By Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, Resident Minister
|American Shin Buddhism - New Voices: "Listening, Hearing, Being"
The Southern District Conference will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Mission Bay in San
Diego, on Saturday, June 18. It is hosted by us, the BTSD, and the Vista Buddhist Temple. Since the
co-chairs are Ralph Honda and Terri Omori, the same sibling pair that chaired the BCA-NCM last
year, you know that it will be an enjoyable and productive gathering. As the theme suggests, the
conference will feature new voices. Along with some of the newest members of the Southern
District ministers, the speakers and panel members are lay members who are actively involved in
temple activities. It will be interesting and informative to hear how and why the Shin Dharma has
inspired these participants.
We often hear how Buddhism is too profound or complex to be understood by us ordinary
people. Yet Shin Buddhism is the largest sect of Buddhism in Japan, and was popularized by
Shinran and Rennyo by relating the Buddha’s Truth to ordinary lay people. This same truth has
been heard by many of our participants, even those who were not raised in a traditional Shin
environment. So it will be very useful to hear how Shinran’s teachings have resonated in 21st
My own contribution has been to present a simple structure upon which we may begin to
connect the deep spiritual doctrine of Shin. The sub-heading of “listening-hearing-being”
emphasizes that a process is involved. We may have forgotten that just about everything we can
do has been a process of conscious practice until it becomes a natural skill. I see this in my new
grandson and our young Dharma School children. From 1st graders to high school students, we
see the growth process. Even the skills of walking, talking, and writing, began with conscious effort
and mindful practice, until they became common, ordinary ways of being. As adults, we know
that the more complex skills of cooking, sports, playing an instrument, or learning a hobby must
start with the fundamentals. Once the basics are mastered, the activity can be expanded and
enjoyed as a natural part of our lives.
The same may be true for our outlook in life. Each of us has developed a perspective that we
feel, guides our life. We each want to master a job, career, or skill. The more we master a skill, the
more we realize the difficulty of perfection. As we mature, we also realize that we are supported
by many others. We can only practice a skill because of an organization that was established
previously. This includes teachers, supporting equipment or conditions, and many other unseen
people and factors. We begin to see that everything in life requires a team effort or
interdependence. My initial intent may have been for personal gain. But I begin to realize that I
am in an inter-connected world. Instead of being the best soloist, I realize that my happiness is
really about being part of the choir.
Our participation in our services convey this truth to us. Our chanting offers this experience of
the ME within the WE. Our one voice is part of the whole. We must listen to match our voice with
the tone, pace, and volume of others around us. Together, the chanting brings the sound and
sense of the sangha being One voice. As we listen, we hear the Oneness, and we feel that we are
being the sangha.
Shinran’s great teaching for us common, ordinary people is to hear this truth.
We might follow the simple edict of “do good and avoid evil,” of practice loving kindness and
avoid doing harm to others. We can walk the wholesome 8 Fold Path that leads to the realm of
happiness. The 6 Paramitas of the bodhisattvas are also guides for us to follow. Yet there comes
an awareness that our practices may not master the pitfalls of our ego-self. We may not achieve
the perfection of the masters or the Buddha. Yet we are in oneness with this great wisdom and
compassion because of the efforts of others. It is the music of the Dharma that fills us with joy.
In elementary school I learned to play saxophone by struggling through the fundamentals of
notes and reading music. I practiced enough to play in our high school marching band and
dance band. I wanted to play jazz, but I didn’t master the scales enough to be able to improvise.
I wanted to achieve something, but didn’t. Even if I had mastered the scales, my playing jazz
would not match the pleasure I get from listening to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, or Herbie
Hancock. By learning how difficult it was to play beautiful music, I can appreciate the music of top
As we struggle with our practice, we realize and appreciate that no amount of practice can
erase our sense of ego and desire. Yet we continue to receive the gifts of the efforts of others. If
we can hear this truth, than we are in oneness with Amida Buddha or the totality of Light and Life.
Hearing means that we really get this message of acceptance, just as we are. Shin Buddhism is not
about perfecting a practice to achieve awakening. But our sundry practices help us to realize the
difficulty of perfection. Voicing Namo Amida Butsu, indicates that we are listening, hearing, and
being in oneness with Amida Buddha.
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