Reverend's Message - May 2014
Know the Feet
Rev. Dean Koyama
A few years ago I had lunch at a Chinese Restaurant. In a very prominent part of the restaurant, I was intrigued by a scroll that had the Chinese Characters for: Know and Feet. At first I asked myself why would I want to know my feet? My wife says I have the ugliest feet in the world. Then I started to think about all the pain and discomfort that I have been having since January due to plantar fasciitis or the gout attack that I had while vacationing in Hawaii several years back. All throughout lunch, I kept wondering what does "Know your feet" mean. After I returned home, I looked it up in a dictionary and discovered that the compound for this word pronounced: chi-soku means contentment. But how does "knowing your feet" lead to contentment?
As I did more research, I came across some more unusual expressions. These expressions had to do with our senses: our sense of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. These senses help us to interact and perceive the world in which we live. The first expression that I thought was interesting was, "See with your heart." Normally, we see with our "eyes." The next expression was: "Taste the Dharma." Dharma refers to the teachings or truths of Buddhism, so normally we would use the expression: "Listen to the Dharma." Shinran, himself used the expression: "Listen to the Light." Normally we would "See the Light." Is it possible to actually hear a light?
The Late Reverend Shobo Ohata would often say, "Listen with your feet." When I first heard this expression, I was truly puzzled. Did Sensei really mean this? When I asked him how is it possible to listen with our feet, he explained that the idea is to wear out many pairs of sandals going from one temple to another listening to the Dharma. It is our feet that carry us to the temple. Because of our feet (or perhaps our cars now days) we are able to come to the temple and listen to the Buddha's teachings not just with our ears but with our hearts and minds as well.
I think what all these expressions are trying to teach us is that we have to break away from our usual way of thinking, seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting.
In the legend of the Life of the Buddha, it is said that when Prince Siddhartha was born, he immediately took seven steps. Of course, we all know that it is impossible for a human baby to be able to walk immediately upon birth. The question is not to ask, "Is it true?" The question to ask is: "What does it mean?" The first six steps refer to the six realms of existence. They are: hell, hungry ghost, animal, fighting demons, human beings, and heavenly beings. The Seventh step refers to the realm of Buddhahood. Using his feet and taking the seven steps symbolizes at birth that Siddhartha transcended the worlds of our existence and stepped into the world of enlightenment. To me, what is important is that this legend uses the example of physically moving. Buddhism is meant to be understood not just mentally, but also physically. Ultimately then, to "Listen to the Buddhadharma with our feet" means to listen with our whole being. Utilizing all of our capacities to hear, touch, taste, feel, smell, and see, we are able to come to know the realities of this human life. In other words it is to experience the Buddha Dharma. Experience is a great teacher of Life's lessons.
I have often said that Buddhism is not a religion of "faith" but a religion of experience. These are the experiences of not a chosen or select few but are universally experienced by all people. Birth, sickness, old age, death, separation from our loved ones, being together with those we despise, not getting what one wants, and pain due to ignorance, anger and greed; we can all relate to one or more of these experiences.
Many years ago, I saw a reality TV show that just made me laugh so hard. The clip began by showing two young teenage boys in the lobby of an office building standing in front of an elevator. Apparently the elevator did not come as fast as they had hoped.
So they began vigorously pushing the elevator call button many times. As they did so they were laughing jubilantly. Finally the elevator came and they stepped in. They were the only ones in the elevator as the camera switched to the inside view. They again pushed the button for the floor they wanted, but because the doors to the elevator did not close fast enough for them, they decided to push all the buttons many more times too. After the doors finally closed, the two teenagers looked at each other and both began to scream, holler, and jump around. They were having a great time fooling around in the elevator. One of the boys went to the button panel and saw a small panel door with a red sign saying "In Case of Emergency Only." He opened the door and showed the other that a phone was connected behind it. The other boy grabbed the phone and began hitting it against the side of the elevator. He was hitting the phone so hard that he yanked the cord out of the panel. They then threw the phone to the floor and began stomping on it. They were in heaven having so much fun…. Until they realized that the elevator had stopped moving. They then, at the same time looked at each other, then, again together at the same time, looked down at the phone now broken into a million pieces. I kept thinking, that they learned a great lesson: When something says, "In case of emergency only" it is there for a specific purpose. It is not a toy to be used for someone's juvenile impulses. I said to myself, the next time these boys go in an elevator, I am sure they are not going to fool around and break the emergency phone again. This experience, I am sure, provides these two boys with a lesson that they will never forget. In one instant, these two boys are experiencing the bliss of the heavenly beings and in the next moment they are catapulted into the depths of hell due to their foolishness and selfishness.
It is through these experiences that we can learn of life's lessons. Some lessons may be as simple as "Don't fool around in an elevator". Others may be as profound as deeply appreciating a loved one who has recently passed away. Regardless, these are the experiences of life itself revealing the true nature of our existence. "Know our Feet," "See with your heart," "Hear the light," "taste the Dharma," or Listen with our feet," means to fully become aware of these lessons and experiences and realize the wonderful treasures that we share with one another with each breath that we take. Upon this realization we can then feel a tremendous sense of contentment and satisfaction just as life truly is. That is the moment of true awakening and gratitude. That is the moment we experience Namo Amida Butsu becoming real for us.Gassho,
Rev. Dean, (ouch)