The Significance of ‘Cleaning’ in Buddhism

I would like to first start by wishing everyone a Happy New Year. In Japan, late December is an important time when many families prepare for the New Year in various ways, including cleaning any accumulated dust around the house. This is especially important for temples, given the significance of “cleaning” in Buddhism. After being ordained as a minister, the first lesson I learned was how to clean. I must admit that in the beginning, I did not think the task would be too difficult. This is because as a child, I had been taught how to clean not only my school and house, but also my general surroundings, such as picking up any trash in public areas. I soon realized that cleaning the temple was a much more demanding task, requiring great attentiveness to detail. In fact, I was taught to not even leave a spec of dust behind. However, this concept of “cleaning” emphasizes not only the physical act of dusting the temple and our surroundings. It also teaches us to reflect on our own actions and any wrongdoings we may have done in the past. It is an opportunity to purify our mind.

To better understand this, I would like to tell you a story about Cudapanthaka, a disciple of the Sakyamuni Buddha. He was a very slow learner, so much so that it would take him approximately three to four months to memorize a single verse that the Buddha taught him. Children listening nearby would memorize the verse before him and would ultimately end up teaching him instead. His older brother, also a disciple of the Buddha, was quite the opposite of Cudapanthaka and known to be very clever and smart. Disappointed by Cudapanthaka, the older brother one day approached him and said, “There is no reason for you to be in this Sangha. Just leave.” Upset by his brother’s words, Cudapanthaka sat and cried tears of sadness. Eventually the Buddha approached him to ask the reason behind his tears. After explaining the situation, the Buddha grabbed a broom and told him, “Take this broom and use it whenever you are cleaning. As you are cleaning, repeatedly recite the following words: clean the dust, purify the mind.” Cudapanthaka did as he was told, trying his best to memorize and recite this phrase, while cleaning every nook and crevice he could find in his surroundings. It is said that he ultimately achieved enlightenment, by both the physical act of cleaning and the simultaneous purification of his mind.

This will be my 29th year since first arriving at this church. Throughout these years, I have continued to clean the church in various ways, including dusting the inside of the temple, mowing the lawn, doing carpentry work, as well as painting the buildings. Many people who do not know this have mentioned to me at some point or another that the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church has a good gardener and janitor.

I continue to clean the church and its surroundings because it is not enough for the church building to simply be in existence—it must always be physically clean. This is because the church is a place where everyone can purify his or her mind. It is not possible to do this if the church is not clean. My job as a minister is to help purify people’s minds. I have made various efforts to purify my own mind in order to perform this task. This includes my kaji kito training in Japan, where I both purified my own mind, while learning how to use kito to better help an individual cleanse their spirit.

I hope that whenever you physically clean your surroundings this year, you will also use that time as an opportunity to reflect and purify your own mind.

Ven. Kenjo Igarashi
January 2018

Sandoku 三毒 (“Three Poisons”)

In the United States, there were two deadly mass shootings during the months of October and November of this year. In October, 58 people were mercilessly shot to death in Las Vegas. In November, 28 members of a church lost their lives in Texas. No matter how many times these tragedies involving guns occur, the United States continues to debate gun control. These recent shootings have led me to think more about sandoku (三毒, “three poisons”), which I would like to further discuss in this article.

As you know, in Buddhism, there are six realms/states of existence: heavenly beings, humans, ashura, hungry spirits, and beings in hell. We are born in this world as human beings with the goal of furthering our practice to attain Enlightenment. Even though we are born as human beings, it is possible for people to experience conditions similar to the other realms/states of existence. For example, individuals living a life full of happiness may see this world as heaven. In contrast, others who struggle to find any form of happiness in their life and experience only despair may see this life as hell. However, it is important to remember that this world is neither paradise nor hell. We as human beings are the ones that create this “heaven” or “hell” in this world that we live in.

All human beings are born with sandoku: (1) tonyoku (貪欲, “greed”), (2) shinni (瞋恚, “anger” or “resentment”), and (3) guchi (愚痴, “stupidity” or “ignorance”). They are some of the defining features that explain why we are born into this world of human beings. Greed causes us to want anything and everything we desire. Having anger makes us to be hostile towards others. Lastly, ignorance prevents us from clearly distinguishing right from wrong, which results in making spontaneous decisions without much thought. If we are unable to rid ourselves of sandoku, we will be reborn into this world of human beings and continue to face the four sufferings (birth, aging, sickness, and death). Is there any cure for these three poisons?

