A Happy New Year to all of you! May 2021 be a year in which we hope to all get vaccinated and see the end of this terrible pandemic that we have all suffered through. (I have never looked forward to a shot more in my life.)
But most likely we will still have to keep our churches and temples closed for some time, until people receive the vaccinations that will make it safe to gather again. How wonderful that will be to see each other again in person.
Because we will have to continue with Zoom, YouTube, Facebook Live, and other means of internet services and gatherings, our BCA theme for this year will be, “Sharing the Dharma Virtually,” a theme that we have taken from the Southern District Jr. YBL conference in 2020.
As we strive to share the Dharma virtually, we have the potential to reach many new people and introduce the Shin Buddhist teachings with those who have never encountered it before.
In order to do that, we must be able to express in a few words, what is unique, what is the essence of the Shin Buddhist tradition.
One phrase that came to me that we might be able to use, is the expression, “A life of gratitude.” It doesn’t use any technical terms, and in one phrase, expresses what Shin Buddhism offers anyone.
In modern psychology, gratitude is a popular topic, and psychology and mental health fields are trying to show that grateful people are happier people. This is something that Shin Buddhism has known for centuries. To live with a sense of joy and gratitude for the teachings, for the all that we receive in life from others, from sentient beings, from the earth, to be grateful even for life itself, is something that we are taught in Shin Buddhism.
There was a devout lay Shin Buddhist in Japan by the name of Muso Kimura, whose short poem I would like to share. It goes:
On the shelf of my kitchen sit
onions and radishes and carrots,
lined up, waiting for their turn backstage,
all for a foolish being like me.
Muso Kimura lived a very simple, meager life, but yet he had profound gratitude for the vegetables that sat on his shelf waiting to become his dinner. His appreciation went even deeper than gratitude, as he expressed his feeling of not being worthy, or deserving of their lives and sacrifice, all for him, “a foolish being like me.” You can sense his own remorse for taking their lives as he states they are “waiting for their turn backstage, all for a foolish being like me.”
Some people might think, “If I had a $3 million mansion, a Mercedes, and servants to cook and serve for me, then I would really be grateful.” But on the contrary, the Shin Buddhist path is to come to realize that we are the recipients of everything in life, from the teachings, to our homes, our food, our clothing, and life itself.
But you might say in response, “But I bought my home and food and clothing all with my hard-earned money. Nothing was given to me.” Yes, that is true, you bought the home, you bought the groceries, you bought your clothing with your hard-earned money.
But take, for example, just the groceries alone. Did you raise the chicken or the lettuce in your grocery bag? Did you lay the one dozen eggs that you just bought? Even though you paid for that gallon of milk, where do you think it came from? Didn’t it come from a cow, a cow that had its calf taken away at birth, so that it could be a milk producing dairy cow. It’s that kind of reflection that causes Muso Kimura to see the vegetables on his shelf waiting backstage, all for a foolish person like him.
Shin Buddhism has a lot to offer the people of the world. Because of our ignorance or delusion, our un-awakened life, we fail to appreciate or be grateful for all that life gives us, provides for us, bestows upon us.
Instead, we feel that we deserve more, that we don’t get our fair share, that we don’t get a decent break in life. We feel as if the whole world is going against us because life doesn’t go as we want it to. But in reality, life is giving to us. Life is bestowing upon us. But we cannot see it nor appreciate it. And that is why we need the Shin Buddhist teachings. That is why we need the Dharma in our life, so that we might awaken to all that we have received, are receiving, and will continue to receive in this thing called life.