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This Is the Way

This fall, I spoke at the Southern District Dharma School Teachers Conference hosted by the Orange County Buddhist Church.  


The theme for the conference was taken from the popular TV series, “The Mandalorian,” which is a spinoff of the “Star Wars” movies. In that show, there are a group of noble superhero warriors called Mandalorians. They have to follow a strict creed that doesn’t allow them to take off their helmets … ever. Their motto is: “This is the way.”  


Buddhism is very much a “way” or a “path.”  We have expressions like “Butsudo,” which can mean the path of the Buddha, meaning the path that Shakyamuni Buddha tred, and it can also mean our path to become Buddha. The Chinese character for “the path” or “the way” is pronounced “michi,” by itself, or “do” in a compound, and it can be translated as “the way.”  


This same character is used in all of the martial arts and cultural arts of Japan. The martial arts of judo, kendo, and aikido all use this character. A tea ceremony is called “sado,” or the way of tea. Ikebana or flower arrangement is called “kado,” or the way of flowers.  


In Shin Buddhism, we also use this same character for “the way.”  We use the term, “Nembutsudo,” or the way or path of the Nembutsu. Our life of Nembutsu, our path of the Nembutsu, is a life of listening to the Nembutsu, saying the Nembutsu, and reflecting on the meaning of the Nembutsu.  


There is another use of this character for “the way” or “the path” in Buddhism. It is used for the term “gudo,” which means to “seek the way,” and it is used for the term “dendo,” which means “to transmit or propagate the way.”  


My Sensei in Japan, Professor Shigaraki, used to speak of this a lot.  He emphasized that there can be no transmission of the way, or “dendo” unless there is a deep “seeking” of the way, “gudo.”  Seeking the path, and transmitting the path, are like two pistons of an engine moving in synchronism.  


Buddhist education has that two-fold dimension. Study classes, seminars, lectures, discussions, or Dharma talks, are opportunities to listen to the Dharma, to dig deep into the teachings, and they are opportunities to share the teachings, to transmit the teachings to others.  


That is why Buddhist education is not just for the newcomer to Buddhism.  Learning, listening, and seeking is a lifelong process, a lifelong undertaking.  Like the Mandalorian who vows never to take off their helmet, our “creed” in Shin Buddhism is to be a lifelong listener and seeker of the Dharma. That is “the way” of the Nembutsu.  


As a minister, I have had the wonderful privilege of knowing such lifelong seekers, listeners of the Dharma. At OCBC, the late Sachi Ochiai was such an individual. She attended every Sunday, every study class, every seminar, without fail. I used to teach Introduction to Buddhism at OCBC, and every time I taught it, Sachi would take the class.  


I would say to her, “Sachi, you have taken this class maybe eight times. I don’t think you need to take this class.” But Sachi would reply, “Oh no.  Every time I take it, I learn something new.”  


By her attendance, people new to Buddhism were also touched by her spirit of seeking and learning. Sachi would learn from them, from their questions and sharing in class. The new people also learned a lot from Sachi, from her humble spirit of learning, and of her lifelong spirit of seeking.  


Like the Mandalorian, we can also say, “This is the way.”  To seek, to listen, to learn, to share the Dharma. This is the way.

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