Reverend's Message - March 2014

"I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane (I Hope!)"


Rev. Dean Koyama

In the next several weeks, I will be making several trips out of town. One will be back to Bellevue, Washington for our BCA national meetings where I began my career as a minister at the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple. The next trip will be to Tempe, Arizona to watch the acappella group that my middle son, Curtis, helped to establish. And the final trip will be to Southern California where I have been asked to do a Spring Ohigan Seminar and Service for the San Fernando Valley Buddhist Temple.

I have grown to hate traveling. Especially flying and perhaps you can see why after reading my article.

I originally wrote this article when I was living in Bellevue and needed to catch a flight from the Sea-Tac airport to Orange County for a meeting.

"There are two paths by which bodhisattvas seek the stage of non retrogression-the path of difficult practice and the path of easy practice. With the path of difficult practice, it is seeking non-retrogression in this world of five defilements at a time when there is no Buddha that is difficult…. The path of difficult practice is based solely on self- power and lacks the support of Other Power.... Thus the path of difficult practice may be compared in its hardship to journeying overland on foot." —Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. 1, p 25

I set the alarm clock for 4:45 AM. It was the night before I had to catch a 7:10 AM flight to Orange County for a meeting. "Wake up at 4:45, lie in bed for 15 minutes, take a quick shower and leave for the airport. Plenty of time," I thought.

I awoke with a start. But it was not due to the alarm of the clock going off. It was due to the alarm of panic. Perhaps it was due to the sunlight filtering in through the bedroom window. "The sun sure rises early, " I thought.

I turned to the alarm clock to verify what time the sun rose. It read: 5:51 AM "AAAUUUGHHHH!!!!!!!!! THE ALARM CLOCK DIDN'T GO OFF!!!" I screamed, waking Linda up and jumped out of bed, throwing on my clothes. There was no way I was going to make it, but I had to try.

6:05 AM: We jumped into the car and took off for the 45 minute trip (when there is no traffic) to the airport. We both commented on how heavy traffic was already at this time of day. We stayed calm even when the traffic would bog down at certain parts of the freeway for no apparent reason. We constantly checked the clock. "We're not going to make it," I would say. "We're going to make it," she would counter.

6:50 AM: We pulled up to the check-in curb. I dashed out of the car grabbing my brief case and hastily packed overnight bag. I glanced at the monitor to find my gate. Just my luck: D-11, the gate at the farthest end of the "D" corridor. There was a bottleneck at the security gate. Only one machine was operating with a line of people zigzagging its way through. Finally they opened the second machine. I rushed to put my bags on the belt. Security had to re-send the bag of the person's in-front-of-me through the scanning machine again. Delayed. Finally, I am through the security gate and I entered the last leg of my airport dash. I glanced at the clock overhead, 6:59. I have an electronic ticket so I just might make it.

7:02 AM: I got to the counter and thrusted my ticket to the agent. "I'm sorry, sir. We just closed the door. We close the door 10 minutes before departure time. There is another flight out at 9:30 AM. We can put you on that one," the agent smiled.

So, with all that effort rushing to the airport, I ended up having a very leisurely breakfast at the airport Burger King.

After my 9:30 AM flight was airborne, I reflected on the pilot's words, "Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight." I realized that there was nothing else to do once you get on the plane. I sat back and just enjoyed the flight, read my book and looked out the window trying to figure out which city we were flying over.

It was Nagarjuna, the first master in the Pure Land lineage who equated the difficult practice as making a journey overland on foot, while the easy practice is likened to crossing a body of water by boat. Nagarjuna lived between the 2nd and 3rd Century A.D. Of course during his time airplanes were not yet invented. But I'm sure that his analogy could be extended in modern times to include them.

Donran, the third master (476-542 C.E.), added to Nagarjuna's analogy by equating the difficult practice to be the path motivated and fulfilled with "Self-Power" while the easy practice is one based upon "Other Power."

Donran writes:

"In the path of easy practice, one aspires to be born in the Pure Land with solely one's entrusting oneself to the Buddha as the cause, and allowing oneself to be carried by the power of the Buddha's vow, quickly attains birth in the land of purity. (Supported by the Buddha's power)…. Thus the path of easy practice may be compared in its comfort to being carried over waterways in a ship."

Shinran comment on this passage by saying: "When persons allow themselves to be carried by the power of the Primal Vow, they are certain to be born in the land that has been fulfilled through it; hence it is easy to go there."

To get to the Pure Land is easy; once we board the plane or ship of Amida's Primal Vow. However, it is getting on board that is difficult.

I know I set the alarm clock. But upon further reflection, I realized that although I did set the time to wake up, I failed to turn the alarm clock on. This resulted in the panic, the tension, the swerving and the dashing, all in effort to get to the plane on time. In other words: relying on my limited and fault-filled self, I made it difficult to catch my flight.

Taking full responsibility of my actions, I missed my original flight. And although no one had to reschedule another flight for me, through the compassion of infinite "others", especially the airline counter person, I was able to board another plane. This, of course included not only the people who work for the airlines, but also the engineers and mechanics who built another plane and my wife who drove me to the airport without complaint. It also includes many others who I still fail to recognize.

Perhaps I didn't get to my destination at the time that I wanted. Nonetheless, I did get there. And along the way, I really just "sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed the flight" while saying "Namo Amida Butsu."

In Gassho,
Rev. Dean Koyama

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