I happened to be watching an instructional music video on YouTube, and the instructor said, “The reason why we make music is because we want people to feel something.” I thought this was a wonderful statement and that the same could be said about Buddhism.
Music can make us tap our feet, sway our bodies, jump for joy, or move us to tears. It can make us reflective, it can take us back to our childhood, it can resonate with us, seemingly to the very marrow of our bones. I still get choked up when I conduct a cemetery service in which there is a military honor guard and they play “Taps.” Such a simple melody, but it is so sad and so moving.
If we apply what this music instructor said, then I think we could make the same statement about the Dharma. The reason why we want to share the Dharma is because we want people to feel something.
When I give a sermon or Dharma talk, I hope that the Sangha is feeling something. I hope that they find the message either interesting, moving, thought-provoking, inspiring, enjoyable, or gratifying in some manner.
That is the challenge for a minister, to try to give a message in which people feel something. If I put everyone to sleep, then I have not done my job. But, I guess you could say that too is feeling something, to feel sleepy.
To me, the Dharma must resonate within us, like when we listen to our favorite music. It must hit our hearts as well as our minds.
When I studied in Japan, I had the great fortune of listening to Professor Takamaro Shigaraki for three years. His lectures were tremendous. I took one of his classes, an Outline of Jodo Shinshu, all three years that I was at Ryukoku University. I don’t think that I fell asleep in class, not even once. Sometimes his lectures would challenge you, make you think deep about yourself, in a way that I had never considered before. Other times, his lectures would be so inspiring that I would feel like dancing and singing on my bike ride home from school. And there were times that his lecture moved me, and everyone in the class, to tears.
I recall once Sensei was talking about the great matter of life and death, and how he had to experience that first hand. When his mother died of tuberculosis as a young boy, his family had to prepare for her funeral and cremation.
In those days before World War II, the cremation was not done by the funeral home or mortuary like it is done now. Sensei said that he had to gather the firewood for the cremation. How sad that must have been, to go into the forest to gather firewood for your own mother’s cremation. He said that sometimes it is hard, not to die, but to live.
If Shin Buddhism is to make an impact in this country, its message must resonate with people. People have to feel something from the Dharma, from how we share and present the Dharma. That is our challenge. That is our task.
Of course, I am not saying that Buddhism is only emotion or feelings either. Our Dharma messages should be more than entertainment, more than like going to a concert or a sporting event. When the Dharma hits our heart, then it transforms us, opens our hearts and minds to truth and to ourselves.
Just like music is something universal, and all people of all cultures love music, so too, the Shin Buddhist teachings have a universal message that can resonate with all people. As we listen to the Dharma and the Nembutsu, may the Dharma make us feel something profound in our lives.