An active temple member periodically sends out emails to make some of us laugh and/or even to contemplate. Recently, she sent a video entitled The 10th Apple Effect. I would like to share parts of the story, and my interpretation of it, with you.
A hunter is deep within the forest, pursuing a catch. He has ventured into a part of the forest that he had never been before and realizes that he is completely lost. Although skilled and experienced, he is not able to find his way out. Anxiously and desperately searching for a way, he realizes that he lacks food and nourishment, and will most certainly perish. He has lost all hope! After several days of wandering, he looks up, and there before him is an apple tree filled with delicious fruit. Quickly he approaches the tree and starts picking and devouring the precious life-sustaining apples. Anxiously, he quickly picks 10, or 20, apples, feeling a deep sense of relief and gratitude! The precious life-giving food provides him with the nourishment he so greatly desires and needs. How delicious the first apple tastes, and he is truly thankful for this wonderful gift! He never before realized how delicious such a simple fruit could be! He eats the second, and then starts eating the third. After partaking of several fruits, he suddenly realizes that the second and third apples didnt taste as good as the first! Even so, the hunter continues his journey and as the days pass, he continues to eat the remaining apples, which sustain his life. Yet the more he eats, he finds that they just dont taste so good anymore, and he starts throwing some of them away! But in actuality, the tenth apple is just as delicious as the first! What changed? It is suggested that the hunter represents each of us, and how we take things for granted.
During the early stages of the pandemic, there were so many uncertainties and fears that we were all going through. We missed and felt grateful for human companionship, simple phone calls, walks in the park, fresh air, sunlight, grocery shopping, etc. The list goes on and on and we became grateful for everything, even having thoughts of a higher power that is protecting and guiding our lives! As human beings we often do not realize how many wonderful and precious things we already have. In New York City, we even had a daily 7 p.m. tribute to the essential workers for placing their lives at risk for us. The pandemic is not over, but I do question my own gratitude.
The video continues with the story of a 70+- year- old senior who was hospitalized. He needed a ventilator for several weeks and upon his recovery, he was asked to pay for just a days cost for the use of the ventilator. Upon hearing this, the old man started to cry. The doctor assured him that the rest of the cost would be taken care of, but the old man replied that it was not the cost that had caused his tears. His tears began to flow, he said, because he realized how much he had taken things for granted. If it costs this much to sustain my life for just one day, then how much should I pay for the 70+ years that I have lived? he cried.
Although I frequently think about these precious gifts that sustain my life, I too, often forget and take things for granted. The air, sunshine, rain, wind, etc. each in its own way sustaining me, but. . . my ignorance! The Three Treasures begin with, ninjin, ukegatashi, ima, sude, ni, uku. (Rare it is to receive human form and now I have received it.) The gift of human form, and life, is one of the rarest gifts that we can receive. How many of us are awakened to this truth? Moreover, am I/we aware of how many countless life forms are sustaining me/us? It takes stories like this to help me remember how grateful I should be, and my indebtedness to all. This is the concept of engi, the deep interrelationship and interdependency of all things to make life possible.
In Buddhism, we strive towards an awareness of these truths in all forms, whether materialistic, or even our thoughts and emotions. Too often our ego will take us away from this and we let our personal ignorance get the better of us. In reality, we need everyone and everything. There is value in everything, and we should seek The Middle Way (chudo) to awaken us to explore various perspectives. The Middle Way is the balancing of pros and cons to make decisions and therefore taking action towards harmony. We bounce off extremes on both sides in order to realize that one particular extreme may not necessarily be the answer that is suitable for all. The Onembutsu is non-judgmental and is always there to guide us through our many ups and downs. It allows us to experience things in order to awaken us to be ing ourselves and then awakening us to greater truths that the Buddha shared with us.
Shinran Shonin often stated that he felt that the fulfilled vows of the Buddha were meant to awaken and save the foolish being that he realized that he himself was. I too share this same thought but have also come to realize that the workings of the fulfilled vows are ever- present in a person like me who is self-centered, foolish and forever taking things for granted. Lets all remember with Thanksgiving coming soon, that now is the perfect time to contemplate how grateful we should be!
Namo Amida Butsu