The New York Buddhist Church



Copyright © New York Buddhist Church

331-332 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10025
Phone: 212-678-0305
Fax: 212-662-4502

Each week on this page we'll post Rev. Earl's shared thoughts and messages

Is there anyone who has not been perplexed in making decisions? Sometimes the choices are simple, sometimes they are difficult.  What goes into making our decisions?  We rely on a number of things-- personal perceptions, experiences, and beliefs, what weve been taught and what is familiar. Or sometimes we want to go with something that is entirely new and different.  Whatever and however we choose, we need to keep in mind that there are consequences in our decisions that will have an impact on the future, our own and those of others.

 Were in the middle of a devastating global pandemic.  Should I continue wearing a mask?  Should I continue practicing social distancing?  Should I continue to wash my hands frequently?  Is it okay to travel?  Theres a presidential election coming up.  Which candidate should I choose?  To make decisions  that lead to fewer regrets, its important to understand the issues from various points of view, to be open to hearing the perspective of others and not to be judgmental.  Better decisions often come through expanding ones thoughts.  Even though we seem to be living in a so-called me world where people are focusing on themselves, we need wisdom which can be a guide as we consider the impact of our thoughts, words, actions and decisions on others, and on ourselves.

Id like to tell a story about corned beef hash.  A man has a craving for some, but doesnt have any on his pantry shelf, so he goes to the local supermarket to buy some.  When he gets there, he realizes there are many different varieties as well as many different brands.  How should he decide which one to pick?  Does he go with the one he usually gets?  Does he go with the one someone else has recommended?  Does he go with the one with the appealing label?  Does he go with the one thats most advertised?  Even choosing a can of corned beef raises a number of considerations!

Decisions, decisions, were constantly faced with them.  When it comes right down to it, making decisions is a very private and personal thing, and even though some decisions might even be a matter of life and death, its not always immediately clear which one would lead to a better result. 

In Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha ended his years of asceticism when, undeterred by the precept of taking anything from a woman, he made the decision to accept a bowl of kheer, a milk-rice pudding, from Sujata, a village girl.  That decision and eating and drinking the kheer gave him the strength and nourishment he needed to enter into 49 days of meditation which led to his enlightenment.  His followers thought that he had broken the rules, yet wondered why he looked so different.   What they didnt realize was that in accepting Sujatas compassion, which transcends gender, he experienced a deep sense of serenity and calm that now flowed from Shakyamuni and transformed his appearance.  He looked deep within, touched the ground, and was able to awaken to the oneness of all things.  With this deep sense of awakening, he became conscious of everything that makes life possible and recognized that there was no separation between himself and everything else in the world.  His life, expressed in his teachings, is a means by which we can see a bigger picture of our own existence and responsibilities.  How grateful I am.

We recently observed the Japanese Buddhist holiday Ohigan during Sunday services at NYBC and Seabrook.  Ohigan, celebrated twice a year during the autumn and spring equinoxes, means to reach the other shore.  It always reminds me of the parable of the Two Rivers and the White Path.  Its one of my favorites because the traveler, pursued by bandits and wild beasts, in order to escape them must navigate between two different types of rivers, one with high waves and one with high flames.  Dividing the two rivers is a narrow white path which the traveler chooses to follow, stepping forward slowly and carefully, as he listens to the voices of both Amida Buddha calling him to come to the other shore, and Shakyamuni Buddha encouraging him to go.  With each step the path gets wider and wider, allowing him to entrust in the voice that is calling him, and also in the voice that is telling him not to be afraid. 

When we make decisions of our own, it is everyones responsibility as living beings on this Earth to open our hearts and minds to what is true and real, to awaken to different things, deeper thoughts, and to listen to the voice that is calling.  Namo Amida Butsu.

Will life ever be the same?  I have heard this question over and over in the last six months since the coronavirus turned our lives upside down, forcing us to do things differently and to reorder our priorities.  Its been an intensely challenging time for everyone.  With the number of Covid-19 cases in the United States approaching seven million, and sadly, with nearly 200,000 deaths, it is evident to me that we will have even more challenging times ahead.

But when you really think about it, weve been through this before.  Not only just a pandemic, its been 100 years since the last one, but weve also experienced wars, economic upheaval, political divisiveness, social unrest, climate crises, devastating wildfires, terrorist attacks, you name it.  I am reminded of all of these things from the persistent news headlines, and also because recently we marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, and the 19th anniversary of 9/11.  Both were earth-shattering events that have had a deep and long-lasting impact on our lives.   These impacts have had consequential and transformative effects on every aspect of the way we all live.

On the Sunday before our summer break, we held our annual Hiroshima & Nagasaki Memorial Service.  It usually takes place outside the New York Buddhist Church, in front of the 15-foot bronze statue of our founder, Shinran Shonin.  This year, because of Covid-19, the service was held inside, live streaming from the hondo.  The imposing statue survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast of August 6, 1945, a mile from ground zero.  It has been standing in front of our temple since 1955 as a symbol of lasting hope for world peace.   It was donated by Japanese industrialist Seiichi Hirose who together with Reverend Hozen Seki arranged to have it shipped to New York City.  I greatly missed being able to hold the service in person outside with the sangha this year, and was deeply moved when the pastor of a nearby Christian church, along with a few parishioners, stopped by in the afternoon to place flowers in front of the statue, in unity. 

This past Sunday we had our September Shotsuki Hoyo Memorial Service, and we also held our 9/11 Memorial Remembrance.   I cant imagine what it must have been like living in New York on that terrible day.  I was living in Hawaii at the time, and I still remember how some people were calling for immediate and swift retaliation.  We need to bust them up, they were saying.  I wondered, if we did that, what would it prove?  Would it really resolve anything?  Will we ever learn?  From a Buddhist standpoint, repeating the same harmful thing again and again only exemplifies our ignorance.  Pursuing our grievances, whether theyre small ones or large ones, never gets us anywhere.  We dont have to go far. Grievances can happen within our own homes just as easily as on a global scale.   We need wisdom to awaken to the causes and conditions. 

When I moved to New York City in 2014, it affected me profoundly to learn that after 9/11, many, many people would come to our temple just to look at Shinran Shonin, and to reflect upon the statues strong resiliency and inspiring symbolism.

Admittedly, each time something horrible happens people ask if life will ever be the same.  Our concerns are driven by fear, fear of the unknown.  But through past catastrophic events such as WWII and 9/11 along with this current pandemic, weve been given the opportunity to reflect upon the self and to gain deeper insight into the values and teachings of the Buddha which give us hope.   

In his last teaching the Buddha urged us to recognize the transitory nature of life, impermanence, when he said, the point of the teachings is to control your own mind.  Keep your mind from greed, and you will keep your behavior right, your mind pure and your words faithful.  By always thinking about the transiency of your life, you will be able to resist greed and anger, and will be able to avoid all evils.

I realize that I cannot control the thoughts, speech and actions of others, but I can strive to control my own.  We are all in the same situation.  By example, we can each make a difference.  As human beings, we tend to dwell on the tragedies and overlook all the good things.  By accepting the constancy of change, we can embrace our joys as we endure our tragedies.  Even the worst of situations is not forever.  Everything is subject to change.  The question is what the outcome of the change will be.

