Questions & Answers
1. What kind of church is this? - Our White River Buddhist Temple is of the Jodo Shinshu (Shin Buddhism) tradition and is affiliated with the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) and the Nishi Hongwanji, mother temple of Kyoto, Japan.
2. What is Buddhism? - Buddhism is the religion of Awakening which teaches that worldly difficulties exist because of greed, anger rooted in ignorance. This is the condition of all living beings. Buddhism teaches that release from this karmic bondage is possible through abandonment of ego-centric illusions. Buddhism originated in India 2,500 years ago.
3. Is there a priest or minister at this temple? - There is a minister assigned to this temple by the Bishop of the Buddhist Churches of America, headquartered in San Francisco, California.
4. What is the golden statue in the shrine of Main building? - The image is a personification of the principle of supreme Dharma. The statue is not an image of Gautama Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, because it has been prohibited to make any statues of Buddha in the orthodox schools of Mahayana, but rather an image of the spiritual truth-reality taught by Gautama Buddha. This worldly aspect of truth-reality is named Namuamidhanbuh ( pronunciation: Naa-mu-aa-mi-dhaan-buh ) - the Name of the Tathagata, manifested true and real Act of Infinite Wisdom and Boundless Compassion
Articles as follows;
1. Thus, heard by Shinran Shonin
2. How do we feel about Buddhadharma
3. American Japanese Ancestry and their Shin Buddhist Background
4. The Peony and The Lion
THUS, HEARD BY SHINRAN SHONIN (The Founder of Jodo Shinshu) -His understanding on Buddhadharma
Nakagawa Kakei, Sensei
Gautama Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became the Buddha about 2500 years ago in India. Thereafter, Gautama Siddhartha became to be called with respect as Sakya-muni Buddha' or Gautama Buddha.
Buddha is the one who has awakened to the truth. Enlightenment means that the one who; because of his/her ignorance used to view the world and his/her life mistakenly and, because of this, often chose a wrong way of life, awakens to the real state of the world and his/her life. It is to restore the genuine self' by coming to possess a true view of the world and one's life. Having attained enlightenment through his deep insight, Sakya-muni Buddha ascertained that living in an enlightened state is the only way for human beings to live in true happiness. He taught about the true nature of life and led all other people to attain Buddhahood. In this way, Buddhism is a teaching which ultimately leads one to become a Buddha himself.
Shinran Shonin (1173 ~ 1263) was a person who lived through a tumultuous period of Japan's history. He possessed a grave desire to live in accordance with Sakya-muni Buddha's teachings. What are the Buddha's teachings that led him to such a serious concern? How did he learn and practice them?
The Buddhist path, in general, consists of three steps. Firstly led by the Buddha's teachings, the practicer realizes that he is ignorant (a being whose life is based on delusion) and is transmigrating in the cycle of birth and death. Then, he aspires for enlightenment and develops abilities that enable him to see the truth. And as a result he brings delusion to an end and attains buddhahood. General Buddhist practices follow this order.
However, even if we hear the Buddha's teaching and realize the importance of attaining buddhahood, it is very difficult to eliminate our unceasing delusion and to cultivate wisdom. Unless we have a considerably superior nature and a stiff will, the Buddhist path is hard to accomplish; since deluded people like us are always chasing our present desires without any doubt, do not realize the fact that we are transmigrating in the cycle of birth and death and never stop committing evil acts. It is impossible for such deluded people to succeed in attaining this goal of the Buddhist path.
We will finish our lives in vain without awakening to true selves if we do not recognize the importance of attaining buddhahood. Sakya-muni Buddha took it as his task to let us know how important it is to attain buddhahood. Thus, the Buddha never abandoned us. Especially for such beings, the Buddha revealed the Buddhist path that focuses on the teaching of Other-power. (the power beyond self or the power solely purpose to benefit others). In this teaching, we are given the right cause to attain buddhahood by Amida. In the Larger Sutra, Sakya-muni Buddha taught that the practice of Other-power was accomplished by Amida who vowed to save all sentient beings by transferring all of its merits to them.
By comparison, there are many Buddhist teachings and sects that teach a process of attaining buddhahood by a practicer's own effort are called Self-power Buddhism. Most of the sects, for example Shingon, Zen and Nichiren sects, all follow the teaching of self-generated-effort (Self-power).
