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Seeing the True Form of the Buddha Through the Teachings

Editor’s note: Rev. Naomi Seijo Nakano gave the following Dharma message for the New Year’s service. We are reprinting her Dharma message with her permission.

“Although I have no arms and legs, how peaceful the day is that I am being wrapped in the Buddha's sleeve.”

— “The Hands and Feet of the Heart,” by Hisako Nakamura

We have seen many statues or scrolls of Amida Buddha. For some, these statues or scrolls are considered pieces of art. However, these "pieces of art" have more meaning for us. 

As we gaze on the image of the Buddha, we begin to believe this is what Amida Buddha must look like. However, the Buddha has no tangible features. We can see the artistry and skill of the painter or sculptor, yet it is the Buddha that touches our hearts and minds for the Buddha is everywhere and in everything. The Buddha is emptiness with no form, yet we are touched by Compassion and Wisdom.

Artisans have only heard of the characteristics and created the Buddha's image in their idea. Yet we do not truly know what the Buddha looks like. It is the teachings that we begin to awaken to and that is when we can begin to see the true form of the Buddha.

There are 32 major characteristics of the Buddha and one of the features of the Buddha is the hands. It is said that the feet and hands are finely webbed. The teachings are always in full grasp and offered to us to hear and learn from. As a young child, I was told that the left hand was inviting us to come and the right hand was the hand of giving of the teachings and hearing.

The forefinger and thumb of both hands are joined to form a circle. This circle represents the knowledge of teachings, which is unending. This circle of teachings has no beginning or end. 

If one looks at a wedding band, it is a circle that also has neither a beginning nor an end. Marriage is like the teachings; no matter what the circumstances or troubles that may be had, the Buddha encircles us. We can join anywhere in the circle and learn from that point of entry.

The right hand of the Buddha is a symbol of Wisdom and is also the Wisdom shared so that we too can gain knowledge which deepens our entrusting. The right hand shares and offers Wisdom, so that we can make choices of the paths to awaken to our true self.

The left palm of the Buddha is extended outward symbolizing Compassion. I have always seen the left hand as a cup offering us the opportunity to hear the teachings. When we look at the left hand, it seems to be an invitation calling us to come and be sheltered in the warmth of Compassion. When we enter the temple, we are filled with confusion and we bring our sufferings with us.

Pondering on the teachings, we put our hands together in Gassho in thankfulness and gratitude for non-judgment, non-discrimination and acceptance of "just as we are." It is the Buddha's heart that is offered as Compassion for those who are struggling and Wisdom shared with everyone.

At the San Luis Obispo temple, we only have a scroll. However, this scroll still reminds us of what was heard, can be heard and to be thankful for being able to hear. Being imperfect beings, we live with anger, greed, ignorance and ego. 

It is our ego-driven self that can cause deafness, our sufferings and struggles. We cannot always remember the teachings, but reflecting on the hands of the Buddha, we can be assured that we are never alone. We can be assured of the Compassion and Wisdom that guides and directs us in the search of what we truly are. We put our hands together in gratitude and thankfulness and the joining of the hands is bringing Compassion and Wisdom together as one.

It is the new year and we are given time to deepen our hearing and awaken ourselves to the Compassion and Wisdom of the Buddha. It is our responsibility to open our eyes and ears to the teachings and to look within and choose. May the new year bring you peace and the heart of the Buddha.



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