April 2020 Message
One comes alone and goes alone, is born alone and dies alone
by Reverend Dean Koyama
“People of the world, parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, and other family members kinsmen, should respect and love each other, refraining from hatred and envy. They should share things with others, and not be greedy and miserly, always speak friendly words with a pleasing smile, and not hurt each other...
Further in the midst of worldly desires and attachments, one comes alone and goes alone, is born alone and dies alone...Each receives his karmic consequences and nobody else can take his place.”
(The Larger Sukhavativuhya Sutra, or The Sutra on the Buddha of Infinite Life, translated by Hisao Inagaki, The Three Pure Land Sutras, p. 284.)
Social Distancing, Mitigation, Containment, CDC, Shelter-in-Place, Pandemic, Essential services. These are all words that have become part of our active vocabulary due to the spread of the Covid-19 or Coronavirus throughout the world. Many of us in the Bay Area have been asked to Shelter in Place for three weeks hoping that by imposing a self-confinement at home, the curve of the infectious spread of the virus will flatten. We must do all that we can to protect the safety of not just ourselves but also the safety and health of those most vulnerable and at-risk as well. That is why the Board of Directors had decided to cancel all activities at the temple before the local authorities issued such mandates. However, being a Buddhist Temple, our fundamental purpose is to provide the Buddha dharma and in cases where it is needed, we will attempt to provide that service under these limited circumstances.
Never before have I witnessed such restrictions to our lifestyle. Truly it has made me open my eyes to the many luxuries and freedoms that we have been accustomed to and perhaps have taken for granted. We just got news that gyms and golf courses are now closing to comply with the mandate of providing only essential services. One morning last week we needed to stock up at Costco hoping to beat the crowd by getting there before it opened. We were surprised to find that hundreds of others had the same idea as the entry line wound up and down the whole parking lot. Luckily, we were able to get in and get what we needed in a reasonable fashion. I have to admit, we were one of the ones that did buy a pack of toilet paper, but we had done so only because one of our sons had said that he was running low. So because they had it we picked up that huge packet to share with all of our other sons as well. My brother in Sacramento has not been so lucky. If we didn’t have to stay at home, I would take some of our TP to him.
Perhaps, some of you have seen the reports on the news or may have witnessed first-hand where shoppers were loading their shopping carts with things they think will be needed as they endure this period of isolation. I was relieved that people were not panicking and trying to hoard items from others. Who knows what will happen the longer these stay at home mandates continue?
The Larger Sukhavativuhya Sutra (or simply The Larger Sutra for short) is one of the three Principle Pure Land Sutras that Shinran based his understanding of the Nembutsu upon. This Sutra introduces the Fundamental Vow of Amida Buddha that was made from a heart and mind of Infinite Wisdom and Compassion. In this sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha explains that it is indeed difficult to meet and encounter a Buddha during these times. It is difficult because not only is it rare to encounter a Buddha, but also because the beings of this world are often not ready to encounter one to begin with. He encourages us to treat each other with respect, dignity and love. He urges us not to hurt each other but to share with others speaking with words of kindness.
However, the Buddha understood that the nature of human beings is such that they are often afflicted with greed, anger and ignorance. Their only concern is with themselves so to practice kindness and not hurt each other is difficult. That being the case, the Buddha describes these type of being as “one comes alone, goes alone, is born alone and dies alone.” Knowing and understanding the nature of human beings, the Sakyamuni Buddha made it possible for even these types of people to encounter wisdom and compassion just be being mindful of Amida Buddha. This is what is referred to as Nembutsu and is practiced by reciting, Namo Amida Butsu.
As we deal with the Coronavirus pandemic, not only do we hope for a quick solution to the spread of this infection, we also are hoping that the scientist and doctors find a cure or vaccine. However, even if a cure is found, there still needs to be testing done to make sure it will be safe to use. In the meantime, we can only hope that we minimize the risk of exposure and that the death rate will also be kept as low as possible.
I think it is safe to say, that none of us enjoy being sick. That is why we are taking such precautions to avoid exposure to this virus. I know that if I could, I would wish for my body of 40 years ago when I did not have the body and joint aches that I feel now. When we are healthy, we do not need any kind of medicine or vaccines. We may not even need to see the doctor. But experience has taught us, as the Buddha did, one day we will experience old age, sickness and even death. There is no cure for death. However, there is a medicine that can help us live this life that we are living and that is the medicine of the Nembutsu as prescribed by Shinran to those who take being healthy for granted.
Eiken Kobai in his book, Namu Amida Butsu: Understanding Jodo Shinshu, writes of an ill but devout Jodo Shinshu Buddhist women who was well aware that her death was near.
In our human world, there are many above us when we look up, and many below us when we look down. Although half paralyzed, I have my right arm and I have my right leg. I have a tumor in my brain but I can see colors, hear sounds and sense difference in taste. I am fast getting to where even these will fade away, but I still have the Buddha, I have the Pure Land and I have the Great Compassion. How fortunate I am!
Rev. Dean Koyama