January 2021 Message

Happy Year of the Ox!
by Reverend Dean Koyama

I would like to wish all of you a healthy, safe and hopefully a joyous New 2021 year. We have all had to endure so much due to the pandemic that began shortly after 2020 started. Let us hope that we can begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel with the arrival of the new vaccines and the diligence to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.

2021 is the Year of the Ox according to the Chinese zodiac. It was said that the order of the zodiac was based on the order that the animals arrived when they came to see the Buddha before he died. The Ox was in the lead but the Ox was also kind in heart as he carried the rat upon his back so that the rat could keep up traveling great distances with his much shorter legs. But just as they got there, the rat jumped off from the Ox’s back and got to the Buddha first. Thus the Rat is the first in the Zodiac cycle followed by the Ox. Like the Ox, people born in the year of the Ox are said to be industrious, cautious, faithful and always glad to help.

In the past, because the Ox was an integral tool of an agricultural society, the Ox was looked upon as symbol of status, persistence, honesty and diligence. For one devout Jodo Shinshu follower in Tottori prefecture, the Ox became a source of deep awareness of Amida Buddha’s infinite Wisdom and Compassion.

Genza’s father suddenly and unexpectedly became very ill. Upon his deathbed, he made a request to his son, Genza, “After I die, entrust in Amida Buddha.” Genza pondered upon this unusual request for several years. One summer morning, Genza went up into the mountains to collect firewood with his ox. He would collect bundles of wood and then sell them when he returned back to the village. As he was loading the wood bundles upon the back of the ox to carry down the mountain, Genza came to a realization. “The ox is carrying my heavy load, just like Amida is carrying my burden of heavy karma. The ox does not question why I am asking him to carry my load, but patiently and diligently does the work that needs to be done.”

Genza realized that no matter how heavy the burden he made, the ox carried it upon his back. Even though we may not intend to be a burden or cause trouble for others, we are accepted just as we are and continue to receive the wonderful blessings of love, kindness, wisdom and compassion from countless others. The issue is to become aware of it so that we can return that great debt of gratitude.

To all of you, thank you for the past 7.5 years of support and kindness that you have extended not just to me, but to my family as well. You have been the ox that carries my burden of shortcomings and all that I have been able to accomplish has been due to all of your efforts and strengths. May I ask for your continued support and patience in the New Year. And let us hope that 2021 will be way better than this past one and that we are able to see one another very soon!

Rev. Dean and Linda Koyama and Niko (woof!)