By Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, Resident Minister
BODHI DAY - SACRED LIVELIHOOD
It’s December and I’m wondering what happened to my resolutions of last January. I had
intended to lose 5 pounds, but I’ve gained 5 pounds. Somehow, food keeps appearing on my
desk and otokis and pot lucks are an occupational hazard. How can I apply the principles of Shin
Buddhism for my weight condition?
My weight condition is an aspect of my health condition. As I age, more body parts seem to
require some repair and rehabilitation. I could bore you with medical detail, but I won’t. Isn’t
sickness and old age two of the concerns that led Siddhartha to leave home to seek a resolution?
Old age and especially death do not improve with positive thinking and a better diet. But the
lessons of the Buddha, especially those taught by Shinran, do address those issues that don’t have
a great prognosis.
Much of our concerns and efforts are focused on improving our self-image. Yet, the Buddha
reminds us of the temporary nature of life itself. This truth may be too harsh to accept, so we
distract ourselves with secondary concerns, such as weight. The Nembutsu is a proven path, but
we need to experience it personally to trust it fully. We have been using the 8 Fold Path as a
means of bringing the Nembutsu into our ordinary life.
We’ve talked about the Nembutsu as a deep expression of gratitude. We began with
meditation on gratitude and brought this attitude into our lives by the mindfulness chant of “Na
Man Da Bu.” This conscious effort will become a natural way of discovering many gifts of
compassion. Livelihood is the next step.
Older Dharma school books explain livelihood in terms of our life’s work being honorable. But
Shin Buddhism has always served those in the lower realms of society, where some types of work
were not always considered honorable. But the basic message of Namu Amida Butsu, Is that we
are accepted, just as we are. So how might we understand livelihood?
Bodhi Day is celebrated as the day of Enlightenment. The prince Siddhartha left a royal life to
become the Buddha, with little material comforts. The mythical bodhisattva, Dharmakara, left his
kingdom to become a Buddha. Each left lives of conventional comfort, to struggle with unknown
fulfill their sacred path. We know that our ordinary path is not
that of the dedicated monk. Yet, we can have a balance of achieving and receiving. We might
even call our path sacred, if it aligns with the vow of serving others.
But the difference is that we don’t serve others to achieve status or recognition. We serve as we
strive to pay back our debt of gratitude to all those who have made our lives possible. If we
understand that, we are waking up.
Might we look at livelihood as that which brings meaning to my life? It is more than a career or
job. Our age and position in life may change our response. An early goal may be a career. Then
our focus may be to our family. A different intent may arise, as life moves along. At what point do
we consider our life a success?
External standards and future expectations are unreliable judges. However, each day can be
realized in the Pure Realm, if we can appreciate this gift of life. Imagine a child, who yearns to go
to Disneyland, and spends the entire day on a bench in Fantasyland, playing video games on his
ipad. Might we be doing the same with our lives in this precious life? What is my passion? This is
not a bucket list. This question addresses my purpose in life. If I am fulfilling my passion in life, it is
successful. I am awake. This passion does not have to be big. But to be worthy, it probably aligns
with the Vow to awaken all beings. That means to be of service to others and to help others be
happy. Being useful and of service to others is probably the most validating experience of humans.
I see many examples of members of this sangha whose
purpose has aligned with the Primal Vow. Each of us has a part in bringing Light and Life to others.
We know it when we are in the flow, with little thought of time or effort. At the end of the day, we
may feel tired, but we feel settled and at peace. We may even receive a “thank you.” We might
also affirm the passion or livelihood of others by saying “thank you” to them.
This gift of human life is unique and rare. Namu Amida Butsu is an affirmation of our inclusion
with the Vow of awakening. What gift can we bring to others? Answering this question can bring
life into our livelihood.
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