By Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, Resident Minister
“If you can read this, thank a teacher!” Teachers are such an important and criti-cal part of our
lives, and yet, may also be greatly under-appreciated. In Shin Bud-dhism, teachers hold an
important posi-tion in our value system. Shinran always credited his teacher, Honen, for the mes-
sages he was presenting. In BCA temples, if the altar area (naijin) is large enough, a scroll with the
Seven Patriarchs is hung on the left side of Rennyo. These are the teachers that Shinran credits with
the lineage of his understanding of Jodo Shinshu.
In December, Western Shin Buddhism lost one of its great teachers. Rev. Dr. Taitetsu Unno
passed away. He came from many generations of significant Shin ministers. His son, Dr. Mark Unno,
continues this long legacy. His two books, “River of Fire, River of Water” and “Shin Buddhism – Bits of
Rubble Turned to Gold,” has provided the Western world with the teachings and heart of Shin
Buddhism. In addition to his signifi-cant scholastic and religious contributions, the manner in which
he and his wife, Alice, lived, is a demonstration of a Shin Bud-dhist life. Many have benefitted from
his passion and depth, as he shared the Shin Dharma.
It must be noted that the real life examples of Shin Buddhists are not saints. The myokonin, or
wondrously pure person, is the model for Shin Buddhists. These are real, historical people, who lived
common, ordinary lives. Most were peasants whose virtue was not in good deeds, but instead,
whose spiritual integrity was based on their honesty with their own human condition. Rev. Jim
Yanagihara and many others have related their stories in books. The guiding criteria of their lives
was their awareness and acceptance of their human limitations. Yet, they experi-enced great joy
by accepting life as it is, instead of complaining about how it “should be.” This sense of joy and
gratitude result-ed from their focus of receiving from others, in spite of their ego-centric thoughts
and limited abilities. They considered this perspective as receiving the Compassion of Amida
Buddha. Our lives are also transformed, by adopting this perspective.
Shakyamuni Buddha’s last words to his grieving disciples were to hold his teachings as a guide
and not his physical pres-ence. And so, we have the words of the Buddha, amplified by the Seven
Patriarchs, clarified by Shinran, and modernized by Dr. Taitetsu Unno and others. We honor
teachers by following their teachings. Thus, our task is to practice these teachings. We validate the
effectiveness of the Teachings, by living a life of gratitude and joy.
Although Dr. Unno and other ministers have been great in-fluences in my religious life, much of
what I know about Shin, comes from my observation of ordinary people in our families and
community. I have had the benefit of being with people who have lived and died, with a Shin
Buddhist perspective. The Three Treasures emphasizes the significance of the Shin sangha, as we
hear the refrain: “I go to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sang-ha for guidance.” The family and
community members that I have as models, were not saints. They were and are ordinary people.
Like the myokonin, it is their honesty in accepting their human nature. They contributed to others
and to the communi-ty, with whatever resources they had; they did not contribute for recognition
or future reward. Their efforts were a response of gratitude, for the benefits already received. It is
up-lifting to be in a community that values mutual support and finds great joy in giving.
Many may take a cynical view that the problems of the world far outweigh the positive. But it is
actually this system of judg-ment, of good and bad, which is one source of our misery. The
appreciation of benefits received, is the awakened mind of in-terdependence. Going to the
sangha for guidance, can mean that we realize that we are listening and hearing the words of the
Buddha because of the efforts of countless teachers and Dharma friends. These great teachers
have shared their life’s wisdom as an expression of their awakening to the Buddha’s Truth. The
seven Patriarchs, Shinran, Rennyo, Dr. Unno and others have dedicated their lives for the benefit of
others. No thought of reward was in their efforts. We need only to receive these truths. Being in this
sangha is a means of shifting our view to appreciate what we already have.
On a recent trip, I was amazed to see many hidden wildlife, when walking with an experienced
nature guide. Among the foliage, birds, insects, hidden reptiles, and animals are abun-dant when
one has the experienced eyes to see them. Similarly, with the practice of “thank you,” we begin
to see the abun-dance of benefits that has always supported us. Joy slips into our hearts, as we
express our gratitude in Namo Amida Butsu. There are no great mystical realms to achieve. Truth is
the sim-ple realization that an ordinary life is a precious life. “If you can experience this, thank a
The BCA National Council Meeting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel here, in San Diego, will be a
wonderful opportunity to express our gratitude to the many ministers and fellow volunteer Sang-ha
members, who make BCA possible. Each of us is BCA. Past ministers, teachers, and BCA have
made it possible for each of us to receive the Buddha’s words in Shinran’s Teachings. We can thank
them by living a joyous life of gratitude.
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