HOONKO - Thanksgiving for our Founder Shinran Shonin 29nov15
Thank you all for being here. Such a busy weekend with going and returning from feasts and family gatherings. It is good that we take the time today to be together in our sangha with the Buddha. For Shin Buddhists this week is a traditional time to reflect and give thanks. It is the anniversary of the death of Shinran Shonin, founder of our denomination. In many temples it is a week of continuous Nembutsu chanting and services. We celebrated it with our Thursday Thanksgiving Dinner and this Sunday service. I think we had 28 people share diner together. My thanks to everyone for making that happen in my absence.
Lets reflect on the benefits we receive and the spiritual gifts that Shinran gave just for you.
When Shinran lay dying, he said:
Though I, my life having run its course,
Return to the Pure Land of Eternal Rest,
I shall Come back to earth again and again
Even as the waves of Wakano Bay.
When alone you rejoice in the Sacred Teachings
Believe that there are two.
And when there are two to rejoice
Believe that there are three
And that other shall be Shinran.
Shinran lived in the 13th century. He could never have left Japan. But his teaching can be found all around the world - this week in Shin homes in Japan, in Europe, in Africa, in North and South America, people are celebrating this occasion by reciting their gratitude to the Buddha for Shinran ‘s transmission of the Buddhist Dharma. These teachings once had only a few followers, today there are millions. But, we should remember the words of Rennyo, who said...
“Speaking of the great prosperity of this sect, it is not a matter of the number of people in the assembly and the depth of its solemnity. If anyone, even just a single person, experiences faith in Amida Buddha, this is the great prosperity of our sect.”
In the story George read - while the priest and his self-righteous congregation were celebrating the feast of Thanksgiving and Gratitude, Shinran, who was the very object of their thanksgiving, was off celebrating with a beggar under a bridge.
It is not enough to just sit around saying how grateful we are! As Rennyo said, we must “express our gratitude in our every action, in our every deed.”
A Sanskrit poet once said:
Good men are like trees.
They furnish shade to others
while standing in the sun themselves;
The fruit they bear is for other’s sake;
Sanskrit Poetry, from Vidyākara's Treasury
We should try to be trees.
They give their shade and protection and their fruit freely. Most of us are more like a cactus, very prickly. We cover ourselves with defences so no one can approach us, even our families are kept at a distance. The choice we face is a barren life, alone, prickly in a desert; or, we to stand great and strong, stretching out and up and bear fruit for all, like a tree - Like Shinran.
This is the choice which Buddhism offers us and the message Shinran hands down to us, a message from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha.
When we talk about Buddhism, we usually think of its profound message - its long lists of principles, like the Eight Fold Path, the ten Paramitas, the 12 step chain of causation...
This is not the important part of Buddhism.
Not just knowledge - Buddhism is an open frame of mind, an attitude of life. The Dalai Lama described his religion as “Compassion”. Shinran would have summed up his view in the single word, “GRATITUDE”.
This gratitude comes from many sources and understandings, but above all, it arises from our coming to understand ourselves. Another Another Sanskrit poem says:
When I knew but very little,
I grew crazed like a rutting elephant and in my proud heart thought I was omniscient.
Bit by bit, from consort with the wise, when I had gained somewhat of knowledge, I knew myself a fool;
and the madness left like a fever.
When we come to understand ourselves, we know that we are totally and completely foolish... Shinran called himself a Bonbunin - a goof-ball or Gutoku Shinran, the “stubble headed Shinran”... and, when we truly realize our own foolishness, we become instantly grateful for all the wonderful things that have happened for us in this life.
The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the roof over our heads, all depend on other people. To all these people, I owe my gratitude; to all the thousands of people who I will never know - I am thankful. I am most thankful to the Buddha for understanding that I am inter-related with all and everything in the universe. And for teaching this. But most of all, I am thankful to Amida Buddha for the flow of infinite compassion and wisdom that these gifts are made from.
For all these people, lets take a moment - and take the hand of the person in the next row - look them in the eye and see the thousands you can never repay - and thank them. Just say Thank You.
Shinran has handed down to us this teaching of the Buddha, and he taught us that everything we do, should be our expression of gratitude to everything in the universe. Out of our gratitude, we practice the six paramitas; out of our thankfulness we are generous in Dana, we are proper in behavior, we are patient, we are energetic in our actions on behalf of everyone, to seek for wisdom. We live a Buddhist life out of Thanksgiving and Gratitude.
On this special day when we bring to mind our gratitude to Shinran for giving us the wonderful teaching of the Buddha, we understand that just saying we are grateful is not enough. We show our gratitude in our daily lives, so that our whole life is an expression the Dharma.
You know the custom of a party favor? - The little gifts given to the guests at a birthday party a kind of gift in return for your kindness - In Buddhism, if we live truly grateful, our whole life is one great gift in return, the gift of ourselves.
The teachings that Shinran gave us are important and vital; these teachings are a path to freedom from suffering, frustration, anxiety, and worry. These teachings lead to happiness and joy.
Sometimes we want the happiness and joy - but we are not always ready to walk the path that leads to it. Shinran taught that when we truly live a life of gratitude and thanksgiving, we treat all people well; we are generous and free, giving of ourselves for the benefit of all.
I had a funny conversation last week…. we’ll just say this person asked me -
“Why should I join the temple and become a member...”
