Your Shin Buddhist “go to” page in the Forest City
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The Essentials of Jōdo Shinshū
NAME:Jōdo Shinshū Hongwanji
FOUNDER:Shinran Shōnin (1173-1293
SUTRA:Three Principal Sutras of Jōdo Shinshū”
1) Sūtra on the Buddha of Infinite Life (Daikyō)
2) Sūtra of Meditation on the Buddha of Infinite Life (Kangyō)
3) Sūtra on the Amida Buddha (Shōkyō)
Shin Buddhist Service Book, Buddhist Churches of American, 1994
The Cleveland Buddhist Temple welcomes Rev. Brian Kensho Nagata to our Sangha. Rev. Brian is the director of education programs for Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Society for the Promotion of Buddhism); volunteer staff member at the BCA Center for Education; committee member of Jodo Shinshu International; serves on the Advisory councils for UC Berkeley East Asian Library, University of Chicago Divinity School, University of Toronto Ho Centre for Buddhist Studies and the American Buddhist Study Center. Welcome to Cleveland Rev. Brian.
Rev. Brian Kensho Nagata
“The Covid Pandemic and the Ever-Foolish Me”
Rev. Brian Kensho Nagata
More numerous than the sands of the Ganges River, are the Buddhas who watch over us night and day Hearing this, my heart is filled with peace and thankfulness.
-Namo Amida Butsu
Boy, what a year it has been. Has there been any other year like 2020 in our lifetime? Looking back a mere ten months ago, who could have ever imagined we would now be in this situation? Who had ever heard of words like “Coronavirus, social distancing and contact tracing?”
How could one tiny, tiny virus have inflicted so much suffering, pain and confusion on our world?
Have you heard of the term “akunin”? This is a term that our great teacher Shinran used to denote himself. “Akunin” means a hopeless and ignorant person, who due to their ignorance is capable of doing anything to satisfy their endless craving egos. We don’t hesitate to do things with ulterior motives in mind, consciously or unconsciously, just to fulfill our aching and lecherous egos.
For instance, I will praise someone because I want them to be my friend. I will do a favor for someone because I know I will be rewarded. Or I will go to temple services every week so that I will not run into bad luck. These are just simple examples of real-life situations that a hopelessly ignorant “Akunin” like me will do for my own personal benefit and I am sure there are countless more foolish things I do every moment of my craving life.
Unfortunately, I am not capable of doing anything that does not involve satisfying my ego.
The changing and uncertain world we are experiencing now due to this Covid pandemic has caused so many people pain and panic because their personal comfort zones have been challenged and even destroyed in some cases.
But life is full of challenges and inconveniences which are much of the time caused by change. Humans hate change and that is why we suffer.
This Covid-19 has drastically changed and challenged our lives and so it is only natural that our self-centered minds which had become so comfortable and satisfied with our pre-covid life would be in an uproar now.
But this pandemic has provided me with an opportunity to take off my blinders to see the real world I live within.
Covid-19 has taught me that I am NOT the center of the world and the truth of interdependence. We must stay healthy and safe not only for our own protection but so that we don’t spread the virus to others. Also, the virus has also instilled compassion in me for those whose lives have been destroyed or deeply affected by the pandemic.
We must ride out the storm of change brought on by this Coronavirus-19. We must adjust and rein in our egos and temptations for the sake of our existence. We have no choice. This is what change is all about; this is what our survival is about. This Covid virus has shown us that everything is indeed subject to change, for good or bad.
This is the great and at the same time, the painful reality that has been thrown in our faces this year. In memory of those who have lost their lives due to Covid, and in gratitude to those who sacrifice their own safety for the good of the community, please wear your masks, continue to wash your hands often and be safe!
Gassho, Namo Amida Butsu
Rev. Brian Kensho Nagata
Meditation on Wind
The movement of air is a natural phenomenon. The same when that becomes the storm can become a gentle wind that sends us cool breezes. Some people think that the wind is caused by God’s will. Some imagine that it is due to “wind-God.”
Whether it is a gentle wind and hot summer or a typhoon that hits in autumn, the wind itself does not have any will to do anything. Only people who receive its impact feel happy or unhappy. I suppose I think this to be God’s will.
If there were no wind, many plants would be unable to reproduce because there would be no medium for dispersing the pollen. Flags would cease to flutter.
One famous Zen koan asks, “As for the flag that is moving, is the flag moving or is the wind moving? For the answer someone said, “What moves is the mind of the man who is watching.”
This shows that the manner in which we perceive the wind changes man’s understanding of it
Excerpt from: Life Through the Power of the Buddha: 108 Mini-Essays of Meditation, 1994 Yehan Numata. BDK
Understanding Buddhist beads
By Rev. Koen Kikuchi
Minister at Higashi Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii temple in Honolulu
After service one day, a woman asked about O-nenju, Buddhist beads. Catholics use rosaries when they pray, she said, but how about Buddhists? What do Buddhist beads mean and what is their purpose?