None of us can control the future either, but we always need to remember that the decisions we make today will have an impact on the future.  The teachings of the Buddha can be a guide in how we consider our decisions.  We simply need wisdom and compassion.  It is the path of the Nembutsu, the possible means by which we as fellow travelers can begin to open our hearts and minds, that can help awaken us to the voice that is calling.   

Namo Amida Butsu

Hey, get real.  Why do some people often say one thing but do another?  As the Buddha taught, To utter pleasant words without practicing them is like being a fine flower without fragrance.  That saying reminds me of the need to walk the talk, of our need to awaken to the responsibilities we have to ourselves, and for others.

But how can we do that?  With everything thats going on outside right now, not only with the pandemic, but economically, socially, and politically as well, how can we conduct ourselves in such a way that others will trust us to practice what we preach?  How can we ensure that our actions are in accord with our speech and our thoughts?

From a Buddhist perspective, we learn to look inside ourselves for guidance.  My father used to say hollow can make big noise.  He was referring to the barrels filled with oil that our business in Hawaii needed for the burners.  The barrels came in 55-gallon drums and he would frequently check to see how much oil was in each barrel by hitting the sides with a metal rod.  When full, the sound was soft and flat, not loud at all.  When empty, it would make a loud noise.  Once the barrel was empty, it was time for the oil company to come and fill it up again. 

I am reminded that when we feel empty inside, its time to step back, to find the balance between whats going on outside to whats going on inside, and hopefully harmoniously set the rhythm in our hearts and minds back in motion.  When were content with ourselves, when were filled with an understanding of who and what we are, we dont need to make loud noises to make ourselves heard or to prove ourselves.  Its enough to just be me.  When we can achieve that, by being mindful, by recognizing our attachments, by believing in ourselves, then what we say and do has an authenticity to it that will sound true to others.

Although most of us are physically apart, we can still reach out and interact with each other.  We can still have empathy, and share our feelings and experiences.  The Sangha is so important!  The greater community is so important!  WE ARE ALL STILL CONNECTED!  The main thing is to come as you are even though we cant do it in person right now.  We need to wake up to the time and reality of the situation and then make a sincere effort to join together, however we can, to continue to lead meaningful lives despite the current disruptions and uncertainties.  We need to never forget that we are in this together.  Being completely honest with oneself is key to awakening to reality as it truly is, and can have a powerful and positive impact on others.   When we are honest with ourselves, we cant help but be honest with others, building a sense of mutual respect, trust, and understanding.  While it is important to be true to ourselves, it is equally important to be true to others, by our actions, our speech, and our thoughts.

It doesnt happen overnight!  It is a journey!  We need to educate ourselves and be aware of whats going on around us, and especially within us.  In Buddhism, the Dharma is meant to help us to truly see ourselves as we are, not to control us.  If were going to genuinely and responsibly walk the talk, we also need to walk the path, the path toward liberation from our sufferings, becoming an example for others.  As Shakyamuni had suggested, Im no different from you, if I can, so can you.  The good news is that were not walking it alone!  Amida Buddha is walking the path with us, with a promise to embrace us and never forsake us.  The inconceivable power of the Nembutsu connects us with past, present, and future, and helps our inner lives to awaken to ourselves and to the reality of the situation in each moment of our lives.  We just need to gratefully and patiently listen to Amidas voice that is ceaselessly calling us, broadening our perceptions that we can honestly and joyfully share with everyone else.   Not only do we need to be open to hearing it, we need to first awaken, and then accept it.  It is a process, and it is real!

 Namo Amida Butsu.

The Covid-19 pandemic and all the fallout from it-- the cratering of  the economy globally, severe unemployment which has led to food insecurity and homelessness in greater numbers-- and a renewed focus on race and social inequities arising from recent events are forcing all of us to change in small and significant ways.  Is there anyone who has not changed in some way?  I ask myself on a personal level, is our current situation bringing out the best in me, or is it bringing out the worst in me?  And how will it affect my future?

It has been a challenging time.  In some ways, we are all treading in the dark, uncertain how the new normal will evolve and whether we will ever return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle.  But this time has provided me with the opportunity to reflect on how I have changed and to try and understand the importance of awakening to ones true self which is one of the goals of Buddhism.   As we discussed at our last Saturday Dharma Gathering and Study Class, this idea of finding oneself is not limited to  Buddhism.  The need to understand who and what we are can be found in many religions, as well as in philosophy and in literature, suggesting the universality of the well-known phrase, know thyself.  However, as we hopefully strive to become better individuals, to bring out the best in ourselves, we quite often use a religious or spiritual path to achieve self-awareness.

In Buddhism, to be able to realize the true self can lead to enlightenment.  In order to do that, we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and honestly recognize who we are and how we are perceived by others.  Sometimes I can be my own worst enemy because my ego and my false self get in the way.  I need to step back and be willing to acknowledge my ignorance, change my perspectives, and accept my imperfections and responsibilities.   In Buddhism, if we can get past our ego that often blinds us to our true selves, then I think we would be amazed to discover the Buddha within ourselves!

I often forget that countless numbers of causes and conditions have brought me to this very moment in my life, but the way I sense there has been a profound change in me without necessarily immediately recognizing it for what it is, I notice that my thoughts and my speech begin to change.  I feel unexplainably different.  I find it difficult to go back to my previous self.  It is a form of enlightenment that awakens me to a truth.  For me, rebirth is not limited to when you die.  Rebirth can take place whenever we awaken to the reality of the circumstances and challenges we are faced with.  Hopefully this transformation can develop positive change within oneself, to the benefit of others, creating a better future.  We cannot make a complete transformation of course, we are still foolish beings, but slowly by slowly, our disposition changes and evolves, ideally to something bigger, not smaller.  It can go both ways!

The pandemic has forced us to make many personal sacrifices, to give up certain freedoms that we have always taken for granted, and to change the way we lead our lives.  But its important to keep in mind that our current situation will not last forever.  We still need to listen to the experts and follow the guidelines, but at the same time not knowing how this pandemic will evolve should not make us anxious or feel out of control.  If we can look deep inside rather than outside to find answers, we are closer to discovering our true selves. Uncertainty and not knowing in advance the outcome of many situations is inherent in life.  Understanding the constancy of uncertainty is in a way knowing, creating a balance against the fear of the unknown.  Our hearts and minds become more liberated and open to trying to grasp the true meaning and significance of wisdom and compassion.  The awesomeness of self-realization has gotten through!  We cant explain it, but it is something we can feel

When we seek to awaken to our true selves we begin opening up to knowing and respecting others, and becoming less fearful of what lies ahead.  The teachings of the Buddha are intended to lessen ones own suffering and that of others.  Nobody is perfect.  But even so, how grateful I am that by entrusting myself to The Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life, I become aware that we are all accepted unconditionally, just as we are, to be embraced and never forsaken.  How well do you know your true self?  

