommy carefully placed his tennis ball on his Little Tykes Tee, got set up, checked his footing, and with all the might of "Casey at the Bat," took a mighty swing.

"Swung hard, he hit's it deep! It is outta here!" as the Giant's announcer Duane Kuiper would say. It was a beautiful line drive shot off the tee. Tommy admired it with a joyful grin as perhaps Willie Mays had done on many occasions.

"Bye Bye Baby." The ball sailed over the fence and into our neighbor's backyard. That joyful smile and hands pumped victoriously into the air as the ball was launched, suddenly turned quickly into a face sadder than a circus clown's frown as he realized that his ball was now lost forever.

Slowly he walked with his head hanging low, step-by-step, over to the kitchen door as if his whole life had just been sapped out of his body. The wagging tail had been replaced with tears of a broken heart and spirit.

He took comfort in my arms and tried his best to explain what happened in between his sobs. His majestic home run also meant the end of his game for without the ball, the game could not continue.

What impressed me was how quickly Tommy's face of joy turned into one of sadness. In today's high tech society we often hear expressions of how fast things have become: DSL Internet access, 3.4 GHz processors, the speed of light, a 96-mile per hour fastball. But nothing can compare with how quickly and instantly our own minds, feelings and moods can change. In one instant we can be carefree, happy-go-lucky and in the next instant we can have our lives devastated by the news of the loss of a loved one.

The Primal Vow of Amida Buddha was designed for those beings that have no hope of attaining enlightenment on their own power. They are the ones with no hint of compassion or wisdom; all thoughts are of satisfying their own ego-centered cravings. They wander in the darkness of ignorance, greed, and anger. They are blinded and not aware of Amida's light of Wisdom and Compassion that bathes them. "They" are me.

When I realize the depth of my ignorance and passions, the gravity of my transgressions and offenses, I cannot help but hang my head in shame and sorrow. Such a pitiful being!!! And yet with this very same realization is the awareness of the warmth of that wise and compassionate light sustaining and embracing me. My head hangs with humility but it is also joined with the realization that my awareness is the result of the Other Power of Amida's infinite Wisdom and Compassion.

This is the point that Shinran describes as: "We are quickly brought to realize that blind passions and enlightenment are not two in substance." There is no lapse of time. With the realization that enlightenment is moving towards those incapable of enlightenment, one's blind passions are not a hindrance. Enlightenment is not possible without the blind passions; and blind passions cannot exist without enlightenment.

Just as quickly as our minds change from joy to sadness, so can it change suddenly from sadness to joy. When we can resolve and accept the death of a loved one, we can then feel the joy and gratitude for the opportunity that allowed them in our ever-changing lives. To be able to live with this kind of mindfulness and gratitude is the heart of the Nembutsu.

The joy of hitting a home run in the backyard turned quickly into sorrow for the loss of a ball. That sorrow continued for a seemingly long time...until I took Tommy into the garage and showed him a big black plastic tub. In that tub were more lime-green tennis balls. That sorrowful frown quickly turned into a mischievous elfish smile. I can only imagine his thought of going into the back yard only to watch more balls..."Outta here!"

Rev. Dean Koyama

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