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Breaking Down Arbitrary Barriers, Labels

This is my last Dharma message as an active kaikyoshi minister. I retired at the end of October.


It was 50 years ago that I first came to Chicago and the Midwest Buddhist Temple, on Aug. 1, 1973. Of course, I was out of the active ministry for 29 years between 1981 until 2011. So, I am ending my second go-around as the Resident Minister since 2011.


For the Dharma message today, I would like to try to share my core message, which is to continue to share the Dharma with everyone.


When I arrived at MBT 50 years ago, I could count on one hand the number of non-Japanese Americans at the temple. Of course, MBT started as an ethnic church in 1944 and, 30 years later, it was just beginning to expand beyond that core membership.

Shinran Shonin, the founder of Shin Buddhism, had some unique understanding of the Dharma. He saw that one did not have to be a monk or a nun to practice Buddhism and encounter Enlightenment. He saw that Amida’s Vow to save all sentient beings applied to everyone — with no exceptions. Both monks and lay people, both educated and illiterate.

In short, everyone — regardless of who or what one was. Regardless of race, gender or any other label. We all could receive the gift of shinjin — to become a Bodhisattva of the highest rank and to be assured to Enlightenment.

Let me share a simple, yet profound, story. When MBT's Legacy Garden was being built, the architect, Mr. Hoichi Kurisu, was bringing in the rocks and laying out the garden. I remember asking him why he insisted on having a water feature in the garden.

I remember thinking, it freezes each winter and having a water feature would be a lot of work to maintain. And he explained that Shinran and drinking water were an important teaching.


When Shinran started thinking about leaving Mt. Hiei, he was on a 100-day walking meditation, which was a Tendai practice. Each night, he would walk down the mountain for a 25-mile walking meditation.


One hot summer night, he was tired and thirsty. He stopped to rest, and someone offered him a ladle of water, which he simply accepted and drank.

But when he looked up, he realized that it was a woman who gave him the ladle. In the traditional Tendai way, he should have refused the water because it was offered by a woman.


It was then that Shinran realized, when one is thirsty, it does not matter if a man or a woman offered you a drink. One just accepts the gift of water.


This was the start of Shinran breaking down the arbitrary barriers and labels that some religions used. The Amida Buddha does not care if one is rich or poor, if one is gay or straight, if one is a monk or a married householder. These barriers and labels really have no meaning when seen from Amida’s perspective. We are all simple ordinary beings full of limitations.


Somehow, Mr. Kurisu remembered this story and insisted on the water feature — and I was reminded of an important lesson.


This simple understanding was a revelation in Buddhism and is a fundamental difference of Shin Buddhism. Breaking down the barriers andlabels led to so many things and is the strength of Shin Buddhism, such as: the married clergy, which also led to the hereditary temples of Japan, which was the foundation of the growth and stability of Shin Buddhism in Japan.


Of course, here in America, we operate differently and the legal system is so different. We are now at the point of finding out what spreading the Dharma means.


We have so many challenges as we move forward. We have so many lessons to remember, but we have the guidelines of Buddhism to guide us.


We remember that everything is constantly changing and that everything is interconnected and interrelated. And the Sangha, the group of fellow travelers, are all different and yet we all get along together in harmony because we are different.


Everyone is embraced by the Wisdom and Compassion of Amida Buddha.

Namu Amida Butsu, with gratitude and kindness beyond words.


As a closing remark, I would just like to thank the Midwest Buddhist Temple for allowing me to be the Resident Minister for the past 13 years, plus the first eight years. And, although I will be retired, I will still be around and helping Rev. Todd Tsuchiya and the temple in many ways.

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