The teaching which Shinran Shonin learned and practiced at Mt. Hiei monastery for twenty years was the Tendai teaching based on the Lotus Sutra. Tendai teachings fundamentally aim at entering the Pure Land and meeting the Buddha in this life by meditating that the variety of phenomenal things expresses the real state of the universal and eternal truth, and by practicing the six paramita practices of the bodhisattva path to eliminate all illusion. However, it requires hard disciplines that last very long time in order to succeed. For instance, extraordinarily hard disciplines like the thousand-day strolling mountain practice is performed by practicers in order to realize it. Certain people may achieve enlightenment through such rigorous practices, but it is impossible for ordinary people to accomplish the Tendai sect's meditations and practices. Only sages are able to master them. That is why, this teaching is called the path of sages. Shinran ShúÏin also pursued this path of sages for twenty years during his life on Mt. Hiei.
However, the harder Shinran Shonin tried to eliminate his illusion, the more clearly he saw the real state of his evil mind. In one of his gatha, he confessed, "My evil-ness is truly difficult to renounce; the mind is like a venomous snake or scorpion."(Wasan-gatha 96) Even when he did good deeds which were supposed to be praised by people, he keenly looked within himself and confessed, "Even doing various good acts is tainted with poison. And so is called false practice."(ibid.) Through his introspective efforts, Shinran Shonin saw that he would not be able to attain buddhahood by self-power practices. The conclusion that he came to is not applicable to Shinran Shonin only, but also to all of us who are in the same position. Supposedly, in Shinran Shonin's mind there arose questions such as; whether the path to attain buddhahood was closed to a ignorant person and whether the Buddha had forsaken or abandoned evil people like him.
When Shinran Shonin was immensely worried and in deep despair, he was taught by Master Honen the path of other-power nembutsu which was revealed in the Larger Sutra. He knew that great patriarchs like Bohisattva Nagarjuna, Bohisattva Vasubandhu and Master T'an' Luan had testified to the easiness and reliability of the path of other-power nembutsu and that they all exhorted ignorant people to decide to follow it. The existence of this nembutsu teaching gave Shinran Shonin the answer. As soon as Shinran Shonin heard Master Honen's teaching, he abandoned the self-power teaching of Tendai and chose the other-power teaching of the nembutsu as the path by which he would assuredly attain buddhahood.
The teaching of other power nembutsu was not created by Master Honen. The Buddha who saw into the nature of beings like us had already prepared the teaching of other power for us. However, because most people were only interested in the profound and philosophical Buddhist teachings, they missed the original intent of the Buddha to save all sentient beings equally. Thus, such people mistakenly saw the teaching especially made for deluded people as the lower and inferior teaching. Master Honen and Shinran Shonin revealed the original intent of the Buddha clearly. What they revealed can be summed up in the following points.
(1) The Buddhist path of other power which exists for the sake of ignorant people the object is not an inferior teaching, it is in fact superior to other teachings simply because it saves even ignorant people.
(2) The nembutsu practice, by itself, not as a part of other practices, is the right cause for attaining buddhahood.
(3) Although the Buddhist path of other power does not requires us to perform difficult practices, it surely brings us to the attainment of buddhahood. It does not perform a supportive function for other teachings which were told to the sages by the Buddha. And it leads us to the same enlightenment as the other paths do.
(4) There are no differences between the enlightenment of the Other Power teaching and that of Self Power teachings. Because the cause of Other Power is given to us by Amida: although our personal abilities to achieve enlightenment are limited, it nevertheless bring us to the highest enlightenment.
(5) The nembutsu teaching was taught especially for the sake of ordinary people and ignorant, sometimes evil people, thus this kind of person becomes the primary focus of salvation.
As Sakya-muni Buddha states in the Lager Sutra, he expounded the teaching "seeking to save the multitudes of living beings by blessing them with the benefit that is true and real." In other words, since "the multitudes of living beings" includes ignorant and evil people, we can conclude that this Sutra was taught especially for those who are ignorant and evil because without this "benefit" they would have no way to be included within Amida's salvation. Since I told an inclusion of even ignorant and evil people is in accordance with Amida's Eighteenth Vow, we may conclude that Sakya-muni Buddha's primary purpose for appearing in this world was to reveal this teaching. In this sense, the teachings that save all beings including ignorant and evil people can be called the true teaching' and the teachings that only save self-power sages can be called the provisional teachings or, teachings which do not manifest the Buddha's intent fully. Seeing this, Shinran Shonin realized and entrust himself that teachings of the Lager Sutra was the path which he should follow.
