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Dharma Sisters - 31may15

posted Jun 9, 2015, 2:28 PM by Reno Budd

Dharma Talk - Dharma Sisters

-  31may15  - Rev. Matthew Fisher  -

--- Namandabs - Namandabs - Namandabs ---


Welcome everyone on this beautiful morning.  Thank you for coming to the temple - just as you are. We are always happy to gather with friends - new friends and old friends.   I am very happy to be speaking to you two weeks after Rev, Unno’s Dharma Talk.  He was such a moving speaker.   That said  - I am always happy to talk about the Dharma with you.


It is with great joy that I tell you all that Rev. Shelley and I will be moving into the temple and living here full time. This is a big change for us but a bigger benefit for the Sangha. With priests living here, the sangha will be able to offer the Dharma to more people in more ways than before. It is through the generosity of the Sangha that we are able to do this.   [Personally it feels like the old trust exercise of falling backwards. “Will they catch me?” I know you will -  You already have.


Today my talk will focus on our important Dharma Sisters.  Please understand that we consider [what some call] “gender bias” because we know it is inherent and systemic.   As with all aspects of Buddhism, awareness is a first step.  Seeing reality as it is is the last step. We want to see things as they are - we are OK just as we are. That is wonderful. The Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe - Amida Buddha - is there for us - just as we are.
But as we have noted many times, “We don’t usually feel that way”.  Today I want to point out that half of us [Women] get the opposite message -  you’re not ok -  a bit more strongly than men do. And I am sorry for that. It is pumped out by Hollywood and Advertizing Media in very insidious ways.  In counter force to that we intentionally thank our Dharma Sisters. The Shakuni among us.


Today is the “Go get ‘em sister!” aspect of reality brought into focus.
I want to talk about wonderful  women who are great leaders and exemplars for us all:   Sujata,  Mahapajpati,  Queen Videhi, Kannon, Green Tara, Eshini, Kakushini, Rev. Unno’s Great Grand mother, and Dr. Alicia Matsunaga.    All wonderful Dharma sisters whose contributions make our meeting today possible.


Gender Qualities -

I’ll read a list of Qualities - think in your mind how it fits with the qualities we associate with female life. Generous   Disciplined   Patient      Diligent      Focused     Wise .

These qualities are called the six Paramitas.  Paramita is a sanskrit word that can be translated as “to have arrived at the Other Shore”.  In Buddhism we use “Other Shore” to mean enlightenment. Joyful life without suffering.  These qualities when expressed well are enlightenment itself.


When we consider them deeply we see that they each contain all the others. To be Generous - we have to be Disciplined, Patient,  Diligent,    Focused and Wise.  As with Patience contained within are  Generosity  Discipline   Diligence   Focus   Wisdom .


The first paramita is giving or generosity -  DANA

Here is a story about giving...   In the time just before the enlightenment of the Buddha when Siddhartha was following extreme practices of self denial…
The wonderful Dharma Sister Sujata was a taking an offering of Rice-Milk to a Forest spirit in hopes of getting a good marriage.  But she came upon a man collapsed on the road - She put down her tray and saw he was barely breathing, he was very thin and looked like a skeleton covered in skin. Sujata cradled him and brought a bowl of Rice-Milk to his lips. Without opening his eyes he sipped the mixture. Slowly he regained consciousness.   Sujata brought food everyday as Siddhartha meditated under the Bodhi tree.   Until his enlightenment.

Sujata  showed the first Paramita - Dana - selfless giving.

Giving counters greed, and  ensures we will have enough resources to helping others in the future. The underlying meaning of giving is letting go.


Two kinds of giving.

giving of wealth, be it material resources or our time and energy.
When our giving becomes increasingly unconditional, we will begin to feel more liberated spiritually. When we give we feel contentment.

giving of teaching.  Simply teach whatever we are good at and what others are not. A wonderful form of teaching is the Dharma, which can help people find lasting happiness and liberation.

Another story….
When the Buddha had been teaching for several years, his father King Suddhodana died, he visited his home of Kapilavastu in Sakaya.   Queen Pajapati, his step-mother, ask the Buddha to be ordained as a nun - a Bhikkhuni - The Buddha said “it was not possible”.   She tried three more time to ask for ordination on that visit and each time the Buddha said it was not the right time.


After the Buddha had left for the city of Vesali.  Queen Pajapati gathered the group of women who wanted to be ordained and proposed that they shave their heads, take the yellow robes and walk to Vesali.  They walked the hundreds of miles, begged for food along the way, and arrived at Vesali.


The Buddha’s attendant Ananda was shocked to see the women. He could see from their appearance that they had walked from Kapilivastu. Ananda didn’t know what to do.  Queen Pajapati asked to speak with the Buddha. Ananda first asked him…


“Lord, is it possible for a woman to attain the Fruits of Stream Enterer, Once-Returner, Never-Returner, and Arhatship?”  
“Beyond a doubt” the Buddha answered.