 Namo Amida Butsu.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, phrases like thinking outside the box and coloring outside the lines have a more significant meaning.  As opposed to expressing idealistic aspirations, we have in fact had to do things a little differently, to be creative, to be innovative.  And thats been rewarding in many ways!  As long as we are mindful of others, we remember the fundamental aspects of our goals and act with wisdom and compassion, then seizing  the opportunity during this time and taking new approaches in doing long established things can be transformational in a good way.   We are able to go beyond past limitations, and realize our potential to hear and make the Dharma more accessible.  We can connect and become a stronger and greater community.

We have all had to make necessary and innovative adjustments in order to stay connected, and to continue sharing the Dharma while staying within the official guidelines.   The concern of the Board has been, and is always, about the wellness and safety of our members, guests, and the community.  It has not been easy, and has required steadfastness, patience, and understanding by all.   With thanks to the New York Buddhist Church Board, the Ministerial team, the Religious Education Department, and members of our Sangha, by using technology, we have been able to continue without interruption our Sunday services and our weekly meditation sessions and study classes.  Everyone can also enjoy a virtual coffee hour after the Sunday service.  Recently, we have also had the privilege of hearing from outstanding Buddhist speakers through the Eastern Buddhist League Virtual Lecture Series, which creatively replaced the in-person EBL conference that NYBC was scheduled to host over Labor Day weekend.  More information can be found under Calendar of Events on our NYBC website (newyorkbuddhistchurch.org).  How grateful I am for Sangha members and everyone thinking outside the box, and pitching in to keep us going smoothly!

Last Saturday I attended a drive-thru bon dance event at our sister temple, the Seabrook Buddhist Temple in New Jersey.  It was my first time out of New York City in months!  This year is their 75th anniversary in the community, and I congratulate them all on how innovatively they were still able to observe this significant annual religious and cultural tradition together, honoring and celebrating our ancestors.  It was very heartwarming to see everyone so happy and grateful, repeatedly saying thank you!  By the way, our parent organization, the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) is holding a Virtual Bon Dance on August 15.  Please check the Community and Facebook pages on our NYBC website (newyorkbuddhistchurch.org) for more information.

For me, the NYBC, Seabrook, and BCA activities are all examples of upaya (skillful or expedient means) which in Buddhism can include the use of unconventional means to become enlightened and to fulfill the goals of the Dharma teachings.  When hearts and minds come together to create a sense of joy then we become one with the Dharma.  I am reminded of the Zen image of a finger pointing at the moon.  The moon represents universal teachings and the finger points us to the truth, the skillful means by which we can awaken to the essence of the teachings, going beyond words.  The whole point is to make people aware of the Dharma, even through unconventional means if they are applicable and applied with wisdom and compassion.    

Great discoveries are made when out of necessity people do things differently, and when they go outside the box, in art, in music, in science.  Who knows?  Maybe well have a vaccine for Covid-19 by the end of the year!   But meanwhile, the virus is just being the virus and has changed our perspective on what it means to be ill, and in the way we live our lives.  Its purpose is to thrive, and it does so by spreading a highly contagious, sometimes fatal sickness amongst humans.  One important way to fight it is to have a sense of whats real through the call of the nembutsu, to act appropriately and to do things differently, at least for now.  Nothing is forever, not even the pandemic.  So hang in there, the answers are in the teachings of the Buddha, which emphasize wisdom. 

Namo Amida Butsu.

This year the Fourth of July just felt different.  I spent the whole day indoors, thinking about the impact and uncertainties of Covid-19, and reflecting on the effects the recent widespread social and civic demonstrations and protests will have on our countrys future.   These past four months have tested our resilience.  Although I truly believe we have come far in combatting Covid-19 and recognizing the injustices borne by so many in this country, I ask myself,  where are we going, and how can we create a better tomorrow?

 My personal hope for America is that there is greater understanding and unity amongst its many diverse peoples, that we are able to put all the health, social, economic, and political issues in perspective and work together toward resolving problems and fulfilling common goals.  It seems to me that how we perceive everything, and each other, is critical for a successful future.

We can all benefit by reevaluating our perceptions.  Why are some people taking the pandemic seriously, and some are not?  Why are some people satisfied with the directions the country is taking, and others are not?  Do I truly understand each persons view?  Or am I just looking narrowly from my own point of view?  Am I looking at a big picture, or am I just looking at an ego-centric picture?  Im easily confused.

A popular Buddhist story provides some insights about perceptions.  It is the story of the blind men and the elephant, and this version comes from "The Teaching of Buddha" published by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Society for the Promotion of Buddhism), Tokyo:

Once upon a time a king gathered some blind men about an elephant and asked them to tell him what an elephant was like.  The first man felt a tusk and said an elephant was like a giant carrot; another happened to touch an ear and said it was like a big fan; another touched its trunk and said it was like a pestle; still another, who happened to feel its leg, said it was like a mortar; and another, who grasped its tail said it was like a rope.  Not one of them was able to tell the king the elephants real form.

For me, the story teaches us the importance of considering all sides, all points of view, in order to understand the true reality of a thing or situation, the wholeness.  The story doesnt say, but what if the blind men had been allowed to touch more than one part of the elephant? What if they had shared their experience and perception?  By discussion and listening to each other, would they collectively have come to a different conclusion?  Together, would they have been able to reach an agreement on what the elephant was really like?  We need to take down the walls we build by our misguided perceptions.   If out of respect, I can take down my walls in order for you to come into my space, and to make it easier for me to come into your space, then transformative change for each of us has a greater chance of occurring.  Think of the possibilities that transformative change has for each of us and for the world as a whole!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm guilty of not seeing things as clearly as I should.  My ego gets in the way, and my perceptions can get cloudy.  Is one person's perception more accurate and better than another's?  Actually, we can suffer from other people's perceptions as well as from our own.  How grateful I am for the four Noble Truths that enable us to see reality as it is, and for the Noble Eightfold Path among which "Right View" is especially important for making appropriate decisions.   There is nothing more difficult than to entrust in the Buddhas vow, but it is the means by which we can evolve our whole being, even our perspectives.  It can transform our actions, our speech, and our thoughts.  By taking refuge we enter the path toward a personal awakening that takes us out of the darkness and into the light so that we can better understand everything, and each other, more clearly.

  Namo Amida Butsu.

Is there anybody who can honestly say he/or she has no faults?  I know that one of mine is VANITY, I want others to think I look good.  Last week I wrote about how I was finally able to get a haircut when Phase 2 started in NYC, but because I had to go to a different barber from my former one, the haircut was not what I was expecting.  I had been eagerly looking forward to it because my hair had grown long enough to make a small ponytail, but my first reaction was to monku (complain).  I ended up laughing at my foolishness after earnestly asking myself what did I really want?  Instead of being happy, I was grumbling, because I didnt think it made me look good enough!

In Buddhist tradition, hair is a symbol of vanity.  Being so anxious for a haircut brought back memories of receiving Tokudo ordination in 1973 to become a minister.  Part of the ceremony was to shave my head, which I did.  Different schools of Buddhism all observe the same ritual but in Jodo Shinshu, its an option after ordination.  The belief and symbolism is that by shaving your head, you become detached from the mundane world and enter into the realm of the Buddhas where there is no vanity.  I was living and studying at the Kaikyoshi Kenshu-sho Study Center for Overseas Ministry in Kyoto and soon after the ceremony was over the dorm master suggested that I get a cap for my newly-shaven head.  Being young and foolish, I didnt think it was necessary in the summer.   I proudly went about doing my tasks in the community with a shaven head so that everyone would know I was a minister.  One day my head was very, very hot and when I looked in the mirror, I realized it was sunburned.  So I bought a cap!  Foolishly, even with a shaved head, I had let my vanity, my ego, get the best of me.

