January 2020 Message

The New Year's Greeting
by Reverend Dean Koyama

Every Year, around this time, there is a lot of tension in our house. It is there because there is just so much to do. And I don’t help. There are the gift that need to be bought, the house that needs to be cleaned, and gifts that need to be wrapped. I am a procrastinator. I wait to the last minute. And by then, my wife just can’t stand it anymore and does it all for me. I tell her that’s what she gets for being such an efficient perfectionist. And to be honest, that doesn’t score any points for me.

But my responsibility has been to either select or take the photo for our greeting cards. In the past years, we have selected pictures of only our three kids. However, in the past few years, somehow, we (Linda and I) have snuck into the picture as well. You would think that with all the i-phones and computers, it would make the job a lot easier. But in my case, I find it has become more difficult. Sometimes we wouldn’t have a good family photo to choose from over the course of the past year. So I would have to call (beg and yell at) the kids to pose for the picture. Of course they would not be thrilled about it. I would take a half dozen or so pictures, run over to download them onto the computer to view them (because the screen on the camera is too small). Unfortunately, something would be wrong with every picture: Someone’s eyes were closed, someone’s face was too close, Linda’s fingers looked weird, an ornament was growing out of somebody’s ears etc. I would have to retake the picture about 4 to 5 times before we could decide on one. (Actually we were just too darn tired to care anymore.)

Then after finally selecting some photos for our card, I would have to think about what I should write to my relatives and friends as a New Year greeting. I hate it when people just send the card with nothing written at all. And the old stand-by of “Wishing you a Happy Holiday,” or “Have a Great New Year,” has become a bit stale.

Then after finally selecting some photos for our card, I would have to think about what I should write to my relatives and friends as a New Year greeting. I hate it when people just send the card with nothing written at all. And the old stand-by of “Wishing you a Happy Holiday,” or “Have a Great New Year,” has become a bit stale.

One year, I would like to use a New Year’s Greeting that Ikkyu once wrote. Ikkyu (1394 – 1481) was a famous Zen monk. He is well known for his unconventional character and many anecdotes of his doings have been handed down in the form of a cartoon as a mischievous young boyhood monk. His poetry, calligraphy, and paintings are known for their unconventional aloofness and detachments. In other words, he was a total free-spirit, not caring what others thought of him and in turn held nothing back either. He was able to be totally natural and tell-it-like-it-is.

One day as the New Year was approaching, an acquaintance of his asked for a New Year’s good wish poem. Without any hesitation, Ikkyu wrote on a piece of paper:

Grandparents die
Parent’s die,
Children die

At first, the acquaintance was delighted to receive a New Year’s good wish poem from the famous Ikkyu. But he was mortified when he unrolled the paper and read the poem. He objected by saying, “Ikkyu, I don’t mean to be rude, but to wish for my grandparents, parents and children to die doesn’t sound like a very good New Year’s wish at all.”

Ikkyu’s reply was, “Oh really? Would it be better to read that children die, parents die and then grandparents die?”

Although, there is a humorous slant to this story, I believe his message is very profound. The intent of Ikkyu’s poem was to wish his acquaintance what we would envision as the normal course of events in the flow of life -We are born, we mature, and we should grow old and then die. Shinran ends his famous Kyō Gyō Shin Shō with this passage:

“...Those who have been born first guide those who come later, and those who are born later join those who were born before.”

This is what we, as human beings, consider the normal course of human life. However, as our experiences tell us, there is no guarantee that our lives will proceed in this way.

Another year has come and gone. In the year, 2020 I will turn 63 years old. I don’t feel that old. Or, I should say, my mind doesn’t want to feel that old, but my body has been shouting out that I am already too old. I am amazed that time has passed so fast. Yet at the same time I realize that I may be even so much more closer to the great change we call death if, as Ikkyu pointed out, we can proceed through what we envision as the normal course of life.

Thus it is important to awaken to the wonderful treasures of life right here and now. Knowing that the only guarantee in life is that we will all die someday, all the more so it is important to listen to the wonderful teachings of the Buddha. In this way we can become aware of the infinite possibilities that enrich our lives.

As I reflect upon this past year and look forward to the New Year of the Rat, I am so honored and delighted that I can share it with you. On behalf of my family, I can only humbly thank you for all the wonderful support, advice, and encouragement you have given over the past year and ask for your continued assistance in 2020. May it be a year that brings all of us one step closer to enjoying a life of appreciation—A life of Nembutsu.

Gassho and have a great New Year,
Rev. Dean, Linda, Justin, Curtis, Tommy & Niko

REVEREND KOYAMA'S MESSAGE ARCHIVE