A parable in chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra hints at the answer to this question. Many of you may already know this parable, but it is about a great physician who had many children. One day, the physician went out of town for a business trip and during his absence, all his children accidentally drank poison. The physician returned home to see his children suffering. The children were delighted to see their father return and asked for a cure. The father prepared medicine, which appealed to the senses. Though there is more to this story, ultimately, the children were saved. This medicine, which is mentioned in this story, this antidote to the sandoku, is none other than the odaimoku. True happiness will never be obtained while we have this sandoku within us.

Going back to the recent shootings, people who hold anger within their hearts only feed and nurture that anger when obtaining a gun. Along with getting rid of the sandoku within us, I believe it is necessary to make a conscious effort to rid the world of weapons as well.

Ven. Kenjo Igarashi
November 2017

Reflecting on Our Individual Buddhist Practice

As Buddhists, we observe several religious customs throughout the year, many of which involve praying for our ancestors. Most recently, we had the Obon (お盆) service in August, followed by the upcoming Ohigan (お彼岸) service in the fall. While there may be many meanings and reasons behind observing these Buddhist traditions, there are two that I would like to focus on in this article. They include (1) acknowledging life’s impermanence and most importantly, (2) reflecting on the importance of our Buddhist practice.

(1) Recognizing Life’s Transience
There are certain Buddhist customs, including those mentioned above, that remind me of the notion of shogyo mujo (諸行無常), or in English, “the impermanence of worldly things”. I first learned this concept in college when training to become a priest. We are made aware of this impermanence in our daily lives, ranging from daily tasks that we do (e.g. watering plants to prevent them from wilting) to happenings that we hear about from others that are beyond our control (e.g. the unexpected deaths we hear about on the news). However, it is often funerals and memorial services that amplify this notion of impermanence. They evoke a stronger sentiment because of our direct connection to the deceased. It also forces us to face and acknowledge that life on this earth, including our own, is transient.

Throughout my approximate 50-year career as a minister, I have always reflected on this notion of impermanence as a way to help me understand death as a sad, but unavoidable end to the course of one’s life. However, no matter how many funerals I have attended or conducted, it remains one of the most difficult tasks that I must do as a priest.

(2) The Importance of One’s Buddhist Practice
As previously mentioned, many Buddhist customs focus on expressing gratitude and remembering those that have passed. However, some people tend to focus too much on this idea. In fact, many spend little or no time understanding the significance that these traditions play in furthering a person’s Buddhist practice and faith.

Many of Nichiren Shonin’s writings include letters he wrote to his followers who expressed their individual concerns about reaching Enlightenment. As many of you know, in Buddhism we believe that the deceased goes on a 49-day journey after their death, where they will reflect on their lifetime of memories. They will be reminded of the most joyous moments of their life, as well as some of the difficult times. Nichiren Shonin knew of the hardships that one might face throughout this journey, as explained in a letter to one of his followers:

“I, Nichiren, am the world’s utmost devotee of the Lotus Sutra. If you pass away after me, remember that there are many trials that you must undergo (throughout your 49-day journey). Pass each trial by declaring in front of the judge that you are the follower of Nichiren, the world’s utmost devotee of the Lotus Sutra. When you must cross the fast ripples of the deep river, the Lotus Sutra will become your boat. When you must climb the treacherous mountains, it will become your vehicle. And when you must travel along a dark road, it will become that glimmer of light in the darkness. I, Nichiren, will promise to wait for you at the entrance to the Northeast gate to Enlightenment, so that you do not lose your way.”

Nichiren Shonin provides positive reassurance in his letter thus far. Yet his tone changes in the subsequent lines, informing the individual of consequences that could result from lack of Buddhist practice and faith. He continues:

“However, I must warn you of the importance of having faith (in the Lotus Sutra). An individual lacking piety should not expect to receive help upon claiming to be Nichiren’s follower. They will enter into the suffering world as quickly as the large rock that tumbles down the cliff, and the raindrops that fall from the sky and hit the earth.”

Nichiren Shonin’s statement directly relates to the teachings in Chapter 6 of the Lotus Sutra. It states that while everyone has the potential to become the Buddha, whether or not the individual achieves enlightenment depends on his or her level of commitment to practicing Buddhism. The hope is that they do not just rely on praying during services at the temple, but also make an effort to individually practice Buddhism in their daily lives.