Our faults arise from our ego, our human desire for more and more, often obstructing us from practicing the Noble Eightfold Path.  However, by more closely following the Path, our desires and our sufferings can be better recognized and understood, and can lead us to the realization that how we project our inner selves to others is far more important than our outward appearance.  Moreover, Buddhism helps us to find a balance.  In Buddhism, appearances and accomplishments are pointless if we dont also seek to awaken to the Buddha-nature that is inside each and every one of us.  I ask myself these days, if I have to wear my robes to remind people that I am a minister do I really deserve the privilege to be one? 

As we look at whats happening in the world today, the pandemic, collapse of the global economy, the rise of a broader recognition of systemic and structural racism and social injustice, we ask why is it that discrimination happens?  Why is it that people cause pain and suffering to others?  To me, it is because we are not enlightened.  Our egotism and self-centeredness, our vanity, keep us from perceiving what is true and real.  They also keep us from seeing others in their true light, their Buddha-nature.  In the eyes of the Buddha, everyone is equal. 

The Buddha does not discriminate.  In Buddhism, we believe that everyone is valued, and should be treated equally.  In our New York Buddhist Church Vision Statement we seek to be an accepting and compassionate community and in our Values Statement we listen, speak and act with compassion, respect and gratitude because we believe everyone can be enlightened.  Recently, NYBC took a stand with Black Lives Matter and at this past Sunday service, we also celebrated the LGBTQ community, noting that June is Pride Month and had the annual NYC Pride March not been cancelled, we would have participated in it, which we have done since 2015.

No one is without faults, especially me, but the essence of the Buddha Dharma is that it helps us to wake up to our egotistical and foolish nature.  Fortunately, the teachings also help us recognize and develop our strengths, to truly understand who and what we are, so that we can focus on becoming more enllightened and awakened to our Buddha nature for the benefit of all.  The Primal Vow of Amida, the vow to never forsake and to embrace all beings unconditionally makes no distinctions.  We are reminded of this Vow by just saying the name.   Just say the name.

 Namo Amida Butsu.

As concerns continue to grow about the worldwide social, health, economic and racial issues, I keep asking myself, what can I do?  With the meaningless fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Atlanta, global coronavirus cases topping eight million, and the Covid-19 death rates in the United States nearing 120,000, it seems to be all happening at once, causing great suffering and confusion. I feel helpless, and I ask, is there anything I can do?

 From a Buddhist perspective, I am reminded of the Buddhas teaching about what to do if a viper lives in your room. Shakyamuni  taught in his last words, if a viper lives in your room and you wish to have a peaceful sleep, you must first chase it out.
 
In my view, the viper manifests the results of The Three Poisons that cause suffering, the vices of greed, anger, and ignorance. By getting rid of the poisonous viper, we awaken our minds to practice the virtues of their opposites, selflessness, compassion, and wisdom. If I allowed the viper to stay in my room, I would be in constant fear and the suffering would never cease, but I have a choice. For me, I would chase the viper out. What would you do?
 
At this time of necessary change, deep listening (monpo) and contemplative learning should guide our thoughts, words, and actions. We need to further educate ourselves about the causes and conditions of these serious issues. We need to find ways to bring us together, and not apart. I cant talk about things unless I have some information to help me understand what Im talking about. Concerned, yes, because I care.
 
When I was growing up in Hawaii, the best time of the day was lunch. Kaukau time, mealtime, was, and still is, my favorite time of the day. I brought lunch to school and my classmates from various ethnicities brought their lunches too. Often their dishes looked tastier and more interesting than mine. Hey, you like try? I would ask in pidgin English, our common language, and soon we would be sharing our lunches. We all took pride in what our moms had made for us, and as they sampled the Japanese food that I had brought, I was enjoying new culinary delights, and learning about new cultures. Along with the delicious food, we also had enriching conversations. We became fast friends, poking fun at our differences and each other, bonding, and saying, eh, us go today,  mo betta den going by youself. 
 
Lately, I have noticed that alongside bad news, we also have good news. New cases of the virus have declined in New York, and scientists and researchers around the world are working hard to produce a successful vaccine. Thank goodness for the efficiency of modern medicine! The amazing representation of the tremendous diversity of America is shown by the thousands of people from all 50 states, including my home state of Hawaii (and even my hometown of Hilo) who are protesting. As a result, wide-ranging police reforms are being proposed throughout the country. Many of the demonstrators were protesting police violence against transgender people of color, and in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes equality for the LGBTQ community, protecting gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. 
 
At this past Sunday service I congratulated New Yorkers for following the guidelines that helped slow down the spread of the virus here. Clearly were not out of the woods yet, and the economy will take a while to recover, but Im very proud of all the people who took their personal responsibilities to heart. We have become good examples.
 
 In these uncertain times, when were wondering what we can do, lets remember that in his last teaching the Buddha instructed Make of yourself a light. The truth of that light is always deep within us, trying to awaken us to the essence of the Dharma which connects us to the realm of the Buddhas and to all sentient beings. We are all embraced unconditionally.  So let us also ask ourselves, am I becoming a good example for others?

Namo Amida Butsu

At last Sundays service I read aloud New York Buddhist Churchs statement that denounces all forms of racism, oppression, and injustice, and takes a stand with Black Lives Matter and all people who peacefully protest social injustice and inequality and who seek a more equal and just society.  The full statement can be found on our NYBC Facebook Page and NYBC webpage at www.newyorkbuddhistchurch.org. 

I have been deeply gratified by the positive support of the statement and urge you to read it.  It was written in response to the horrific death of George Floyd who lost his life with a police officers knee on his neck for over eight minutes as he gasped for breath and repeatedly said I cant breathe.  This tragic event sparked the mainly peaceful global movement of anti-racist demonstrations which continue, as does the fearful coronavirus pandemic .

While our statement was prompted by George Floyds shocking death, it is vitally important to acknowledge that racism in any form, and discrimination against any group because of its race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities and gender is unjust, and causes suffering for everyone.   Presently the focus is on George Floyd whose death hopefully can become a catalyst for meaningful change.  Equally outraged and hopefully united, a strong need for a more just and inclusive society is being expressed by a broad diversity of our nations population who turned out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of his passing.

I find the emotional outpouring of such a desire for justice and equality to be inspiring and life-changing.  If I werent so strictly following the stay-at-home guidelines, I would be out there marching with the demonstrators.  Growing up in Hawaii we certainly had discrimination but I have never before witnessed it first-hand to such an extreme.  Watching and listening to the recurrences of racially motivated injustices gives me a greater insight into the sufferings of all human beings, and how each of us deals with it.  It has given me a deeper sense of awareness of the reality of such suffering, and it has forced me to look deep within and ask myself, am I fulfilling my own responsibilities?   These occurrences have awakened me to the need to walk the talk and to respect and deeply listen to everyones views with an open heart and mind, monpo.

