Reverend's Message - June 2017

The Pure Mind
Rev. Dean Koyama

As many of you are aware, we attended the commencement ceremony for the 2017 graduating class at Northeastern University. I was deeply impressed by the President’s, Joseph Aoun’s Commencement speech. He related that every one of us carries Artificial Intelligence in our hands through our cell phones. Thanks to AI we don’t need maps anymore to find our way to new places. AI is instrumental in keeping us connected through social media and even finding dates. But today, AI is doing jobs once reserved for humans. Investments banks are using AI to observe market trends and make massive trades accordingly. AI is composing music and is the basis for driverless vehicles. While this is an amazing accomplishment, AI through robots and advance machines will make many jobs obsolete. Dr. Aoun cautioned the graduates that although technology is the way of the future and that it is a wonderful thing, it might make some of us obsolete. Although we may be living in a world of Artificial Intelligence, the world still needs human and emotional intelligence. Dr. Aoun said that creativity; entrepreneurship, cultural agility and empathy are more valuable and powerful than any AI. Robots do not have a burning drive to launch its own business nor is there any algorythm that was compelled to reach out and comfort an ailing child. He concluded by saying that although technology and artificial intelligence may make some of us richer and happier, others fear that it will make some of us obsolete. We must retain some of our human qualities, as the world still needs us to act with compassion in contrast to greed, injustice and intolerance. And that is by far a more beautiful and human way to change the world and address it’s challenges.

Many years ago, we had just settled down at the table for dinner when there was a knock at the front door. As I got up to go answer the door, our youngest son who was then 8 years old, also got up and raced to the front door. Just as I got there, Tommy had unlocked and opened the front door revealing a tall, stocky, blond haired, never-seen-before teenager in shorts. I looked at him expecting the pitch for candy to help him get points so that he could win a trip to Washington DC. Instead it was:

“Excuse, me. I live just a couple of houses down the block and I noticed that you have a couple of basketballs in your garage.”
“Oh no,” I thought. I had left all the garage doors opened. “He must have been snooping around,” I assumed.
He continued, “I was wondering if I could borrow a basketball for just 15 minutes. The other day, my basketball rolled out of our garage and rolled down the street. I guess a car ran over it because I found it popped.”
Cautiously I said, “Well, I think that all of our balls are flat too.”
“No they aren’t,” my little son, piped in hiding behind the opened front door.
“Well, they’re all the little junior sized balls anyway,” I quickly recovered.
“Mine isn’t. It’s the regular size.” Tommy added just as quickly and he ran off to the garage to get the ball.
In the meantime, the boy said, “I’ll just put it back in your garage when I’m done.”
“No, that’s okay. Just go ahead and ring the doorbell,” I replied.
Tommy returned with his basketball and gave it to the teenager.
Returning to the dinner table, my wife asked, “Who was it?”
I said, “I didn’t know the boy but he lived two houses down.“
“You mean where the trouble maker boys live?” she asked.
I said, “I don’t know who they are.”
“That’s where one of the boys threw rocks at one of our boys,” she added. “What did he want?”
“He wanted to borrow a basketball,” I answered.
“Did you say ‘No,’?”
“Tommy answered before I could say anything,” I hung my head and admitted.

Tommy’s older brother entered the conversation, “Tommy, why did you give the basketball to him? Don’t you know that he was the one that took the screws out of the outdoor lantern and broke all the glass?”

Hearing all this, Tommy suddenly realized that he shouldn’t have lent the basketball to this boy. He began to sob. Seeing one of my son’s in tears, I leapt to his defense and confronted his older brother, “How do you know he did that? Did you see him do it? Did you see who came to the door? Aren’t we jumping to conclusions?”

…All beings, an ocean of multitudes, have since the beginning-less past down to this day, this very moment, been evil and defiled, completely lacking the mind of purity…. Thus when the Tathagata in profound compassion for the ocean of all sentient beings in pain and affliction, performed bodhisattva practices for inconceivable millions of measureless kalpas, there was not a moment, not an instant, when his practice … lacked this true mind. The Tathagata gives this sincere mind to all living things, an ocean of beings possessed of blind passions, karmic evil and false wisdom. This mind manifests the true mind of benefiting others…. This sincere mind takes as its essence the revered Name of supreme virtues (Namo Amida Butsu)
The Collected Works of Shinran, page 95.

Shinran states that from the beginning-less past sentient beings lack a mind that is pure. How quick are we to distrust a stranger? How quick are we to make assumptions based upon what a person looks like? Yet, for this kind of being who in no way deserves it, receives the benefits of the Tathagata’s mind, a heart of compassion, a heart of purity. By having the mind of compassion touch and embrace a mind of deceit, anger, greed and ignorance, it can be transformed into one that is able to see clearly and precisely. It becomes a mind that is awakened to the reality just as it is. It can be a mind that allows us to admit our faults and at the same time affirm that our lives are filled with the warmth and compassion of others. How grateful and wonderful our lives come to be.

My son’s action was based upon a child’s simple, pure and innocent heart. It didn’t matter to him who this person was. It only mattered that this person was in need and had asked to borrow a basketball. He knew that he could borrow his since he wasn’t using it at that time. For me my son showed me the ultimate in the Buddhist understanding of Non-attachment. It was only a basketball.

Later as I reflected upon this incident another important lesson was revealed to me. Anger and hatred are not defeated by anger and hatred. Only by love and kindness are they defeated. Who knows, perhaps this is how we can become good neighbors?

People have talked about great people who have exhibited a warm and compassionate heart. Mother Teresa and the Buddha come to my mind. But on that day standing behind the front door was another.

Namo Amida Butsu,
Rev. Dean Koyama