“Then why won’t you accept women into the sangha? Lady Pajapati nurtured and cared for you from the time you were an infant. She has loved you like a son. Now she has shaved her head and renounced all her possessions. She has walked all the way from Kapilavastu to prove that women can endure anything that men can. Please have compassion and allow her to be ordained.”

The Buddha's concerns we about public reaction to the ordination. But ultimately he ordained the first group of Buddhist Nuns.  Mahapajapati [as she was known by her buddhist name]  was, Patient, diligent and Focused in the right measure. And benefited the Dharma teaching by opening its doors wide.  Mahapajapati was opening discipline of a Buddhist life for all Women and herself.  

The second paramita is discipline, which counters worries and unhappiness, and enables us to continue on our way to awakening.

In a broader sense, discipline is ethical behavior. Initially, as we begin to practice discipline, we focus on not harming. Gradually, we begin to develop and increase this virtue to its ultimate form - to benefit others.

The third paramita is patience, which counters anger and hatred, and helps us to avoid arguments and to achieve our goals. We need patience in almost everything we do. If we are in school, we need patience to persevere in our study. At work, patience helps us to properly accomplish our tasks. At home, patience is the foundation for interacting well with family members. Patience enables us to live in harmony.


The fourth paramita is diligence, or enthusiastic effort. It is the joy that we bring to our practice and to all that is worthwhile in our lives. It is the true delight that arises from deep within us when we are doing what is wholesome. It enables us to keep going when we feel tired or overwhelmed. It is refreshing and inspiring. Cultivating enthusiastic effort counters laziness, and brings joy to our lives as we feel a sense of accomplishment in finishing what we have started.

A new story for us is the story of Rev. Mark’s Grandmother. About a hundred years ago.  Even though her husband was a priest, by local custom she was not allowed to listen to the Dharma talks [she needed to attend to the guests of the temple at that time on Sunday morning].  But Mrs. Unno, coming from a temple family herself, was deeply concerned with spirituality.  To satisfy this need, she would  wake up before dawn every morning - dress her children - take them to a morning service at a neighboring temple where the Temple master was famous for daily Dharma talks - and then bring them home and tuck them in bed again - all before her husband woke up.   Her deep interest in the Dharma was so strong she kept this schedule for 50 years. And by this she instilled deep Dharma understanding in her children.  And without this, the wonderful American Buddhist  Rev. Taitetsu Unno would not
have made Shin Buddhism accessible to us.
Generous     Disciplined    Patient      Diligent     Focused  and  Wise  

This woman planted a seed that bore fruit in American Buddhism.

The fifth paramita is Dhyana or deep concentration. Our practice of deep hearing  - to deeply sense the compassion of the universe around us, is possible through deep concentration.  We become aware of our place in that compassion and it’s effect on us. Our minds become calmer and less agitated. Joy flows in when the ice of our delusion melts into the water of understanding.  
We heard from Green Tara on Diligence as shown in her Vow.  Her compassion is boundless.  “She Who Ferries Across” is Green Tara.

The sixth paramita is wisdom. Wisdom counters ignorance, and enables us to know how best to help others and to improve ourselves; our ability to get along well with others. This wisdom not learned in books - it is our innate, all-knowing wisdom.  Imbued deep in our Dharma sisters.


Another Dharma Sister that is very important is Eshinni - Shinran’s wife.  Shinran broke his vows of celibacy by marrying the nun, Eshinni when he was 37. Shinran viewed their marriage as a turning point when he abandoned the traditional life of a Buddhist priest and defined the role of “Fellow traveler” that we follow here at RBC.  Shinran and Eshinni both considered their partner to be a manifestation of the Bodhisattva Kannon and held deep reverence for each other.


Eshinni was born in Niigata Prefecture in 1182. We only known about her from ten letters she wrote to their daughter, Kakushinni. These letters were discovered in the temple archives in Kyoto in 1921. The letters give a glimpse into Buddhism practiced by ordinary women of this time. In the letters, Eshinni conveys her deep respect - almost reverence for her husband.


Besides giving insight into Shinran, the letters also tell about Eshinni’s life as an independent woman, managing land and staff and coping with famine during the 13th century. Eshinni did not depend on her husband for a living, she supported Shinran financially and materially. Eshinni clearly followed Shinran’s view that marriage was not an impediment to being a nun and to following her religious path.  A life of supporting the Nembutsu path and service to the Dharma.  Eshinni is revered for her dedication to Shinran during his teaching years.

Congregations followed the couple's example, where men and women led Shin temples as husband-and-wife teams. Eshinni was the "Mother" of Jodo Shinshu.    One Letter reads...

