Reverend's Message - March 2015
Rolling Buddha, Falling Sensei
Rev. Dean Koyama
As the Lotus on its stalk rides unsoiled above the muddy water, so the tranquil sage rides unsoiled by the world and it's negativity (Magandiya Sutta.)
About ten Christmases ago, I received a pair of rollerblades from my wife. I think her intentions were good. This was back in the day when I was still jogging, but I had been complaining on a regular basis of a sore back and aching knees after jogging. Out of the kindness of her heart, she game me these rollerblades so that I could still go to the paved trail and get my exercise.
One fine spring day, she and one of our sons headed to the trail for a walk. I was to catch up with them on my rollerblades. Now, I had not been on skates for a number of years, but just like riding a bike it came back to me. Unlike the old skates of my youth, made of steel, which were noisy and rough, these new rollerblades were smooth, quiet and fast. And I have to say that I was able to glide flawlessly to the start of the trailhead. As I continued on the trail, I came to an overpass to cross over a busy street. I struggled going up the hill but made it over the crest and down the other side of the overpass. I figured that this was enough exercise for the day so I turned around to go back.
I went up the incline back over the overpass and crested over the hill.
That's when everything went downhill. Coming down the other way was a lot steeper than I remembered it being when I was going up. Add to that were a series of 2 quick hairpin turns. As I picked up speed going downhill, I knew that there was no way I was going to make the turns. I was flailing my arms trying to grab onto something so that I could stop but instead, I lost my balance. My feet and skates went up in the air. Boom!!! I landed on my rear end, rolled over scraped my knees and bruised my elbow.
I had to lie there awhile so I could catch my breath, ease through the pain, and figure out how I as going to get back up. Eventually I was able to do so and when I finally caught up with my Vol. 65, No. 3 MARCH, 2015 Page 2 wife and son, she coyly asked if I had fallen. "Of course, I did," I replied and recounted the story of going downhill and that I had gained too much speed to make the turn. My son, then chimed in with a question, "How come you didn't use your brake?" I looked at him with disgust and I asked him, "These things have brakes? Where?" And then he proceeded to show me that at the end of one side of the rollerblade, there is the brake pad that you drag to help you slow down. My only reply was that I didn't know how to use it. Luckily, I had brought my shoes to the trail, so I took my skates off and limped the rest of the way home in defeat.
On the way home, I recalled many years ago when one of my sons was six or seven years old. He had also received a brand new pair of roller blades from Santa. Later that day he built up enough courage to finally go into the garage and try on his roller blades. He was able to stand and he took off down the driveway with his arms flailing just as I had done. Needless to say he fell at the foot of the driveway. He got up and tried again. And again he fell. He got up and fell a third time. This process was repeated over and over again. But he kept at it. I was sure that he would soon fall again and with tears in his eyes say to me that he didn't like his roller blades and that he wanted to exchange them for something else. I didn't know how to tell him that since they were all scuffed and scratched from his falls, we could no longer return them. But this did not happen. Instead he asked if I could move the cars out of the garage so that he could practice where it was flat and smooth.
I was impressed by his perseverance. "I'm going to master this yet, Dad," he vowed. And soon, he was able to go around the garage without any spills.
There is a familiar Japanese proverb that says, "Fall down 7 times, get up 8." This means to persevere, be determined and keep trying. The power in the determination to overcome obstacles can be very great. Often we may only have a vision but it is the determination that allows us to achieve a goal. It is the power in the determination, the power in the vow that extends and embraces others as well.
The historical Sakyamuni Buddha made a vow to never leave his spot under the Bodhi tree until he attained the Supreme Enlightenment. After attaining his enlightenment he chose and vowed to share his joy with others. In order so that all beings could understand, the Buddha taught in many ways and forms. So that the simple-minded could understand the power of a Vow, the Buddha gave us the story that taught of Enlightenment, itself, taking a form that we call Amida Buddha. In this story, a bodhisattva, or one who strives to attain enlightenment for the sake of all beings, by the name of Dharmakara contemplated for 5 kalpas (eons) before determining 48 vows of wisdom and compassion. In order to perfect these vows, Dharmakara was diligent in his determination and practice. After innumerable more kalpas he was able to perfect them and attain enlightenment and become Amida Buddha.
These 48 Vows are central to our Jodo Shinshu Teaching. And although we may not be familiar with each of the 48 Vows, we have been exposed to the spirit and intent of them. This is found in the Ju Sei Ge, that we often chant at our services. In fact, I think this may be the favorite sutra to chant, not for the content but for being the shortest. These 48 vows have been concentrated into the first 3 stanzas of the Ju Sei Ge:
I establish the Vows unexcelled,
And reach the Highest Path, Bodhi
Were these Vows unfulfilled
I would never attain Enlightentment
I will be the Great provider
Throughout the innumerable kalpas.
Should I fail to save all in need
I would never attain Enlightenment
Upon my attaining Enlightenment,
If my Name were not heard everywhere
In the ten quarters of the universe,
I would never attain Enlightenment.
Shinran Shonin felt that the sole purpose for Sakyamuni Buddha's birth and appearance in this world was to teach us of the power of Amida Buddha's vows. It is through these vows of wisdom and compassion that Amida Buddha works for the benefit especially of those who cannot attain enlightenment on their own. By realizing that Amida Buddha or enlightenment, itself, is working toward us, we can then feel the Power of the Vow reflected in our lives as the realization of true gratitude and appreciation.
Sometimes we must fall before we can walk. Sometimes we must face and bear the difficulties that life throws at us in order to deeply appreciate the reality of Life itself. However, instead of looking at our disabilities, faults, challenges and limitations as negatives, if we can look at them as blessings, then they no longer become obstacles to overcome, but rather the point from which we can step off and embrace the unlimited potentials that we call Immeasurable Life and Unobstructed Light: the Infinite Wisdom and Compassion that embrace us all, right here, and right now.
This is exactly what the Lotus must do. Its roots are firmly planted in the murky mud, and yet the flower is able to rise high above untarnished by the dirt.
Those roller blades are still mocking me as they sit in the garage, and perhaps one day, I too will master them because they were given to me with a compassionate heart. I just think I'll wait awhile until my rear end heals a little more.
Rev. Dean Koyama