Reverend's Message - June 2016

"Don't Leave Home Without It"

Rev. Dean Koyama

I have just returned from vacation and I am hurriedly writing this article to make the deadline to get it printed in the Sangha Guide. My family and I went for a week to the Big Island of Hawaii. We had a terrible time! The weather was lousy. It was too hot, too cloudy, and too humid. Our condo was a dump! The food was awful. There were too many people around. And the family was always fighting!!!

NOT!!!

No, we had a good time in paradise. Although I thought the weather was a little humid and hot for my taste, everything else was perfect. This time we stayed at one of those resort condos with these huge lagoon-like pools complete with waterfalls and Jacuzzi’s. I like going to Hawaii because we have no family obligations so that we didn’t have to be anywhere at a fixed time. We were able to take it day-by-day, hour-by-hour and just be spontaneous in deciding what we were going to do. Because of the time difference we would wake up early (6:00 AM but 9:00 back home time) sit out on the lanai and read and then make breakfast. Often we would go to the beach for snorkeling in the morning and later in the afternoon we would go back to our condo and pool. Then if there were no Warrior basketball game (the games started at 4:30 in the afternoon in Hawaii), we would BBQ and then watch a movie. We didn’t watch the news or even read the newspaper during our vacation. The next day we would do the same. It was like we were in a time warp and it was just so nice to relax.

We returned Sunday night arriving a little after 11:30 pm a little tired after the 5 hour plane ride. So with this very precious time that we had together of relaxation in paradise, I was surprised by a comment one of my son’s made shortly after we got home. This son, when we moved to Palo Alto was away at college in Arizona, moved back after graduation a couple of years ago, and recently moved out just last Christmas to live in San Francisco. So he has not really lived in Palo Alto for very long. But after we all dropped our bags off inside the parsonage in Palo Alto his comment was, “It’s so nice to be home.”

Honestly, I thought I could have stayed in paradise at least another week, but I have to admit, it did feel good to be back home.

His comment made me think about the many moves that I had made in my lifetime, and especially the many moves that I made my family go through because I am a minister. My earliest memory of my first move was when I was about 4 or 5 years old. We had to move because the government claimed eminent domain of the neighborhood where we lived. Currently that area is underneath I-5 and I-80 freeway interchange in Sacramento. That is when we moved to the house that I grew up in. Then I moved to Davis, back to Sacramento, to Berkeley, back to Sacramento. Then I got married and moved to Citrus Heights and a few months later we moved to Kyoto so that I could complete my studies to become a minister. Following completion of my studies, we returned back to Sacramento with an additional member of our family. Then we moved to Seattle where I started as a minister and moved to Bellevue where my other two sons were born. We were there for 7 years and then I was transferred to Tacoma and we moved to Puyallup. We moved to Mountain View when my oldest was just entering high school, my middle son was just starting middle school and my youngest was starting 4th grade. When we moved to Palo Alto, only our oldest son moved with us. The other two were away at college. So in my mind, because their formidable years were in Mountain View, I would have thought that my boys would have considered Mountain View to be their home.

What is a home? What is the difference between a house and home? A house, of course refers to the actual physical structure where one lives. But a home is a place where we can let our guard down and be who we really are. To me, a home accepts me just as I am. If I am sloppy and untidy, my home reflects this. If I am really a casual person, my home is also a casual place. When I am in the mood to be tidy, my home will be tidy. A home welcomes us and allows us to feel secured and comfortable. There is a sense of being grounded and settled as if we were planting our roots firmly into the soil.

Soon, we are entering the end of the school year. We will have a few Dharma School student who will be graduating high school and moving away for college. There may also be a few who are graduating college and begin their next stage in life called employment. Or perhaps some will decide to stay in the area and continue to live at home. In either case they begin a new stage of their lives, a new adventure, a new start. It could mean making new friends and leaving some behind. Hopefully they will be able to find a new life where they feel secure, comfortable, warm and accepted especially when they face difficult situations. To me this is exactly the feeling of the Nembutsu.

At the conclusion of his major work, Shinran writes:

“How joyous I am, my heart and mind being rooted in the Buddhaground of the Universal (Fundamental) Vow, and my thoughts and feelings flowing within the dharma-ocean, which is beyond comprehension! I am deeply aware of the Tathagata’s immense compassion, and I sincerely revere the benevolent care behind the masters’ teaching activity. My joy grows ever fuller, my gratitude and indebtedness ever more compelling.”

Here Shinran has planted the roots of his heart and mind firmly within the ground of the Nembutsu. It is in this Nembutsu, that he can feel the security and acceptance of being just as he is. He does not have to always be polite, friendly, courteous and upbeat. But at the same time, he does not have to feel bad that he feels sad, depressed or angry either. It is realizing that all these emotions are dependant upon circumstances and timing and in any case, with the Nembutsu, there is the understanding that these conditions are temporary. We do not need to suppress what we feel, but we must be aware of how we feel. This is the working of the Nembutsu. This is the feeling of being at home.

Way back in the 1970’s, there was a credit card commercial that began with famous people asking the question, “Do you know me?” It would proceed with these people saying that many times others would recognize their name but not their face. That’s way they carry this particular credit card. At the conclusion of the commercial they would end with the statement, “Don’t leave home without it.”

The Nembutsu is our spiritual home. There is a poem in Rev. Yoshitaka Tamai’s book, Ichinyo:

Even the lowly snail
Wherever it dies
Has his home…

Wherever we may go; wherever our homes may be; however long our vacations may last, let us also remember never to leave or live without the Nembutsu.

Gassho and Aloha,
Rev. Dean Koyama