Since an individual’s life is transient, we have a limited time (i.e. our individual lifespan) in which we can practice our faith in this world. I am hoping that many of you will try to incorporate both of these ideas as you continue to practice and find ways to deepen your faith in Buddhism.

Ven. Kenjo Igarashi
September 2017

Meaning of Urabon Shouryoudana

Welcoming our ancestors through celebrating Urabon-e is a very important event that must be continued. During the three days of Obon, lasting from July 13 to July 16 an altar other than the family altar is made out of small tables and called a “shouryoudana.” This shouryoudana is used for calling the ancestors spirits and offering them food and certain delicacies. Bamboo is placed on each of the four corners of the shouryoudan with a rope made from wild rice straw tied to each piece of the bamboo. On that rope, as seen in the picture above, we tie certain plants with specific meanings and let them drape down. On top of the table, a mat made from the wild rice straws is spread out and food such as fruits, cookies, and vegetables are placed. A lotus leaf is placed on both sides of the table, the one on the left containing diced eggplants and the one on the right filled with water. The eggplants on the left are meant to represent our 108 worldly passions, and the water on the right is meant to purify those worldly passions. A horse is also made out of a cucumber, and a cow out of an eggplant. The horse represents our hopes of the ancestors to come quickly riding the horse, and the cow represents our hopes for them to return to the spiritual world slowly, riding the cow, expressing our hopes to spend more time with our ancestors. It is important to welcome and treat our ancestors the same way as treating a guest from a distant location. The Obon in Tokyo and Yokohama is from July 13 to July 16, however in the countryside, Obon is from August 13 to August 16. Many people from the cities return to their hometowns, making Tokyo appear to be very empty during that time and shops left no other option but to close down for the time period. Like this, there are many people in Japan who care for their ancestors so I would like you all, even if you don’t make a shouryoudana, to care for your ancestors and continue to pray for them.

Ven. Kenjo Igarashi
July 2017

Postscript: In response to “On that rope, as seen in the picture above, we tie certain plants with specific meanings and let them drape down,” a writer asked: “Could you tell me the name of these herbs and their meaning?”

First, the reason why we put up the rope is to create a barrier so as to prevent the evil spirits from crossing the division (towards the altar). I want to mention that in Japan, there are many ways to prepare the altar for Obon, depending on the region, family, etc. Therefore, the plants draped on the rope also differ depending on the region, family, etc. That being said, some people usually just put up a plant called Physalis alkekengi (“hozuki” in Japanese, or “Chinese lantern” plants). This is because as the English name suggests, the plant is shaped like a lantern and therefore represent a physical lantern to light the way and guide your ancestral spirits to your altar. Once the spirits arrive, it is said that they rest on the plants and listen to you chanting the sutra.

Preparing the altar for Obon (including the rope, plants, etc.) takes time, but it also provides you with the opportunity to express your gratitude towards your ancestors and remember those that have passed. Especially in the Lotus Sutra, the idea of praying for your ancestors is especially important.

Remembering Mr. Kanji Hitomi

For this newsletter, I am including my sermon from the memorial service held on March 25, 2017 for Mr. Kanji Hitomi, who suddenly passed away on March 6, 2017. Mr. Hitomi cared for the temple, as evidenced by his many efforts and contributions, which I reflect on in this article.

Kanji Hitomi

Since Mr. Kanji Hitomi’s retirement 23 years ago, he has spent the majority of his time, helping the temple in countless ways. He helped with temple maintenance through his skills in carpentry, plumbing, and painting, among others. He also prepared for the annual bazaar throughout the year, including growing plants and making dustpans to sell at the bazaar. Some of you may not know that he also built the hexagonal reverse tapered stand for the lanterns in front of the altar in the temple. Those of you who have had the opportunity to see it up close can probably tell from the intricate details of the stand that it is very difficult to make. I was, as probably many of you, always amazed by the quality of his work. Everyday when I pray in front of the altar, I always see this stand and am reminded of Mr. Hitomi.

I also remember how Mr. Hitomi would stop by the temple whenever it was time to prune the matsu, or Japanese pine trees, around the temple. He would tell me that he was not afraid of heights and would swiftly climb up approximately 15 feet on the ladder to start the task. Nevertheless, I was always concerned for his safety and remember nervously holding the ladder while he started cutting the tree branches. Throughout the years, I have learned how to cut the branches of the matsu from Mr. Hitomi and have since taken the task upon myself. However, whenever I prune the trees, I feel as if they are asking me to be gentler with the task, like Mr. Hitomi. In fact, I was in the middle of pruning the matsu when I learned of his passing.

