Reverend's Message - July 2015
"The Power of Bon Jour"
Rev. Dean Koyama
As many of you may be aware, I did a fair amount of traveling in the month of May. So it is good to be back at home and still recovering from the jet lag that being on the go caused. At the beginning of the month, my family and I took a 9 day group tour to Europe and at the end of May, the PABT BWA and I went to the 14th World Buddhist Women's' Conference in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and a 5 day Eastern Canadian tour.
I have to admit during the trip to Canada, we experienced some minor inconveniences such as: a delay in the departure from San Francisco to Vancouver causing us to miss our connecting flight to Calgary, a person who showed up with an expired passport, and a late bus to take us to the airport on the day we were to return to San Francisco. But I must commend our Palo Alto ladies. I didn't have to worry about them. They took care of themselves, they were responsible, showed up on time, didn't whine or complain or at least most of them didn't. And whenever things did come up, they were flexible enough just to go with the flow. I deeply appreciate their cooperation.
So, I will say that I had an adventure. And despite all the things that happened, I am glad I went. As the family trip to Europe and this trip to Canada, I found it to be educational. I learned a little about the history of different countries. I learned a little about our different cultures. And I learned a little about ourselves.
As we were told in France and then again in Montreal and Quebec being very heavily influenced by French and French culture, we were warned that many foreigners regard the French as being rude. But as it was explained to us, this may be because the French regard greetings as being an important part of civility. In America, very rarely do we say, "Hello" or "Good Day" when, as a customer, we enter a store or restaurant. Of course we expect the store or waiter to acknowledge us, after all, we are the paying customers. But our local tour guides told us it is a matter of courtesy and politeness to not only say "Hello" or "Good Day," but to try and say it in French. I really didn't think too much of it at the time, especially because I find French words are very difficult to pronounce. If you look at French words, they don't look at all like how they sound.
So on the last evening that we were on our own for dinner in Quebec, Landon, Chiyo, (our Kintetsu representative) and I decided to go find a place to eat. We chose a restaurant where Landon and Chiyo went in first and got seated. I came in a little later as I was trying to decipher the menu, which was written in French. As I sat down, the waiter came over and I said to him, "Bon jour," in my feeble attempt to pronounce it correctly. The waiter replied speaking in English, "Ah you speak French!" And of course we all laughed and the rest of the evening was very delightful. But it was Chiyo who pointed out to me, that until I had said "Bon Jour" the waiter was very surly and gruff as he seated them. However, after I had said "Bon jour" he became very friendly and cordial. He explained to us what we were ordering, what he would recommend, asked where we were from, etc. It was a very wonderful and memorable experience.
And it all began with a simple greeting, a simple gesture of acknowledgment that "I see you living." In Japanese it is called an aisatsu and I've come to realize how important this gesture is. It is important because it acknowledges a start of an encounter, a meeting or a relationship. It is the start of a human-to-human contact. Buddhism teaches us that we are all inter-dependant; that we are all interconnected. We are all bound by Life itself.
If you come to think about it, many of our problems in society stems from the notion that people don't feel acknowledged. They feel that other people don't even see them. They feel that they are invisible and they are taken for granted. When we enter a store or about ready to check out, often we may feel that we are being a nuisance to the clerk who realizes that there is a long line of customers behind us and that he or she needs to get through the line as quickly as possible.
Following this incident, I've noticed that when I take Niko, our dog, for a walk, and we pass others on the sidewalk, very often, they will avert their eyes and look at the ground, or look at their i-phone. Very rarely do people say "Hello" or even look at us as we pass. However, I've noticed that if I say "Hello," sometimes they will smile back. And perhaps that simple act may be how they start their day in the morning and hopefully carry it on for the rest of their day.
During this trip I was introduced to a Japanese Zen saying by one of our local tour guides in Quebec. It turns out she is also from a Jodo Shinshu family. She didn't know if she was a Nishi Hongwanji or Higashi Hongwanji but was thoroughly delighted that she had a group of fellow travelers of the Nembutsu. She had been living in Quebec for the past 20 years or so and was very fluent in French. In fact she fascinated me because she had a Japanese face, fluent in Japanese and French but her English pronunciation had a French not a Japanese accent. She really felt a connection to our group and was deeply appreciative of the causes and conditions that allowed us to meet. She used the words Go-En, (Fortunate circumstances,) ichigo ichie (a once in a lifetime meeting) both phrases with a strong Buddhist background. During our farewell dinner, she introduced me to a Zen saying that is used in the Tea Ceremony:
Sen Ri Do Fu. 千里同風 Literally A thousand miles, the same breeze. The idea behind this is that even though a thousand miles may separate us, we can enjoy the same breeze.
What took us to Canada was a World Conference with 2000 participants to learn more about the Nembutsu. Because of the Nembutsu, I was able to meet others who I probably would never have met otherwise: from the other attendees of the Conference, members of our two tour groups (Palo Alto and Northern California), the waiter in Quebec, the Kintetsu people who helped us tremendously when things went wrong on our trip, to this French speaking Japanese lady living in Quebec.
Sen ri do fu, even though we may be separated by thousand of miles, countries or cultures, we can still enjoy the same breeze of Life, Love, Humanity, and Nembutsu. And it can all begin through a very simple gesture, a very simple greeting, a very simple acknowledgement that we are all enjoying this difficult to receive human life, yet now we are living it. This is the heart of Namo Amida Butsu and this is taught to us in this simple story of Dharmakara Bodhisattva. Dharmakara Bodhisattva in his attempt to become a Buddha makes a vow to travel and see all the many different Buddhas and Buddhalands so that he can select the features that are most perfect and exquisite to be included in his land. This is summarized in the San Butsu Ge.
Even though there are countless Buddhas,
A thousand million more in number,
And multitudes of Great Sages,
Immeasurable as the sand along the Ganges River,
I shall go to visit, greet and make offerings
To all these Buddhas,
And continue to seek the Path
Resolutely and determinedly without any rest.
(San Butsu Ge)
As the Buddha reminds us, let us continue to try to make that human-to-human connection with each other by a simple greeting of "Hello," "Bon Jour," or maybe even "Namo Amida Butsu."
Rev. Dean Koyama