Reverend's Message - September 2015

"I do...Become my Foolish Self"

Rev. Dean Koyama

I recall hearing the late Master Honen say, "Person of the Pure Land tradition attain birth in the Pure Land by becoming their foolish selves." Moreover, I remember him smile and say, as he watched humble people of no intellectual pretensions coming to visit him, "Without doubt their birth is settled." And I heard him say after a visit by a man brilliant in letters and debating, " I really wonder about his birth."
(Mattōshō-Lamp for the Latter Ages by Shinran Shonin)

Over the summer, I had the honor of officiating two weddings. Surprisingly, it has been some time since I've had to officiate a wedding. And it has been even longer since I've had to officiate a wedding at the temple. In preparing for a wedding ceremony, I meet with the couple several times so that I can get to know them. I ask them how they met; what do they do for their occupation; what are their hobbies and interest etc. I also tell them a little about myself and explain some of the elements of the Buddhist Wedding ceremony. And in order to personalize the ceremony, I invite the couple to write and give a message to their soon-to-be-spouse.

I was impressed with both couple's messages. You could tell that they put a lot of thought and love into their messages. Invariably they talked about how they thought their future spouse was the best person they could ever hope to find. They mentioned how their future spouses brought out the best of themselves as well. And they promised that they would always be there to support and comfort them no matter what difficulties life will throw at them. Usually, I follow their vows and give a message about the importance of Oneness. Oneness does not mean being the same. Rather accepting and respecting their differences is Oneness. I have always felt that this has been a good and appropriate message to give on the occasion of a wedding.

Recently I heard of a great message. This past week I was attending the Three-day Minister's Summer Study Seminar and our special guest lecturer was Rev. Haruaki Shirakawa who has been the Director of the Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin, the main seminary for training ministers in our Hompa Hongwanji tradition for many years. Rev. Shirakawa explained that Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin or Chu-Butsu for short, is a very unique institution. Their student body is in the hundreds and it is not uncommon to see people in the 50's and 60's sitting among students in their teens studying the teachings of Shinran Shonin. The oldest person in the history of the school was a man 78 years old.

There are also students who have completed only a middle school level of education studying next to those who have doctorate degrees from some of the top Japanese Universities. There are people who were in business, architects, surgeons, and even a producer for NHK (The Japanese Public Broadcasting Network) studying with active temple ministers and temple wives. And of course, since Jodo Shinshu is a teaching of non-discrimination, both males and females are in the same classes together.

As a result, many people who study at Chu-Butsu find their partner for life. Rev. Shirakawa mentioned that he is often invited to their weddings. Sometimes he has to attend 3 or 4 in one month and because the students come from all over Japan, he travels throughout Hokkaido to Kyushu. Being the director of the school where the couple met, he is often asked to say a few words at the reception. Shirakawa shared with us one of the messages he gave at a recent wedding:

At receptions such as this, we often hear congratulatory messages saying, "Please become a good husband or a good wife and build a happy home." Since Mr. A and Miss B both met while studying at Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin, we are able to greet this festive day. This means that they were able to study the teachings of Shinran Shonin. Therefore, instead of asking them to become a good husband and good wife, I would rather have them become aware that they are hopelessly foolish people. I say this because if they felt that they had become a good husband or good wife, they might also begin to feel that "I am a wonderful person," and this may lead to looking down upon those around them including their spouse. To come to the awareness that "I am a hopeless fool," will not lead to looking down upon others but rather lead to a feeling of respecting those around you…. Shinran Shonin did not tell us to "Become a good person or an exemplary human being." He taught us the great value in becoming aware of how hopelessly foolish I am.

I thought this is a wonderful message to give to a newly wedded couple. I think Shirakawa Sensei was trying to guide them by telling them that if you become a good husband or a good wife, during their first fight after their wedding, both may develop the strong opinion that only they are right and the other is completely wrong. This may lead to a stalemate where neither side gives in, and their marriage will then be in trouble. However, by telling them to become their foolish self, then there may be a possibility that one is mistaken or may not know the whole story. By having this possibility, one may be willing to listen to the other side and there is hope for a compromise.

But the problem is that no one wants to admit that they are a foolish being.

As many of you may remember, I led a group of our BWA ladies to the 14th World Buddhist Women's Conference in Calgary in May of this year. Following this conference we took a 5-day tour of Eastern Canada. Actually we had two groups that were combined because we shared the same transportation and hotel. I was the leader of our group and the other group had a representative from the travel agency named Chiyo. When we were together, it was fine because Chiyo took charge and responsibility for both groups. I basically followed her lead and assisted her. At the airport, she would be the last person to check in making sure that everyone else was able to check in without a problem. Every time we would get off the bus, she would check the no one had forgotten anything on board. And at the hotel she would make sure that everyone was able to check into his or her room and have their luggage before she went to her room.

However, there was one day in Montreal where both groups were separated staying at different hotels and traveling in separate buses. Chiyo told me to call her if I needed help or if anything happened. She also said to check in with her when we got to the hotel. So having seen what Chiyo did previously for both groups I thought that I needed do the same for my group since we were on our own. I was the last one off the airplane and I made sure and counted everyone on the bus during the tour of the city. Toward the evening, we finally arrived at our hotel. We disembarked the bus and I had everyone go into the hotel to get checked in. And just before I went into the hotel, I remembered that I should check the bus before it left, just in case someone forgot something. I re-entered the bus and I walked down the aisle checking both overhead and underneath the seats on one side. Then after I got to the end, I proceeded to the front checking the other aisle. Confident that no one had left anything, I joined the group in the hotel after the bus left. After everyone got their room key and started to go to their rooms, I decided that I should check in with Chiyo and let her know that we got to our hotel without any problems.

However, there was one problem. I couldn't find my phone. I checked my pockets. I checked my bags. I checked where I had been sitting in the hotel lobby. I couldn't find my phone. And then I realized, I left it on the bus! Usually, being the leaders, Chiyo and I would sit in the front row of the bus that had a little table. On that table, there was a little slot just the right size for me to insert my phone so that I could keep out and close by. As I was busy looking for things that may have been forgotten by my group members on the bus, I forgot to check my own space where I had been sitting. All the while I was thinking I have to take care of these people who would be careless and forget something.

This was the attitude that Shirakawa Sensei felt Shinran Shonin was cautioning the newly wedded couple about: "To become a good person." When we have that attitude, we become arrogant, over confident and place ourselves above all others. Thinking that I had to look after the others, who without me, would forget something on the bus, I forgot something. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a phone and call Chiyo. She was able to call the bus company and they returned 30 minute later to the hotel lobby with my phone.

As many of our children begin the new school year as well as our new Dharma School year, perhaps we can be reminded of this important lesson. We are not always the teachers or experts. We must continue with an attitude of learning and deepening our awareness of life. This comes about by building those human-to-human connections and respecting and accepting one another as they truly are. This is all made possible by letting go of one's arrogance and become the foolish self.

Welcome Back and oh, I forgot, Namandabu
Rev. Dean Koyama