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Rev. Ron Miyamura Delivers Eitaikyo Service Dharma Message

Editor’s note: The following is an edited transcript of the Eitaikyo Service Dharma message given by Rev. Ron Miyamura on Feb. 25 at the Buddhist Church of Sacramento. Rev. Miyamura recently retired as Resident Minister at the Midwest Buddhist Temple. The Wheel of Dharma is reprinting Rev. Miyamura’s message with his permission.


 

I would like to thank Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, President Terri Omori and President-to-be Steven Terusaki, the 2024 National Council Meeting Committee, and the Sacramento Betsuin for inviting me to speak this morning.


As you know, I recently retired.  And it has been the tradition to have one of the ministers who retired during the previous year to speak at the National Council Eitaikyo Service, and since I was the only one who retired last year, it fell to me.


And, I would like to explain that this talk is not a Dharma Talk or a Ho-wa. I know that I will be criticized by some for not giving a Ho-wa, rather, this will be a Kan-wa or “feeling talk” without the structure of a Ho-wa. It has been my preference to not quote something that Shinran wrote … rather, I take the challenge to show and explain Shin Buddhism in my own words.


This morning, I would like to share a few reflections about the 77 years that I have been around BCA, that is since I was born. I was born and raised in Penryn, which is a town about 27 miles up the road on Interstate 80.  


Penryn is the town where the Placer Buddhist Church is located. When I was growing up, there were many small, 30-or-40-acre orchards of plums and pears all over southern Placer County. The farms are gone now.


And that is how I would like to share my memories. Events that happened around me that shaped my life and to share some of the changes during my time.


First, I witnessed the demise of the small family orchards of Placer County.


I experienced the YBA activities of the 1960s with local, district and WYBL activities and conferences back in the day when 1,200 youths would attend a WYBL Conference.


I was at UC Berkeley when the term Asian American was first used as the name of the Asian American Political Alliance and we were part of the Third World Strike for ethnic studies in 1969. I was a teaching assistant for part of the first Asian American Studies class at Berkeley.


I was around the early days of taiko and Rev. Mas Kodani and Kinnara helped start the Midwest Buddhist Temple taiko group in 1977.


When I first became a Kaikyoshi in 1973, it was the later days of the pre-World War II Issei ministers.  Some of these ministers were giants in what they endured and what they accomplished. 

 

Ministers like Rev. Tamai, Rev. Masuoka, Rev. Hojo, Rev. Abiko, Rev. Seki, Rev. Kono and others. 

 

There was a time around the BCA’s 75th anniversary that we had about 25,000 members, and this year, we fell below 10,000 members.  Perhaps, I am witnessing the demise of BCA. I hope not.


This is the challenge for the next 10 years to build back our membership and to change the momentum to growth instead of shrinking.


The times are changing, and maybe we have gotten soft and comfortable.  


The shared hardships of poverty, and then the incarceration and the external forces against Buddhism hardened those leaders of 50 years ago.  


A more recent experience was to have Rev. Dr. Duncan Williams speak at the Midwest Buddhist Temple. This was right after the release of his book, “American Sutra.” This book is so significant because it shows history as written from a Buddhist perspective and how the Buddhists were treated in the camps.

 

But, today the dangers that BCA faces are internal and no longer external.  If there is a message that I would want to share, it would be that: Shin Buddhism faces dangers from within. 

 

The challenge is to adapt to the changes we face. If we cling to the past, and perhaps if we expect to go back to being an ethnic church, then we are doomed. Shin Buddhism needs to expand from the base of being a Japanese school of Buddhism to be a force in the pantheon of world religions.


Let me share a simple but changing moment in my ministry. During the 29 years when I was not an active BCA minister, I was allowed to be the minister to the Twin Cities Sangha in Minnesota. I would go up to Minneapolis only six times a year, and to do a few weddings and some funerals.  


I can remember one incident. I was called to conduct a funeral service for a non-member.  This lady was from Japan, I guess we would consider her a war bride.  Her husband had already passed away and the daughters found out that she wanted a Buddhist funeral, so they contacted the Twin Cities Sangha, and Frank Tsuchiya, the President of the Sangha at the time, called me and I remember going to a funeral home. There were 125 Caucasian Lutherans and two Buddhists, Frank and me.  


I knew that the ritual that I was trained to do and what I did in Chicago would not be meaningful to this group. On the fly, I changed and simplified the service.  


When I got home, I started asking other ministers and friends what was required and what was fluff.  Plus, I started explaining some of the ritual in the funeral message.  


This incident opened my eyes to doing things differently, to keep the core of the rituals and the Buddhist meaning of things, but to adjust and change the presentation.  


I am reminded that this was the core of Shinran’s message.  He was a revolutionary. He did not just accept what the sutras said literally, but he looked for what do they mean.


This continues to be our challenge today. We can read sutras and we can read words, but we need to know what do they mean. This is made more difficult because so much of what we know as Shin Buddhism is tied to the Japanese language, and we have to get past that so we can come to know what is the real message in Shinran’s understanding of Pure Land Buddhism.


I would like to close with one of my favorite stories. It is a Zen story, but certainly applied to everyone. I call this story, “A Full Tea Cup.”


There was a famous Zen master of a temple in Kyoto. And one day, one of the rich merchant members of the temple decided he wanted to know the meaning of life, so he decides to ask the local famous monk. He goes to the temple and makes an appointment to meet with the monk. 

 

On the appointed day and time, the rich merchant goes to the temple and is shown to a small tea room and is told to wait for the monk. He waits and he waits, and he gets agitated and goes out to find someone and demands to see the monk immediately. He is told to calm down and the monk will be there shortly. Again, the merchant waits and waits and he continues to get angry and is about to go out of the room when the monk slides open the door and enters quietly with a tray with a tea pot and two cups.  


But the merchant is so angry, and rails at the monk. 


“I am a busy merchant and I donate a lot of money to your temple, and you make me wait and wait,” he says.


The monk smiles quietly and says, “First, let us have a cup of tea.”  The monk places a tea cup in front of the upset merchant, and starts to pour the tea. And he pours and he pours. The tea overflows the cup and spills on the table.


The rich merchant is beside himself and he yells, “What are you doing, old man? You overfilled the cup and made a mess.”


The monk quietly looks at the merchant and says, “You are like that tea cup, so full of yourself, nothing else can go in.”


End of story.


We have to ask ourselves, “Are we like the tea cup, already so full of ourselves that Wisdom and Compassion cannot enter our lives?” We need to be an empty tea cup, so we can accept the Wisdom and Compassion of the Buddha.


Let us be an empty tea cup.


I would like to end my talk with a saying that I have found to be so very profound. I first heard it on a YouTube video of Rev. Bob Oshita addressing the California State Legislature, when he was the chaplain of the Legislature. I will repeat the words, but I do not have the perfect timing of Rev. Bob.


Namu Amida Butsu …. With gratitude and kindness beyond words.


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