Naomi Uemura

Whenever I think about how much Mr. Hitomi cared about the temple, I am reminded of another individual. This person is in fact Uemura Naomi, a famous Japanese adventurer. When I was still living in Japan, I had heard from many people that he lived near the Ikebukuro district in Tokyo, which is where I grew up. He was a frequent customer of a small eatery known in the area for their yakitori, or Japanese skewers. I myself went there sometimes with my friend and saw him during one of our visits. He was known for his many achievements, including being the first person to climb Alaska’s Mt. McKinley (now known as Mt. Denali) during wintertime, solo. Unfortunately, he never returned after his second trip to Mt. Denali. I have heard that adventurers feel the need to outcompete other explorers and those that have preceded them. Therefore, they take on dangerous tasks, leading them to face various life or death experiences. By refusing to attempt such risky journeys. they lose the opportunity to gain sponsorship for subsequent explorations. After hearing about his disappearance on the news, he, for-some reason, appeared one night in my-dream. I remember being so stunned, saying to him, “Everyone is worried about you. Please come back and put everyone’s mind at ease.” To my surprise, he told me, “I have become the mountain so I cannot return.” After this, I quickly woke up from the dream. I think Uemura Naomi treasured the mountains so much so that he wanted to become one with them.

In the same way, Mr. Hitomi never ceased to talk about the temple and ways to help preserve it for future generations. I would like to think that he has become a guardian of the temple, who will continue to look over it for generations to come.

Ven. Kenjo Igarashi
May 2017

The Similarities Between Ohigan and Volunteering

Often times, we hear about individuals participating in volunteer activity. Volunteers share hardships with people who are suffering or those who are placed in predicaments, free of charge. People praise those who participate in such volunteering and I do not deny that such actions of kindness are very important. However, these actions are more frequently praised we can see these actions being done with our very own eyes. Therefore, the idea of helping others and performing these same actions through spiritual means is considered very different from what we consider to be “volunteering.”

Someone told me the other day that Buddhism is a religion, which exists for times when people need to hold funeral and memorial services. I believe that the reason for this “misunderstanding” is because the concept of memorial services in Buddhism is difficult to grasp here in the United States. This may also be because materialistic views are very prominent today and therefore, many people only tend to believe what they can physically see with their very own eyes.

In order to understand the meaning of spiritual prayer during times such as memorial services and Ohigan, we must consider the purpose behind our existence in this world. In Buddhism, we state that a human being is born into this world due to accumulated “bad” karma from past lives. Therefore, in order to rid of this “bad” karma, we are born into this suffering world and experience what Buddhists consider to be the four sufferings, which are birth, old age, sickness, and death. However, at the same time, we must also understand that not all individuals are born as human beings and many also fall into different realms of suffering, such as that of animals.

However, even when we are living in such a world, we know that there are different degrees of suffering that we experience even within the same realm, as that of human beings. As stated before, this is due to the differing amounts of bad karma that we carry with us. However, at the same time, we can also say that by actually living in this world, it is impossible to avoid creating sins because sometimes we do this without realizing it. For example, we may unconsciously make a comment that hurts another individual.

The prime reason why there are individuals who are unable to leave the suffering realms is because it is hard to fully comprehend their reason for being born into this world. Such souls repetitively return to the different realms of the suffering world and cannot rest in peace. In other words, they are always asking for our help.

As stated before, in volunteering, we must understand the feelings and the experience of the other individual in order to help them. We can also say that praying during Ohigan also incorporates this same idea as well. We never fully know the state of deceased individuals or different spirits. In other words, they may be suffering or having concerns about the realm that they are currently living in because they want to escape it. However, due to the situation of the realm that they currently live in, they may not have the potential to accumulate “good” karma. Like volunteering, we as individuals living also in this suffering world, must also become one with these spirits and come to understand their pain and their concerns in order to help them. We do this by praying and chanting the sutra.

Therefore, during this month of Ohigan, we must get together and recite the sutra and chant the Odaimoku in order to help those spirits, which cannot rest in peace or are unable to cultivate their own virtue and approach this in the same manner that we approach, what is considered to be “volunteering.”

