Dharma Messages



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Reverend Jeffrey Soga, resident minister

Aloha, Waipahu and Waianae Hongwanji Sangha. How have you been? Our Bazaar is pau, and many heroes, princesses, and monsters have disappeared because Halloween is pau. Now, it’s November, month of Thanksgiving, which we feel grateful because of the harvest and the sharing together. If you have extra, please share with others.

I’d like to continue from last month about “teaching of Buddha, four noble truth.”

1st Noble Truth: Life is full of suffering;

2nd Noble Truth: Suffering occurs because all causes and conditions are connected.

As I think about 2nd Noble Truth, I recall one old story from China, the title is “Sai’s horse.” It says:


Long, long ago there lived an old man, his name was Sai. He lived with his son in a village near the border. He kept a red horse. It was gentle, clever and strong. People in the village always spoke highly of it. "What a wonderful horse the old man has!"

One day, when Sai went to the stable to let the horse out, he found something wrong. Usually he heard the horse neigh when he approached the stable. But it was very quiet in there. "The horse is gone!" The news soon spread all through the village. His neighbors came and said together, "We are so sorry about your missing horse. It was such a good horse. You must be disappointed.” Sai said calmly, "Don't worry about it. You never know if it will bring me good fortune."

About a month later, Sai thought he heard horses' neighs from the forest. So, he went into it. To his surprise, his missing horse was there along with other horses, wild horses! Soon everyone in the village talked with each other about Sai's horses. They visited him and said, "It's unbelievable! How lucky you are! Sai said to them in a cool voice, "It's very kind of you to say so. But I don't think they'll bring me happiness. On the contrary, I'm afraid something bad could happen to me in the near future."

One day, Sai’s son was riding on one of the wild horses. The horse was rough and so the young man fell down and broke his leg. The villagers heard the news and visited Sai.  They said, "It was terrible! No one expected that accident. We feel really sorry for your son." Sai was very cool and said, "It's very kind of you to say so. But I've never worried about my son. You never know it could bring him good fortune."

A year later, a war broke out between their over lord and the neighboring country. They pressed all the young men in the village into the war. But Sai’s son was spared since he was handicapped. It was a fierce battle. Most of the young men from the village were killed during the war.

I quoted this story from the internet. I see many explanations, connections and effects. However, I’d like to reflect through Shinran Shonin’s thoughts. It says: he, Shinran Shonin, doesn’t know what is good and bad and what is happiness (lucky) and suffering. We judge everything with ignorance. Therefore, we are called “BONBU” or “foolish being full of blind passions.” It means, because of our foolish, selfish, ignorant judgement, everything becomes a cause of suffering and pain.

To Be Continued…



                                               TEACHING OF BUDDHA, July 2019

by Reverend Jeffrey Soga, resident minister

We are truly grateful for this wonderful food, a gift of life. May we share its benefits with all beings. As we partake of this food, let us remember Amida Buddha’s compassion, which surrounds all people and all forms of life.

Namo Amida Butsu. Itadakimasu (we gratefully receive).

Recently I had the forty-nine-day memorial service for my mother, Chisato. She passed away on April 27, therefore, the forty-ninth day (7 days x 7 weeks) was June 14. Because in Japanese and Asian tradition, the counting of anniversaries starts from 1, not 0. Therefore, since she passed on a Saturday, her forty-ninth-day anniversary fell on a Friday. For these past forty-nine days, I kept mourning and ate vegetables as a way to remember my mother’s GO-ON (love and kindness). Some of you may remember that your parents or grandparents followed this tradition, just eating vegetables and avoid killing other living beings. So, I kept eating “一汁一菜 Ichi ju Issai” means just one soup (Ichi ju), one boiled vegetable (Issai), and a bowl of rice and Tsukemono pickles. In other words, I just ate simple food. I followed the tradition of the simple meal and searched the references for the reasons. However, I couldn't find the source of the mourning. I assume that people follow this tradition to repay their parents for all of the parents’ sacrifices. However, I read a novel which was written by Miyagitani a long time ago. It was an ancient Chinese story. It says about mourning, they are:

1.to be shut in a small room and lie down on the hard bed, not on the comfortable soft bed;

2. to not see stage performance, music concert; and

3. to eat simple food.

During such uncomfortable times, he remembers the memories and recognizes the indebtedness to his parents.

