December 2018 Message

“I'm dreaming of a White Lotus...”
Rev. Dean Koyama

All foolish beings, whether good or evil,
When they hear and entrust to Amida’s universal vow,
Are praised by the Buddha as people of vast and excellent understanding;
Such a person is called a pure white lotus.
(Shinran’s Shoshin-ge, CWS., p. 70)

As the Holiday season approaches, I am anticipating watching some of my favorite holiday shows. In particular, my favorite show is the MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL. I’m sure many of you are already familiar with the many movie versions that have been made based upon the Charles Dickens’s novel. I enjoy this version because of the songs, the characters, the jokes, and believe it or not the acting. The scene where Bob (Kermit the Frog) Cratchit returns home to his wife (Miss Piggy of course) after visiting Tiny Tim’s gravesite at the cemetery brings mist to my eyes (I don’t cry at movies, at least, that is what I tell my wife.) But just think of it. This is a movie where the majority of the main characters are puppets and somehow, they are able to move me emotionally. In other words, I am able to forget the fact that the actors are puppets and can become totally immersed in the story itself.

This brings me to the main point of the story, Scrooge is given a wonderful gift. That is the gift of being able to see into the past, present and future. He is able to see himself as others have seen, are seeing, and will see him. He comes to the realization that although he has made mistakes in the past, he can still alter the outcome of the future with his actions in the present. This is the principle of Karma.

I am sure many of us have wondered what it would be like to have changed a certain event in our pasts or wondered what life would be like in the future. We could ponder about such things to no end and still not be satisfied in not knowing. However, there are certain realities that we must not forget: We live in the present; We cannot change what has happened; We are shaping the future.

Scrooge was a selfish, greedy miser. However, after the visits by the spirits of the past, present and future a transformation occurs where he begins to live a life of gratitude and thanksgiving. We too, are given a special gift. Through the compassion of Sakyamuni Buddha we are able to reflect upon the teachings of Nembutsu. The Nembutsu is the vehicle for us to be able to reflect upon the past, live in the present and ponder the future.

In the Amida Sutra, one of the three principle texts of our Jodo Shinshu tradition, Sakyamuni Buddha describes to Sariputra, the many splendors of Amida Buddha’s Pure Land in the western direction. He continues by praising the many virtues of Amida Buddha and lists the many multitudes of Buddhas who also continue to praise the virtues of Amida Buddha. Then he explains that if all those who hear the Name of Amida Buddha, Namo Amida Butsu, (which is what all the other Buddhas are constantly saying aloud) will dwell in the stage of Non-Retrogression and unfailingly will realize the highest, perfect, Enlightenment. These good men and women are considered Pundarike or the finest of the most-exquisite white lotuses.

Often this time of year is referred to as the Season of Giving (but sometimes I think it means the “Season of Buying”). Give to the poor, the needy, those who are less fortunate than us. This is especially important in light of those families who have lost everything including their homes due to the recent fires in both northern and southern California.

In Buddhism, we often refer to Dana, or selfless giving. Dana is comprised of three elements: The Giver, the Object and the Receiver. But in this practice, in order to be self-less, giving is done with no attachments to the Giver, the object and the receiver. Once the act of giving is completed, it is done. There is no further thought to who gave, what was given and to whom or for what reason it was given. This may sound simple, but it is very difficult to do.

At our last board meeting, we discussed, as a Buddhist temple, to contribute to a Fire Relief Fund dedicated to all those affected by the Camp Fire in Northern California. We had no problem coming up with the amount and the means. But we had much discussion as to where the funds should go. Someone voiced their opinion that the overhead for one agency was too high and that perhaps only a percentage would go directly to the victims. Another said that there was one group who were the first to respond by asking for contributions for 9/11. Others felt that they wanted to make sure that the money went to those who truly needed it. In the end, we know that we should give, but we are left with the dilemma of where to give and to whom. Sometimes it is that hesitancy that shows our true character.

There is a story of a wise woman who was traveling in the mountains and found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was very hungry. He asked the wise woman if she had anything to eat in her bag. As she opened her bag to share her food, the hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. "I've been thinking," he said, "I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone."

It is that something that Scrooge discovered within after seeing the fate of his past, present and future. That something is gratitude. Gratitude does not always arise naturally or by itself. It must be realized and nurtured. It is the result of becoming truly awakened to the wonder and awe that surrounds us each moment of our lives. It is realizing and affirming the truth, as Scrooge did, that our lives are finite but intertwined with countless others.

During this busy season of giving, let us be reminded of the lessons that Scrooge learned. Gratitude is not limited just to this season, but it is something that we can strive to live with every day. As Brother David Steindl-Rast has said, “If you're grateful, you're not fearful, and if you're not fearful, you're not violent. If you're grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people, and you are respectful to everybody, and that changes this world where we live.”

I think this is the same sentiment that the Buddha explained in the Amida-kyo. When we think about the Buddha (Nembutsu) of Infinite Wisdom and Compassion, and hear the Name of Amida Buddha (Namo Amida Butsu) we are filled with a sense of gratitude and appreciation. We can then be motivated into helping others who are experiencing difficult times to enjoy this wonder that we call Life without any hesitation. That will be filling the world by transforming the muck and mire in our lives into beautiful exquisite white lotus blossoms.

May all beings have a wonderful and joyous Holiday Season.

Gassho, (Hō Hō Hō * - Dharma Dharma Dharma)

Rev. Dean Koyama
*Hō is how you pronounce the character: 法, which means Dharma