Message from Rev. Kakei Nakagawa
(as printed in the September, 2016 newsletter)
And so long as you haven’t experienced this:
To die, and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.
This is the last phrase of J. W. von Goethe's famous poetry "The Holy Longing".
Goethe (1749-1832) devoted himself to Eastern thought in his later years. And we assume that a quintessence of Buddhist thought is concentrated in this famous poetry. Goethe's intelligence catches Buddha’s wisdom accurately indeed.
"To die, and so to grow." These words are the poetic expression of truth as "the total affirmation through the total negation" that the Buddha clarified. Even if a result is being just piled up affirmatively, one never reaches true affirmation. The truth by which the total negation will be the absolute condition for reaching the true affirmation is expressed in this phrase. And an experience of total negation never ends only by just denial just as it is. That experience becomes the necessary condition which brings true affirmation by all means, which Buddhism has been recognized for 2600 years.
This absolute negation is expressed as "Sunya-t? = Void-ness" by Buddhism. There is an absolute law that nothing could exist by itself in this Universe. Because all existence and occurrences change moment by moment in this universe, we could never control a single matter or moment. This fact of no-exception causes the sufferings that people experience during their lifetime. We sometimes convince integrity, but unfortunately, all those are based on delusion.
The Truth-realty that nothing can exist forever by itself is the absolute truth-realty since before this universe was born. And since this universe originated inter-dependently, this is an unchanging fact and will continue to be universal. Indeed, there is a fact that we're spending very unreliable life in this world. So we're living with bottomless anxiety as fate. We can't accept actuality openly and squarely, so we suspend judgement and try to live blindly with an egocentric mind. It's repeated, but said by Goethe at the beginning, "To die, and so to grow" means "total affirmation through total negation".
True affirmation will never be gained by simple accumulation of affirmation. Total negation is the absolute condition for reaching true affirmation, taught by the Buddha. And an experience of total negation never ends only by just denial. The Truth is; as long as people are confronted with human existence with a negative side, there should be a moment which major conditions would take a sudden turn toward the absolute affirmation.
This is difficult to understand for people who were born and grew up solely in the Western civilization. I hesitate to say but generally speaking, western culture has been established by attention paid to only the affirmative side of human accomplishments. That was the great culture which was being built by acknowledging a life openly and squarely, acknowledging an actual life, and affirmations piled onto another. By developing infinitely in this direction, western civilization has believed that one could reach to the heaven and arrive at the present point of a “brilliant” human cultural heritage.
When one stays as an internal part of this civilization, we feel its brilliancy. When we become calm in the current state, there is a "depth of boundless nihility" which is lying on cultural bases without exception, isn’t it? Just as if a skyscraper is built on the sands, however luxurious inside the building, a building is always exposed by a threat of destruction to itself. Though a basis in all lives also has a "depth of boundless nihility" which swallows everything in a moment, the western culture is dares to ignore this darkness.
People who had been drunk on an innocent progressive dream based on ancient myth finally seem to begin noticing the "depth of boundless nihility" in the root of human existence by passing the nuclear age in the 20th century. Goethe's genius in the beginning in the 19th century intuited the certain destruction in the future and warned the European society of this crisis where their existence was based on a mono-aspect of affirmation. And Goethe asked potentiality to the Eastern thought for resolving the problem that may cause a downfall of human existence in these Western countries. And he encountered one peculiar culture which even his genius couldn't imagine before.
The founder of this culture clarified, "All existence in the universe is occurring in the state of Void-ness as Dependent Origination moment by moment." While western culture totally evades negation and lives from the ideas of only affirmation, this peculiar culture’s way of thinking surprisingly gets ideas from negation itself, namely the view point of an absolute zero or Void-ness as Dependent Origination. Moreover, as the conclusion of this peculiar culture of negation, while getting an idea from the recognition of original negation, it turns toward the overall affirmation just as it is at the end. Goethe wondered at the wisdom of this founder.
When I could tell directly now, "the Buddhism" which we're talking about and the fundamental spirit of its lifestyle is persistently "the total affirmation through the total negation". Buddhism and its logical negation is thoroughgoing as well as the affirmation which came into effect by taking the negation as an opportunity. There is an original wish as which total affirmation is acknowledged just as it is. There is only one absolute condition that this state of absolute affirmation premises on absolute negation to the upmost. When we just optimistically enjoy the state of affirmation as a result without this premise, we fall into the most shameless ego-oriented secularism.
We should be careful of the possibility of such serious misunderstandings, for example, a very familiar term for practicing followers of Nenbutsu (J?do Shinsh?), “the liberation which is just as it is (sono mama no sukuyi)”. Needless to say, “the liberation which is just as it is” doesn't acknowledge our low level actuality which clings to self-interest as egocentricity "just as it is" superficially. “The liberation which is just as it is” is formed as the result of total negation by the Buddha’s perfect logical accomplishment. And, on a process of Buddha’s total negation would realize in “Myogo, Na-mo’-a-mi-ta-bha?”, total affirmative actuality is embodied by us. This body is just as it is for us, and it becomes possible for being transferred to the higher dimension. “Just as it is", this ultimate affirmation would become actuality when Buddha’s total negation was catalyzed by the great compassion for realizing wholeheartedly in “Myogo, (the words of Buddha’s intent)”
When a person receives only affirmation as an easygoing conclusion without the precondition of this total negation, "Hongan-bokori (deadly selfish Nenbutsu-practice)" would appear in that moment. The secularism after misleading Buddha-dharma may be further worse than the simple secularism. Indeed `Trouble Guest on the dark earth', we should be careful, must be careful indeed.