A Buddhist string of beads commonly is called juzu or O-juzu (“O” is honorific in Japanese). In our Jodo Shinshu tradition, we usually refer to them as “O-nenju.” I would like to share the meaning of Onenju.
It’s generally understood we should carry O-nenju when attending Buddhist services. Perhaps you were told that bringing an Onenju to service is a rule of the temple, or required by our denomination or religion. In the past, I heard ministers and adults would tell children. “Don’t think about the reason, just bring it. It’s the correct way!”
Nowadays, I don’t like being blindly obedient, so I ask why things are a certain way. I don’t want to be forced to follow rules for no good reason. I think we always need to question why we do things. Questioning is very important.
The origin of prayer beads comes from ancient India. During Shakyamuni Buddha’s time, he also used prayer beads. According to a Buddhist sutra, a king asked the Buddha how to govern a country peacefully. The Buddha responded by teaching the king about using prayer beads to help him meditate on, think about, and recite the Three Treasures—the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. In that way, the king could calm his mind, see through his blind passions (Japanese: bonno), and govern the country peacefully. According to the sutra, prayer beads were for counting the number of times a person reflected on the Three Treasures. “Meditating,” “thinking,” and “reciting” together counted as one bead.
Over time, the use of prayer beads spread to China and Japan. Buddhist prayer beads became used for a variety of reasons, such as counting the number of times a mantra is recited, counting how many breaths are taken while meditating, the number of prostrations done, and how many times the Buddha’s name is recited. Generally, prayer beads are for counting something, so the string of beads was called juzu in Japan. Juzu means, “counting beads.”
However, I said we usually use the word “O-nenju,” which means beads for meditating (“nen”) on the Buddha by reciting the Buddha’s name. Jodo Shin Buddhism doesn’t require a particular number of times to say Nembutsu, reciting the Buddha’s name. More important is how and why we do Nembutsu.
If we don’t count the number of times we say Nembutsu, then why carry O-nenju when attending Buddhist services? I think there are two reasons. One is “proper attire;” the other is “attitude.”
As for “proper attire,” when attending a formal reception or party, we typically wear formal attire. Holding prayer beads is similar. When attending a Buddhist service, we carry prayer beads.
Rennyo Shonin, considered the “second founder of Jodo Shinshu,” in the 15th Century wrote in a letter his observations of people visiting a temple: “…there is no one who even carries devotional beads. It is as if they grasped the Buddha directly with bare hands. The Master certainly never said that we should venerate the Buddha by discarding the beads.”
Regarding “attitude,” Rennyo Shonin said holding beads shows respect for the Buddha. This is the correct “attitude” when carrying beads. We are encouraged always to hold the beads when doing gassho, putting our hands in prayer position and reciting the Buddha’s name. We put the beads around our hands in gassho. We do this to express respect for others.
For example, when we put our hands together in gassho, it means, “I respect you and I don’t want to offend you.” By contrast for example, people who fight when boxing, or doing Judo or Karate, separate their hands to attack and defend.
Holding prayer beads means showing respect for the Buddha and other people. In Japan, my teacher taught me about human nature. He said generally we know about acting respectfully, but often forget and become careless. For example, when we first enter a Japanese-style room, we open the sliding door using both hands, which is proper. But as we get used to it, we’ll open the door with one hand. Finally without thinking, we may even open the door using a foot. This is what my teacher taught me about human nature again and again.
So what does the string of prayer beads mean? In Buddhism, each bead shows our blind passions or deluded mind such as The Three Poisons—greed, anger and ignorance. Therefore the meaning of holding the beads is to hold our blind passions.
However, there are various interpretations. Holding the beads helps us remember we are filled with blind passions. In our daily lives, we forget about our blind passions and we become self-centered, thinking only of our own, one-sided way. But the beads constantly tell us to be mindful.
Blind passions themselves are neither good nor bad. They are part of human nature. Blind passions can become treasures for us. Their value and quality may be transformed without any change in appearance. Each bead is linked by a string, symbolizing Amida Buddha’s deepest wish to make us understand great Truth.
The linked beads of Buddha’s wish encircle and tie our hands in gassho. That’s why we put O-nenju around our palms when doing gassho. O-nenju encourages us to live with a feeling of constant gassho. It tells us not to forget we are filled with blind passions.
O-nenju encourage us to keep putting our hands together, to deeply reflect on our true nature, to transcend our self-centeredness, and to connect to the greater Truth about life. Those are the reasons why we carry O-nenju.