Reverend's Message - October 2014
Seeing the Buddha
Rev. Dean Koyama
The Buddha's light shines boundlessly and without hindrance over all the worlds in the ten directions. It is for this reason that he is called Amida (Amitabha). Again, Sariputra, the lives of the Buddha and the people of his land last for innumerable, unlimited and incalculable kalpas. It is for this reason that the Buddha is called Amida (Amitayus)
Here at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, we have come upon a milestone in our history. We are observing our 100th anniversary of the beginnings of what would become the temple that we know today. It began when a small group of very concerned and dedicated Issei (First Generation) Japanese immigrants discussed a possibility of starting a Buddhist place of worship in Palo Alto. This led to gatherings in the homes of these pioneers with a dedicated minister coming from San Francisco. Later, the Buddhists of Palo Alto gathered at the Kaneda Home Laundry, followed by two different homes on Ramona Street. These gatherings were disrupted due to the World War II Internment camps from 1942 to 1945. Next followed a period of re-building and restoring the activities utilizing the Native Sons Hall in downtown Palo Alto and the old Japanese-American Society Building. Up to this point, the ministers traveled to Palo Alto from near and far, but the early 1950's witnessed the purchase of an empty lot on Louis Road, a brand new temple building was built and dedicated in 1954 and the assignment of its very own first resident minister, Rev. Daisho Tana.
One-hundred years have passed since we were first able to listen to the teachings of the Buddha in Palo Alto. Another 60 years have passed since we have been able to listen to the Nembutsu in our present Hondo (Main Hall). There was a big remodeling project to widen the Hondo to celebrate our 75th year history. Since that the Hondo has gracefully borne the stresses of time and use. That is not to say that it doesn't need mending or repairing. The temple altar is in great need to repair the gaps, cracks and water damage to the lacquer. Usually during these kinds of major anniversaries these types of projects to remodel, restore the Hondo or altar are undertaken. Instead a decision was made to renovate the temple kitchen instead. However in commemoration of our 100th Anniversary and a donation from an anonymous source, we were at least able to fill the Hondo with a matching set of pews.
The picture image of the Amida Buddha that has been housed in our altar had been carried to our temple as a gift of the late Zen-Monshu, Kosho Otani for the dedication of our new temple building in 1954. However, the altar that had been purchased and installed is a type that is designed to house a statue. And that is why it has been very difficult to see this image of Amida Buddha. I am very happy and pleased to announce that again due to a generous but anonymous donor, we will be installing a brand new statue of Amida Buddha as part of our 100th anniversary festivities.
In the book, Thank you, Namo Amida Butsu, Rev. Chijun Yakimo writes:
Once when he was living in Kyoto, a pawnbroker came to Reverend Ashikaga. "Recently a man pawned a statue of the Buddha at my store," the pawnbroker said. "The statue seems to be quite old and therefore may prove to be very valuable. Please appraise it for me." Reverend Ashikaga carefully received the box containing the statue, opened its cover, and placed it on the table before him. He then placed his hands together in gassho as was his custom when standing or sitting before a Buddhist statue. Reverend Ashikaga's face was aglow with contentment and with a fullness in his heart, said, "Arigatai desu ne! (How grateful!)." This made the pawnbroker happy. He was sure that the statue was worth a great deal of money. But Reverend Ashikaga continued sitting with his hands together in gassho, repeating, "Arigatai desu ne, arigatai desu ne." The pawnbroker could not contain himself. Finally, in an irritated voice he said, "Reverend Ashikaga, I know you are grateful, but I would like to know how much you estimate the statue is worth. How much can I ask for it?" But Reverend Ashikaga just kept repeating, "Arigatai desu ne, arigatai desu ne..." Reverend Ashikaga and the pawnbroker were sitting in the same room, but spiritually they were in different worlds. Obviously they could not communicate with each other at all. The statue of the Buddha was only a source of money for the pawnbroker, but for Reverend Ashikaga, it was an object of worship and a thing that filled his heart with happiness.
For us to be privileged to house a statue of the Amida Buddha is one that we must never forget. The statue represents our ultimate potential of living a life with infinite wisdom and compassion. The image of the Buddha has been a source of comfort for those in despair and suffering during great times of grief and sorrow. It has also been the source of encouragement in times of difficulty. It continues to be the source of hope and gratitude as we come to realize the complexities of life itself.
Hopefully this statue will be a reminder for us to remember and share the lives of the past, live in the present, and continue into the future. This is what I think is referred to as "Infinite Life." This sharing of life is the core of the heart of compassion. It is for this reason that it is called Amida, Infinite Life. It is with great responsibility and gratitude that we carry on this task of making sure that Buddhism is available to anyone who is seeking or may need to hear the teachings. But first, we must realize the value and importance of this tradition and teaching ourselves. Otherwise we will be just like the pawnbroker in the story of Reverend Ashikaga.
Gassho and congratulations for the 100th Anniversary of the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple
Namo Amida Butsu
Rev. Dean Koyama