Reverend's Message - July 2017

Rev. Dean Koyama

Hello my name is Kristen. I am in 11th grade, and am doing a project for history about Buddhism. I was wondering if you could answer some questions for me. Please just write your responses and mail them back.
Thank you very much.

Dear Kristen,

1. How important is the story of Buddha to the Buddhist community?
The life story of the historical Buddha (Sakyamuni or Gautama Buddha 463 - 383 BCE) is important because it sets the tone and issues which Buddhism addresses. As you may know, the Buddha was born as a prince and had everything he could ever have asked for and yet was still not satisfied with his life. He still had to deal with the issues of old age, sickness, and death and all the sufferings associated with them. Yet he was able to realize that there is a way to live in the midst of these sufferings with gratitude, compassion, and wisdom.

2. What is an important story in Buddhism?
I am not sure what you mean by this question, but the Buddha did teach through the use of stories and parables. One of the most famous is the parable of the poisoned arrow. The Buddha was asked where do we come from and where do we go after we die. His first response was silence because those questions are truly unanswerable. But when pushed for a definitive answer, he responded by saying, "Suppose you are a traveler in a forest walking along a path. All of a sudden, a poisoned arrow strikes you. Do you wonder what kind of tree or feather was used to make the arrow or how the poison was gathered? The response is to deal immediately with the arrow and poison itself; in other words: to get the arrow and poison out as soon as possible. Such questions that you have asked are like these questions of the arrow and the poison. Is it not better to live this life with a full sense of the moment and appreciate the circumstances which have come about so that we may live?" This is one of many stories that help to illustrate the fundamental issues that Buddhism tries to deal with.

3. In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of Buddhism?

4. Is Buddhism tolerant of other religions?
In Buddhism there is the teaching of Oneness. Oneness does not mean that all things must become one and the same. Rather the respecting of differences is Oneness. A garden is beautiful because of the many different plants, trees, rocks, dirt, etc. A symphony is beautiful because of the many different instruments playing its own melody harmoniously. Life is beautiful because we are all different. We do not have to think alike; we do not have to believe in the same things; we do not have to practice the same things. We are all different; we all have different environments, surroundings and backgrounds. What may work for one person may not work for another. This, I think, is one of the most important aspects of Buddhism. So in that sense, I think Buddhism is very tolerant of other religions. Buddha said that there are 84,000 gates to the top of the mountain. If a certain teaching is not right, look for another.

5. Is there a supreme god in Buddhism?
Buddhism is not concerned with the idea of creation. It acknowledges that everything is a result of cause and effect. Like the parable of the poisoned arrow, Buddhism is concerned with what we do with the lives that we have received. So there is no supreme God who is sitting in judgment. There is the sense of an absolute Truth however that permeates our lives. It takes form as expressions of wisdom and compassion.

6. What happens when one achieves nirvana?
7. How does one know if they have achieved nirvana?
Nirvana has come to mean a lot of different things today. Nirvana refers to a state of bliss when one is able to realize and accept the true nature of all things just as they are. We may not know that we have achieved nirvana, but if we are living a life of true gratitude and humbleness then we are living a life of accepting things just as they are.

8. Is cremation allowed?
Yes. There is no attachment to the body as a future vehicle for the next life. And burial of the body is also an accepted form of internment of a loved one who has died. What is most important is that we are able to look at and acknowledge death as a natural part of life. This is the Buddha's fundamental teaching of Impermanence-that all things living will change. When we fail to change is when we are already dead.

9. What are the main beliefs?
Buddhism is not a religion of faith and therefore Buddhism does not have that sense of belief. Buddhism is a religion of experience. We are taught to question even the very words of the Buddha and thus not accept them until we, ourselves, have come to know them as true.

10. What are some daily rituals?
This differs according to each individual Buddhist Tradition. There are many different schools of Buddhism. Some are so different that they may not appear to resemble any other school of Buddhism. In our Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition, we conduct morning and evening services, practice mindfulness with gassho (a hand gesture of putting our palms together) showing respect and appreciation to our meals, and reciting Nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu. This recitation of the Nembutsu is our expression of true appreciation and acknowledgment of all things just as they are, not as how we would want them to be.

11. What is the Buddhist stance on violence, premarital sex, and divorce?
There is no one Buddhist stance on these kinds of issues. Again it is up to each individual to come up with his/her own opinion. That being said let me explain further:
As to the issue of violence, of course violence can be looked upon as a "bad" thing. Anytime we react from the standpoint of anger, greed, or ignorance these would be considered things to be abhorred and suppressed. But in certain circumstances, violence may be the only thing that we can do. Take for instance if one must defend oneself, a family member, or even a complete stranger from someone who would most certainly kill them and all other means to stop him have been exhausted, then violence may be necessary. In such a situation, we would not respond by saying that violence should not have been used under any circumstance in order to save lives. Rather, as a Buddhist, we would respond with deep regret that violence is a part of our lives. That is not to say that we promote violence. We would hope that violence be eliminated, but as long as humans exist, as long as there is greed, anger, hatred, ignorance there will be violence. To say that, things must be black or white in a world of gray just isn't possible.

Premarital sex and divorce
Marriage takes on a religious sense in the Western world as a vehicle of pro-creation. Buddhism on the other hand tries to make one realize that one must be completely responsible for one's action. There is no authoritative body in Buddhism that tries to exert its morals and ethics on individuals. Sex is an act between two individuals who choose to share something very special and intimate. As long as it is done with a true sense of respect and love, as long as one is not forced and as long as both individuals realize that they must accept the consequences and effects of their actions, Buddhism does not say premarital sex is wrong or right.

Again, each individual comes with a unique set of circumstances and conditions. What is wrong for some may be right for another. This too is the case of divorce. In certain situations like abuse, when one partner is not able to respect the other as an individual human being, it may be better if a married couple gets a divorce.

In Buddhism, one does not get married to another in the eyes of a church, institution, or other man-made authority; one is married in the light of Truth. Conditions may separate husband and wife, but conditions will never separate one from the Truth.

12. What must one do to walk down the middle way?
One must fully know the extremes and realize that they too are a part of the middle way.

13. What is the major book?
There is no one major book. Different schools of Buddhism focus their teachings on certain sutras (recorded words of the Buddha). The Buddha taught differently according to the times and abilities of the listener. These teachings have been compiled into a set which holds about two entire encyclopedia series.

14. Do you feel you are close to achieving nirvana?
Whether or not I am close to achieving nirvana is not an important issue. Again, the teachings try to focus us so that we can open our eyes to the wonder and awe that exists in each day of our lives.

Hope this helps. Good luck on your project.
Rev. Dean Koyama