Ven. Kenjo Igarashi
March 2017

The Innate Goodness of Mankind

Throughout history, individuals in various fields of study have proposed many views as to the innate characteristics of human nature. Despite various characteristics for potential discussion from a Buddhist standpoint, I would like to further elaborate on the idea of the innate goodness of mankind. We have all witnessed people whom we can place on different levels of the “good”/”evil” spectrum. We make these decisions based primarily on any actions we observe taken by the individual. Thus, depending on the observer, a single individual could be placed on very different levels of the spectrum. This leads us to the question of whether or not we are born with the innate knowledge of good or bad.

Before discussing any further, I would like to share an article published in a Japanese newspaper several years ago. It was written by Hiroshi Mikado, a famous traditional Japanese narrative singer of the 20th century. He writes:

I was asked by the head director of juvenile detention centers to travel across Japan and give speeches to juvenile delinquents. I recall one visit I made to a juvenile detention center. I spoke to an audience of 400 individuals and my speech lasted for approximately an hour. Throughout my presentation, there was one young man who for some reason caught my attention. After my speech, I asked one of the staff members at the center ifl could talk to this individual who was sitting three chairs from the back on the right side of the auditorium. The staff told me, “Sir, I do not think that is a good idea. He is 18 years old and since his arrival here, has not shown even a bit of remorse for the crimes he has committed. Speaking to him will only disappoint you.” I replied, “Is he really that bad of a person? I have traveled to several juvenile detention centers and prisons throughout the years. I have met a lot of people but no one has completely disappointed me thus far. Could you please invite him to speak with me?” The staff member called the young man over and upon speaking to him I realized that indeed this individual was far from an example of the model citizen. He had committed crimes of robbery and murder. He told me that he had snuck into his boss’s house to steal, thinking that the house would be empty. He soon realized that he had been caught stealing by his boss’s wife who was at the house, so he attacked and murdered her. After hearing his story, I decided to show him three pictures that I had with me. The first picture showed a mother breast-feeding her child. The second picture showed the mother giving her child some spending money. The last picture showed the aged mother who was taking a break from working in the fields to place her hands into a gassho and pray towards the sunrise. I asked him to choose the picture that he thought presented the most beautiful gesture. He looked at the picture for a long time and slowly pointed his finger to the third picture of the aged mother praying. At that moment, I was struck with great surprise. Even someone who had committed such heinous crimes considered praying to be an act of beauty. This experience made me realize that no one is innately evil.

Similar to Mikado, Nichiren Shonin also stated that everyone is innately good because we are all born with a Buddha nature. I have previously mentioned the analogy of the Buddha nature being the inside of a seed with the outer shell being the bad karma that results from our previous actions. However, by chanting the odaimoku, which is the name of the Buddha nature, our Buddha nature will grow and eventually break through the outer shell. Even individuals that commit bad actions are innately good since they all possess the Buddha nature, which still has a thick outer layer of the bad karma. Nichiren Shonin writes in his Kanjin Honzon Sho, “Even an evil man who does not feel remorse for his actions will still love and care for his wife and child.”

With the New Year having begun, I hope that everyone will continue to reflect on his or her actions and take the time to help develop their Buddha nature.

Ven. Kenjo lgarashi
January 2017

Focusing on Rissho Anshin Before Rissho Ankoku

Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), a former leader of China known for introducing economic reforms and opening the country to foreign investment, famously said, “Let some people get rich first.” While Deng’s policies led to China’s rapid economic growth, some suggest that his ideas increased the gap between the rich and poor. This contrasts with the egalitarianism so prominent during the rule of his predecessor, Mao Zedong (1893-1976). Deng seems to suggest that China’s economic growth needs to start from economic success of the individual, which would in turn help the society, and ultimately the country. I would like to use Deng’s idea as an analogy to introduce “rissho anshin” (立正安心), a new term that I have coined.

Throughout my years as a minister, I have seen and met many people who visit a Buddhist temple for the first time. Many of them want to explore their interests in Buddhism, yet there are those that have a problem in their life that they believe Buddhism could help them resolve. For the majority of these people, they are merely curious to “test out” Buddhism as a remedy for their problems. They are not as interested in the spiritual aspect of religion, but only see it from a philosophical perspective. However, the major difference between philosophy and religion is that the latter incorporates prayer.

