The New York Buddhist Church

November 24, 2020
On December 31, the very last day of the year, we observe Joya-e. It is a time for deep reflection and contemplation over things that we did in the past. Literally this term means Gathering on the Night (Eve) to Dispel. Often, I am asked, dispel what? Former ministers taught me that Shakyamuni Buddha noted about 400-500 great faults towards living a meaningful life. Although there is a word for sins, tsumi in Japanese, it seems that we do not often use this word in Jodo Shinshu. This is because our faults are the results of our foolish actions, speech, and thoughts. Unlike other religious traditions that look upon man as being evil for failing to or going against the will or rules of a higher power, Buddhism looks at man as being basically good because we all have the potential to become Buddhas ourselves. The problem is that we are unable to completely control our bodily movements, speech, and thoughts because of our foolishness, our ignorance. Buddhism is a teaching that focuses upon our suffering, pain, and how to transcend them. The first of the Four Noble Truths states that life is full of suffering, both physically and emotionally. However, suffering can be overcome if we are aware of this truth and we desire to dispel or transcend them. The state of being in an illusion or delusion causes limitations towards a positive quality of life, for all. I once attended a presentation delivered by Kangaku Jitsuen Kakehashi, a great teacher/scholar of Jodo Shinshu. His topic was based upon the definition of Zen Aku, good and evil (positive and negative). He began his presentation with examples of Shinran Shonins views of all forms of life, sentient beings, and how Amida Buddha views all of these forms of life, and how and why the 48 Great Vows were created and fulfilled. Kakehashi asked us to define what we thought was the definition of evil, and to give examples. This seemed quite easy as we all listed the faults of others, but then he asked, How do you view yourselves, good or evil? After a moment of silence, Kakehashi Sensei further asked, Is there anyone who is really one hundred percent good, or one hundred percent truly evil? My personal understanding of his question was that it was an expression of very rigid extremes, and in Buddhism you cannot be fully this, or fully that. That is the practice of the Middle Way, through the Eightfold Path. Mezame, gaku, or awakening, awareness , is an important term used in Jodo Shinshu which allows us to look within to create a balance to transcend our simple mind from existing in extremes. I am sure that there are individuals who have achieved a very high level of transcending from suffering, but I will be the first to admit that I am suffering in my own self-created realm of existence, created as the result of my own foolishness, a world filled with illusions and delusions! On my path to trying to transcend, one of my practices is Monpo or deep listening. If a limited mind of illusion and delusion is the result of limited perception, then trying to have an open mind to hear others with respect and by not being judgmental, I am hoping to broaden my limited views. When looking at a masterpiece of art or listening to beautiful music, we focus on a particular part of the art or the music. However, we often forget that the surrounding colors, shades, and/or various other sounds of the instruments also enhanced the center of focus to create that masterpiece. Shakyamuni Buddha suggests that the joy and happiness we experience in life is internal, created within ourselves. And yet, we seem to focus on the negative and how we suffer. We forget our potentials and responsibilities to ourselves and their effects on others. Speaking for myself only, how foolish and self-centered I am! The fulfilled vows of Amida Buddha are right in front of me, but in my ignorance, I choose to ignore them! The Joya-e service is meant for an ignorant person like me to remind me of my purpose in life and how to dispel and therefore to help transcend my life and simple mind to a higher level of existence. It is also an opportunity to reflect and say a very sincere thank you to all of you for being an essential part of my practice upon this path of life. In spite of all of the unexpected uncertainties we have experienced this past year, we are still together in heart and mind and for that I am very, very grateful. Namo Amida Butsu