I couldn’t do #1 and 2. However, I pursue #3. I learn many things by keeping myself as a vegetarian. First of all, I am killing and receiving inconceivable lives of other living beings. I eat other living beings, which means someone is taking lives, such as cow, pig, chicken, fish, etc. and dirtying their hands by blood, cutting bones, and cleaning insides for me. At the Waipahu Hongwanji, ladies cook lunch for Kokua Club volunteer workers and Sunday, rotation groups prepare refreshment, sometime almost a light lunch. Many of the cooks, such as Mrs. Minemoto, Mrs. Sonoda, Mrs. Tsutsui, my wife, Kumika and others prepare special vegetable menu especially for me. They use Shiitake mushroom, Konbu seaweed, and make soup for me. Thank you very much to all who supported me in my time of mourning. Sometimes, I was invited to eat meal at an outside restaurant and the family wanted to share good food with me. At such times, I wanted to discontinue the vegetarian diet while thinking “isn’t it enough; just take it.” However, at such times, I thought to myself: my mother worked so hard when she raised me, I want to remember that, and convinced myself, “be strong.” I was able to complete the vegetarian tradition with kindness, understanding and support of many people.

I quoted the Hongwanji words of thanksgiving before meal at the begging of this month’s message. Please remember, when you receive and enjoy meals, they were the lives of living beings and someone had to kill, therefore dirtying their hands, and cooking with their love and kindness and reciting the words I quoted with family. 

If you find yourself taking things for granted and forgetting to say thank you, you can be vegetarian once in a while. When you have experienced this tradition, you become sensitive to and aware of subtle tastes such as salt and sugar and shrimp flavor. And also, I lost about 10 lb. during this past seven weeks.

In gassho,

To be continued

                    Ocean in Master Shinran’s Thought

                                                                                        by Kiyonobu Kuwahara

In the second week of August, I was invited to the Buddhist Study Center as a speaker for the 2019 Summer Session. I met many Dharma friends in Hawaii and deepened our appreciation of the Jodo Shinshu teaching together. In addition to the wonderful time with Dharma friends in Hawaii, I had a chance to see the beautiful ocean and smelled the salt tang of the sea every day. Since I grew up at Kure, a coast city in Hiroshima, it was very comfortable and relaxing.  

Speaking of the ocean, Master Shinran, founder of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, uses the word “ocean” and “sea” many times in his writings. There are almost 180 appearances throughout his writings, which point out that it was an important notion for him. 

Master Shinran was born in the city of Kyoto, which is an inland area and far away from the ocean. As a Buddhist practitioner, he knew the ocean through the descriptions in Buddhist writings. However, he didn’t have a chance to actually see it. I believe that it was at the age 35 that he first saw the actual ocean due to the exile to the northern part of Japan. I sometimes wonder what he thought or felt when he first saw the horizontal line of the big ocean or the beautiful sunset. I am sure that he was really impressed, especially with its vastness.    

When Master Shinran uses the word “ocean” in his writings, he uses it to describe two things. One is the realities of our life and this world. Everybody carries greed, anger and stupidity (or ignorance). When we humbly look at them, they are very deep like the ocean or violent like the stormy sea. There are also many obstructs in this world that prevent us from making progress or living a life as a Buddhist. Master Shinran describes such reality of this world, saying “the ocean difficult to cross.”    

When we humbly reflect upon our everyday life, it is true that the issues are so deep and overwhelming. However, there is something deeper and greater. That is, Amida Buddha’s compassionate and salvific work. Master Shinran sometimes uses the word “ocean” when he praises the depth, vastness and strength of Amida Buddha’s works, like saying “the great treasure ocean.” 

Master Shinran did not only use the word “ocean” to praise Amida Buddha, but he also used it to explain how Buddha’s salvific compassion works. It is said in the Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu (Jpn. Shoshinge), the gatha composed by Master Shinran to summarize to the teaching of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism:   

When ignorant and wise, even grave offenders and slanders of the dharma, all alike turn about and enter shinjin, they are like waters that, on entering the ocean, become one in taste with it. (Collected Works of Shinran, p. 70)

Rivers eventually run into the ocean. When this happens, the waters of any rivers become the same taste, that is, salty water. The point of this passage is not that the waters of different rivers physically merge or become one with the ocean, but that when they reach the ocean, they are transformed into the same salty water with the work of the ocean. It doesn’t matter whether it is pure water or dirty water. Any waters are changed into salty water. In the same way, when we reach the Pure Land, all of us are equally transformed into a Buddha of the supreme enlightenment. This is another example of how Master Shinran uses the ocean to praise Amida Buddha’s unfathomable compassion to have all sentient beings attain the supreme enlightenment. 

In gassho (palms together)