June 2019 Message
“A Cold Shower”
by Rev. Dean Koyama
Several summers ago, I had to attend the Ministers Summer Study Seminar in Los Angeles. When I arrived, I discovered that LA was in the midst of a hot spell with temperatures in the mid 90’s. Whenever we have our meetings in Los Angeles, we always stay at the same hotel and over the course of the many years, I could see areas where the hotel and rooms were getting old and run down despite the repainting, re-carpeting and new furniture. I was just glad that my room had air conditioning.
The next morning, I woke up to take a shower. The morning was already hot. I turned the shower handle and waited for the water to warm up. It was taking a long time for the water to warm up. In fact, it didn’t warm up at all. However, because the weather had been so hot, the water wasn’t altogether cold either. So I got in, grimaced at first, and soon got used to the cold water.
When I got downstairs to the hotel lobby, I saw many of the other ministers. After the usual greetings, we began to do what ministers often do. Complain. One minister asked “Why do we always have to stay at the same hotel when we come down to LA?” Another complained that it was so hot. And another said that the air conditioning in his room didn't work last night so he couldn’t sleep. That’s when I piped in and said,
“Yeah. There must be something wrong with this hotel because I didn’t have any hot water to take a shower.”
We all felt that the minister who had the room with the broken air conditioning should complain to the hotel and have it fixed. I had thought about complaining to the hotel front desk about my hot water problem, but it was getting late and we had to leave for our meetings. Besides, I thought, maybe it was just that with all the ministers in the hotel, we all woke up at around the same time and took showers so that’s why there wasn’t any hot water for me. Maybe the next morning it would be fixed.
The next morning, the same thing happened. The water never got hot enough. Again, it wasn’t too bad because the weather remained hot as well.
Later that evening, my wife and son met up with me at the hotel. The plan was to drive to Arizona after the seminar concluded the following day, to move my son in for school. LA was still in the 90’s, but we were heading to 115-degree weather in Arizona.
The next morning my wife got up first to take a shower. I told her, “Watch out. This hotel is so old that there might not be any hot water.”
After she got out of the shower, I asked, “Was there any hot water?”
“There was plenty.”
“Yeah, but did it get hot enough?”
“It was steamy,” was her reply.
I was so happy; finally I could take a comfortable shower. I got in turned on the water and...
It was still cold.
I yelled to my wife, “You used all the hot water!!!!” I couldn’t believe it. How could there be so much hot water for her and none for me? Then I looked at the faucet again. The faucet looked just like the one that we have in our house.
I turned the handle the same way that I always do at home.
Could it be? Can the handle go the other way?
All these times, I had been turning the handle counter clockwise, the wrong way. All these times, I had been turning it the way I am normally accustomed to at home, but I only got cold water. I blamed the hotel because it was old. I blamed the other hotel guests for waking up at the same time and using all the hot water. I blamed even my own wife because she used all the hot water by herself!
But it wasn’t the hotel’s fault. It wasn’t the guests’ fault. And much to my own disappointment, it wasn’t my wife’s fault either.
The hot water was always there. Ready and willing to be used. But it was I. It was my fault. Due to my ignorance and stubbornness, I kept turning the STUPID handle the wrong way every morning. I should have turned the handle clockwise not counter-clockwise.
For many years, now, we have learned that one of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha is to see things just as they are. It is to see that life continues to change. It is to realize that our lives are the results of numerous causes and conditions.
According to Shinran Shonin, the founder of our Jodo Shinshu Buddhism who taught us of a way to Enlightenment through the Nembutsu, “Seeing life as it is,” means for us to look at ourselves honestly and deeply. It is to realize that we are not perfect; we sometimes make mistakes. And it is when we fail to admit the possibility that we have made a mistake or that we are not perfect, that we bring suffering upon ourselves.
In other words, seeing things just as they are could also mean to see things from another or different perspective.
I kept turning the knob one way, which resulted in the suffering of taking a cold shower every day for three days in a row. Luckily for me it was in the middle of a very hot summer. Imagine how I would have been if I had to take a cold shower in the middle of a cold winter?
The lesson that I learned from this shower was to remind myself, that things change and that sometimes I have to change and try another approach.
By awakening to the reality that we are imperfect, we are free to become, not Buddhas, but rather truly human. Otherwise, we may just keep taking a cold shower.