November 2017 Message

Turkey, Thanksgiving and Tradition
Rev. Dean Koyama

I have collected true words to aid others in their practice for attaining birth, in order that the process be made continuous, without end and without interruption, by which those who have been born first guide those who come later, and those who are born later join those who were born before. This is so that the boundless ocean of birth-and-death be exhausted.
(Collected Works of Shinran, vol. 1 p. 291)

Already, we are approaching the busy holiday season. As a kid, it was a tradition to have Thanksgiving dinner at either our house or my Aunt’s. There were five cousins, eight uncles and aunts, two grandparents, plus my mother, father, and the four of us kids. That was a total of 21 people gathered under one roof for the turkey dinner. It was also a tradition that if the turkey was made at our house, my older brother and I got to make the wish by breaking the wishbone. Dinner always included the Turkey (of course), mashed potatoes, macaroni salad, peas and corn, gravy, jellied cranberry from the can, and rice. This would be followed by a choice of apple pie and pumpkin pie home-baked by one of my aunts, chocolate pudding and ice cream.

But what I remember the most is what happened after dinner. After all the food had been set aside (for munching on later) and the tables cleared, the adults would gather around to play hanafuda, a Japanese card game in the kitchen area. The kids would be in the living room playing Go fish, rummy, war, monopoly, or some other game (This was, of course, well before the advent of video games). I can recall, one year, we divided the entire clan into teams and played Pictionary. I was on the same team as my Dad and he would draw some obscure picture that looked like a scribble, but I was the only one who could guess what his picture was. The closeness of the families gathered around, surrounded by good food, games, and most of all the laughter provided a lasting memory of a certain tradition that I hope my children will also experience so that they can keep warm memories in the pockets of their hearts.

Along with the passage of the years though, the traditions have changed. Instead of my mom making the turkey in the oven, I now barbeque it in my Weber. Instead of us being the kids, we have now become the adults. Instead of playing hanafuda and Monopoly, we play Texas Hold ‘Em together. However, we are trying to keep alive certain traditions so that our home is filled with that same spirit of warmth, laughter, love, and memories.

This is also the same spirit with which we observe the tradition of our Eitaikyo Service. Eitaikyo is a contraction of the term that means the reading of sutras for eternal generations. In other words, Eitaikyo refers to the perpetual chanting of the sutras, not in the sense of a mechanical, physical action, but one with the mind of acknowledgment and gratitude. We usually refer to the recorded words of the Buddha as sutra. The word, sutra is taken from the Sanskrit word meaning a string or thread. The idea is to tie together, make a connection, or pass something important from one to another. According to Shinran, the intent of Sakyamuni Buddha’s appearance in this world was to reveal Amida Buddha’s vow of wisdom and compassion. He did this by giving the teaching known as the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life. At the heart of this sutra, what ties all of us together: Buddha and us; us and future generations, is the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu.

For this reason, Shinran chooses as the very last quotation in his Magnus opus, the Kyogyoshinsho, which lays the doctrinal foundation and heritage of the Nembutsu teachings:

I have collected true words to aid others in their practice for attaining birth, in order that the process be made continuous, without end and without interruption, by which those who have been born first guide those who come later, and those who are born later join those who were born before. This is so that the boundless ocean of birth-and-death be exhausted.

The Eitaikyo service is held not only for the simple memory of those who are important to us. But it is held especially in honor of those who have sacrificed and dedicated their lives so that we, of the infinite present, can be connected to those of the infinite past by providing the conditions that allows us to encounter the Teachings of the Buddhadharma here at the temple. With the same spirit of wishing to pass on the tradition of Thanksgiving to our children, we should also be trying to pass on the heart and spirit of Nembutsu. The recitation of Namo Amida Butsu, as Shinran understood, is the ultimate source of warmth found as infinite wisdom and infinite compassion.

In Gassho,
Rev. Dean Koyama

Please join us for the Eitaikyo Service on November 12 at 10 AM with a long time Dharma Friend of mine, Dr. Rev. David Matsumoto of the Institute of Buddhist Studies.