Dhammapada, a collection of verses of Shakyamuni Buddha
Medicine Master Buddha & Twelve Divine Generals Japan, Kamakura period (1185-1333) Cleveland Museum of Art
No flower’s scent goes against the wind –
But the scent of the good does go against the wind.
The person of integrity wafts a scent
in every direction.
Sandalwood, tagara, lotus, and jasmine:
among these scents,
the scent of virtue is unsurpassed.
Next to nothing, this fragrance
- sandalwood, tagara –
while the scent of the virtuous wafts to the gods,
Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble Path to monks and nuns, as a “how to” manual of ending samsara and awakening to the reality of life. These were not laws, but guidance. Our Shin Buddhist path is for lay people, not monastic. No monks, no nuns in Shin, only people like you and me, bonbus, foolish humans full of greed, anger and folly. And yet, the 18th Vow of Amida Buddha continues to call out to each of us and embrace us, even as we fail to keep the precepts.
Shinran Shonin (1173-1263), initially a Tendai monk for 20 years on Mt. Hiei, became a follower of Honen, came down from Mt. Hiei, then was exiled by the government to a distant part of Japan. Rather than take a lay title, he named himself Toku, “stubble headed, neither monk nor layman.”
Living a life in exile, he married, had children and no longer had the conditions enabling him to keep all the Buddhist precepts of a monastic life. Shinran studied the scriptures deeply and understood the significance of the 18th vow. It was a vow for you and for me, ordinary people.
For years, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving focus my thoughts on Buddhist teachings. As a Shin Buddhist, it is difficult for me to express gratitude on Thanksgiving Day by the traditional killing and eating of a sentient being, the turkey.
A broader reading of the “Right Livelihood” of the Eightfold Noble Path makes me reconsider my role as consumer. Am I contributing to the samsara of those who can only find work in the abattoirs of America? Is my indirect action contributing to the suffering of sentient beings? Are the Noble Eightfold Path and the Precepts in conflict with Shin? This is not a difficult question for me.
Until the 1950s food waste in America was a rare phenomenon. Even though the iconic Norman Rockwell painting “Freedom from Want”* shows a bountiful table it is empty compared to what we expect on a Thanksgiving table today. According to a Utah State University study “The United States currently wastes 40% of all food produced, which could serve 25 million hungry Americans.” **
How did we come to this, where almost 35% of landfills are food? What it says is we have options today for food that was unimaginable in 13th century Medieval Japan or even up to the first half of the 20th
century in America.
The lay people of Shinran’s time had little option but to kill and eat small amounts of meat to survive. Shinran understood keeping the precept, of not killing directly or indirectly, in medieval Japan was not possible for the non-monastic population. Life for the ordinary person in Japan was hard, at best. Causes and conditions of cultural changes, wars, famines and epidemics need to be taken into account. Understanding this Shinran also understood the 18th vow, acknowledging our bonbuness, embracing us, regardless of our ability to keep these precepts.
The turkey, the symbol of the day we express gratitude as a nation, is a sentient being. About 45 million turkeys are slaughtered each year in this $4.3 billion industry (2019) according to the USDA. These turkeys never see the light of day. Bringing the toms and hens to our table for a thanksgiving meal requires precision factory production. When we see the roasted turkey on the table, we do not see the suffering and torment it suffered since its life began until its end. It is difficult to comprehend the treatment of sentient beings as objects of production. The family turkey farm we like to envision and take comfort in is long gone. Now turkeys are branded with names like “Butterball,” and serve one corporate objective – profit.
What am I suggesting? Norman Rockwell’s painting no longer represents 21st century America. The causes and conditions from the time of the Buddha, almost 2,600 years ago, requiring only the monastics not eat sentient beings no longer applies to 21st century Americans.
Maybe what I’m suggesting is that we reconsider what a life of wisdom and compassion as Buddhists means today. Choices exist; we have free will within the causes and conditions we find ourselves in. Our actions, our choices, make a difference not only to other sentient beings, but to ourselves.
Regardless, Amida Buddha calls out to each and every one us, just as we are.
Angry words are painful, so they would come back to you as revenge.
Words are weapons
Have you ever said something mean to a friend in an argument question? If you said something mean, I bet your friend said something mean in return.
When you get into an argument, your words hurt not only yourself but also those nearby. If you hit someone, they will likely get you back. The same is true for arguments. If you hurt someone with your words, they will say something that hurts you in return. It’s important to avoid hurtful words, and instead, always be kind when speaking to others.
Young children have a predilection to use harsh words no sooner than they learn them. Oftentimes, they do not understand the gravity of their speech, but rather simply say things simply for the amusement or to elicit a response. Still, rough speech stems from a defiled heart. It’s important to nip impurity in the bud. Buddhism teaches that purity of the heart is equal to purity of speech.
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across continents, across time.
9:45 AM: Sitting mediation, all levels, including beginners
10:30 AM: Shin Buddhist Sangha Gathering and Service: Rev. Anita Tokuzen Kazarian
What happens at a gathering?
The Sangha, one of the Three Treasures of Buddhism, is ours to experience
Join our Sangha gathering to explore, share and understand how Buddhist teachings benefit us and offer an alternative way of living this life, an alternative that liberates us from dukkha (suffering).
This is an opportunity to reflect on the Buddha Dharma, to understand how we move from dukkha to peace and how its wisdom and compassion brings calmness to this life.
Our service also includes a Memorial to those who have passed before us. To include the name of a loved one or friend who has passed, please email Rev. Anita. This is an expression of gratitude by all of us for those who have come before us.
Please contact Rev. Anita for visits to assisted living, nursing homes or hospital for those who wish to hear the Buddha Dharma but cannot attend the service.