How do we feel about Buddhadharma
Nakagawa Kakei, Sensei
It was about 2500 years ago that Gautama Siddahrhta attained enlightenment and became Buddha. Thereafter, Gautama Siddhartha became known as Sakya-muni, the sage from Sakya clan. In the present day, we call him as Sakya -muni Buddha' or Gautama Buddha'.
Buddha is the one who has awakened to the truth. Enlightenment means that the one who; because of his/her ignorance used to view the world and his/her life mistakenly and, because of this, often chose a wrong way of life, awakens to the real state of the world and his/her life. It is to restore the genuine self by coming to possess a true view of the world and one's life. Having attained enlightenment through his deep insight, Sakya-muni Buddha ascertained that living in an enlightened state is the only way for human beings to live in true happiness. He taught about the true nature of life and led all other people to attain Buddhahood. In this way, Buddhism is a teaching which ultimately leads one to become a Buddha himself.
Looking at our life, we wish to always be young and to always live a happy life. In order to accomplish this end, we try to take good care of ourselves, to save money, to have our children study hard, and to persevere in our efforts for a stable future. We sometimes imagine that our convenient situation surely continue forever, ignoring the truth of impermanence of this world. We, however, are often disappointed by unexpected happenings and circumstances. Even though we all wish for peace without exception, conflicts never cease. Even in the ordinary family, where harmony is to be expected, there is often hostility. At the same time. we are walking on a one way path towards old age, sickness and, without exception, we will all have to sink into the abyss of death in the end. Not being eager to accept such unpleasant realities of life, we try to divert our eyes from it as much as possible or in unconscious level. As a result we consume our un-repeatable precious life in vain without seriously thinking about its meaning. When young Gautama Siddharhta recognized these realities of life, he abandoned his position as the crown prince of the Sakya Kingdom to seek the solution to these problems. He came to the conclusion that: since he could never be free from the fundamental sufferings of old age, sickness and death, no matter how much he sought immediate pleasures, he could never be happy after all.
Then, what do we do, when we are confronted by the unstable realities of life? Some people pray to gods to protect them from various disasters. Some give up on the present life and beg gods to bring them to a heaven which is filled with joy. Many religions teach that such ways are the solutions to life's problems. There were many of religious masters who expounded various methods to get rid of suffering in the times of Sakya-muni Buddha. At first young Gautama Siddharhta studied and practiced some of their teachings. But finding that these teachings did not contain the proper method to solve the problem of suffering, he left and began to find the fundamental way of solving the problem of suffering by himself.
When we are faced with successive unhappiness in everyday life, we seek to avoid dealing with the reality. We often pray to gods to protect us from unhappiness. Sakya-muni Buddha never assumed such an attitude. He averted his eyes from the reality because the reality placed the dependence for the solution of our problems onto others. Instead of attributing the cause of suffering to some outward form of existence, he penetrated reality for himself; searched for the cause of suffering, and decided to thoroughly eradicate the cause itself.
In general, religion judges whether something is true or not based upon religious authority, like the words of god. To follow such truth is generally regarded as faith. During the time of Sakya-muni Buddha, such a religious authority existed (which was known as Brahmanism, present Hinduism's former figure). Nevertheless, he never depended upon this authority or entrusted himself to a god's will. He faced up to the reality of suffering and discerned the nature of suffering. After serenely observing the cause of suffering and the way of deliverance from it, he discovered the answer at last. This attitude of forcing oneself to face a matter squarely, which is often called to observe a matter squarely or to see the reality as it is, consistently provided the foundation for Sakya-muni Buddha's speculation.
Not only is this a fundamental Buddhist way of thinking, but also it should be noted that this attitude distinguishes Buddha-dharma from other religions which talk of the revelation of the truth by a god or supreme being.
Sakya-muni Buddha was in his deep meditation, observed what all sorts of being in the phenomenal world should be in the state of inter-connectedness, by the workings of his perfected prajna-paramita-wisdom.
Up to that time, it had been thought that the "matter" appeared and the "matter" disappeared. But Sakya -muni Buddha discovered the fact that the "matter" which was perceived as the subject of appearance and disappearance, had not been confirmed its peculiar substance. In a word, the real nature of our external environment cannot be gathered by our perceptive abilities because of its actual incessant fluctuation in a condition of non-stagnant "time". Then, the views which something stand-still extent "matter" changes its form moment by moment is totally wrong. Eventually, the true reality of the transient form has no individuality of the substance and exists on the stage of the sunyata-void-ness.