Nichiren Shonin is known for his various forms of prayer for differing purposes, ranging from those specific for a lay follower to prayers he hoped would help save Japan from the destructive effects of “mappo” (末法) or “the period of degeneration of Buddhist teachings”. His Rissho Ankoku Ron (立正安国論), which literally translates to “establishing the right teaching for peace of the land”, addresses his concerns with the countless forms of suffering he saw in Japan. He believed that this could be fixed if more people followed the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren Shonin prayed not only for a single person, but the whole country of Japan.

We may aspire to be like him and pray for something grand like world peace or the end of all suffering. However, I personally think that we must first attempt to practice what I like to call “rissho anshin” or “establishing one’s peace of mind”, before embarking on a path to help others. We cannot expect someone who is suffering or unhappy with his or her life to have the capacity to pray for world peace. However, we can use the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, or the “right teaching” as Nichiren Shonin called it, to work towards attaining happiness, after which we can pray for peace within one’s family, the country, and then the world. Thus, we can take small steps that would allow us to ultimately practice what Nichiren Shonin stated in his Rissho Ankoku Ron.

In referring back to Deng’s quote, we see that while not everyone can become wealthy simultaneously, it is possible for those that “get rich first” to help others using their newly acquired wealth. This leads to what can be seen as a domino effect, thus increasing the number of affluent people, and subsequently, economic growth of the country as a whole. In the same way, we see that not everyone can be at peace with himself or herself. However, it is possible for those that have already attained happiness to pray for suffering individuals, which would hopefully decrease suffering and ultimately lead to world peace.

I am hoping that you will, if not so already, become at peace with yourself, and reach a point where you will be encouraged to extend your happiness to others through prayer.

Ven. Kenjo lgarashi
November 2016

Filial Respect for Parents

There is no denying that we exist in this world as a result of having parents. We know that everyone experiences different degrees of parent involvement throughout his or her life. Some biological parents may be completely absent from their child’s life, while some children have differing biological and custodial parents. No matter the situation, there is usually someone there to assist in raising the child. Thus, in certain circumstances, the term “parent” can more generally refer to individuals that were involved in nurturing the child to adulthood.

Nevertheless, many people continue to insist that they grew up without their parents’ help and thus do not feel the need to take care of their now elderly parents. Nichiren Shonin once said, “One parent can raise ten children but one child cannot look after one parent”. This should definitely not be the case. Some times we hear a person say to his or her parents, “Why was I born? I never asked to be born in the first place.” The child may have uttered this out of pure frustration or in the midst of a heated argument, not giving much thought about the hurtful nature of those words. To many parents, this may be one of the most devastating statements made by their child.

People often do not think about the many problems the parents encounter in raising children. When the individual is first born, the parents worry the most about the child’s health, always tending to the child’s needs. When the child starts school, the parents worry about the social interaction with the other children. Even after the child is grown up, the parents continue to worry about their son or daughter’s future, including work and marriage. It is not uncommon to hear about parents so focused and worried about their children that they forget about taking care of themselves.

We observe another evidence of a parent caring for a child in the development and growth of potato crops. Though I have never worked in a farm myself, I have heard that when harvesting potatoes, farmers first select the best potato from the previous crop, which is cut into quarters and planted. Once the farmers have the new crop, they can dig up the underground stems to find the original piece of potato that was planted at the beginning of the harvesting season. The piece is all wrinkled and dried up, having exhausted all of its energy in producing this new crop.

The least we can do, as children, is to acknowledge our parents’ efforts through showing them respect. Thus, “filial piety” remains a core concept emphasized in many Buddhist and Asian societies to promote respect for one’s elders, including one’s parents and ancestors. Many misinterpret this idea, thinking that buying and gifting their parents with material things is enough.

Instead, there are three different ways that one can show respect to their parents. The first is simply to show and treat one’s parents with respect and reverence. The second way is to show the willingness to listen to their parents and their wishes in certain circumstances. This includes being able to show that one has established their career in order to provide their parents with a piece of mind and to worry less about their child’s future.

The third method is to hold a memorial service after one’s parents pass away. Many believe that once their parents pass away, it is no longer possible to show their respect and devotion. Though we may no longer have their physical presence, they will enter the spiritual world, where they will continue to worry about and guide us throughout life’s endeavors. Through these memorial services, we continue to remember them, while also thanking them for the sacrifices they made for us and their continued support.

No matter your situation or the current relationship that you may have with your parents, I hope you will spend some time reflecting on how to show respect and gratefulness towards them.

