Nirvana Day & Valentine’s Day

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“The embracing Spiritual Light eternally shines upon us protectively; Although the darkness of ignorance has already been rent, the cloudy mists of greediness, desire, anger, and hate always blanket the heaven of True Faith.  It is as though the sun is obscured by misty clouds, But below them it is light and there is no darkness”[1]

The month of February brings to us two holidays, one more well-known than the other.  Nirvana Day or Nehan-e falls on February 15 each year.  This is the day that the historical Buddha Shakyamuni lay down between two sala trees and died at the age of 80 years.  It is said that he then entered into perfect and complete Nirvana.  Below are the final words of the Buddha to his disciples.

“My disciples, my last moment has come, but do not forget that death is only the end of the physical body.  The body was born from parents and was nourished by food; just as inevitable are sickness and death.  But the true Buddha is not a human body: – it is Enlightenment.  A human body must die, but the Wisdom of Enlightenment will exist forever in the truth of the Dharma, and in the practice of the Dharma. He who sees merely my body does not truly see me.  Only he who accepts my teaching truly sees me”.[2]

When the Buddha died, he made it very clear that for you and I in this present age must look to the Dharma to truly see and understand the Buddha.  Some 1800 years after the Buddha died Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) spent a good portion of his life studying the Dharma.  What is significant for us is that Shinran found that the Buddha had left us a path to enlightenment despite the thousands of years that have gone by.  This is a path for us living in an age when we don’t even listen or accept the teachings of the Buddha.

This month many of us will celebrate Valentine’s Day and ignore Nirvana Day.  It will be our priority to make certain our significant other is recognized and show our love through flowers and gifts.  It is a commercialized reminder to us to express our love and devotion.  I may sound cynical, however I too will make sure flowers and dinner are part of February 14th.  It is a wonderful thing for us to do, however the difficulty is maintaining the “love” 24-7.  And many times the love we express or feel may be conditional.  It is difficult if not impossible to love someone unconditionally and consistently.  No matter what the relationship, parent, children, husbands, wives or significant others there will be times when our patience is tried and our desires unfulfilled.

Singer Pink says it best in her song: True Love:

Why do you rub me up the wrong way?
Why do you say the things that you say?
Sometimes I wonder how we ever came to be
But without you I’m incomplete[3]

Our lives are complete because of our relationships, but sometimes our own greediness, anger and desires get the best of us and we blame others.  This is the dilemma that Shinran understood and wrote in his Shoshinge or Hymn of True Faith.  There Shinran reminds us that despite our poisons that blind us to the reality of life and the self we are embraced in the infinite compassion that is Amida Buddha.

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, let’s not forget Nirvana Day and express our gratitude to Shakyamuni Buddha for the Nembutsu and Shinran for clarifying for us the intent of the Buddha.


Rev. Hosei Shinseki

[1] Shoshin Ge, Ryukoku Translation Series, page 24

[2] Teachings of the Buddha, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, pg. 15

[3] True Love, written by: Pink; Greg Kurstin; Lily Allen