Sakya-muni Buddha grasped such a true reality of each existences, since then he never recognized the phenomenal world through the workings of the substantial concept which is formed by the perceptive stand-still aspects like us the ordinary people, and he gained the wisdom of non-discrimination which never works with attaching to anything substantial. After he reached that state, the "ignorance"-the root of all attachments was interrupted and he was totally liberated from all sufferings. Ever since, he had lived for the only purpose to make the people who are suffered by the "ignorance" to liberate. We call such a state of his mind as a "Great Compassion".
As the result of observing the matter squarely, Sakya -muni Buddha realized many significant truths which people in his time could not realized.
(1) Suffering does not come to us from some higher being outside of ourselves. Our own ego-centric mind, full of self attachment and blind passion, creates the suffering that we are bothered by.
(2) Our ego-centric mind arises from our ignorance of the way things are and from a misunderstanding of true reality.
Regarding the first phrase, we usually see the cause of suffering in something outside of us, such as lack of money or shortage of things. Here we presuppose that if the outside conditions were changed, we would be happy. On the contrary, Sakya -muni Buddha located the cause of suffering as inside of ourselves: in other words, he comprehended that our mind creates both suffering and pleasure.
What does it mean that our mind creates both suffering and pleasure'? We see things through our eyes, we hear sound with our ears, and thereby perceive what things are. After that we judge whether these things are pleasing or disturbing. Although we suppose that we see, hear, and perceive things correctly, can it really be so? We often say that since I did not pay attention to it. I overlooked it' or it did not reach my ears because I was angry at something else.' Even if we suppose that we perceive something correctly, its appearance is subject to change according to our mental state.
The nature of our thought, however, is deeply rooted in an ego-centric mind which always indulges in wishful thinking about ourselves and our surroundings. It is this mind that is always greedy to gain wishful things and to reject un-desirous things. It is this mind that fails to recognize the facts truthfully, regards other's criticisms as faults, and is blind to reason. When we admit that our view of the world is based on such a mind, we see that our picture of the world is already distorted. Yet, we firmly convince ourselves that we see things properly. If not only one person but also other people perceive the world in such a distorted fashion; continually judging what is good or bad based on one's personal wishes, and insisting on a perceived infallibility of one's own judgment, it is certain that conflicts will arise among them.
In this sense, what we perceive as suffering does not really have a substance; we are actually terrified of things that we ourselves have created. Sometimes though we do not even notice that we are troubled by such nightmares, and we remain in darkness. This is the state of our existence. That is why we are called a deluded person or a sentient being. Sakya -muni Buddha made clear that our suffering and illusion are derived from evil passions present in our minds.
"Approaching the heart of Buddhism" by Dr. Daishun Ueyama "Bukkyo no juyou" by Dr. Zuiho Yamaguchi_
American Japanese Ancestry and their Shin Buddhist Background (a.k. One Cultural Context of Japanese Immigration)
Reverend Kakei Nakagawa, Sensei
I suspect that many of you readers may once have had questions like these:
"Why were most immigrants from Japan the followers of Jodo Shinshu teachings? Was most of the emigration from Japan due to poverty?" In response to the second question, it is true that poverty in Japan drove the Japanese to immigrate to America, but that was only one facet of the emigration issue. From the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, Japan was still in recovery from 270 years of long-lasting seclusion. Therefore, Japan was a relatively poor country compared with others. Japanese immigrants moved to the United States seeking a better life from poverty. So from this perspective, nothing is different from other immigrants, such as from European countries, in terms of motivation.
For a clearer answer to the second question, let us consider the first question. "Why were most immigrants from Japan the followers of Jodo Shinshu teachings?" This question is addressed with clear and simple facts. Most Japanese immigrants came from specific areas where Jodo Shinshu doctrine spread throughout these prefectures during the past 500 years, so a large proportion of these people were Jodo Shinshu followers.
For instance, Kumamoto and Yamaguchi prefectures each had 80% of Jodo Shinshu followers out of their total populations. In the same token, more than 90% were Jodo Shinshu followers in the northern part of Wakayama prefecture, the western part of Shizuoka, and also the entire Shimane and Hiroshima prefectures. Jodo Shinshu followers who were farmers or fishermen might have reached nearly 100%. These were the mainstream of immigrants to the United States.
