Dhammapada, a collection of verses of Shakyamuni Buddha
Seated Buddha, 1100s, Tibet - Cleveland Museum of Art
The Mind: 40
Knowing this body is like a clay jar,
securing this mind like a fort,
attack Mara with the spear of discernment,
then guard what’s won without settling there,
without laying claim.
As Buddhists we like to think we are ‘aware’ of our interconnectedness and interdependence with one another and the environment. We may even think we are good at reducing waste, reusing what we already have and recycling the rest.
As a child I remember my maternal grandmother rinsing rice before cooking it. She was careful that not a grain was lost. I always put this to her experience as a survivor of The Genocide where it was a matter of life or death to find enough food to insure the survival of her family.
But are we that ‘aware’ without having bullets or bayonets aimed at our backs? According to statistics, a major source of landfill in the United States is food waste. So I decided on an experiment, how much waste did I actually generate for a meal that includes rice?
I kept track of grocery store bags, the tofu carton, plastic bags the veggies were sorted into, cash register receipts, paper towels used, carrot tops and onion peels thrown away, the safety seals inside and outside containers… you get the picture. Then there were the bits of food left over in cooking pots, pans, utensils, serving bowls, dinner plates, forks, spoons and paper napkins.
The most difficult part was the rice. No matter how hard I tried grains of rice kept getting wasted. And this waste happened even with my effort to minimize it. Take an ordinary day, after work, or rushing to the next thing, with our minds elsewhere – maybe this is the reason food is a major source of landfill.
Mottainai is a word many of us don’t know, it expresses the philosophy of not wasting. Mottainai originated from the Buddhist concept that regrets the waste or misuse of respected items. Today, it is a Japanese concept loosely understood as a sense of regret when something is wasted, needlessly – “what a waste.”
Even if one grain of rice is not consumed as food but lost to the disposal, we say mottainai, what a waste. Mottainai, from a Shin Buddhist perspective, reflects our interconnectedness and interdependence not only with one another, but with all life. It reflects the value we place on each item.
Will I solve global problems by not wasting a grain of rice? Probably not. But isn’t this an aspect of being “awakened” to the reality of life? A reality where we each make our choices and decisions that leave a legacy creating the causes and conditions that comes after?
To be embraced by the 18th Vow is to be accepted as we are, warts and all, wastefulness and all. And yet, isn’t it this very acceptance that opens our eyes to compassion and wisdom? For me it may be a grain of rice, for you, something altogether different. But we each have an awareness we can build on, an awareness of mottainai.
Note: Rice: over 500 million tons of rice was harvested in the 2020 season, a significant source of calories for most of the planet’s population. That number needs to grow by 70% by 2040 to feed the world at the same rate. This 70% increase needs to happen with less land, less water, less chemicals and less labor. www.jstor.org/stable/41146405).
Our teacher Buddha was born about 2,500 years ago in the place called Lumbini, in Nepal, close to the southern border with India. His real name is said to have been Siddhartha Gautama. He is also known as Sakyamuni Buddha or simply Buddha.
Buddha himself let a rich life as a prince of the Shakya clan. But when he saw many people in his kingdom suffering from disease and lack of food, he left his castle, and began to train and study on his own.
After six years of hard training, Buddha reached enlightenment. Buddha devoted himself to teaching people how to live properly without suffering. Until he died at the age of 80, he taught us how to be kind and find peace of mind. Buddha’s teachings are called Buddhism, and are followed in Japan and around the world.
Don’t do bad.
Do much good.
Purify your heart.
This is the teachings
of the Buddhas.
Not doing any evil,
doing good and purifying your mind.
This is the teaching of the Buddha.
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across continents, across time.
Meaning of Gassho
Putting our hands together in Buddhism is called “gassho.” Let’s examine what it means to gassho.
Firstly, there’s a proper way to do gassho. Hands are placed at the mid-chest level, palms together, fingers straight and pointed at a 45 degree angle upwards. The wrists should be close to the chest.
By contrast, other ways that people gassho may be to touch the elbows to the body, so the hands are away from the body. Or the elbows are held away from the body so the fingers are pointing straight up. Or the elbows jut out so the arms are parallel with the ground. A Chinese bow may have the left hand open and the right hand in a fist. In Shorinji kempo (a Buddhist martial art like karate), the fingers are spread apart. In certain parts of the world, such as in Sri Lanka and Thailand, people may greet each other with gassho.
When we gassho, we place our hands together and recite the Nembutsu, the words “Namu Amida Butsu.” Placing our hands together while reciting the Nembutsu is called “gassho” in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.
Gassho is more than a pose. It is symbolic of the Dharma, the truth about life. For instance, we place together our right and left hand, which are opposites. It represents other opposites as well: you and me, light and dark, ignorance and wisdom, life and death.
We also place a nenju (also called ojuzu) around both hands when we gassho. The nenju represents the Buddha’s teachings. Therefore, gassho means that through the Buddha’s teachings, we can see that these opposites are really one.
Gassho also symbolizes respect, the Buddhist teachings, and the Dharma. It also is an expression of our feelings of gratitude and our inter-connectedness with each other. It symbolizes the realization that our lives are supported by innumerable causes and conditions. Tradition has given us this symbol. I urge you to think deeply about why you gassho and to make it your own, so that it arises from your innermost being.
I heard of a group of American junior Youth Buddhist Association (Jr. YBA) students who visited Japan. One day they took a trip to Hiroshima to visit the Atomic bomb museum. If you’ve ever seen the memorial, you know that it can be a moving and emotional experience. The museum tells the story of how during World War II the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in Japan. In a flash, the entire city was destroyed and many thousands of people died, including many children.
As the teenagers looked at the memorial, tears started to well in their eyes. Then someone started to gassho. One by one, they put their hands together in gassho, quietly bowing their heads.
How else could they express their thoughts and feelings about what they saw and what they felt—sadness for those who perished, despair from knowing this was a real event and helplessness of knowing that wars continue to be fought, Those feelings meshed with hopes that such an event will never occur again and a wish for peace throughout the world. What more perfect way to express those conflicting feeling than to gassho?
Gassho is not an empty gesture. It is an expression of life and our innermost feelings. In Jodo Shinshu, it is said that it represents our deepest aspiration, symbolized by the vow made by Amida Buddha that we all will be awakened to the oneness of life, that we are all interdependent, and that we are all special because we share this life together. This is the meaning of gassho and this is the meaning of “Namu Amida Butsu.”
Excerpt: Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple web page