January 2018 Message

You almost wag your tail off for me

Rev. Dean Koyama

犬よ, ちぎれる 尻尾 を ふってくれる

“Inu yo chigireru shippo o futte kureru"
- Hosai Ozaki

Happy New Year of the Dog!

Although not really a New Year’s Haiku, I thought this poem by Hosai Ozaki, one of my favorite Haiku poets, is still appropriate since we are welcoming the Year of the Dog according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Hosai Ozaki was born in 1885 in Tottori and died in 1926. Although he graduated with a law degree from the prestigious Tokyo University, his first love was writing haiku. Inspired by his high school friend, Ogiwara Seisensui, he began writing one-line haiku and later free verse haiku. Toward the end of his life, he settled on Shodo Island in Kagawa prefecture and became a caretaker of a small Buddhist hermitage at Saiko-ji where he devoted the remaining years of his 40-year life writing haiku.

Although he had a promising career, unfortunately due to various circumstances, he became an alcoholic and was subject to a lonely life of poverty and isolation. This can be felt in his poetry. So with this understanding, I can imagine the joy Hosai Ozaki felt when he was greeted one day by a good-natured dog out for a walk in the neighborhood.

Niko, our dog has been a member of our family for the past 8 years. Ever since we got him, we have been taking him for a walk at least twice a day: once in the morning and then again later on in the mid afternoon. Because I have the flexible schedule, it has been my responsibility to take him on his afternoon walk. Shortly after we had gotten him, I took him to a nearby park not far from the temple (in Mountain View) where we had meet a couple of other owners and their dogs. They had let their dogs off leash and they were having a great time running and chasing each other. I decided to let Niko off leash as well so that he could play with these other dogs. They were having so much fun and Niko was so fast that he would get mad that the other dogs couldn’t catch him. Then all of a sudden, Niko took off and ran across a very busy street (Middlefield Road). He had run away from me before but from a different park. This was the first time we had ever walked to this particular park. I ran after him but I lost sight of him and just hoped that he remembered his way back home.

But to get home Niko would have to cross two busy streets. One was right in front of the park and the other was the busy Shoreline Blvd. As I called his name to come back, I kept getting madder and madder. I kept thinking, “If he isn’t home, I’m not going to search for him! Serves him right for running off! I’m not going to call the shelter! I don’t care if he never comes home!”

It took me a while to get back to the house and just as I had entered the temple compound, I found Niko by the front door of the house safe and sound. He was waiting for me wagging his tail with so much energy and excitement. It was as if he was saying, “Look Dad, I know my way home, isn’t that great?! How come it took you so long to get home? Can we go inside now?”

Here Niko was with the joy of seeing me and proud of his achievement that he could make it home by himself. My anger was quickly replaced with relief that he was home, but also more importantly with a sense of wonder and amazement. Here I was steaming mad, but it melted quickly by the sight of the wagging tail.

In Jodo Shinshu, there is a term, sesshu fusha which means to take in and embrace all; forsaking none. This is a description of the dynamic activity of the Compassion and Wisdom of the Amida Buddha’s Fundamental Vow of guiding all to enlightenment and nirvana. In a way, I see this as being very similar to Niko’s action of his wagging tail. It doesn’t matter how angry you may be, it doesn’t matter if you have other things to do, Niko is just so happy to see you, to welcome you home. That is also the same feeling that Amida Buddha’s heart of wisdom and compassion is trying to convey as well. It may not be as energetic as a dog wagging its tail, but nonetheless, it makes no distinction between young or old, rich or poor, athlete or nerd, just come as you are and be welcomed into the embrace of the Buddha’s compassion and wisdom.

Let us welcome in this New Year of new adventures and events - good or bad - just as they are with the same spirit, energy and excitement of a dog wagging his tail embracing all, forsaking none.

Namo Amida Butsu,
Happy New Year,
Rev. Dean, Linda, Justin, Curtis Tommy and Niko