Reverend's Message - April 2017
Goings and Comings
Echo and E-Kō
Rev. Dean Koyama
Reverently contemplating the true essence of the Pure Land way, I see that Amida’s directing of virtue to sentient beings has two aspects: the aspect for our going forth to the Pure Land (Ōsō Ekō) and the aspect for our return to this world (Gensō Ekō)....From the Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. 1, page 7, The Chapter on True Teaching.
Jōdo means the Pure Land and refers to the Buddha Land of Amida. Now, I have to admit that there is a simple, “folklore-ish” element of the Pure Land as being a kind of heaven. In fact often, for some, the Pure Land is a place to go after someone passes away. I can see how some can make this assumption based upon the doctrinal explanation describing the Pure Land as the Buddha’s most ideal environment free of all suffering. However, doctrinally speaking, the Pure Land simply represents the most ideal environment or state of being which allows one to practice wisdom and compassion.
For Shinran, then the question becomes: “How does one get to the Pure Land and what happens after one gets there? This was the main reason that Shinran wrote his major work the Kyōgyōshinshō. According to Shinran, there are two aspects to the Pure Land: One is to go there and the other is to come back. The technical Buddhist term that is used here is the word E-Kō. In fact, we are already familiar with E-kō, but might not even know it. Usually after the main chanting of sutra, we end with the chanting of this passage:
Gan ni shi ku doku
Byō do se is-sai
Dō hotsu bō dai shin
Ō jō an raku koku
I vow that this meritorious Truth
Is given to all equally,
Together raising the mind of Bodhi and
Awakening them to Realm of Serenity and Joy
This is called the E-kō Mon. E-kō means the bestowing of merits or virtues toward others for the attainment of enlightenment. In Jodo Shinshu, the “I” in this passage refers to Amida Buddha vowing to direct or transfer the merit to us through the Name, Namo Amida Butsu. So the idea behind this is to realize that Amida Buddha is embracing us with wisdom and compassion. This idea of E-kō is so important that, it is for this reason that Shinran Shonin felt compelled to clarify the essence of Nembutsu by explaining it in terms of going to and returning from the Pure Land.
Now there is an English word that carries this same idea of going and coming and thus I can’t help but believe they are somehow related. And that is the English word, echo. The word, echo, has a number of meanings, but the usual one that we picture is being out in the mountains and yelling out to hear our voice reflected back to us.
So how do we receive the merit and virtues that are bestowed upon us from the Pure Land? If I may share with you, how I have been influenced by the E-kō of Infinite Wisdom and Immeasurable Compassion.
After such a wet and rainy winter season, we have begun to experience the warm days of spring. For me, I dread this time of year as it signals the agony of my hay fever allergies. This makes me think of my childhood growing up in Sacramento.
One of the many memories that I have is the weekly Sunday afternoon visits to my Grandmother’s house in Sacramento. My parents and the four of us kids would pile into our Buick and drive across town to conduct a weekly ritual. Shortly after arriving and extending the courteous “Hi Ba-chan (Grandmother)” my dad, older brother and I would go outside to cut the grass in Ba-chan’s yard. Very often Ba-chan would join us outside to help sweep the sidewalks. After we were done, Ba-chan would always offer us a few dollars when my parents weren’t looking so that we could sneak down to the A&W Root Beer stand at the end of the block. After sweating in the hot summer sun cutting grass, an ice-cold root beer float in a big, heavy frosty mug made the whole trip worthwhile.
Later on, as a young adult in my twenties, I would still stop in at Ba-chan’s house to do her yard. She would still come out and try to help by picking up a twig here and there. And although the days of offering a few dollars had gone by because the A & W Root Beer stand had closed, I was still rewarded with the gentle eyes of quiet appreciation and gratitude. I would only be at her house for a few minutes, but her glistening smile acknowledged that it was deeply appreciated.
There was a time when those eyes were not so kind. Shortly after Linda and I had been married and I was to depart for Japan to study to become a minister, we invited Ba-chan out to lunch to one of her favorite Japanese restaurants. Ba-chan ate like a little bird only pecking here and there on her tempura. Most of her lunch was given to me to eat later. (Who else?) When the check came, Linda and I proceeded to extend our hand to receive it, but we were intercepted by an extremely quick 85 year old lady, jumping from her seat and grabbing the check out of our hands. When we made another attempt to retrieve it, Ba-chan shot this glare that was sharper than a dagger. I knew right away not to mess with this little 85 pound 85 year old lady. Linda on the other hand made a mistake and insisted that we pay for lunch, but Ba-chan was not to be denied. In a loose translation, she said something to the effect, “I may not be here when you return from Japan, let me buy this lunch for you because it may be the last thing that I can ever do for you.”
It was not the last thing Ba-chan ever did for me. It was however the last time that I ever saw those dagger-eyes however. After returning from Japan completing my studies, I went to see Ba-chan to tell her “Kaette kimashita yo! I've returned!” I saw those glistening and appreciative eyes once again.
Although Ba-chan was in the nursing home for the last 4-5 years of her life, she was never in any pain. She was alert from the beginning with a wonderful memory, but as the years went on, so did the fatigue of 98 years. The last time I saw Ba-chan was at the end of January, 1998. At first, she didn't recognize me. It took a few minutes and upon hearing that I came from the Seattle where I was serving at the time, she remembered. And then I saw those eyes again. They were the eyes of deep appreciation. She passed away at the end of March and I guess that is what made me think of her again.
As I reflect upon the many memories of Ba-chan, I will never forget those eyes that reflected a great understanding and care, a great sense of deep appreciation and gratitude. They are the eyes of seeing Life just as it is and appreciating all the kindness and care that one receives. They are the eyes of one who has attained great Nirvana and great tranquility, one who will deeply be missed, and one who has gone forth to attain Nirvana and returns by continuing to work from the Pure Land to benefit others so that one day, we, too, may acquire the eyes of great wisdom and great compassion. This is the calling of the Name, Namo Amida Butsu that we hear echoed throughout the canyons, valleys and peaks of our lives and we in turn respond by calling, Namo Amida Butsu in grateful acknowledgement. This is the idea of Ōsō ekō and Gensō ekō that we may simply call going to and coming from the Pure Land.
Rev. Dean Koyama