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Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji Speaks About Gratitude

For Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji, the sense of gratitude literally spans generations — including his late grandfather, the esteemed Rev. Kakue Miyaji — the only Kangaku, or highest ranking priest, who resided in the United States.

Rev. Dr. Miyaji, the son of BCA Minister Emeritus Rev. Nobuo Miyaji, is Ohtani Chair of the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) and part-time minister at Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church (SACBC). He spoke at the Feb. 18 BCA National Council Meeting’s Town Hall about gratitude in Shin Buddhism, and followed Gregg Krech, director of the ToDo Institute, a Naikan education and retreat center in Vermont.

Before discussing his grandfather, Rev. Dr. Miyaji addressed the overarching theme of the Town Hall — “the ‘why of Jodo Shinshu’ — ‘Why is it beneficial in our lives?’” Rev. Dr. Miyaji said.

“What this teaching has to offer is basically a respite, a moment in our lives where we can check outside of our crazy lives, where there are so many expectations placed on us and we place on other people and on ourselves as well,” he said. “We have moments when we can get a breather from the busyness of day-to-day life and look at our true selves from the perspective of the world of boundless compassion.”

Son’s basketball

Rev. Dr. Miyaji said his 6-year-old son is just learning the basics of basketball — how to dribble and shoot — in a Japanese American basketball league. Because the youngsters are just beginning to learn how to play the game, there’s little in the way of scoring. The children are young enough, he said, that the parents are cheering for the other team’s players.

“We really don’t care which side wins the game,” he said. “As parents, we want every kid on that court to succeed. That’s the same feeling I believe that the Buddha has for all beings, which is that the Buddha wants to see everyone happy. And what do we mean by happiness? I think we mean free from suffering.

“In this religion, everyone makes it — not just a select few, not just the chosen one, not just the people who pay a certain tithing, not just those who are living in a certain region of the world,” he continued. “Everyone. It may take time for that to happen, but everyone will make it. And if everyone doesn’t make it, then it means there is no such thing as enlightenment, or the world of truth. And this is based on the Eighteenth Vow.

“And because we are all in truth, we are all part of truth. How are we then excluded from this truth. That can’t be possible. Everybody has to have access to this truth, everybody does have access to this truth. And that access, Shinran Shonin teaches, is the O-Nembutsu.”

So, going back to the basketball example, he said, the child is playing with all of their strength and will, but when the child comes out of the game to take a break, that child can see things in another perspective. That child can now see things on the court.

“And what the child sees is what the parents see,” he said. “The parents’ mind and the child’s mind, in this sense, become one because it is here that the child sees things as they are. And, we are like that child.”

He said, as adults, we see “in this crazy world … everything from climate change to the opioid crisis, rampant gun violence, the war in Ukraine, the rise of artificial intelligence, the ever looming food and water shortage — the list goes on and on and on.”

Rev. Dr. Miyaji said he grew up in Monterey Park in Southern California and knew exactly where the mass shooting occurred on Jan. 21 in which a gunman killed 11 people and injured nine others. The shooting took place at Star Ballroom Dance Studio, after an all-day Lunar New Year festival was held on a nearby street.

“I used to buy boba a few stores down from that location,” he said. “In this sense, it’s not really a matter of ‘if’ a gun incident will happen in your neighborhood, it’s a matter of ‘when’ a gun incident will happen in your neighborhood.

“It’s actually more of a wonder how people can be OK in this world, rather than not feel existentially anxious in some way, all the time,” he continued. “There’s so much going on — we feel we have to do something. So, we go and get involved, and we go and fight for what’s right, fight for justice. But then, we get tired, we get winded, exhausted by the craziness. We get caught up in that craziness, and in many respects, we end up being the very craziness that we set out to fight against. We can’t even trust ourselves. So, how do we then take a timeout? A timeout from the world? A timeout from myself?

“What gives us this respite — that timeout, a time to put things in perspective — is when we open up our hearts to the Buddha’s boundless compassion,” Rev. Miyaji said.

“What I’m talking about is our existential or spiritual lives that seeks something outside of ourselves,” he said. “But, in some weird sense, we know that truth. It’s not something completely foreign to us. We all feel it at certain moments in our lives, but we can’t quite pin it down. This is because we are already embraced by the world of truth. So, we feel it — but we don’t know what it is.