"Dear Wakasa,

I often think of your children and would like to hear the most recent news about them. I would really like to know about your oldest child. Oh, will there ever be a chance for me to visit you, or for you to come to see me once more while I am alive? Most likely not!
I am ready to go to the land of bliss at any moment. In the land of bliss we will be able to know everything clearly, so I hope that you will live the life of nembutsu and come join me there. I know that if we can meet in the land of bliss, everything will become clear."
Eshinni, age 88


Eshinni’s letters revealed normal concerns for her daughter and grandchildren in far away Kyoto. And important facts of Shinran’s personal life as well as his spiritual journey. Even recounting dreams they had.

Eshinni died at about age 89 in the village of Joetsu.

Generous     Disciplined    Patient      Diligent     Focused    Wise
Several of us toured Joetsu and experienced a beautiful memorial hall dedicated to Eshini where we saw copies of the letters and had the great good fortune to be able to thank her in person at her grave site.


Shinran and Eshinni had six children - Kakushinni was the youngest daughter.    Kakushinni was her father’s caregiver in his final years. She was about 30 years old when Shinran died. When Shinran died in 1263, he was virtually unknown to the Buddhist establishment of Kyoto.

And after Shinran’s death, Kakushinni is revered for planting the seeds of organization grew into today’s Shin Buddhism.  She built the first mausoleum for Shinran on her land. In 1277 she donated this gravesite to all Shin Buddhist followers as a common memorial to Shinran. Later this memorial was known as the Otani Memorial (Otani Byodo) that we visited on our recent pilgrimage as well.


She wanted to keep Shinran’s teaching alive for his followers. She built a temple enshrining an image of Shinran. As a result, the Nembutsu teaching began to reach more people. About 50 years later, this mausoleum became an official temple recognized by the Emperor as the “Hongwanji” or Temple of the Primal Vow. Kakushinni’s foresight and deep appreciation towards the Nembutsu teaching saved Shinran’s work and established the foundation of Shin Buddhism.

Her great contribution in the formation of our branch Buddhism was essential.   Like Sujata’s Rice Milk.   Without it our path to the Dharma would have stopped.  She was ...

Generous     Disciplined    Patient      Diligent     Focused    Wise


Shinran himself felt this way toward our Dharma sisters. There is a famous passage which expresses the Buddhist vision of the total equality of all beings in Amida Buddha’s compassion:

“In reflecting on the great ocean of shinjin, I realize that there is no discrimination between noble and humble or black-robed monks and white-clothed laity, no differentiation between man and woman, old and young. The amount of evil one has committed is not considered; the duration of any performance of religious practices is of no concern.  It is a matter of neither practice nor good acts…

It is simply [trusting the great compassion of the universe] that is inconceivable, inexplicable, and indescribable. It is the medicine that eradicates all poisons. The medicine of the Buddha’s Vow destroys the poisons of our wisdom and foolishness.  - KGSO sect3


When he wrote about this gentle person here - Kannon Bodhisattva - (Kōtaishi Shōtoku hōsan), envisioning the Bodhisattva in many forms as Kuanyin,  and Kannon,  and Avalokiteśvara, Shinran writes:

He appeared in China

To benefit sentient beings;

He was reborn five hundred times

As both man and woman.


The Bodhisattva manifests as needed to save sentient beings from suffering.  As spiritual beings we are not Man or Woman.  We are sentient beings lost in the ocean of births and deaths.  Capable of great compassion and hideous evil.   The wonderful Dharma sisters we have recognized today were  Generous, Disciplined, Patient, Diligent, Focused, Wise.   They stand as strong examples of Buddhist life in compassion and courage.  Showing us life on the other shore is possible and near by.

I have a strong feeling of gratitude to them all. Without any one of them I would not be here speaking to you:  Sujata, Mahapajapati, Green Tara, Unno-Samma, Kannon, Eshinni and Kakushinni the mothers of Shin Buddhism.


We can learn from these great Buddhist women and practice their qualities - even in small measure -  starting today, gradually, we will begin to look in the right direction, toward the Dharma and gradually we will awaken to the the Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe. Amida Buddha - goodness, contentment, and joy are already within us. We awaken to our true nature, - our Buddha-nature - Eternal, Selfless, and Good.
May you be happy and well;

May no harm or difficulties continue for you;

May you receive boundless compassion and care;

And may peace and harmony be restored to your heart


--- Namandabs - Namandabs - Namandabs ---



Resources for this talk

*The Six Paramitas discussions based on a talk given by Angel Kyodo Williams  September 2007

*Eshini’s view of the Pureland - Richard Tennes 2006
* TheLetters of Master Shinran's wife, Eshinni,to Their Daughter, Kakushinni
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