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That Other Shore and This Shore

During the season when Ohigan takes place, each temple plans its Ohigan service.

Ohigan is the day when the sun rises due east and sets due west during the spring and fall equinoxes. Amida Buddha's Pure Land is said to be a place located in the west, so people envision the Pure Land by watching the sunset in the west during the Ohigan season.

Knowing that there is a world where we can meet our Dharma friends again is the greatest joy for Nembutsu followers. Knowing the destination of our lives can change the way we spend it.

I once read such a story written by Japanese novelist Shinichi Hoshi. The story is a fictional tale about a future in which machines control everything in the world and teaches everyone how to think about everything in life. This is the story:

There was a man who couldn't stand the life he lived as a member of the machine society. One day, he attacked and broke some machines. After the attack, he was arrested by a machine. In that world, trials are also conducted by machines. There were no prisons in that world.

For his punishment, the man was taken in a spaceship to a planet far from Earth. After he got to the planet, he received a silver ball and some dry food. There was a button on the surface of the silver ball that released water by pressing it. This ball was the only device on the planet that provided water.

When the man was thirsty, he would press the button and he would get water. The dry food items given to him looked so small. But he realized that if he put water on it, it became the size of a single serving. He was given 100 dry food items. But, when he looked around, he saw that there was extra dry food scattered everywhere. Knowing this, he knew he could easily live on this planet and have plenty to eat.

However, he then realized it would not be possible to live on the planet for a long time because there was a limit to the number of times he could press the button on the silver ball to get water.

If that limit was exceeded, the silver ball would explode and blow up the surroundings. No one knew how long that would be. The number of times he could press the button could depend on the severity of crime he committed. But the man didn't know how many times he could press the button before the ball would explode. Therefore, he tried to drink as little water as possible. But he also needed water to prepare his food as well. Every time the man wanted water, he pressed the button in fear of death, which exhausted him.

Suddenly, he realized something. No one knows when their lives will end, even on Earth. Pushing that button to provide the water and food he needed is not much different from our daily lives. We make many small choices every day.

When we go to work, there is a possibility of getting into a traffic accident on the way. Even if we chose a route that avoided heavy traffic, there is still a chance that we could get hit by a falling rock. If we didn't eat anything, we could starve to death. But even if we ate everything, there is also a possibility of getting food poisoning. There are so many small choices in our daily lives and each choice has the potential to end our lives.

The silver ball represents a very simplistic version of the choices we make and their consequences. This man is not the only one who spends his days facing death.

All humans are in the same situation. We never know when our lives will end. After realizing this truth, the man was no longer afraid to press the button. That was the moment he accepted the impermanence of his life. Finally, one day after this acceptance, he decided to go ahead and take a shower. He kept pressing the button over and over to get enough water to take his shower.

This story tells us our happiness depends on how we view life. We all have this “button.” When the days go smoothly, we forget about our worries. And because humans want to live forever, they think the “button” is broken. But the truth is that life is fleeting and will eventually end.

Those who live with the Nembutsu know that we are walking on the path to the Pure Land. Knowing this brightens our lives. Shinran Shonin understood that instead of thinking about "How we can get to the Pure Land," "Amida Buddha is always thinking about how to bring us to the Pure Land." I feel that Shinran Shonin also envisioned the Pure Land when he saw the sun setting in the west, so I would like to recite the Nembutsu in this Ohigan season. Namo Amida Butsu.


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