Reverend's Message - February 2015

A Change in Perspective

Rev. Dean Koyama

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you as your shadow, unshakable.
- The Dhammapada

It may seem that I am a month behind schedule, but I wanted to relay a message I gave to start off the New Year.

During this time of Hoonko, the annual memorial service for Shinran Shonin, a tale is told of Shinran in the northern provinces of Japan. The winters are very severe there. One day as Shinran and two of his disciples are travelling; they are suddenly engulfed in a cold bitter storm. The snowdrifts piled high making it very difficult to stay on the road. To make matters worse, night fell. Thinking it best to find shelter, they saw up in the distance a glimmer of light. They headed for it. Upon reaching the source of the light, they were delighted to discover that it was a very small country house. Shinran knocked and waited for the occupants of this small house to come to the front. Very slowly they heard an old man stirring inside the house. When he met the weary and cold travelers, Shinran asked, "Sumimasen ga, Please excuse our intrusion, we have no place to stay the night and we were caught by this storm. Would you be so kind as to let us stay in some corner of your house till daybreak?" The old man looked at the weary travelers and said, "I'm sorry, our house is so small we have no extra room for you. We have no money for any extra coal or firewood to keep you warm. Please find shelter somewhere else." And with that the old man closed the door on them.

Shikata ga nai, With nothing else to do, Shinran and his companions walked slowly away from the house and took refuge under a large nearby pine tree. The wind had picked up penetrating their flimsy robes. It was then that Shinran realized that the wind was coming from the western direction. He then composed the following poem.

Although it is so cold and I want to withdraw into the sleeves of my robes,
I think that the westerly wind blows from Amida Buddha's Pure Land.

He then began to recite the Nembutsu with a heart of gratitude. Namandabu, Namandabu, Namandabu. It is then said that the old man who had turned Shinran and his companions away earlier, heard the true sincerity of the recitation of the Nembutsu and immediately asked them to come into his humble home to spend the night.

Having been turned away from shelter, Shinran could have complained. He could have gotten angry with the foolish old man. He could have argued with him and called him names. But instead, Shinran felt a tremendous sense of gratitude to this old man. For Shinran, if this old man had not turned him away, he would not have felt the wind that was blowing from the West. Even though it was a cold chilling wind, it made Shinran think that even this too was coming from Amida's heart of pure Wisdom and compassion. With this understanding, Shinran was able to have a change of heart and decisively with gratitude he recited the Nembutsu.

For me the importance of Shinran's contribution to our lives is not only giving us the teachings of the Nembutsu, but also of showing us that often we may need to change our perspectives of things. In other words, " Things don't change, but you can change your way of looking at it!"

I think this change of perspective fits in very appropriately during the New Year as in a way; it reflects the hopeful potential of a new beginning. In 2014, we held our 100th breathed with a sigh of relief now that it is over. But since that time, I have been contemplating on what do we do next? What is in store for us? What is our duty and responsibility to carry on our temple into the next 5, 10, 25 50, or hundred years?

As we have decided to undertake this major project of remodeling the temple kitchen, and yes it is a big investment, it has revealed that we have neglected many major projects for our temple campus. And I want to share with you a comment made by some individuals when I first arrived here at the Palo Alto temple just a year and a half ago. After arriving here, I was being introduced to some of the members and someone made a comment that they were surprised that we got a new minister. And the gist of his comment was that most likely in the future we would have to close the temple and merge with another temple located nearby. On another occasion, I recently attended a meeting (it may or may not have been at PABT) to select officers to take on certain responsibilities and duties. As usual there were very few who energetically volunteered to take on a role. After awhile, someone remarked, "If I don't have to do anything, I'll do it."

Now I realize that all of us live very busy lives. It is difficult to volunteer for a job or position that we may not know what it really entails or how much time is involved. And I know that we have people, here at the temple, who are doing more than their share of volunteering. But I wanted to caution all of us, that this kind of negativity is contagious and is probably the main reason why we have neglected many of the projects to truly enhance our temple and temple grounds. What I propose, is that we have to change that perspective and way of thinking like Shinran Shonin had done. For Shinran, it was his encounter with the Nembutsu that allowed him to see things in a different light. It allowed him to foster a grateful heart and attitude even such that the cold wind blows from the Pure Land. And his response was that he felt this tremendous need to repay his debt of gratitude by devoting his lifetime of 90 years in 13th to teaching others of this path of unobstructed freedom.

We too, must foster this heart of repaying a debt of gratitude especially to those who help establish a temple here in Palo Alto and to those loved ones who have passed away guiding us to hear the teachings of Nembutsu. I think to help foster this change of perspective, like the custom of making a resolution for the new Year, we must make the resolution that we too will make the temple a priority. This may mean that we must sacrifice for and support the various needs and programs of the temple. And of course this may mean that we may need to do additional fund raising or use the funds that we have accumulated over the many years. May I ask you to consider this question, "What can I do to help the temple?" But we must invest in our temple. Not from the sense of obligation, but with the true sense of repaying that debt of gratitude for having already been able to hear this wonderful treasure of the Nembutsu here at our temple. And that is what we need to ensure, not only for us and our children, but for the children of many future generations to come.

So let us take a small step forward by changing our attitude and perspective of the temple. Let us invest and make the temple a priority as our founding pioneers had done, and let us keep the Nembutsu as the guiding light upon our path of realizing a wiser and compassionate world for all. These are just some of my thoughts as we begin the 2015 New Year.

May it be full of the Light and Life of Unbounded Wisdom and Compassion.


Rev. Dean Koyama

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