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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.

Namoamidabutsu,

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

New Years Traditions

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D8002938-C6D1-4B2D-8DD1-24A1D84A0F87As we approach the end of 2018 it is a time of reflection.  The past year was full of change and we said goodbye to some dear friends and family members.  We can turn to the truth taught by the Buddha and find some comfort at our losses.  The Buddha taught that by attaining enlightenment, we shall enter Nirvana.  The advantage of enlightenment lies in the comprehension of the transiency of all our bodily existence while at the same time the permanence of our spiritual nature.

Impermanence is a common theme in our dharma talks and we have a long tradition of funeral and memorial services that remind us of this truth.  However, we live day to day like we will live eternally.

This is the plight of human beings.  We live day to day not realizing the shadow of death that follows us everywhere we go.  If we lived each day as if it were our last, we would feel sincere gratitude for each breath, for all that we receive and all that is done for us by others.

Thankfully we conduct dharma gatherings regularly to remind us of our limited selves and the infinite wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha that embraces us.  Annually at the end of theKagami Mochi year we place on the altar “kagami mochi” the pounded sweet rice that is shaped into the form of an ancient mirror.   Atop the mochi is placed a “daidai” or tangerine.  The mirror represents self reflection a practice encouraged by the Buddha throughout his life.   It is only through self reflection that we are able to see that self true and real.

The daidai represents the new life we are given with each breath.   Each breath, each moment of life is an opportunity for us to awaken to the truth of our life and begin to live a life of thankfulness and gratitude.

Rare is it to obtain human life, and difficult to encounter a Buddha’s appearance in the world; Hard is it to attain the wisdom of entrusting: Should you meet with and hear this teaching, pursue it with diligence.  If a person, hearing and never forgetting this dharma, sees, reveres, and attains it, and greatly rejoices, then he or she is my excellent, close companion; therefore awaken aspiration for enlightenment!  Even when the world is filled with a great fire, pass through it and seek to hear the dharma; then you will unfailingly become a world-honored one and free all beings from birth, aging and death.”  Shinran’s True Teaching, Practice, and Realization.

Japan 2018 X

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On Saturday we traveled to Nara and visited Kofuku-ji and Todaiji.

Japan 2018 IX

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On Friday we had time in the morning to shop and visit sites on our own.  Several of us traveled to Yamazaki and visited the Yamazaki Distillery.  Following the distillery we met up with the rest of our group at the Osaka Castle.  We visited the site on Osaka grounds where Rennyo Shonin hung his robe to establish the Honganji in Osaka.  Friend Chisa Matsunaga took us to a wonderful robatayaki in Osaka.

Japan 2018 VIII

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Today (Thursday) we visited Ohara and the Jikko-ji temple and Sanzen-in.  Beautiful and quiet part of Kyoto.  Jikko-in is a temple founded in 600 as a nunnery. Sanzen-in established by Saisho in 986.

Japan 2018 VII

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We spent the Wednesday in Kyoto visiting Otani Hombyo the burial site of Shinran Shonin.  We also had a wonderful tour of Honganji by Tabitha Kobata and then a great dinner at Spring Valley Brewery.  We ran into Jimmy Matsuki from Mountain View who joined us for dinner.

Japan 2018 VI

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Yesterday we traveled by bullet train to Kyoto, had a visit to bamboo gardens in Arashiyama where we ran into John and Lois Arao!  We visited Tenryu-ji and then returned to the train station where we had a great Tonkatsu dinner at Katsukura.

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Japan Trip 2018 VI

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Today we had a wonderful trip to Mt. Fuji.  We had a wonderful view of Fuji-San today.  Tomorrow we travel to Kyoto!

Japan 2018 V

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Yesterday we traveled from Tokyo to Kamakura.  We traveled near Sagami bay on the Pacific Ocean side of Japan and had some great views of Fuji-san.  We visited Hasedera in Kamakura.  The story is that twin statues were made of kannon bosatsu the bodhisatva in Nara.  One statue was lost and ended up on the shores of Kamakura.  The statue was covered in oysters, recovered and Hasedera was built to house the gold statue.  Inside the adjoining cave I lite a candle to Amida Buddha.  Namoamidabutsu.  BTW I also lite a candle to the statue of the god of sake.

Japan Trip 2018 IV

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Today we visited the Great Buddha of Kamakura a testament to the faith in Amida Buddha. Mount Fujii was showing herself in all her splendor today.  We settled into Hakone at our inn and enjoyed the onsen and a great kaiseki dinner.