November 2020 Message

Seeing the Buddha
by Reverend Dean Koyama

The Buddha’s light shines boundlessly and without
hindrance over all the worlds in the ten directions. It is
for this reason that this Buddha is called Amida
(Amitabha). Again, Sariputra, the lives of the Buddha
and the people of that land last for innumerable,
unlimited and incalculable kalpas. It is for this reason
that the Buddha is called Amida (Amitayus)

For many of us, I think that the purpose of the Eitaikyo service has lost its meaning or at the least, the meaning is unclear. Usually it is explained that the term Eitaikyo 永代経 refers to the Perpetual Chanting of Sutra for Generations upon Generations. At certain temples, a special Eitaikyo fund is established when a family makes a donation to the temple in memory of their loved one. The idea for making a substantial donation to the Eitaikyo fund is done with the idea that the temple will continue to have candles, incense, flowers and a statue or image of the Buddha so that a service can be conducted for eternity in memory of their loved one.

I have been a minister for over 30 years now. As a Buddhist minister, it is common to conduct the 49th day Memorial, 1st year, 3rd annual, 7th annual even the 25th annual Memorial service. So far, I have done only 1 or 2 50th Annual memorial Services. I still haven’t conducted a 100th Year Memorial. Why? The obvious answer is that usually by the time that a 50th Year memorial service comes around, the remaining family members usually forget to observe one. Sometimes the remaining family members may no longer even be Buddhist. And in some cases, the family and relatives do not even know the person who the 50th year service is for. And that is why it is important to conduct the Eitaikyo service. Perhaps for many of those listed on an Eitaikyo registered list, there may be no family members around at all to conduct a memorial service in their honor. So we, as non-family members, conduct it to recognize the significance of their lives.

Why is it important to remember those people who are so distant to us in terms of time and space? Why is it important to remember those people who lived and died even before I we may have been born? A simple answer is that their lives contributed to the formation of a cause that allows us to hear the Buddha Dharma. By the simple virtue that they lived and died and perhaps had a service at the temple, they leave for us that opportunity to come face to face with the Buddha.

We came upon a milestone in our history in 2014 when we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple. We have been fortunate that some of the very influential families had the courage and initiative to purchase in the mid 1950’s, the property that we now know as 2751 Louis Road. Since then they have proceeded to fund raise and build a temple, a gym, classrooms, and a parsonage to house the resident minister.

We have been on this site for over 60 years now. The Hondo or temple hall has gracefully worn the stresses of time and use and has gone under some renovation. That is not to say that it still doesn’t need mending, repairing or upgrading. However, before we had to shut down because of the Covid-19 virus, visitors entered our Hondo and were immediately impressed with our altar and the image of the Buddha. In the book, Thank you, Namo Amida Butsu, Rev. Chijun Yakimo writes:

Reverend Joen Ashikaga (1878-1960) was a well-known Buddhist scholar, but even more important a remarkable Buddhist personality. He was also highly regarded as a connoisseur of Japanese art and was frequently asked to appraise art objects.

Once when he was living in Kyoto, a pawnbroker came to Reverend Ashikaga.

“Recently a man pawned a statue of the Buddha at my store,” the pawnbroker said. “The statue seems to be quite old and therefore may prove to be very valuable. Please appraise it for me.”

Reverend Ashikaga carefully received the box containing the statue, opened its cover, and placed it on the table before him. He then placed his hands together in gassho as was his custom when standing or sitting before a Buddhist statue. Reverend Ashikaga’s face was aglow with contentment and with a fullness in his heart, said, “Arigatai desu ne! (How grateful!).”

The pawnbroker could not contain himself. Finally, in an irritated voice he said, “Reverend Ashikaga, I know you are grateful, but I would like to know how much you estimate the statue is worth. How much can I ask for it?”

But Reverend Ashikaga just kept repeating, “Arigatai desu ne, arigatai desu ne…” Reverend Ashikaga and the pawnbroker were sitting in the same room, but spiritually they were in different worlds. Obviously, they could not communicate with each other at all. The statue of the Buddha was only a source of money for the pawnbroker, but for Reverend Ashikaga, it was an object of worship and a thing that filled his heart with happiness.

It is a great privileged to house an image of the Amida Buddha and one that carries a great responsibility that we must never forget. The image represents our ultimate potential of living a live with infinite wisdom and compassion. The image of the Buddha has been a source of comfort for those in despair and suffering during great times of grief and sorrow. It has also been the source of encouragement in times of difficulty. It continues to be the source of hope and gratitude as we come to realize the complexities of life itself.

This is the reason why I think we need to observe Eitaikyo. It is a reminder for us to remember and share the lives of the past, live in the present, and continue into the future. This is what I think is referred to as “Infinite Life.” This sharing of life is the core of the heart of compassion. It is for this reason that it is called Amida’s Infinite Life. It is with great responsibility and gratitude that we carry on this task of making sure that Buddhism is available to anyone who is seeking, anyone who may need to hear the teachings. But first, we must realize the value and importance of this tradition ourselves. Otherwise we will be just like the pawnbroker in the story of Reverend Ashikaga.

Namo Amida Butsu,
Rev. Dean Koyama