“We sense it intuitively, but we can’t grasp it. Those are the moments in which the truth is calling out to us. We call that ‘Amida Buddha’s calling voice.’ When we open our hearts and answer that call, the Buddha’s heart and my heart become one. That’s when we see both the futility and the profundity of this life, that’s when we see both the lunacy and the quietude of life, that’s when we see samsara embraced by Nirvana. This is the Buddha’s perspective. It gives us the chance to see us as we truly are.”

Grandfather’s story

Rev. Dr. Miyaji shared a story that his grandfather often told his father.

His grandfather was originally from the Nara region of Japan, a member of the Uno family. He was adopted by the Miyaji family. The Miyajis weren’t able to have children and really wanted to have children. After several appeals, the Uno family finally agreed to give a son to the Miyajis.

The Unos lived on the island of Honshu, the most populous region of Japan with large cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Hiroshima. The Miyajis resided in Kochi prefecture on the nearby island of Shikoku.

Rev. Dr. Miyaji’s grandfather went on to study in Honshu, and would return each summer to Shikoku. At the port where the ferries arrived, his stepmother would always be there and greet him loudly and always say the same thing:

“When’s the next time you’re coming home? When’s the next time you’re coming home?” She wouldn’t even say, “Welcome home.”

She passed away before World War II began, and during the wartime strife, a bomb fell in Kochi prefecture in Shikoku, destroying the family temple.

As Rev. Dr. Miyaji’s grandfather sifted through the temple ruins, he discovered his mother’s urn. He shook the urn, rattling it — and heard her voice calling out to him:

“When’s the next time you’re coming home? When’s the next time you’re coming home?”

When he heard this, his grandfather realized he was embraced in a world of unconditional love — the world of Buddha’s great compassion.

Buddha’s compassion

“It is through the love which was shown to him, through his mother, that he was able to understand what the world of unconditional love can look like,” Rev. Dr. Miyaji said. “He was nurtured by his mother to awaken to the world of Buddha’s boundless compassion.

“Each of you will have your own story of how the world of the Buddha’s boundless compassion shapes you and touches you,” he said. “It may not be through your mother, it may not be through your father, it could be through your spouse. It may happen through your pet dog or maybe when you’re encountering some random stranger. Perhaps it will be when you’re walking on the coast by the beach by yourself.

“You don’t know,” he continued. “But what we do know is that when we open our hearts and hear this calling voice of ‘Namu Amida Butsu,’ we suddenly realize that we are embraced just as we are in this world. We suddenly realize everyone else is embraced as they are, too. That changes things. It changes how we look at the world and other people.

“Now, all of a sudden, the person is not the enemy. The other person is trying to find truth as well. The person is living to his or her fullest — just as I am.

“We come to humility in seeing our faults, but at the same time, those same faults become the very source of understanding how we are embraced just as we are,” he said.

See Things Differently

Rev. Dr. Miyaji returned to the basketball analogy.

“But it’s different now,” he said. “When I go back in the game, I see things differently. I see things more on a macro scale. I see the enemy not as someone who I should hate, but those who are just working hard to live their lives as well. I see the pettiness of the differences we find in each other, like the color of the uniform that we wear or the mascot that’s on our jerseys.

“I see that the MVP player is just as important as a person who no one passes the ball to,” Rev. Dr. Miyaji continued. “I see what the parents want me to see, which is to find happiness amidst the chaos that I find myself in. And that’s the benefit of Jodo Shinshu. That’s the ‘why’ in Buddhism. There are no fronts in this tradition. If you cannot swallow the pill of understanding the nature of our bonbu-ness (foolishness), this religion has nothing to offer you.

“But if you can open your heart to the Buddha’s mind of great wisdom, you will see that everything and everyone is embraced in great compassion.”

Next: Rev. Maribeth “Smitty” Smith, a Minister’s Assistant with the Buddhist Temple of San Diego, will discuss the benefits of a teaching that embraces all and forsakes none. In August, Rev. Gary Shobo Jaskula, a Minister’s Assistant with the New York Buddhist Church and the Albany Buddhist Sangha, will address the same theme.


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