As a side note - Although Okinawans were not Jodo Shinshu followers, I would just like to mention that Okinawans who came to the United States had their own reason for immigration. They had a tragic history of exploitation from Satsuma kingdom throughout the Edo era. They were treated as if their land was a colony, even though it was really a separate country with proud traditions.
Then why did so many people of Jodo Shinshu faith come to the United States of America? Again, poverty is not the main reason. For sure, Japan was a small country in Asia, but areas where Jodo Shinshu prevailed were relatively rich. Or maybe I should say that areas where Jodo Shinshu prevailed had developed and prospered for 270 years during the Edo era. Even today, these Jodo Shinshu regions as well as other Jodo Shinshu prefectures such as Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures in Hokuriku, Northern Kyushu, are well known as hub cities in politics, economy and culture. If the main driver of immigration had been poverty, then the majority of immigrants should have been from Koshinetsu, Tohoku, and the Northern Kanto areas, where people had suffered from chronic starvation.
There are two main reasons why the areas where Jodo Shinshu doctrines prevailed became prosperous.
1. Population in those places was greater than other areas without exception, and the population was nearly saturated.
2. People in those places led a rational and practical lifestyle even in the pre-modern era compared with other regions.
There is clear reason for this prosperity. The story dates back to the Edo era (17th century to 19th century). During 270 years under Tokugawa feudalism, farmers and fishermen accounted for 80% of the population. These people were mainstream Jodo Shinshu believers who led tragic lives. 90% of the total population, made up of such people as farmers, fishermen, merchants, and technicians in pre-industrial workshops, had to support 10% of the non-productive Samurai class. Since the key industry of Japan was agriculture, farmers were exploited severely. Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa feudalistic regime, has been attributed with saying that a farmer should be kept alive marginally but not to the point of perishing. This saying simply exemplified the ruler's perspective toward the ruled, namely the farmers. This thought had been passed down through the generations as words of wisdom. Farmers suffered a heavy tax burden. They also had a hard time securing enough food to feed family members.
Spontaneous population control was established to secure food for wintertime. Vulnerable people are always the first victims. "Mabiki" (discard newborn babies) was practiced and the aged were frequently left alone deserted deep in the mountains in cold winter. The tale of "Ubasute-yama (mountains with abandoned old people)" has been passed down as a folk story. These practices developed only to protect other family members' lives. It is not a tragic incident that occurred uniquely in Japan. In pre-modern society this might have happened in any place on earth where human beings live in daily life.
One of the remaining questions from the first article of this series, I asked is "Why were most immigrants from Japan followers of Jodo Shinshu teachings." To get to the answer, we first examined what life was like from the mid-19th century in Japan. The ratio of Jodo Shinshu followers was high in the areas where the Jodo Shinshu originated from Japan. 90% of the total population led tragic lives supporting 10% of the non-productive Samurai class. Spontaneous population control was established to secure food for family members. To make ends meet, people practiced mabiki, discarding new babies, and ubasute-yama, mountains with abandoned old people.
There is an exception to these harsh ways, and that is a society formed by Jodo Shinshu followers. Farmers of Jodo Shinshu beliefs did face extreme hardships like the others, but they did not even think of sacrificing their children or abandoning their elderly parents. "Our children are not ours. They are children of Amida Tathagata. We are taking care of them temporarily." It has been told for many years that even though Jodo Shinshu believers did not have higher education, they had learned the preciousness of life naturally divorced from self-centeredness from Shinran Shonin. Also, they were familiar with the story of Rennyo Shonin's life through the teachings that were delivered by the Jodo Shinshu priests. Rennyo Shonin had thirteen boys and fourteen girls from five different wives in his lifetime. He lost four of those wives and many children. Rennyo Shonin experienced much hardship during his lifetime. He endured a relationship of conflict with his stepmother and half brother. Even under serious poverty, he never gave up supporting his family. No matter how hard his life became, Rennyo Shonin¡¯s successful life, religiously and socially, always made a strong impression to all Jodo Shinshu followers. For those who believe Jodo Shinshu, committing suicide would not be as painful as disregarding the lives of their children. Remember that the Jodo Shinshu followers believed that they were only taking care of the children temporarily for Amida Tathagata.