Ven. Kenjo lgarashi
September 2016

Same Situation, Different Perspectives

With 2016 already over halfway over, we are quickly approaching obon, one of the most widely recognized Buddhist events of the year. The event lasts for approximately three days, during which time our ancestors will pay us a visit to our homes. We humans will come into contact with spirits living outside the realm of human beings, such as the world of the heavenly beings. To better understand this, I would like you to first consider the two realms that we often think to be complete opposites: gokuraku (the Pure Land of the Buddha) and jigoku (hell).

Nichiren Shonin refers to these two realms in Omonsu-dono nyōbō gohenji, which is a letter he wrote to one of his followers. He states, “In answering your question as to where the hotoke (Buddha or those that have attained Enlightenment) reside, there are some who say that they dwell beneath the earth and others that say you may find them in the Pure Land of the Buddha. However, with careful scrutiny, one may find that both jigoku and gokuraku exist within … our physical being.”

To better explain the differences between gokuraku and jigoku, I would like to tell you a story, first told by a Buddhist priest in Thailand. There was once an old lady, known by everyone in her town for her compassionate nature. When a person needed help with a task, she would assist them to the best of her ability, never refusing anyone. The old lady eventually passed away, at which point she started her 49-day journey (which I previously explained). Finally on the 49th day, she arrived in front of the final judge, who told her to choose one of the six gates leading to the six different spiritual realms. Aware of her many good deeds, the judge reassured her that whichever gate she chose would inevitably lead her to gokuraku. However, upon hearing this, the old lady made a special request to see if she could see jigoku, before ultimately entering gokuraku. The judge hesitated, yet ultimately agreed on the condition that a bodhisattva would accompany her there. The old lady traveled with the bodhisattva and entered jigoku, to find that it was around mealtime. They peered into the dining room and watched as an elaborate feast appeared on the table. A bell rang, signaling the beginning of the mealtime. At that moment, the doors of the dining room flung open as the spirits entered, shouting that they were hungry and wanted to eat. The moment they sat down, they were immediately strapped in their seats, restraining their movement. Eager to eat, they quickly grabbed the approximately six-feet long eating utensil in front of them, which was also immediately bound to their hand. Each individual tried to eat, but because the utensil was so long, they could not bring the food to their mouth. They continued shouting, each person wanting to eat before the other, yet only succeeding in flipping the dishes of food over. An hour passed, yet not a single person could carry even a morsel of food to their mouth. However, mealtime was done and the food immediately disappeared from the tables. The spirits were unstrapped from their seats and able to let go of their utensils. They were immediately forced out of the dining room, shouting, even more hungry and frustrated than an hour prior. Seeing this upset the old lady, who told the accompanying bodhisattva that she had seen enough and was ready to go to gokuraku. When she entered gokuraku, it was also around mealtime. Upon hearing the bell ring, she entered into the dining room along with the other spirits, to see a huge table with several delectable dishes laid out. Each spirit was strapped to their seat and bound to their six-feet long eating utensil in the same way that she had seen in jigoku. She was led to her seat and sat down, still pondering on how they would eat, especially since she had seen how the spirits in jigoku had struggled to eat under these same conditions. It was at that moment when she realized that a spirit sitting across from her was offering her food using their long eating utensil. She looked around and saw that each spirit was not feeding themselves, but ·another spirit sitting across from them. The old lady graciously accepted her food and also used her own utensils to offer food to the other spirit. An hour later, the bell rang and all the spirits left the room, satisfied and having enjoyed their meal.

In referring back to Nichiren Shonin’s letter, we now understand that Nichiren Shonin is suggesting that jigoku and gokuraku are very similar, yet the difference results from one’s actions and perspectives. In the story, we see that even under the exact same mealtime conditions, what separates the spirits in gokuraku from jigoku is their approach to how they chose to eat their food. We can also apply this same idea to our own world and daily lives. For example, if we were to eat in a similar dining room as that in the story, what would we do? Some individuals might offer you food, as in gokuraku, while others only want food only for themselves. As a result, when our ancestors visit us during obon, we should recognize the similarities we have with them, rather than the differences. Further, it is important to understand that though we live in different worlds, the similarities allow us to provide for our ancestors in the form of our physical offerings of food in front of the Buddhist altar as well as our prayers. My hope is that you will remember this as you prepare to greet your ancestors for obon this year.

Ven. Kenjo lgarashi
July 2016