May 2021 Message
Survivor: The Buddha Dharma
by Reverend Dean Koyama
For example, if they own fields, they are concerned about them. If they have houses, they worry about them…. Sudden misfortune may befall them: all possessions may be destroyed by fire, swept away by floods, plundered by robbers, or seized by adversaries or creditors. Then gnawing grief afflicts them and incessantly troubles their hearts. Anger seizes their minds…and never leaves them...
If, for example, they have no fields, they are unhappy and want them. If they have no house, they are unhappy and want them…. But, even if by some chance they come to possess everything, it will soon be destroyed or lost…Brooding over this is to no avail. Exhausted in mind and body, they become restless in all their doings, and anxieties follow on their heels...
Further in the midst of worldly desires and attachments, one comes and goes alone, is born and dies alone.”
(The Larger Sutra)
I recently saw an article about the reality TV show, Survivor. It stated that for the first time in 20 years of being on air, no new episodes were aired in September of 2020. The reason why there were no new shows was because of the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions to travel. For those diehard Survivor fans who need a fix, you can watch old episodes by streaming. However, this article mentioned that filming was to begin again in April and May of this year with hopefully the airing of the 41st season this coming Fall. For the upcoming season, Survivor will return once again to the islands of Fiji.
Back in 2007, I was captivated by this show. I thought it was an excellent example of what is talked about in the Larger Sutra of our Pure Land Tradition.
The season began with all 19 participants landing on a deserted island in the Fiji Island group. However, upon landing, they discover that they have enough supplies and building materials to create a lavish and “luxurious” shelter complete with kitchen, bathroom and living quarters. They must build this shelter together as one group. But of course this does not last long. Shortly after the completion of their shelter, they are divided into two tribes, the Green Moto and the Red Ravu. The first challenge of the two newly formed tribes is a winner takes all contest: the winner gets the luxury shelter and the loser goes home to an empty beach that has nothing. And to add insult to injury, the loser must vote one of their members off the island.
For the next several episodes, challenge after challenge the Moto tribe continues to win and adds to their spoils by winning fishing equipment, spices, rice, a king-sized bed, blankets, toilet paper and other items of comfort. Ravu, on the other hand must forage for fruits and water.
The most interesting episode was where Moto wins the challenge. And instead of the usual prize, they are faced with a dilemma. They must choose to either keep the luxury shelter and vote one of their members off, or go to live at the desolate Ravu camp and keep their tribe intact. The Moto tribe members decide to keep their comfort and vote off one of their tribe mates with whom they have bonded with and who has helped them to win the many challenge tasks.
It has been interesting to watch the nature of these contestants develop and evolve. You can see in the eyes of the destitute Ravu members the daggers of jealousy directed to the privileged Moto tribe as they take their rewards of not only essentials such as fish and fruit but also of extravagances such as coffee and chocolates. But it is equally interesting watching the Moto connive and plan on how to keep the benefits of their luxuriant home all to themselves. As these characteristics become evident in the participants personalities, I realize that given the circumstances, these are the exact same characteristics in me.
In terms of the Larger Sutra, those who have the luxuriant shelter worry about keeping the shelter. And those who do not have the luxuries wish for them. Their anger and cravings know no bonds
According to the legend of Prince Siddhartha, he was born the son of a King. Shortly after birth, a fortuneteller prophesied that the child would become a great ruler of the kingdom or if he should leave the kingdom, he would become a great teacher of the world. The king, not wanting to lose his heir to the throne, lavished the young child with everything that his heart could desire. He was always surrounded by beautiful people. He always ate the best foods. He was surrounded with beautiful music and art. In our usual way of thinking, he had a life that most of us wish for and dream about. And yet, it was not enough. He did not feel that his life had neither meaning nor a true purpose.
So, one night he decided that he must abandon his life of luxury and venture on a path seeking enlightenment to a meaningful life. He threw away his royal clothes of silk and brocade and instead wore a robe made of 7 discarded rags sewn together. He limited his intake of food to only a few grains of rice per day. He tried to abandon every craving and desire thinking that by doing so, he would be able to see life with clarity
After several years of this way of live, Siddhartha realized that this, too, was not leading him any closer to a life of clarity and meaning. It was taking him dangerously toward a death where his life had not yet been fulfilled. And so he abandoned this life of poverty. He took nourishment and regained his strength and resolved one last time to come to an understanding of life that would lead to a meaningful and fulfilled life.
We know today, that he was able to accomplish this and that he did awaken to a meaningful and enlightened life. He became a Buddha, an awakened one and with a heart of compassion taught so that others could also live a life of meaning and purpose.
It is through the teachings of the Buddhadharma that we, too, can experience a life of meaning and fulfillment. We often think that money, position, fame, and power will solve all of our problems. We become attached to people and things. We believe that we will be happy if we can satisfy our desires and wants. However, as the Larger Sutra points out, that as long as look toward external “things” to solve our problems, we will never be satisfied. Instead we must look inward and become aware of our true nature to find the true strength and serenity that comes with living an awakened life. True liberation must be that which gives us the strength to carry on, even if we lose everything, even when things do not go our way. True awakening recognizes that even these problems are impermanent. In this way we can transcend any obstacle and life our lives in a most fulfilled and grateful way.
Unlike where the tribe speaks and thus one of the contestants is voted off the island and their touch is snuffed out, the Buddha advises us each, to look within ourselves, come to an understanding of our true nature and accept ourselves just as we are. Only then can we begin to see that just as we are, we have been benefited by the workings of the wisdom and compassion of life itself, which we describe as Amida Buddha. “Make the light of the Dharma be a torch onto yourself.” The Buddha has spoken.
Gassho, Rev. Dean