Kagoshima, or Satsuma-Osumi as it was called in the 19th century, was a kingdom of prohibition against Jodo Shinshu. Most farmers and fishermen in this region were hidden Jodo Shinshu followers. During this time, a mothers¡¯ riot broke out in the hidden Jodo Shinshu area against mabiki that was ordered by the Satsuma government. Although the Satsuma government was as well known as its relentless policy for the farmers, Jodo Shinshu mothers opposed mabiki at the risk of their lives. This kind of activity never occurred in other regions, only in the Jodo Shinshu areas. I must add that their feeling had nothing to do with fear linked with curse or punishment by Buddha. I can say for sure that Jodo Shinshu believers are less scared of unreasonable and rootless awe. (I will refer to this later on.)
Farmers who were followers of Jodo Shinshu worked extremely hard. They worked harder than other farmers, because they had to feed more family members. They had to come up with creative ideas so that as many family members as possible could survive through the wintertime. When we look at the society of Jodo Shinshu believers of that time, we find unidentified villages and unregistered rice fields cultivated by all the members more than other regions that evaded detection by administrators. At any rate, these kinds of activities contributed to expanding areas of rice fields, while accelerating agricultural technology dramatically. Furthermore, trusting relationships developed among believers. These relationships became cohesive to the level we could not find in other communities.
When you travel through Japan today, especially in the western part, you will see small communities along the railroad. As you look through the train windows, you will recognize Jodo Shinshu temples from their architecturally characterized big roofs. Temples are always located at the center of the community just like a mother bird opening its wings wide with love and affection embracing the lives of the baby birds. Jodo Shinshu temples have functioned not only as a place of religious services but also as a school, a city hall, a hospital, and also as a central location for all social activities. The temple priest and his wife led community life not only religiously but also culturally. Jodo Shinshu followers have looked to the priest¡¯s family as a model for their Nembutsu-centered life.
After the Hongwanji responded to the request from the young Japanese immigrants and sent priests to the United States of America, Jodo Shinshu followers immediately started to build temples wherever Japanese immigrants settled. Jodo Shinshu temples began to function as a hub for the Japanese Americans. We sometimes see only the surface of activities, but a Jodo Shinshu core always exists. In proportion to and because of the strong-ness and the staple-ness of the core, all the surrounding activities grew enthusiastically. Without a doubt, the core of each temple is the Jodo Shinshu Dharma, the Nembutsu teaching and its legacy.
According to records in mid-20th century Japan, the ratio of serious crime or felony among Jodo Shinshu followers was amazingly low. It is reported with admiration that there were no cases of patricide/matricide in regions where Jodo Shinshu followers lived. Also, according to the survey of the judicial department of Japan in 1945, four of forty-six prefectures never had a condemned criminal. The four were Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama and Hiroshima, all of which were Jodo Shinshu regions that I mentioned previously. I assume that this fact correlates well with extremely low crime rates among Japanese immigrants in the United States during the time when Jodo Shinshu tradition first began here
During the 270-year Tokugawa regime, areas where Jodo Shinshu believers lived grew in population and prosperity. In most cases, the population was higher by 20 to 25% in Jodo Shinshu areas versus non-Jodo Shinshu areas, even when compared to other parts of Japan with similar climates. When the seclusionary edicts were lifted after the end of the Tokugawa regime, excess manpower did outflow overseas from areas where Jodo Shinshu followers lived. In my hometown, for example, during the Tokugawa regime second or third sons in families living in mountainous areas crossed the mountains into more populated areas, like Hiroshima castles town, to serve as apprentices. After the Meiji restoration, excess manpower moved outside the country to places such as Hawaii, North America, and South America (particularly Brazil). Another example is provided by the "Nakayama Sonjin-kai" and "Midori-i kai", two village associations that are still active today in the U.S.A. These villages (Nakayama and Midori-i) had continuously provided young manpower to the castle town of Hiroshima during the Edo-era. Their motivation for emigration to nearby towns was not out of desperation, but rather it had some sort of easiness (they had never dreamed of the indescribable ordeals that they were to encounter by leaving their home villages).
I used the phrase "some sort of easiness", which is closely related with the rational and practical life style previously mentioned as the second reason why Jodo Shinshu became dominant in particular areas of Japan.
