October 2018 Message
Showing front, Showing back
Showing front, showing back, falling maple leaves.
Ryokan, the great Zen Haiku Poet captures this sentiment in his famous poem about the maple leaves. But more importantly, his poem captures the simplicity of life itself. Maple leaves fall without any concern if they fall showing the front or back. They just fall without any pretension.
To be able to show both the front and back is something very difficult to do. We are always concerned that we show our good “front” side to everyone. That is why we use make-up, hair gel, and deodorant. I remember in high school, when I was hanging out with my friends, I would wash and wax the outside of my car. But I wouldn’t clean the inside unless I was going out on a date (which wasn’t very often.--I was a late bloomer).
Several years back there was a BWA conference held in South San Francisco. However, due to bad weather, many planes were being delayed and some were even cancelled. I got a call from a colleague around 4PM the evening that the conference as starting. Her flight to San Francisco had been cancelled but was able to book another flight into San Jose. She called asking if I wouldn’t mind picking her up in San Jose and driving her to the conference. Of course, being the nice guy that I am, I said, “No Problem. When are you arriving?”
Her reply was around 6 PM.
6 PM??!!! In the middle of Rush hour. Then drive to SF where everyone else is going on a Friday night??!!! Not only was it a problem to go to SF during rush hour on a Friday night, it was a problem getting to the San Jose airport from my house. While we were at a standstill on the freeway, my colleague kept saying, “Sorry to bother you. Thank you for doing this for me. Blah, blah blah,” I tried to keep showing my “front” side by re-assuring her that it was no problem and not to worry about it.
We finally arrived at the hotel around 8:30 and as I walked into the entrance of the hotel, I saw a BWA member from Seattle who I hadn’t seen since I began serving there as a new young minister in 1989. We were both excited to see each other. But one of the first things that she said was, “Sensei, you got fat.”
I kept thinking “Show your front , show your front.” But I was taken aback. I kept a smile on my face and changed the subject immediately. I tried to just laugh it off. HA HA.
When I first went to Seattle as a minister, I had just returned from Japan. While Linda and I lived in Japan for 4 years, we were probably at the prime of our lives and in the best shape that we could be in. We didn’t have a car so we had to either walk to the bus stop or ride our bikes. And the bikes we had were not the fancy lightweight 10 or 21 speed versions. They were the old fashioned huge-tired one speeds. I would ride this bike to school everyday about 5 miles one-way.
So this Seattle BWA member remembered me as being young and skinny. But now that has changed and so she remarked with surprise that I’ve gotten fat. I had to keep showing my front, right? I just kept smiling, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Oh yeah, well you got old, white haired, wrinkly etc.” What would have happened if I had showed my “back” by saying the things I was thinking?
To be able to show front and back is a wonderful ideal. But in reality it is very difficult to do. Shinran writes:
Each of us, in outward bearing, Makes a show of being wise, good, and dedicated; But so great are our greed, anger, perversity, and deceit, That we are filled with all forms of malice and cunning.
With minds full of malice and cunning, like snakes and scorpions, we cannot accomplish good acts through self-power; And unless we entrust ourselves to Amida's directing of virtue, we will end without knowing shame or self-reproach.
In other words, Shinran is able to see the reality of himself. It is wonderful to be able to show our front and back. But there are times when it is probably better not to. Yet we must be able to look at ourselves with honesty. How shameful for me to have such bad thoughts just because of what she said to me! All the more do I realize that such a pathetic one as me needs the compassion of the Buddha. With that realization, I could accept what that lady had to say as being just the reality of the situation. I have gotten fat.
When we are able to understand the true nature of ourselves, we are able to see that we are embraced with the wisdom and compassion of life itself, just as it is, just as we are. And then a transformation begins where we are no longer bound by our limitations and faults.
For those of us who have difficulty showing both the front and back, we have the Nembutsu. Again, the Nembutsu is the reminder that just as we are, we continue to receive the wonderful treasures of friendship and family. Just as we are.
Namo Amida Butsu,
Rev. Dean Koyama