Finding Nembutsu Teachings in Manga Classic

When the pandemic hit and we were faced with a new pattern of life in a hint of fear, just like many of you who have binge watched movies and TV shows, I decided to finally tackle the Japanese masterpiece manga series “One Piece” written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda.


Since its first episode in 1997, the series has sold more than 470 million copies in 43 countries around the world, making it the best-selling manga series in history.


I remember reading a news story that stated that “One Piece” had won first place in a poll of manga that parents want their children to read. I imagined then that this would give me encouragement during the shelter in place.


“One Piece” is a humorous, battle-based story of a young crew of pirates. It takes you on a virtual voyage to the unexpected, vast world of the seas of wonders. Starting with a boy, Luffy, who held a dream of finding the titular treasure “One Piece,” the pirates encounter fellow crews and friends in their adventures.


“One Piece” attracted not only boys and girls, but people of all ages. What is the reason this manga — and the main character, Luffy — is loved by so many?


When we think about pirates, we normally associate it with pillaging and taking everything. But as I continued reading, I realized that Luffy is actually a giver. He already has a wonderful goal that he is headed to and knows that there are plenty of unforeseen adventures along the way. Therefore, he is very independent of worries — we see him smiling, full of energy, and having a great time — that gives us the courage to want to be like him.


He is also very stable in his values. His trust and care for people around him are so straightforward and unwavering. Everyone falls for Luffy as he continues to live his life strongly and he influences us by reminding us what is truly important in our lives.


Getting off the virtual ship of pirates and back to my ocean of year 2020, where I continued to see some heartbreaking news on the TV of us hurting each other based on ego and misunderstanding, I realized that it is not always easy to be the strong captain in this wild sea. But the beloved, courageous pirate reminded me that it is OK for me to be shaky from time to time and that we have our very attractive leaders, who we can continue to learn from — those who have taken on their life voyages unwaveringly by having the true goal.

Shinran Shonin, who later became our leader, was originally lost in the ocean of birth-and-death alone. But by meeting his teacher, Honen Shonin, and seeing with his own eyes that Honen Shonin was saying the Nembutsu and walking life with Nembutsu, he was able to see the Buddha-Dharma that enabled Honen Shonin to live this way. He was deeply encouraged by this excellent example, the working of the Primal Vow in front of him, and was finally awakened to the wisdom and compassion of Amida Tathagata himself.


We’ve read in our sutras that there are “all Buddhas saying and praising the Name,” and there are “sentient beings hearing the Name.” Honen Shonin was the Buddha praising the working of Amida Buddha, and Shinran Shonin as the sentient being was enabled to hear the same. He also became the unwavering Nembutsu path walker, just like his teacher, and another strong individual who took on his voyage unwaveringly by having the true goal.

After Shinran Shonin, many people followed, and this line of people of Nembutsu became a path, the Nembutsu path. Shinran Shonin said, “The Nembutsu is the single path free of hindrances” in the “Tannisho.”


Although the difficult conditions we are faced now in our society might sometimes make us wonder if all the good values are things of the past, we are relieved to know that we continue to have these legacy. It reminds us the importance of sustaining the works of arts which can teach our children values that are based on wisdom and compassion, not by superstitions and conspiracies. And we are grateful that we can continue to sustain our teaching and the nembutsu path in which our children will find the strong base for them to maneuver their unwavering voyage of their lives.


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