Also on Sunday I spoke of how learning so vividly about the black experiences in America has awakened in me a stronger sense of empathy.  It has also developed in me a greater appreciation for the hardships my own grandfather endured working as a contract laborer on a sugar plantation in Hawaii.  He and my grandmother came from Hiroshima. Life on the plantations was very difficult for the laborers, with horrible living and working conditions, extremely low pay, and brutality from the plantation overseers, known as Luna, who carried and wielded whips, and did not hesitate to use them.  My father told me stories about my grandfather, including one about the time my grandfather in anger and frustration grabbed the whip away from a Luna after hed had enough of the inhumane treatment, spurred on by the miserable conditions.  

My sincere wish is that we can reach a point where the history of injustice stops repeating itself, where we close the gaps in our differences, get rid of the labels, and we all consider ourselves one family, ohana.  When we see that were all in this existence on earth together, and that what happens to us happens to others elsewhere, just like it does in the concept of the story Indras Net, we will attain a greater understanding  of the meaning of our lives.  Indras Net is a metaphor for the profound cosmology and outlook that permeates Hinduism and later Buddhism.  Indras Net symbolizes the connectedness and interdependency of all members of the Universe. Stretching throughout the universe, at each point where the imaginary nets threads meet we are able to visualize our interconnectedness as one glittering jewel reflects another individual jewel, then another, then another, together forming  a whole, a oneness.   As I see it, thats what the teachings of all Buddhas are about.  So let us ask ourselves how do we put the truths of the Dharma into action today to recognize the deep and powerful interconnectedness that exist between all of us?

Namo Amida Butsu.

In re-opening businesses, churches and temples, and other places where we can gather to worship, play, be entertained and engage in commercial activities throughout New York City, State and other parts of the nation, I believe that it is absolutely critical that we also open up and communicate honestly with each other right now. Our future and the future of America depends on our ability to communicate and listen to each other with sincerity and honesty.  

With the tragic and merciless death of George Floyd, who died handcuffed and pinned down under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis as Floyd cried out I cant breathe, protests and demonstrations have convulsed the country against the backdrop of the dangerous and deadly Covid-19 pandemic. America is suffering another deep shock to its psyche, one that is, unfortunately recurring.  

How does Buddhism view the waves of chaos and confusion we are seemingly confronting today? The teachings of the Buddha are meant to alleviate suffering. Suffering is caused by the Three Poisons, greed (want, selfish desire), anger (hatred), and ignorance (lack of knowledge or understanding), expressed by speech, thought and action. The remedy is wisdom, a deep understanding of the nature of human existence. Wisdom requires effective communication, one that emphasizes deep listening, or monpo in Japanese. Monpo allows us to awaken to the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and to gain wisdom and compassion.   Monpo is a basic practice in Buddhism and it propels us earnestly to open our hearts and minds and really become engaged in our own way toward achieving peaceful coexistence, justice and equality for all, despite our differences.

Each one of us and each of our voices is important and deserves to be heard through deep listening by others. Equally, we are each responsible for deeply listening to the thoughts and views of others.   Buddhism is a very personal religion, and it is not an easy path to follow because we are asked to look deep within ourselves for truth and to understand our own individual responsibilities.

In following his path, Shakyamuni, who himself might be considered an activist, renounced the caste system in very peaceful ways. He followed his own practice of nonviolence through the Eightfold Path. Although recognizing there will always be suffering, in his last teaching, he reminded us that you should respect each other, follow my teachings, and refrain from disputes. He also urged us to control your own mind. Keep your mind free from greed, and you will keep your behavior right (just), your mind pure (free), and your words faithful (truthful).   Be mindful, he is saying, as we awaken to our thoughts, words, and actions. It is my belief that we can try to do that through deep listening, and by recognizing that for every action there will be a reaction.

Ask yourself honestly, is there any unit of two or more people that does not have disagreements? Only through open dialogue and engagement can the hope of positive change exist. There is no question that America is feeling great pain right now, both pain from a new viral contagion and one rooted in a history that has elements of racism and inequality. There is still much anger, frustration, and fear arising from this history. It is imperative that we take the time to listen, within ourselves, within our homes, within our communities, and within our country and our world. It is only when we begin to really hear with our entire mind and body that we can have a true understanding and empathy for another person. This is the result of the great practice of monpo which becomes true and real to us through the vows of the Buddha. This is wisdom and compassion.    

I truly believe in America and in what our country symbolizes and stands for. I also believe in our ability to communicate and to come together collectively to confront the many challenges brought about by the stark realities of the pandemic and the causes of the tidal waves of protests and demonstrations taking place. We must speak to each other, listen to each other, honor and respect each other, and work together towards healing our nation and building a better tomorrow for future generations. In Buddhism, the teachings and practice are the tools. Are you listening deeply?  

Namo Amida Butsu.
 

Patience (kshanti), the Third of the Six Paramitas or Transcendent Perfections

As I have gotten older, I find myself more impatient! It is getting harder to have patience, and I will be the first to admit it. The old sayings patience is a virtue and haste makes waste come to mind, and I realize that their meaning has more merit to me right now, as well as to the reality of our current situation. Our world has been turned upside down by the global pandemic, and there are many, many people who simply cannot wait until we get back to the way things used to be. Unfortunately that is unlikely to happen very soon. It is going to take time, and a great deal of patience!

 
During this past Sunday Service I spoke about the Six Paramitas, the six transcendent perfections of bodhisattvas which are essential to the practice of attaining enlightenment. Patience is the third of the paramitas. The other five are generosity, morality, vigor/diligence, concentration/meditation, and finally wisdom, which brings them all together and leads to full Buddhahood. Each cannot do without the other, and they are all interconnected, with an emphasis on wisdom. 
 
What comes from being impatient? Ignorance, foolishness, and negativity, that cast dark clouds over our thoughts, speech, and actions. What comes from being patient? Wisdom, a deeper understanding, and positivity that shed new light on what we can and should be doing. In Buddhism, wisdom includes compassion, and I also spoke on Sunday about how important it is to constantly think of others as we personally, and thoughtfully, consider next moves during this uncertain and unsettling time.
 
I tend to agree with our governor who has stated that the outcome of Covid-19 is not about me, it is about we.  So true. As New York Buddhist Church carefully contemplates when and how we will reopen, we will assuredly follow city and state guidelines, with the health and safety of our Sangha and others always first and foremost in our minds. Please stay tuned!
 
Meanwhile, for over two months now and despite the disruptions, I feel that we continue to pull together as a strong spiritual community. Thank you! I am deeply grateful and profoundly encouraged. I believe that out of these difficulties can come an awakening, brought about by wisdom, that will give us the hope, strength, and courage to endure whatever changes we will face going forward.
 
