Reverend's Message - March 2016

"Lost and Found"

Rev. Dean Koyama

Ah, hard to encounter, even in many lifetimes, is the decisive cause for birth, Amida Universal Vow! Hard to realize, even in myriads of kalpas is pure Shinjin that is true and real! If you should come to realize this practice and Shinjin, rejoice at the condition from the distant past that have brought it about…. Wholly sincere, indeed, are the words of truth that one is grasped, never to be abandoned, the right dharma all surpassing and wondrous! (Shinran from the Prologue of Kyo Gyo Shin Sho)

Last month, I had the pleasure and good fortune to accompany the Bay District Jr. YBA on their ski Trip. This meant that I had to wake up around 3 AM, load the car, and leave by 4 AM to catch our bus at the Oakland Buddhist Temple at 5 AM. The bus ride was a smooth 3-hour ride with little traffic being that early in the morning. Were able to hit the slopes as soon as we had all rented our ski equipment.

It was a beautiful day on the mountains: clear skies, no wind, and good snow. Because there were no lines I had gotten in 4 or 5 good runs and it started to get warm, plus the coffee that I had while waiting for the kids to get their equipment started to kick in. I decided to take an early break to take off my ski jacket and change to my vest.

When I got to the lodge, I went to the area that our group had claimed earlier and met with some of the other chaperones that were watching our belongings. I sat down and started to talk with the chaperones when one of them said, “Here Sensei, you dropped this,” and handed my hat to me.

I was kind of surprised because I didn’t even know that I had dropped it. After 20 or 30 minutes, I decided to head back out to the slopes. I reached for my gloves, hat and my sunglasses. But where were my sunglasses? I started to shuffle through the area where I was sitting, looked on the floor, but couldn’t find my sunglasses. By then the other chaperones noticed that I was looking for something and asked what was wrong. “I can’t find my sunglasses.”

Now I know I had them while skiing because it was a bright sunny day. Usually when I come in from the outside wearing my sunglasses, I will put them on top of my head or, if I am wearing my hat, I will put them on top of that. I then also remembered that I had dropped my hat and one of the advisors picked it up for me. I asked him if he notice if my sunglasses were on my head when I dropped my hat? He said, “I was looking right at you when you dropped your hat, but I didn’t see you with any sunglasses.” The other chaperones joined in my search. I tried re-tracing my steps when I came in: First, I went to the bathroom. So I went back there to look there but no sunglasses. Another chaperone even went to the Lost-and-Found to check for me, but no such luck.

I sat there wondering what happened to them for another 10 minutes. Maybe I could ski with out any glasses. I decided to check out the lodge store and buy a pair of the cheapest ones they had. On the way, was the Lost-and-Found so I checked with them again. This time, someone had turned them in and I had been reunited with my sunglasses.

There is a tremendous sense of relief and joy that we experience when we are able to find something that we have been looking for a long time.

I think this sense of relief and joy is the exact same experience that Shinran had when he encountered the Nembutsu. As we are familiar with Shinran’s life journey, he had been rigorously practicing the way of a Buddhist monk for 20 years on Mt. Hiei. Yet after those 20 years, he still felt lost, alone and defeated that he had not yet been able to accomplish his goal of attaining enlightenment. He decided to come down from the mountain and begin a very difficult search for another path. This search was also difficult and at times he felt like giving up. He decided to make one final attempt by locking himself at the Rokkaku-do temple for a 100-day retreat of constant meditation. On his 95th day, he was delirious and had a strange dream of a bodhisattva advising him to look for a teacher named Honen. The next day, Shinran immediately concluded his almost 100-day retreat and called upon Honen. After hearing of a teaching that accepts one just as they are and embraces and never forsakes them with boundless wisdom and compassion, Shinran was clearly convinced that the Nembutsu path was the only way for him, a limited imperfect human being. With this realization, I think Shinran no longer felt lost. He felt a tremendous sense of joy and relief.

At first, in my search for my sunglasses, I attempted to do all that I could to find them, just as Shinran tried to accomplish his quest, by himself, for enlightenment on Mt. Hiei. But the fact of the matter was that, at first, I didn’t even know my sunglasses were missing until I was ready to go back out skiing. In the end, I had to rely upon the help of others in finding my sunglasses. Truly I wasn’t able to find them on my own. I didn’t deserve to be re-connected to them since I didn’t even know I had lost them in the first place. Yet through the compassion of someone who found them lying around somewhere and who had the honest heart to turn them into the lost and found, my sunglasses were returned to me. I also realized the kindness and compassion of the others who also helped in my search.

Amida’s vow of compassion is such that it embraces all, not allowing anyone to be forgotten. In other words, the workings of compassion are extended to all, just as they are, especially to those who may not deserve it. It is this realization for Shinran that moved him to have that same sense of joy and relief as when we find something we have been searching for a long time. Shinran was searching for a path to ease his suffering and he found it through the help of Honen. What he found was the teaching of Nembutsu. The question we need to ask ourselves is: “Have we found what we are looking for yet?”

Rev. Dean