Reverend's Message - January 2015

The Priceless O-musubi

Rev. Dean Koyama

Since we have moved into the temple parsonage, we have enjoyed the lovely Japanese landscaped garden with the many trees, rocks and bushes. However, because of all the rain from the recent storm on December 11th, our backyard suddenly had a lake. It reminded me of the following story:

Once there was a great flood in a small village and all the people were forced to evacuate. Among those to evacuate was a very wealthy man and a very poor man. As the floodwaters rose higher and higher, the very rich man hurriedly gathered all of his money into a furoshiki – (traveling cloth) and then climbed up a tall tree. The man with little money gathered the remaining rice in his pot and made musubi- (rice balls). He then wrapped them up in his furoshiki and climbed up the same tree to take shelter from the flood.

The rich man seeing what the poor man had carried laughed at him saying, "No wonder you're so poor. You are an idiot!!! Why didn't you bring just a little of your meager savings instead of some stupid musubi? Even with just a little amount of money, you can buy anything."

The poor man just sat quietly ignoring him.

After many hours, both men gradually became hungry. The poor man reached into his dirty and tattered furoshiki and pulled out one musubi and began to eat.

The rich man who saw the delicious-looking musubi also longed for one as his stomach was growling too. He asked the poor man if he could have a musubi, but the poor man just turned his head and ignored him. The rich man then said, "Hey, I have a lot of money. I'll just buy one of your musubi for $1."

But the poor man refused to sell it for a dollar.

One day passed, then another and still the water from the great flood did not recede. Again, the poor man brought out from his furoshiki another musubi and began to eat. The rich man pleaded with him to sell just one musubi. But the poor man would not sell even one.

"Ok. How about $5, $10, $50 $100 for one musubi."


In desperation, the rich man begged the poor man for one musubi saying, "I'll give you all the money I have for just one musubi."

But the plea fell on deaf ears.

Ordinarily, we would not think that a plain white-rice musubi could be worth more than a dollar or two. However, as we can see from this story, given the right circumstances a simple plain musubi could become worth a lot more.

With the recent storm and floods, there were many devastating incidents. We saw and heard stories of trees falling and mud slides threatening homes. And of course many people suffered water damage as the waters rose over the banks of creeks and levees surpassing many historical records. Some had to evacuate; others have to rebuild. People were devastated by their losses of homes, cars, furniture, valuables and memorabilia. We could feel the pain and agony as some lost everything they valued. Whenever we hear about these kinds of disastrous circumstances we should ask ourselves: "What is of utmost value in our lives?" What is our ultimate place of refuge and shelter?"

Shinran lived during a very catastrophic time. It was a period of wars, fires, floods and famine. There was not much that Shinran could ultimately rely upon for shelter. However, Shinran used a beautiful term, hikkyo e 畢竟衣with which to describe his understanding of the compassionate power of Amida Buddha. These are the Chinese characters that hang above the incense burners in front of our altar. These characters mean the ultimate shelter, and Shinran uses them in one of his wasan, or poems:

The light of purity is without compare; When a person encounters this light, All bonds of karma fall away; So take refuge in Amida, the ultimate shelter.

What is our ultimate shelter that we can rely upon in any moment? Shinran responds by saying, "We are ordinary men possessed of passions and our world is the burning house of transience; hence all things are entirely empty, nonsense and untrue. The Nembutsu alone is true and real."

The Nembutsu may not be able to build us new homes or recover material thing lost in the face of tragic and devastating circumstances. But I firmly believe that the Nembutsu will provide us the foundation of life that will help us face any obstacle so that we can live with dignity, honor, patience, wisdom and compassion, to live and/or rebuild our lives.

We can feel sympathy and compassion to all those who suffered a great loss during this recent storm. And if we are some of the fortunate ones that did not suffer too greatly, perhaps we can use this occasion as a means to reflect on the wonderful treasures that we are able to enjoy everyday of our lives. We truly are fortunate to have an ultimate shelter that we call the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple to provide us with the teaching of the Nembutsu. We should and must do whatever we can to ensure that the PABT continues to be that source as an ultimate shelter. This may include making sure that our temple facilities are properly maintained, enhanced and updated. It may include volunteering to be a chairperson of a committee. It may include keeping your pledges or simply attending the services.

As I reflect upon this past year and this ultimate shelter, I am truly amazed and impressed by the many devoted and dedicated temple members who work so hard to help ensure that this temple survives another day. And there are many who without their efforts, the temple would not be able to do what it does. I am deeply grateful to all of you who help make my life a little easier. I would like to thank all of you who make coming to the temple a priority. And finally I would like to thank you for your generous acts of kindness and support to my family and I, so that we can continue to serve you by walking the path of Nembutsu together.

Have a Happy, Healthy and Grateful New Year,


Rev. Dean, Linda, Justin, Curtis, Tommy and Niko (woof)

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