By Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, Resident Minister
AN ORDINARY JOURNEY
Last month, I lost a dear Dharma friend to illness and death. I shared an open letter that he
had written last year, about his illness and his thoughts on life. In an email to let other friends know
of his passing, I wrote that if anyone were to ask what it means to be a Shin Buddhist, I would simply
describe the life of Mas Horiuchi. Someone asked me if he was a pillar of the San Jose temple.
After a moment of thought, I replied “no.” Mas didn’t seem to stand out as a pillar of the temple.
He was quietly involved in many activities of the temple, but didn’t put himself in positions of power.
In the metaphor of the structure of a building, Mas was more like a 2x4. Like many members,
he did many little and big things. A temple needs pillars, but the structure is also very dependent
on many 2x4s to complete the many different functions. Perhaps only a few people may have
the resource to be a major support for a temple. But most of us can act like 2x4s. Mas was special
because he was like many 2x4s. He was involved with many different activities at the temple.
Many of these activities were behind the scenes and not recognized. But these are the necessary
elements that maintain the function of a temple. Shin Buddhism is made up of many ordinary
people doing ordinary things that build up to an extraordinary structure.
Every temple has members like Mas. But it is not just his involvement in temple activities that is
notable. It was his attitude in his involvement. A Shin Buddhist life is ordinary. Yet, it is indispensible. It
is both fulfilling for the person, and a necessary part of a larger organization. This is an example of
the ME within the WE. We are all part of a family, work group, temple, social organization, or citizen
of a city, state, and country. Whether we hold paid membership or not, we are recipients of many
groups. The support and maintenance comes from many 2x4s doing many things. The awakened,
Buddhist mind acknowledges this interdependence. The awakened, Shin Buddhist mind, does so
with an attitude of gratitude.
Being grateful for the opportunity to work for others may seem incongruous. But this view may
come from a different perspective than our usual one. Our common assumption is that we do
some work for others and are rewarded for it. We are rewarded for our achievement. But have we
given any thought to our present position? We are here because of the thoughts, efforts, and
wisdom and compassion of others. If we capitalize Wisdom and Compassion and Others, we might
see that it represents Amida Buddha. Isn’t this the meaning of receiving the Compassion of Amida
Buddha? Of course we have contributed our own efforts for our position in life. But much has come
from unseen sources. The interdependence of all life has benefited us in many unseen ways. When
we awaken to this Truth, we can only feel grateful. Then our service to others is in appreciation for
all that we have received. This is the perspective that Mas and many others have demonstrated in
their service to the temple and community.
One of the major contributions that Mas made was to establish a chaplaincy program for the
county jail and juvenile hall. He enlisted several people, including myself, to act as Buddhist
chaplains. His efforts brought the Buddha-Dharma to those who would not have had an
opportunity to hear this Truth. To support this effort, he organized many fund-raisers to buy Buddhist
books for the inmates. But, perhaps more than the written or spoken words of the Dharma, the
inmates saw the embodied Shin Dharma in the natural conduct of Mas. I think this is what draws
many newcomers to our Shin temples. They invariably express a feeling of warmth and
contentment among our members.
Mas wrote an open letter in the San Jose Betsuin newsletter titled “Stage 4 Lung Cancer:
Namo Amida Butsu.” In it he jots down his thoughts on his journey of life. Each of his 25 thoughts
ends with Namo Amida Butsu. We see an ordinary life, much like ours, deeply infused with the
Nembutsu Dharma. Our ordinary life, infused with Namo Amida Butsu, empowers every 2x4 to
become a pillar and also an important, necessary part of the temple structure. The Nembutsu
reminds us that each of us is part of the WE, the larger world/universe. Our awakening to this is
expressed by our service to others. If we can see each part of our lives as fulfilled, then the next
step is accepted with gratitude. Whether the next step benefits us personally or not, we are aware
that we have been given the opportunity of this journey.
This article is not just about honoring Mas. It is to honor the Buddha-Nature in Mas and each
one of us. Each “thank you” and each “Namo Amida Butsu” enriches every step of our journey.
By reviewing the life of an ordinary member, we are encouraged that the Buddha-Nature in each
one of us will arise. The goal is not a destination. It is to appreciate each step in our journey. Thank
[ For a copy of Mas’ open letter, please inquire at the office ]
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