On Memorial Day, we traditionally honor those in the military who died while serving our country, and I believe now we should also pay tribute to the heroes who are risking their lives so that we can preserve the American way of life, however different that may be in the future.  Let us not forget also the nearly 100,000 lives of those taken by the virus. In Jodo Shinshu, they return back into our world as enlightened beings to guide us and make us aware of our realities and responsibilities. We must never take for granted the sacrifices that were made, and the lives of our loved ones who were lost. We should think about them every day with reverence, gratitude. . . and patience.


Namo Amida Butsu.
  

As we celebrate the birthday of our founder Shinran Shonin this week, I wonder what he would be thinking and doing today in the midst of a global pandemic.  Maybe he would just be doing what he did hundreds of years ago during the turbulent Kamakura era in Japan, bringing awareness of the unhindered light and unconditional love of Amida Buddha to EVERYONE.  His understanding and propagation of the meaning of The Primal Vow which assures each persons birth in the Pure Land gave strength and hope to people at that time.  It is the core of Jodo Shinshu teaching.  By reciting the nembutsu, or the name Namo Amida Butsu, we acknowledge our gratitude to Amida Buddha and become truly awakened by his great compassion and wisdom.

My first memory of the o-nembutsu was listening to my grandmother saying Na Man Da Bu over and over again when I was growing up in Hawaii.  She came from Hiroshima, a stronghold of Jodo Shinshu, and she was very devout.  Grandma, I would say, Not so loud!  Do you have to say that all the time?  Its getting bothersome!   At that time, I did not yet realize how I would come to think of her as one of the greatest influences in my spiritual life and to understand the importance of the o-nembutsu then to her and later for me.

Years later, when I was a foreign student at the mother temple in Kyoto, I was asked to be a guide during the commemoration of the 800###sup anniversary of Shinrans birthday.  What a special opportunity!   For over a month I eagerly listened to the morning and afternoon services as thousands of people from all parts of Japan and the world came to pay homage.   Many would rush to sit closest to the altar, putting their hands together in gassho to recite the onembutsu, their voices getting louder and louder.  Na Man Da Bu, Na Man Da Bu, Na Man Da Bu.  It felt as though I was again a young boy living with my grandmother listening to her fervent recitation of the nembutsu.  I began to realize that it was an expression of deep gratitude and wanted to learn more.  Im still learning!

After my studies, I returned to Hawaii and served as minister in temples there.  During that time I went on several pilgrimages to Japan to follow the path of Shinran and the spread of the influence of the onembutsu.   I often asked myself, why Shinran, why the onembutsu?   Perhaps one answer is the 18###sup vow of Amida, the Primal Vow, includes  everyone, universally.   It is completely inclusive and does not discriminate on the basis of social or economic status, gender, race, age, nationality or even religious belief.  The Primal Vow affirms that we are all equal and we are all accepted, just as we are.  The great wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha embraces everyone, everywhere, unconditionally.  It is timeless.

The Kamakura period was a time of war and violence, great poverty and distress, disease and a rigidly stratified class system.  In response, many new schools of Buddhism were started.  Shinran in his interpretation of the teachings opened the door of Buddhism more widely and brought hope and comfort to everyone, regardless of their background.   He taught that however imperfect we may be, we are all embraced by the vow of the Buddha and we all have value.  For him, the onembutsu was the answer confirming that one is not alone.  There is something out there that embraces each one of us unconditionally and we are all in the same condition, we are in this together.   That was true during his time and it may be true now.  I really dont know, what do you think?

Namo Amida Butsu.

During the early stages of the coronavirus I was overjoyed to hear so many people saying that we are in this together, united in the fight against this dreadful global pandemic. But now I am extremely disappointed over all the arguments that have recently arisen.  Arguments like whos to blame, whats  in it for me, when can I go out, where do I go for answers, why is there not more cooperation, and how is this crisis ever going to end so that we can get back to normal?

I certainly do not know all the answers, but putting politics and such arguments aside, it seems to me that we should not forget how critically important it is to continue working together with one heart and one mind toward one common goal  to get rid of this terrible danger that is a threat to everyone.

Trusting that the experts in science and medicine and our leaders in business and government and elsewhere will come up with the necessary solutions, the only thing that I can do is to contribute in my own way by supporting their efforts.

An inspiration for what I am doing right now, which is basically to stay home, comes from the experiences of my own mother who I spoke about during this past Sunday service, on Mothers Day. When I was about ten years old she became infected with tuberculosis and was isolated in a special hospital for two years. The hospital building was very high, and the only contact I was allowed to have with her was to look up and wave to her from the ground while she looked down and waved to me from her window. Hi Mom, I would say, not really understanding why I could not be with her. Everybody assumed that she would die, but nobody had the heart to tell me, not even my father. Fortunately however, and as she believed, miraculously, she did fully recover. It completely changed her life! Before her illness, her whole life was centered around the family business, making money, how to make it and how to use it. After her illness, her thinking became very different and she would say that the most important thing was to take care of your health. Without health, she would often say, there is no way you can make a living, or for that matter, sustain a living. It took a life-threatening illness for her to be able to say something like that, and with deep gratitude, she turned from devoting most of her time to business, to also finding the time to help others, as she herself had been helped. 

I also spoke on Sunday about how Buddhas love is like a mothers love, unconditional, and I spoke about the Bodhisattva Kannon (Kuan-yin) a mother-like figure, widely revered for her many compassionate qualities. Within the crown of Kuan-yin sits the image of Amida Buddha, who through skillful means (upaya) brings the Dharma in the midst of suffering to save us all. How thankful we are.

Our reading on Sunday was The Threefold Reguge which for me emphasizes the relevance of our need, especially now, for spiritual togetherness even as we are physically apart. I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha, the community,(May we, together with all sentient beings, become units in true accord, in harmony with all things).    

The concept of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha does not exist independently. Collectively they express the oneness of all things. This oneness can overcome any form of negativity and disunity, bringing us back to positivity and unity. It constantly reminds us that the pieces of the puzzle scattered by the pandemic need to come together in order to make us whole again. 

Namo Amida Butsu.   

Our recent reading during this past Sunday service was The Way of the Bodhisattva.  I chose this reading because more than one person in recent weeks has asked me if all the people who are putting their lives on the line during this terrible pandemic -- doctors, nurses, first responders, numerous other health and essential workers -- are actually themselves bodhisattvas.

 After contemplating this question, I have come to the personal conclusion that yes, they certainly are bodhisattva-like in the way that they are devoting all of their energy to relieve the suffering, and to meet the needs of others.  They choose to go out and help us all by selflessly placing and risking their lives in front of everything else in order to embrace and save us from the many dangers of Covid-19.  To them, I will be eternally grateful.

It is hard to believe that there are seemingly ordinary people like that who are performing extraordinary and heroic acts of kindness and courage every single day, and who often say I am just doing my job.  It is simply amazing to me.  I find myself feeling a little bit guilty for gradually becoming too comfortable staying inside, and not personally experiencing any of the suffering that is going on outside.  I wish I could do more, and others have mentioned that same sentiment to me.

 The people who are out there endangering their own lives to fight the dreadful virus and to help others are doing a lot more than just their jobs.  They are inspiring us with their commitment, determination, and sense of purpose.  They are examples of how important it is to have compassion, and to understand the interconnectedness and interrelationships of all things, and that when one sentient being suffers, we all suffer as well.

