April 2018 Message

The Dana in Golf

Enter the temple to hear the teachings of Buddha.
Leave the temple to live the teachings.

Every year I dread entering the spring season. The reason is because my hay fever goes out of control. I sneeze, my eyes water and my nose gets congested. I am usually just miserable impatiently waiting for summer to arrive.

But this spring I have a different outlook. I am looking forward to the warm sunny spring days. The reason is because last fall I discovered golf and I can’t wait to get back out on the course again.

I recently saw the above saying on a Facebook post and it made me ask the question, “When I leave the temple how do I live the teachings?” Since we have just observed our Spring Equinox Ohigan service where the emphasis is on practicing the Six Paramitas to reach the Other Shore of Enlightenment, can the Paramitas apply when I golf?

The Six Paramitas are:

Dana- selfless giving
Sila – discipline
Virya – endeavor
Ksanti – patience
Dhyana- mindfulness
Prajna – wisdom

Sila – discipline: When I was first taught how to swing the golf club I noticed how un-natural it felt. From the grip, to the stance, arm motion and wrist positions; I had to un-learn the many years of my baseball swing. I need to have the discipline to swing correctly without reverting to my baseball swing.

Virya – endeavor: Despite the many miss-hits, slices, hooks, overshooting the green or hitting into the water, I have to keep at it. I have to keep trying to improve hoping to hear the crisp sound of a ping when hitting the ball just right.

Ksanti – patience; dhyana – mindfulness: Patience is needed so I can focus on being completely mindful when I am setting up the tee, addressing the ball and not rushing my backswing.

Prajna – wisdom: Prajna is knowing that golf is just a game but also it is a tremendous practice of becoming aware of the ego. When I try to assert myself into hitting the ball harder, usually the ball just goes only a few feet ahead from where it was previously. But wisdom is also realizing that most people have the wrong idea about golf. For many, the goal in golf is to have least amount of strokes to get the ball in the hole. But think about it! You will get more value on the dollars you spend for the green fees by having more strokes and spending more time on the golf course! Might as well get as much swings in for the amount you pay!

But how does Dana – selfless giving ¬apply to golf?

As previously stated, my ego comes into play so much when I golf. When do I give of myself selflessly while playing? Perhaps it is acknowledging when one of my golfing partners hits a great shot out of the sand, or is able to sink a 25-foot putt. But am I not thinking, “I wish I could do that,” asserting my ego and selfish wants?

Again, the emphasis of Ohigan is to reach the “Other” shore of Enlightenment from this shore of delusion, ignorance, arrogance, greed and anger. The usual way of thinking is that we must practice and perfect the Six Paramitas in order to reach the Higan of Amida Buddha’s Pure Land. But for Shinran Shonin who devoted twenty years in the monasteries on Mt. Hiei, he discovered that to perfect such practices as the six Paramitas was impossible for him. Thus he came down from the mountain seclusion and ventured into the city where he met a teacher who introduced him to a different way of thinking. This teacher, Honen, taught him of the way of Nembutsu, the recitation of the words, Namo Amida Butsu. Through this teaching, Shinran was introduced to the Three Pure Land Sutras. In these Sutras, Shinran learned the story of a Bodhisattva named Dharmakara who established 48 vows of wisdom and compassion so that all living beings would be able to attain enlightenment. In order to fulfill each of these vows, Dharmakara practiced the Six Paramitas for innumerable kalpas (an infinitely long period of time). And upon perfection of the Paramitas and fulfillment of the vows, the Bodhisattva called Dharmakara became a Buddha now known to us as Amida residing on the shores of his Pure Land called Utmost Bliss.

This story was a huge turning point for Shinran. Shinran realized that because of his limited abilities and strong ego, he could never perfect the Six Paramitas. However, what this story meant for Shinran was that perhaps the emphasis is not on him going to the Other Shore of Amida’s Pure Land, but rather that Amida comes from that shore of perfection to him on this shore of imperfection. It is Amida who as Bodhisattva Dharmakara perfected the six Paramitas and out of Amida’s wisdom and compassion selflessly gave to all beings an avenue to reach the shore of enlightenment through the Nembutsu.

To find selfless giving when playing golf, perhaps I should not focus on “ME” doing the selfless giving, but rather becoming aware of when others are selflessly giving to me. I realize that it is through the compassion and wisdom of my golfing buddies who practice discipline like not making fun of me when I hit a slice into the sand trap. They are the ones who practice endeavor, patience, mindfulness and wisdom by not making me feel rushed or ashamed that I am a beginner. And they practice selfless giving by allowing me to play with them and encouraging me to keep playing.

Sometimes my son and I will golf together and often we are joined by one or two others to make up a foursome. At first this made me feel nervous since we both are beginners. I would offer them the opportunity to play ahead of us, as we might take a lot longer. Sometimes they will take us up on the offer but most of the time, they don’t mind and will play along with us. What I have found is that it is just a wonderful way to meet someone else and spend time in getting to know him or her. Recently we met a retired man who golf three times a week at the same course. I asked him, “Don’t you get tired of playing the same course all the time?” His reply was, “Even though it may be the same course, every time is different. Every shot is different. And besides, I get to play with someone different making it different.”

What a wonderful attitude. I don’t know if this man is a Buddhist but he had a very Buddhist-ic understanding. Here, he selflessly gave me a wonderful living lesson. His remarks reflect the historical Sakyamuni Buddha’s emphasis of the teaching of impermanence that each moment is different and unique. He also reflected the Buddha’s understanding that all life is interconnected and that life is more enjoyable when we are not alone.

For me, this was one of my most valuable lessons that I’ve learned from golf.

Namo Amida Butsu
Rev. Dean Koyama