Dharma Message
By Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, Resident Minister
    Happy New Year! Karen and I would like to thank the San Diego sangha for the wonderful
experience we have had here this past year. We look forward to another joyous year.
    The New Year symbolizes a new beginning. Although there is actually no difference in each day,
we have designated December 31 as the old year, and January 1 as the New Year. The beginning
and ending of each year, month, and week are necessary and convenient designations to
conduct conventional life. Isn’t it true that we could celebrate each moment as the ending and
beginning of our life? We may actually do this as we acknowledge each day, week, or month.
    Looking over the past year, we may judge it to be good or bad according to how our life was
affected. And, we look to the future with optimism toward our life events. However, this basis
of individual good or bad is played within the larger field of family, community, country, and world.
With each increasing larger context, the criteria of good or bad becomes very complex.
My bad
fortune, may be in a
family that enjoys material success, in a community that is suffering from a
recession, in a
country with economic growth, in a world of conflict. We can see how this gauge of
“good or bad” is relative and depends on the context. This gauge of good/bad, right/wrong, is
subjective and has no resolution. Yet many religions are based on this unsolvable condition of
opposing duality. I think Shinran felt this contradiction in his life as a monk on Mt. Hiei. As he followed
the teachings of Honen, he shifted his emphasis to another standard of life: a
continual awakening
and appreciation
of the efforts of others (Amida’s compassion). This practice of gratitude was not
done for recognition, but to acknowledge what was received from others.
    Siddhartha Gautama also saw the unsolvable dilemma of good/bad and life/death, as he
witnessed bugs being eaten by a bird, which in turn was caught by a cat, which in turn was eaten
by a fox. Life depends on the death of others, as every birth will end in death. So, we know that the
outcome of the life/death duality, ends in death. Does that mean that life loses to death? Under
that system, life after death becomes more important than real life. But Shinran emphasized that a
spiritual awakening is a present life event. Since we are alive now, it is the
quality of life that is
significant. In Gobunsho, “On White Ashes”, Rennyo states:
“By so understanding the meaning of
death, we shall come to
fully appreciate the meaning of this life…Our Shin practice is to find joy in
the gift of ordinary human life.
    The Nembutsu is the means by which this awakening takes place. But that experience may be so
deep and profound that a process or steps may be necessary for us to appreciate its full meaning.
Dharma talks, stories, chanting, and rituals may all point to the truth of the Nembutsu. The benefit of
being in a Shin community or sangha, is a living experience and reminder of this truth. Being an
active sangha member is the process of being on the journey of awakening.
    This process or journey is one in which one becomes fully aware of the gift of life provided by
others. We recognize these gifts in the ordinary process of living. The beginning step on this journey, is
to become aware of things that we have received from others. “Thank you” acknowledges what
we have received. By incorporating this simple habit, we begin to shift our focus from what we don’t
have (please) to appreciate what we do have (thank you). Wholesome views or perspective, is an
initial step in the 8 Fold Path. “Thank you” or
“Namo Amida Butsu” is that moment of awakening of
“fully appreciating the meaning of this life.” The goal in Shin Buddhism is not to be in the “good”
column of the good/bad duality. The goal is to be aware of being in the
process of waking up and
appreciating the effort of others for my benefit. Ironically, this process of awakening gratitude,
invariably leads to a more joyous and “good” life.
    In my first year in San Diego, I have presented a basic structure of Shin Buddhism in language and
concepts that are familiar to all Americans. In the coming year, I will be relating traditional Shin
doctrine to this structure: of ME to WE; of achieve to receive; and “please” to “thank you.” The
questionnaire that I used last year will be available again. Please fill out and return it, to help me
share the Shin Dharma with you, most effectively.
    Shinran notes that he feels great joy in his appreciation of the Dharma. It is also the first stage of
the Bodhisattva path. Let us use “joy” as our measurement of the quality of our lives. The old year
may have been judged as good or bad. The New Year can be experienced every day, as we listen,
hear, and act on the Dharma.

    “In a world of duality: of pain/pleasure, good/bad, life/death...
            I become awake to a universe of Wisdom and Compassion.
                    Great joy and gratitude are everyday gifts of the Nembutsu.”

                                                                                               Kenji Sensei
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San Diego, California  92102
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