March 2019 Message

“Crossing Over”
by Rev. Dean Koyama

“Crossing Over” is the theme of O-higan. The idea is to “cross over” this shore of delusion and ignorance and arrive upon the “Other Shore” of the Pure Land or Nirvana -Enlightenment. The O-Higan service is to remind us to observe the perfection of the Six Paramitas: dana – selfless giving, sila – discipline or morality, ksanti – patience, virya – endeavor, dhyana – insight or meditation, and prajna – wisdom. O-Higan is observed twice a year at the Equinoxes of the autumn and spring. This is the ideal time for practice: there is a sense of balance because the length of day and night is equal and the temperature is neither too cold nor too hot. There are no external things to inhibit one’s practice. The perfection of the Six Paramitas challenges and awakens us to our limitations and our ultimate potential. They teach us about the human limitations of an egocentric, self-serving Self. At the same time they reveal the infinite and boundless wisdom and compassion of a power beyond this limited and finite self.

Every once in a while, I am asked the question, “Is the Pure Land real?” or “Does the Pure Land really exist?” The Buddha warned us about asking these kinds of question and instead challenged us to ask, “What does it mean?” or “What does the Pure Land really mean?”

I try to answer this question by explaining our O-naijin or altar. The O-naijin is a physical representation of the Pure Land based upon the sutras delivered by Sakyamuni Buddha. I once asked our Dharma School students “When you look at the altar, what words come immediately to mind?” I wrote their responses on a board. At first, their responses focused upon the obvious physical appearances: gold, ornate, Asian, intricate, expensive, etc. However, after a few minutes, their responsive became more provocative: stuffy, haughty. An 8th grade girl declared “ostentatious” and I had to try to spell that word in front of everyone.

At first, I was taken aback by their responses. Our altar is truly beautiful especially since we had a good portion restored with new gold leaf and black lacquer. How could our altar that represents the ultimate in Purity and perfection be considered stuffy and ostentatious? Then I realized the altar isn’t just a representation of Enlightenment. It is a reflection of “Me.”

Several years ago, I was asked to be a guest speaker in the Central Valley area. I was to speak at one temple in the morning and another temple in the afternoon. As I do here, the resident minister introduces the guest speaker before giving his message. I didn’t know the resident minister of this first temple very well, but I respected him, as he was one of our more senior ministers in the BCA. The minister talked about the usual: where I was born, where I went to school and which temples I have served. Then he tells his Sangha members, “We are very fortunate to have Rev. Koyama be our speaker this morning because he is the best and handsomest minister of the BCA.”

I sheepishly got up to speak and tried to shake off the minister’s compliment by saying,
“I think Sensei needs new glasses.”
But I still appreciated the comment.

Later after finishing the service at the second afternoon temple, I was enjoying some tea and refreshments. Then, one of the members came up to me and said, “I heard you had to speak at such-and-such temple this morning.”
I replied, “Yes, I did.”

The member continued,
“Did Rev. So-and-so introduce you as ‘the handsomest minister in the BCA’?”
“Yes, he did. How did you know?” I was truly flattered.
“That’s how he introduces all of his guest speakers.”

My ego plummeted to the ground completely shattered.

Usually, we try to project an image of ourselves as good, decent human beings. We may know that we are not the most beautiful or sexiest person on earth, but we don’t consider ourselves the ugliest either. However, it is so very easy for our egos to become inflated with the smallest of compliments. I was riding high that someone thought I was handsome.

Then I discovered that he thinks everyone is.

My ego fell because I was no longer special. I was jolted back to reality. This is the world of the shore of delusion and ignorance. This is where we let our ego of self-centeredness dictate how we perceive the world.

But as I truly think about it, is it such a bad thing that this person thinks everyone, including me, is handsome? That is the true world of Compassion and to have that perspective is truly living on the “Other Shore.”

By becoming aware of the working of our self-centered nature through the illuminating light and life of wisdom and compassion we can cross over to the other shore of the Pure Land. But the Pure Land is not separate and apart from us. It is us.

Namo Amida Butsu, Namandabu