Reverend's Message - April 2015
(UN)Self-LESS Giving the Gift of Life
Rev. Dean Koyama
Way back in 1994, I signed up to be a bone marrow donor. I had not heard anything until a month ago when I was informed that I had been identified as a possible donor and they needed my approval to move on to the next step. This past week I was contacted again, and notified that I had passed the initial screening. I needed to provide a more detailed health questionnaire and if needed another blood sample for further testing. They also provided further details on the two methods of harvesting the bone marrow if I am selected as a viable candidate. I gave my consent to go on to the next stage of the process.
I still do not know whether or not I will be a donor, but this process made me think about how did I come to this point. Especially since I hate going to the doctor's office anyway. As I thought about it, I think it all began while I was a student at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in the early 1980's.
I remember, one day that the IBS secretary came in wearing a really cool T-shirt. When I asked where she got it, she explained that she got it for just giving blood. I had always thought that I should give blood. But due to my extreme dislike (and fear) of needles, I just never got around to it. But with the prodding of my fellow classmate, David Matsumoto who volunteered to drive us to the blood bank, I reluctantly agreed.
I remembered being extremely nervous with sweaty palms as we walked into the clinic. We had to fill out a long questionnaire and after doing so, we were given the exact same T-shirt that the secretary had. I have to admit I thought, "Well, now that I have my T-shirt, there is no one to stop us from leaving." But we both completed the process of giving blood.
Afterwards, we were told to wait in the snack bar for 15 minutes and to have some juice and some snacks as a reward. Of course being starving students, we helped ourselves to the cookies and free flowing orange juice. I kept thinking, "It wasn't so bad, and besides, we got a T-shirt and all the cookies and juice we wanted." We returned to the IBS dorm and were relaxing on the couches in the living room when Professor Shojo Oi, one of our main teachers, walked in. He asked, "How come you both look so tired today?"
Rev. Matsumoto went on to explain that we had just given blood.
Rev. Oi said, "Oh what a noble deed you performed."
Then I piped in, "No, we did it for the free T-shirt and cookies."
Since that time I continue to give blood. And because of my giving blood, I would receive some free gifts. It got to a point that I no longer wanted the free T-shirts. Now they have a system, where you earn points for giving blood which can later be exchanged for many other nice quality gifts. I had so many points at one time that I got a grey fleece vest. I liked it so much that after I built up my points again, I got another one, this time in black. Recently I lost my black vest, and so I am now calculating how many times I need to give blood so that I can replace it. Also, I usually give blood on my day off on Mondays. And it just so happens that everyone who gives blood on Monday gets a free movie ticket coupon.
As Spring has arrived (even though Winter never really appeared), we are reminded to practice the 6 Paramitas. Paramita refers to the practices that will help us cross over to the shore of Enlightenment. They are:
1. Dana – Selfless giving
2. Sila – Discipline to keep the precepts or rules
3. Ksanti – Patience
4. Virya – Endeavor
5. Dhyana – Meditation
6. Prajna – Wisdom
Without a doubt I have not been practicing giving blood with the heart of Selfless giving. To practice Selfless Giving, there should be no thought of the giver, the gift or the receiver. One should not be attached to the object (the blood) or the recipient (the blood bank and ultimately the patient needing the blood). Nor should one expect any kind of reward or gift back. (T-shirts, cookies, fleece vests, movie tickets).
In general we each have about 6 quarts of blood in our body and the body is able to regenerate the lost pint of blood volume in 24 hours. So in one sense, this object is completely replaceable and yet we (I should say "I") need incentives to part with it. How much more so are objects that are not so replaceable? This is the situation of the human condition that the Buddha came to fully realize. He described us as being filled with Greed, Anger and Stupidity. But this does not mean that we are totally helpless and hopeless. Rather it means that we must find an alternative means upon which to rely upon. In other words, it would be impossible for us to rely upon ourselves who are filled with Greed, Anger and Stupidity to be able to perfect the practices that will lead us to Enlightenment. That is why the Buddha gave us the teaching of Amida Buddha's heart of Unobstructed Wisdom and Immeasurable Compassion. This heart is expressed as the words of Namo Amida Butsu. By giving us the teaching of Amida Buddha's heart of Namo Amida Butsu, we come to realize that despite the fact that we are filled with Greed, Anger, and Ignorance, we continue to be embraced within the warmth of the wisdom and compassion of the lives of those who surround us. Then with this realization, we can begin to practice the 6 Paramitas not as a means to get us to Enlightenment, but rather as an expression of pure gratitude, humility and appreciation for already having been made aware that enlightenment has already arrived or the life that we have already received.
I don't know whether or not I will be selected as a candidate to donate bone marrow. But I do hope that whoever is in need, will find a match with someone who is willing to share a bit of their life to save another's.
PS. If anyone finds an XL black fleece vest with the Stanford Blood Bank logo on it, it may be mine.
Rev. Dean Koyama