Message from Rev. Matthew Hamasaki
(as printed in the September, 2016 newsletter)
This past week I was lucky enough to participate in the BCA Ministers Fuken. One of the conversations we had throughout the week was about our organization and our participation in social issues. Of course, all of this must be through the relationship of such issues and Jodo Shinshu. While there is no formal definition of what a social issue is, it is loosely defined in Wikipedia “as a problem that influences a considerable number of the individuals in a society.” Whether this influence is direct, indirect, based on provable fact or not is irrelevant. When a society perceives that it has a problem, it is a social issue. And this issue must divide society into opposing groups.
Because this issue deals with people, there is a human component and this is where Jodo Shinshu comes in. We are taught to look hard at ourselves to see who we really are. When we do this we realize that our human nature is to care about ourselves. But we also realize that this is all in direct opposition to the reality that we are the product of the compassion of the others around us. Upon this realization, we automatically, spontaneously respond in gratitude. It begins with the recitation of the Nembutsu. And it turns into actions which becomes a life of Nembutsu. In this life, our eyes are fundamentally changed. We see ourselves in the people around us. We recognize that our difference are the product of our circumstances and that we are fundamentally similar in that we are living beings trying to survive in this world. And knowing this, how could we not want to respond with compassion? If we would be in the same situation, wouldn’t we appreciate someone reaching out to us? Seeing suffering in the world and wanting to help those suffering is what the Buddha set out to do and is the root of Amida's Vow. Bringing this back to social issues, it means to look at each problem and to try to understand what the most compassionate action would be. This is never easy to do because every issue is unique and incredibly complex. On top of this our time and energy is limited and there is so many other things we have to take of. But can't we be doing a little bit more? Can't we be a little more aware? And can’t we use the resources we have as the temples of the BCA to make our change a little bigger?
Message from Rev. Alan Sakamoto
(as printed in the September, 2016 newsletter)
Ill Will: 9th of the Buddha’s Unwholesome Actions
In the Sutras, the Buddha explains ten Unwholesome Actions of the Mind, and today, I’d like to write about the 9th of those acts: ill will. The mental activity of ill will includes anger, impatience, annoyance, and irritation. Ill will occurs when we don’t get what we want, or we get what we don’t want. Does that sound or seem familiar? Our conditioned responses begin quite early in life. Have you ever seen the young child in the store who is crying and screaming because they don’t get what they want?
We are conditioned to have negative emotional reactions to just our thoughts. This may arise from a very painful or unpleasant past experience, or even the memory of an image. A Buddhist teacher once told his students “the thought of your mother is not your mother.” Hmm? These thoughts are so strong that we develop physical and emotional reactions from them. It would be great if we stop right there, but we tend to connect one thought to the next and the next and the next. Mark Twain even noted that “some of the worst things in my life never happened.”
Our mind is powerful in conjuring up those kinds of thoughts. I can relate that to a walk I took the other day. Walking is a rather easy and simple task for some. And as I walked, I felt the ground, was aware of the movement of my legs, arms and body. I even felt the wind, sun and heat. It was great. Yet, I began to think of something that just began to get me angrier and angrier. I soon forgot all about the pleasure and beauty of the walk, and my body soon became a fountain of emotions and physical reactions from that irrigating thought. These reactions all came from my mind. I created all the ill will in my own mind.
This reminds me of a story of a Zen Cave Hermit. He spent time in his cave painting a very realistic and detailed picture of a Tiger on the cave wall. He worked on this project year after year after year. Until one day he was done. He looked at the painting and became frightened of the Tiger. This is an example of creating that emotion of fright in our own mind.
Have you ever seen someone who didn’t quite dress like you or your group? Perhaps they had bright pink hair, or maybe different kind of clothes. What was your opinion of them? Maybe you came to the conclusion that they were different than you, they had different values, and you didn’t like them. Then when you took the time to talk to them, you realized that the person was nice, friendly, and you liked them. You created the negative opinion and thought in your mind even before you talked to that person.
Why do we continue to do things that cause our own ill will? It is a rather interesting thought since many times these thoughts cause our own suffering. The reason is that we love the feeling that WE ARE RIGHT!
The Buddha provides help in the Sutras. He tells a group of monks that there are 5 courses of speech that others may use when they address you. 1) The speech may be timely or untimely; 2) true or untrue; 3) gentle or harsh; 4) connected with good or connected with harm, and 5) spoken with a mind of loving kindness or hate. We need to train ourselves that our mind should be unaffected. We should utter no unskillful words; we should abide with compassion for their welfare with a mind of loving-kindness. It is up to us how we respond, and this is the ultimate goal to avoid our own ill will.
I go to the Buddha for guidance.
I go to the Dharma for guidance.
I go to the Sangha for guidance.
Rev. Alan Sakamoto