They pointed out that they could take advantage of services and our Dharma School for kids, and Golden Light Meditation and Dharma book group, and Saturday Yoga and everything - without being a member. And if they need to, they could still have a wedding or even a memorial service at the temple without being a member. So there really was no incentive for them to become a member. - You can experience all the benefits without membership - I guess I could see this person’s logic, if we just base becoming part of the community on some kind of cost/benefit analysis.
Why pay for something if you can get it for free? This sums it up.
It is true -- by becoming a member of the temple you will not get priority seating or early bird entrance to Sunday service. You will not get a discount dinner at Moon Rabbit Cafe next Saturday night. In fact, if you become a member, you may even be asked to serve on the Membership or Building & Environment committee or some day on the Sangha Council. Why become a member when it may mean working late on clean-up duty or taking on a burden of responsibility?
What was my answer?
I told this person the reason we become a member is Because you can experience of all the programs, learning, and events that the temple offers for free. Members make that possible.
The Three Jewels of Buddhism are taking refuge and relying on the Buddha, the teacher; the Dharma teaching, and Sangha, the community that helps us awaken to reality. The community is an important part of our foundation in Buddhism. The Sangha provides a network to help in difficult times and shares in the happiness of joyful times.
For those who are members, many have found great experiences working on the temple or at Moon Rabbit Cafe or in Dharma discussions and practice. They glimpse the wonderful cooperative spirit of different generations working together. These opportunities to participate in temple life build skills and create diverse friendships we would not have otherwise.
In Buddhist terminology, this is called creating Go-En. Go refers to the Buddha or the Buddha’s Teachings. En refers to the infinite karmic connections that tie us to one another. In other words, Go-En is the matrix of infinite possibilities that lead us to be intertwined with each other and leads us to Dharma understanding.
People do not become members of a temple with the thought that they will then get some benefit out of it - They become members because they have already received the benefits of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. They are moved to repay that great debt of gratitude, so they become members of the temple. By their support, they will ensure that others in the present and future have that opportunity to hear the Dharma of the Buddha - enriching and deepening meaning in their own lives. Becoming a member of the temple is not Self-benefiting, but Other Benefiting. This is the true heart of compassion. This is the true heart of Shinran’s teaching.
The whole of our teachings, which we accept from Shinran are summed up in the Creed of Shin Buddhist Life...
Trusting in the vow of Buddha and calling the name, we pass through life bravely and cheerfully.
Revering the light of Buddha and always reflecting on our own actions. We proceed in gratitude and thanksgiving.
Following the teachings of Buddha and listening to the Right Path, we spread the true dharma.
Rejoicing at the compassion of Buddha, respecting and helping one another, we exert ourselves for the sake of all.
We honor Shinran today on the 752nd anniversary of his death. Shinran has not vanished into some other world. He lives among us in order to guide us to see the presence of Amida Buddha...
Although my body will pass away,
My teaching shall live forever;
As fresh as the green grass of Wakayama
So long as human beings live.
He lives in the sacrifice of our teachers that came before us,
in the optimistic and constructive spirit of our new members
and in the steps of the next person who finds the temple for the first time.
Now it is time for our New member ceremony…
Namandabs - Namandabs, Namandabs
“The beggar and the priest” written down by Gosei in his Myonkoninden, in about 1770.
“Once upon a time.....The feast of thankvillage in Japan long ago. Under a remote country bridge, not far from a Shin temple was the shack of a beggar, who deeply believed in Shinran’s teachings.
The beggar wanted to attend the special holiday services at the neighboring temple, but hesitated to go because he might not be welcome.
At last, he set up his offerings before his own tiny altar and resolved to celebrate the Holy day alone. Came the night of the feast- day, the temple on the hill was brightly lit, and the villagers in their finest clothes were streaming to the sanctuary.
In his shack beneath the bridge, the beggar was feeling sad that he had not been able to invite a priest to officiate in his home, when there was suddenly the sound of someone at the door. The beggar opened it to find a man in a tattered robe and kesa.
The stranger asked if he might come in out of the chill, and our beggar was overjoyed and explained that he was about to celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving and Gratitude. The beggar then asked the stranger if he would officiate. Together they chanted the Shoshinge and then talked of the Buddha’s teachings. When the service was done, the strange clergyman said he must be on his way. The beggar explained that he had nothing with which to pay for the service, but he hesitatingly offered a single flower from his altar.
The stranger accepted it gratefully, and the beggar watched sadly as he saw the strangers tattered robe go slowly up the road and finally enter the now darkened temple on the hill.
Later in the day, the beggar decided he wanted again to thank the strange clergyman, who had so mysteriously appeared to celebrate the Feast of Thanksgiving and Gratitude with him.
The beggar went up the hill to the temple and asked to see the stranger in the tattered robe, but the housekeeper said that there was no such person there. The beggar insisted that he had seen the man enter the temple, and finally the resident priest was called. The priest, too, denied the mysterious stranger was in the temple. When the beggar persisted, the priest in exasperation, said: “Well, look around for yourself!”
When the beggar had carefully searched the ante-chambers and the residence, he came back into the sanctuary where the annoyed priest was waiting. Just then, an assistant, who was cleaning, opened the door of the shrine where Shinran’s image was placed. There, in the hand of the image, was the single flower which the beggar had given the mysterious cleric the night before!