In Buddhism we are taught that inside each and every one of us there is a bodhisattva.  We all have a special skill, a purpose.  Everyone in their own way has something to offer.  Everyone has a Buddha nature.  We may not feel it is particularly profound, but it is there nonetheless, moving us in the direction of slowly realizing the things we can be doing, instead of thinking about what we feel we should be doing.  The essence of the Buddha nature is doing something spontaneously, without any form of calculation or expectation of anything in return.  That is true dana, selfless giving.  Someone recently said to me that she now wakes up every morning by first saying thank you, and then asking herself what can I do today to help others?  Make a phone call?  Wear a mask?  Write a letter?  Donate to a food bank?  Stay home?  Her thoughts, words and actions embody the many, many things we can be doing to give our lives meaning and purpose for ourselves and for others in this uncertain time.  This person has found herself by just being herself and shows us that we dont need todo anything to prove ourselves, we just need to be ourselves.  As I perceive it, she is thinking, speaking and acting like a bodhisattva.  How wonderful!

The ever-present and infinite light and immeasurable life of Amida Buddha embraces me unconditionally, and brings to mind the two attending bodhisattvas, Seishi, expressing Wisdom and Kannon (Kuan-yin), expressing Compassion.  Through the promise of the vows of these three revered figures we are able to wake up to the seeds deep within us.  We are able to awaken and see the possibility of our own potential for goodness, knowledge, and positivity, helping us to be true to ourselves, and thus to others, especially now.    Namo Amida Butsu.

For the past couple of days, I have been experiencing lower back pain that is quite severe unless I am lying down and staying very still.  It feels very real, as opposed the sometimes disorienting and at times seemingly surreal experience of the coronavirus pandemic with its eerie empty streets, mask covered pedestrians and emergency sirens.  This unexpected and uncertain global crisis has consumed my attention, and it is my sharp back pain (and warnings last week of a possible tornado) that reminded me of the immediacy of matters other than my preoccupation with the spread of Covid-19. There are still many other pressing daily problems and that need attending to, and even though the pandemic has taken precedence, we should not forget those other matters.

Normally, when my back pain flares up, I go out and seek medical attention, but under the present circumstances I cannot, so I just stay inside and deal with it as best I can. Staying inside my apartment for weeks has not been the worst thing.  Hats off to the people who have kept us connected, and even reconnected to friends, family, and others.  Thanks to technology, I do not feel isolated.   Praise to all the people who have become everyday heroes who are maintaining our essential services and functions even at great risk to themselves and families, and keeping us safe, protected, and fed.  Thanks to them I have been able to sustain myself in what has become my own little confined universe.

The current situation reminds me of the fable of the turtle and the birds which I spoke about during the most recent live-streaming of our Sunday Service.  My retelling of the fable goes like this:

###i/i###

 For me, the moral of the story is not whether or not the turtle should have stayed in the safety of the deep well, or if he should have held firmly onto the stick.  As we contemplate his fate, we realize that in a way, he represents each and every one of us.  Quite often the universe that we have created for ourselves is largely of our own making and perceptions, and we forget that there is a greater reality beyond our perceptions and personal beliefs.  We sometimes limit our world  and forget to consider the perspective of others in our words, thoughts and actions. 

In Buddhism, the concept of impermanence teaches us that there are countless numbers of causes and conditions where situations are always changing.  It helps us to realize the importance of continually thinking about all those things which give us meaning and purpose.  My life is not just necessarily about me.  The global pandemic has reminded us that we are all universally interconnected, we all belong to this world, together.

Slowly but surely, my pain that shook me out of pandemic preoccupation will gradually diminish.  Slowly but surely, the threat of the coronavirus will lessen through medical and scientific advances.  My heart goes out for the tragic loss and disruption of so many lives.  We are all in this together, and I just need to remember in my own choices and decisions that the larger world outside my small world also needs my full attention, and my unending gratitude.

Namo Amida Butsu.

 

This week I find myself going back to the parable taught by the Buddha about The Poisoned Arrow.  It is a great parable, one of my favorites, and goes like this: 

Suppose a man were pierced by a poisoned arrow, and his relatives and friends got together to call a surgeon to have the arrow removed and the wound treated.  If the wounded man objects saying, Wait a minute.  Before you pull it out, I want to know who shot the arrow.  Was it a man or a woman?  Was it someone of noble birth or was it a peasant?  What was the bow made of?  Was it a big bow or a small bow that shot the arrow?  Was it made of wood or bamboo?  What was the bow string made of?  Was it made of fiber or of gut?  Was the arrow made of rattan or of reed?  What feathers were used?  Before you extract the arrow, I want to know all about these things.  Then what will happen?  Before all this information can be secured, no doubt, the poison will have time to circulate through his body and the man may die.  The first duty is to remove the arrow and prevent its poison from spreading.

 In this parable, as in all his parables, Shakyamuni Buddha took a very practical approach to solving problems, asking us to pay attention to what is most useful, and not get distracted from useless and unimportant things.  To survive, all the man pierced by the poisoned arrow had to do was to take it out, but he over-thought his perilous situation, asking way too many questions, and wasting precious and valuable time.  

 For me, the parable of The Poisoned Arrow is very relevant to what we are going through in these difficult times by reminding us not to over-think the causes and the problems of the global pandemic, but rather to focus on our own roles and responsibilities in the solutions.  The teachings of the Buddha are very personal ones, and the concept of being practical and taking responsibility is very important to me right now.  Are we being driven by fear and lack of understanding in our thoughts, or are we taking those actions that are most beneficial to others as well as to ourselves?  The reality is that probably one of the most useful and important things we can do right now is to follow the rules and guidelines of our public health and government officials whose goals are to protect us and keep us safe.  

We will eventually get through this crisis.  We are all in it together, and it has united people all over the world as one family.  How grateful I am for the many, many ways people are helping each other however they can to endure the demands it has brought on us, not only here in New York City, but everywhere.  It gives us the opportunity to refocus more clearly on the most important things we need to do each day, and it brings hope for a better tomorrow.

Take a deep breath, isnt it great to be alive during uncertain times like this?   Dont let negativity and fear control you, make room for positivity and hope!  As human beings were always looking to do things one way, but the coronavirus has taken us out of our comfort zones and pointed us in the direction of doing things in other ways, maybe even in ways weve never thought of before.

If we give in to the darkness of negativity, then were trapped with doubt and fear, but if we open ourselves up to positivity then were letting in the light that brings hope, and our minds become clearer  and better able to explore different means of perceptions and connections.  We can now begin to enter the vast ocean of Dharma, universal truths!  Slowly by slowly, we notice more aha moments that change our perceptions and expand our personal abilities to see, through a newly realized awareness, a bigger and more universal picture of all things.  As human beings there is always in us this inner desire to survive, to live, and through mindfulness and deep listening, we can find answers that guide us toward a more hopeful and better tomorrow.

