October 2017 Message

The Three F's: Fall, Football and Food
Rev. Dean Koyama

The master (Shinran) further said: For those who make their living drawing nets or fishing in the seas and rivers, for those who sustain their lives hunting beasts or taking fowl in the fields and mountains, and for those who pass their lives conducting trade or cultivating fields and paddies, it is all the same. If the karmic cause so prompts us, we will commit any kind of act.
Tannisho, from the Collected Works of Shinran, vol. 1, page 671.

The start of Fall marks the beginning of our Dharma School year and I would like to welcome everyone back from our summer break. Fall also marks the beginning of football season. Now I must admit, I HAD been a die-hard 49’er fan all my life. When I was living in Japan, I would have my brother video record the TV broadcasts of the 49er games and send the VHS tapes to me. (Kids, you might have to ask your parents what VHS tapes are!) As soon as the tape arrived via mail some two or three weeks later, I watch the game as if it were live – yelling, shouting and rooting my team on. This practice continued after Japan when we lived in the Northwest. I would get so mad knowing that the 49ers were playing, but because of some NFL rule, if the Seahawks were playing, no other game could be televised. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, I have fallen out of favor with NFL football. Last season, the only complete football game that I watched was the Super Bowl and it was only because we had a Super Bowl Viewing Fundraising party here at the temple. I still plan on continuing my protest until the owners of the 49er’s sell the team to people who truly want to restore the glory of the Montana, Young, Rice and Lott franchise.

Of course, there are other issues in the NFL that I have been having difficulties in dealing with. One is the issue of concussion and injuries. Another is the domestic violence problem among some of the players. And the other is about some of the team’s choice in names and mascots.

Many years ago, I heard on talk radio that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was asking the Green Bay Packers football team to change their name. According to PETA, the name, PACKERS promotes violence and bloodshed since it refers to the meat packers who must slaughter and skin the cattle for our food.

At the beginning of the show, I was mildly agitated that another extreme group was trying to impose its values on others. As I listened to the show, I was fascinated by the range of comments from the callers. Some were abhorred by an allegation that cattle are sometimes skinned while still alive and vowed to stop eating meat altogether. Others voiced the opinion that since an activist group is advocating the change, the packers should stick to their name and even asked people to eat more meat. There was one opinion that animals do not have a conscious so they don’t know what is going on anyway. Another felt that man is at the top of the food chain and is entitled to eat whatever he/she wants. One lady ashamedly admitted that although she feels sorry for the animals, she doesn’t like to eat vegetables.

During the course of this hour-long topic, I felt that people were missing a very important point. The point is not whether a team should change its name or not; nor whether it is better to eat vegetables or meat. Nor is the question whether one is more compassionate by being a vegetarian and thus sparing a cow’s, chicken’s or fish’s life. The question is whether or not one is mindful and able to respect all the lives that have made it possible for us to sustain ours.

In our Buddhist tradition, a cow’s life is as equally important as a carrot’s life. This is because all life is interdependent. We do not exist solely and independently on our own. We live because we are interconnected to all things. To become aware and respect all the lives that have made our lives possible is an important teaching.

As Jodo Shinshu Buddhist, before we begin each meal, we recite Namo Amida Butsu and say the Japanese word, Itadakimasu. Itadakimasu literally means I humbly receive. But more importantly, it expresses the awareness and respect for all the infinite causes and conditions, for all the lives that we have received so that we may be living here and now. It is to have that profound respect and awareness that all life, including my own is the result of the lives of others.

Generally, it may be thought of as a virtue to be compassionate to other “inferior beings”. We may think that we are being more compassionate because we spare a cow’s life and eat a carrot instead. In reality, according to Buddhism, that carrot’s life is just as precious, just as fragile, and just as real as a cow’s. There is no difference when we eat a carrot or a cow. In this way, Shinran declares, “They are all the same.” Compassion has a very unique and distinctive role in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. It is not that we practice compassion, rather it is that we become aware that our lives are the result of the compassion of other people, of other things, including cows, carrots, and even rocks. This is to respect all life.

Tsuneo Osada writes:

Life of fish...Life of vegetables
Labor of others....The food I eat
All these I take to sustain my life each day

Bothering others
Sacrificing many things...I live
Yet my friends...the wind…
The pigs...the squash...the chicken...

No one blames me nor accuse me
All forgive me and let me live...today.

Although I do not request it
The sun shines brightly
The birds sing to me

Although I do not wish it
The flowers permeate its fragrance
Friends call on me.

Although I do not desire it
Amida Buddha’s compassion unceasingly embraces me
And accepts me as I am

There is nothing else but to say arigato*
Only Thank you!

(Translated by Rev. K. Yukawa)

*Literally arigato means difficult to be.

Rev. Dean Koyama