Reverend's Message - April 2016

"To Live Among Buddhas"

Rev. Dean Koyama

For the Shotsuki service in March, I gave a sermon. Afterwards, many people came up to talk about the joke that my sermon began with and hardly mentioned the main point of the message. So I thought I would submit the sermon portion of my talk into the Sangha Guide this month:

As many of you are aware, we are in the midst of a Presidential election year. It looks like it will be very interesting to see who will win the nominations, as there are so many unknowns yet. Having said that, I have to add a qualifier. Being part of a religious institution, I have to be very careful when I talk about politics. As a minister in this type of setting I cannot publicly endorse or disapprove of any candidate as this could jeopardize our tax-free status and break the clear separation of Church and State. So please do not take what I am about to talk about in that way. However, I would simply like to use what has been in the news recently as a starting point of my talk.

A month or so ago, there was an exchange between Donald Trump and the Pope. Trump had been making campaign speeches concerning the issue of immigration into the US. He mentioned that if he were to become president, he would not allow any Syrian refugees and Muslim to enter the United States. He would also build a wall along the U.S. and make Mexico pay for it. For some, these comments were a breath of fresh air but for others, they drew the wrath of many as being entirely rude, moronic, divisive, hateful and irresponsible. These comments were brought to the attention of Pope Francis who had just finished a 6-day visit of Mexico. The Pope said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,”

Of course, Donald Trump cannot let anyone, including the Pope, have the last word. One of Donald Trump’s senior advisors shot back by twitting: "Amazing comments from the Pope — considering Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls," and attached several photos showing the massive walls that surround the Holy city. These walls are at least 30 maybe even 50 feet high.

Perhaps it is just the nature of politics today but I definitely feel as if we are living in a society where rudeness, insensitivity and divisiveness are becoming a norm.

Several years ago, we helped move our youngest son to a college in Boston. After we got him settled into his dorm, we visited the many historical sites and walked along the Freedom Trail. That evening we went to Faneuil Hall Market Place to look for a place to have dinner. Not knowing where to go, we walked by many of the stalls and restaurants looking for something unique.

We walked by this one restaurant that seemed very lively and we could see people wearing these pointed cone hats made of the butcher paper that lined the dining room picnic tables. We saw the menu outside and we decided to try it. As we walked in, a sign to “please wait to be seated” greeted us. One of the wait staff came over and asked how many? After we replied three, the wait staff person said gruffly, “You can go over there.” And pointed us in a direction to an available table. After we sat down, he brought over the silverware that were wrapped in a napkin, and from several feet away, threw them in our direction. He went away for several minutes and when he came back, he asked if we would like anything to drink. We replied that we would just have water. He responded by saying, “If you want water, look over there, the ocean is just outside. Go get it yourself.” And he walked away. We just looked at each other in shock. I was wondering if we should just leave. I looked around and saw that all the other restaurant diners seemed to be having fun. I thought it was just our dumb luck that we got this grumpy waiter. I then took a look at the placemats that were on the table. On it was a description of the restaurant. The name of the restaurant was Dick’s Last Resort and it said, "Dick is the ornery, politically incorrect curmudgeon who started this whole thing. Dick's Last Resort is known for its outrageous, surly, and energetic servers who dish out good grub, cold booze, and heaping helpings of sarcasm.

So after I realized that it was all an act, I settled down and started to be rude to the waiter too. I would tell the waiter, “what’s the matter can’t you carry more than one plate at a time? Or, “You better watch out, you move so slow that you’re going to get a parking ticket.” It was a lot of fun.

Now compare that experience with this: I just returned from our BCA National Council and minister’s meeting held in Visalia, California. In the schedule, we are on our own for dinner for Thursday night. Of course Thursday night was the night the Warriors played OKC and I knew that I wanted to watch the game. Luckily I was able to catch up with our temple representatives, Chuck Dene and David Tanaka and they invited me to join them for dinner. They wanted to go to a “sports bar” to have dinner and watch the game there. Our group grew to about 10 as we joined by other fellow Bay District temple representatives.

We went to a restaurant called, Rookies and as we walked in, we looked for a table large enough to fit our group with a good vantage point to watch the game. At first, we thought that we would have to split up into two groups, but our waitress cheerfully began moving chairs and put a couple of tables together so that we could all sit together. She was so pleasant and helpful. We thanked her for what she did and she simply replied with a warm cheerful smile, “No problem.” Later she came back to take our orders. She made recommendations and even told someone that she wouldn’t recommend the chili. The monitors closest to us were showing games that we were not interested in and we asked if she could change the channel to the Warrior’s game. We were a very loud group cheering for each shot and groaning when the warriors would turn the ball over or foul.

To make the long story short, it was because of this one very cheerful, bubbly and helpful waitress who helped make our evening so delightful. And I guess it did help that the Warriors won that night. So in thinking about these two experiences, I think I would rather go back to this restaurant in Visalia because the wait staff was so helpful and cheerful to begin with. The restaurant in Boston was fun as I watched and listened to the wait staff throw insults to the other diners. But when I didn’t know that it was all an act, I was getting pretty upset and mad.

And that leads to my question, “With whom would we rather be with? Do we really want to be rude to each other or be with, rude grumpy people? I know, my wife says she lives with one 24/7.

During one of the morning services at this recent BCA National meeting, Rev. Marvin Harada shared the following poem:

Isn’t it wonderful that the world is full of Buddhas?
How grateful I am able to live among them.
Namo Amida Butsu.

Asahara Saichi was born in 1850 and died in 1932. He is considered to be a myokonin, which literally means wonderfully well-liked person. This term myokonin refers to these very devout Jodo Shinshu followers whose lives exemplify a profound understanding of the Nembutsu living a life of gratitude and appreciation. Usually, they are not very well educated and do simple jobs for a living. Saichi would make geta the Japanese wooden clog footwear in the Shimane area of Japan. It is said that while he was carving his geta, he would write down poems on shavings and scrapes of wood.

Again, with whom would you rather spend your time: Those who are rude and obnoxious or those who are kind, courteous and helpful? I think the answer is obvious. But I also think it is a matter of how we approach others as well. Certainly, a waiter can look at us as being just another customer and as a result treat us in a way of just doing their job just to get by. Or they can look at us people and take that extra step to ensure that we had an enjoyable experience.

I think that is Saichi’s perspective: He looked at others as if they were Buddhas. Imagine, you were the wait staff and the Buddha came walking in to your restaurant. Would we be rude to the Buddha and throw silverware at him? I don’t think so. I think we are truly like mirrors, if someone is rude to us, we instinctively respond by being negative and rude back as well. But if someone were kind and gentle to us, I would hope that we are kind and gentle back. Saichi, saw others as Buddhas and as a result, he felt so fortunate and grateful that he was living among them. With this perspective, Saichi was able to live a wonderfully full live of gratitude and appreciation.

Again, in the midst of this election year, I am afraid that we will be hearing more negative stories about our potential leaders of this country. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead we could all think like Saichi, that we are living among Buddhas? I am not saying that is how they should be viewing it. Rather, what I’m saying is that it begins with me. What if we could imagine that we are already living among the Buddhas? What if we treat others with respect, dignity, kindness, wisdom and compassion? Perhaps then, like a mirror, wisdom, compassion, kindness and gratitude will reflect upon others as well.

Isn’t it wonderful that the world is full of Buddhas?
How grateful I am able to live among them.

Namo Amida Butsu.
Rev. Dean Koyama