Even though almost everyone is confined to their homes right now, people are breaking out of their shells and doing such things as phoning people they havent spoken to in a long time, and shedding tears and having compassion for people theyve never met.  There is an overwhelming sense of gratitude and deep feeling for everything they had taken for granted in the past, and in particular experiencing gratitude for all the heroic acts of kindness and selflessness that are taking place all over the world.  These renewed and new connections, this sense that were all in the same boat, have opened our hearts and minds to connect with everyone else.  This awakening has helped us to realize that we truly are one with all things!

Sadly, thousands have already passed away and still more will come because of the virus.  However, their deaths should not go in vain!  Their passing should always make us further aware of the reality of whats going on, and constantly remind us to be grateful and thankful for their lives, and our own.  We should acknowledge them by openly saying thank you.  Their passing will help future generations understand the actuality of this terrible illness, and help scientists and researchers create a cure that will provide us with much needed optimism and hope.

In Buddhism, by reciting the Onembutsu, we express our deep thankfulness and feel a deep sense of gratitude that we are not forsaken, and not alone.  There is something out there that unconditionally accepts us for who and what we are, and enlightens our paths and our shared humanity toward all.

So take a deep breath, listen to comforting music, take time to smell the flowers, to hear the birds sing, or even to look at photos of your family and friends.  Just as I am thinking and concerned about them, I now know that they are also thinking and concerned about me.  Namo Amida Butsu.

Staying home for weeks now because of the coronavirus has made me keenly aware of all the things Ive taken for granted, but at the same time its awakened in me a sense of gratitude for those very same things, the people in my life, my health, science, technology, the gift of planet Earth itself, which sustains us all.  During this difficult time, Ive come to appreciate everything, and everyone, more than ever.  Although being confined to my apartment in New York City for a very long time, I still feel very connected to everyone throughout the world.   As the world has come to a standstill, the global pandemic has drawn us closer.

Im grateful for the researchers who are working hard together worldwide to find a cure, for the environmentalists and geoscientists who are hoping we can learn long-lasting lessons from the global improvement in air quality and the drop in seismic noise due to the lockdown on human activity, and for the heroism and loving kindness shown by so many people all over the world as they support each other.  Living in New York, its heartwarming to hear the nightly cheers and applause in gratitude for the health care workers and others on the front lines who are risking their lives for us.   Its greatly helped me realize more clearly our vastness, and also our oneness.

Will we be doing things differently once this crisis is over?  I really dont know, but if the world can come together and collaborate for this one purpose, then perhaps we can mutually address other serious issues as well.  Its a matter of looking deeply within our hearts and minds and waking us up to the causes and effects of our actions.  Although it takes much more time to mend than to destroy, its never too late to turn things around toward a more positive outcome.   Its basically our ego, our foolishness, that keeps us from working together, but if we can overcome that and wake up to our own responsibility for ourselves and for each other, then anything is possible. 

The teachings of the Buddha, which guide us toward an understanding of the consequences of our thoughts, speech, and actions, also provide us with the universal truths and practices that can lead us to an enlightened future.  Change begins with me.  The choice for a better tomorrow is now ours!

With the coronavirus all around us, everything has changed, even my cooking.  People who know me know that I love to cook, but I didnt realize until now how much I often wasted some of the ingredients.  Usually I cook vegan, but the other night I roasted a chicken together with carrots, onions and potatoes.  From the leftovers, I was able to create other dishes.  The next morning I fried the potatoes and put an egg on top for breakfast, I made a chicken salad sandwich for lunch, and I made a Chinese ginger soup using the broth from the chicken bones for dinner.  Last night, I even made banana bread from some overripe bananas I had put in the freezer!
The necessity of being more resourceful in my cooking combined with the stay-at-home restrictions makes me appreciate all the things that I had always taken for granted, the freedom to go outside and shop as I pleased, the ability to freely socialize with others, the pleasure of having dinner in restaurants with friends. Theres a sense of resistance that lies deeply within me and I wonder if we all feel the same, that we dont like being told what we can or cannot do!  But despite this feeling, its critically important not only for ourselves but for others to follow the orders and instructions of the public officials and medical professionals, and take all the necessary precautions theyve given us.  We need to understand that everything they do, theyre doing for us, for our safety and for our health.  We thank them, and we thank all the unsung heroes who are risking their health and their lives for ours.
In reality, even in isolation, we still have many freedoms, and many things we can do.  Besides cooking, Im paying more attention to my feisty cat Mikey who unconditionally wants to play and keep me company, Im speaking more often with sangha members, family, and friends on the phone, some of whom I havent spoken to in awhile, and Im spending more time trying to get my thoughts together and to be mindful of how whats going on out there isnt about me, its about the hundreds, thousands, and millions of people all around me.  We are all in this together, and thankfully we are still able to communicate and to connect.  Now that I have so much extra time, I might just work on my Japanese sumi-e ink paintings, or even get around to getting rid of some of the clutter in my apartment!
As we look to medicine, science, government and business to help us cope and navigate through this crisis, lets remember the teachings of the Buddha that remind us that because of impermanence, that because things are always evolving, situations will change.  When conditions are right, anything can happen, positive as well as negative.  Individually, were all trying our best, but could you imagine if we positively put our thoughts, speech, and actions all together, how powerful the outcome would be?  Although were apart right now, the Nembutsu embraces us as one!


 I wish I could simply say to the coronavirus, GO AWAY, SORRY, THERES NO ROOM FOR YOU IN MY LIFE, OR ANYONE ELSES.  But I cant.  I cant even control my own life, how can I control a virus?  It is causing so much fear and uncertainty.  By lessening my self-centeredness, the only thing I can control is my response to it by following the advice of health and public officials who are striving to keep us safe, and leaving the cure to the medical experts and scientists who are working so hard to stop it. 
The virus is controlling us.  It is negativity controlling us, resulting in extreme stress in our thinking caused by the unknown.  But we have a choice.  Obviously I cant tell the virus to go away, but I can forcefully and with all my might and my very being tell the negativity to go away.  In Buddhism, the sources of negativity, the causes of our suffering, are the Three Poisons, greed (want), anger (hatred), and ignorance (lack of knowledge or understanding), and the remedies are the practices of loving kindness, compassion, and wisdom.  These practices can also serve as the answer to overcoming the negativity caused by the invisible virus we cannot see, and the means by which one can transform that negativity into positivity.
Another enduring and valued antidote is the goodness and generosity of spirit shining through in the courage and selflessness of the health care workers and of so many others behind the scenes who are on the front lines of this battle.  We should be so grateful to them.  In point of fact, as difficult as times are right now, we still need to get on with our lives.  I never dreamed Id be giving my Sunday Dharma message to a camera, but thanks to technology, Im still able to reach out to you.  I really miss seeing you, and our lively interactions, but Im so glad I can continue to fulfill my role and responsibility as a minister despite the disruption in our normal routines.
One of the influences in my becoming a minister was the positivity, inspiration, and hope provided by Rev. Dr. Mitsuo Aoki, a religion professor at the University of Hawaii whose favorite saying was there is nothing greater than love!  For me, love is a dot in that all-inclusive, ever-widening circle of wisdom and compassion that is at the core of Buddhist teachings.  Please take a moment to reflect upon the countless blessings that we are constantly receiving, and think about ways to share these positive awakenings with all. 
Namo Amida Butsu