Jodo Shinshu believers who emigrated from Japan were members of families with over ten generations of training in Jodo Shinshu-living packaged by Rennyo Shonin, the eighth abbot. Each morning to start the day, these Jodo Shinshu believers recited Shoshinge (the gatha of the true entrusting written by Shinran Shonin) and six Wasan-gathas followed by Nembutsu. In this way they experienced for themselves what Shinran Shonin had gone through, including tremendous joy in the teachings, followed by practicing the Nembutsu. They also memorized Rennyo Shonin's Go-Bunsho (the collection of the letters of Rennyo Shonin), particularly Volume 5, which helped to correct their misunderstanding of Jodo Shinshu teachings. The memorization of Go-Bunsho was sometimes considered the initiation into adulthood in their community. And they enjoyed the Ryoge-mon in the evening. Ryoge-mon, also written by Rennyo Shonin, is a simple, but thoughtful passage of guidelines for peoples' profession regarding to how do I practice the Nembutsu Dharma.
It is not too much to say that they were idealistic people we might not otherwise expect to find in the class of fishermen or farmers of 17th century to 19th century Japan. While most 19th century emigrants from Japan were teenagers or in their 20s, they were not illiterate. Rather, they were raised in families where members knew and had lived in the dharma tradition through at least ten generations.
The most conspicuous characteristics common to Jodo Shinshu believers is that they are extremely logical and practical. Their attitude is evident in their daily lives. Jodo Shinshu believers share the following traits:
i. They are not superstitious. ii. They do not accept fortune telling. iii. They are not afraid of curses.
These characteristics of Jodo Shinshu believers have stood out in both modern and pre-modern times. I would like to refer to Dazai Shundai (1680~1747), a famous economist as well as rationalist in the Edo era. While visiting the western part of Japan, Dazai Shundai became acquainted with a group of Jodo Shinshu believers and wrote an essay of his travels. Although he had previously been critical and antagonistic toward the Buddha-dharma tradition all throughout his life, he admired the rationality of the people he met. Focusing on the three traits mentioned above, he said, "It is a great achievement made by Mr. Shinran."
The rational aspect of these people is exemplified in their attitude toward disease. Jodo Shinshu followers have never accepted superstitious incantations or prayers to cure serious diseases, even in pre-modern times. This is attributable to the thorough education of believers by Jodo Shinshu priests. Each Jodo Shinshu temple kept medical herbs based on Chinese herbal pharmacy instead of relying on incantations or prayers. Some temples invented their own prescription for their herbs.
In these same areas, medical and pharmaceutical technologies developed outstandingly. The Hiroshima and Toyama regions were famous herb production areas. Even today, Japanese people are reminded of "the medicine peddler" when they hear the prefecture name Toyama.
In Hiroshima, they established their own unique Jodo Shinshu dharmological (=buddhist theological) school, "Gei-tetsu", which strongly influenced even contemporary Jodo Shinshu doctrine. Separate schools were also formed in medical science and pharmacology. Hosen-bo E-un and Yoshimasu Todo are historically represented in these fields. Both of them were from ordinary levels of Jodo Shinshu followers. A dream of Jodo Shinshu believers was to become a doctor to devote oneself to the people as well as to become a Jodo Shinshu priest. At the same time, people who played a pivotal role in Japan after the 17th Century were ordinary people, which is very unique in the history of the world.
I myself have an experience that I faced the fact of Jodo Shinshu followers whose life style is totally away from superstitions.
Average Japanese know his or her own animal sign of the Japanese zodiac without doubt. I was born and brought up in Jodo Shinshu temple family in Hiroshima City. And I knew what the year I was born as a general knowledge. Shortly after I was enrolled in private junior high school in Hiroshima, 12 animals in Japanese zodiac were discussed in a classroom. Some of my classmates raised a question, and they seemed completely puzzled about what was talked about. The teacher explained 12 animals representing each year, and he added that some sort of fortune-telling was made in accordance with animal when that year fell or when people was born. It was general practice, nothing serious. Immediately one student said angrily, as if he wanted to finish this topic, because it was non-sense. " I was born in the year of human beings. The year of man." I remember this episode very vividly. Later on I asked him whether or not he knew animals in Japanese zodiac. Truly he did not know his year in the zodiac. He replied like this. Nobody in his 'Island' ever knows such a kind of absurd superstition at all. He was offended somehow seriously saying, "Are you stupid? I thought this school must have been a prestigious one pursuing education, but how can the teacher ask such a ridiculous thing?" In later date, I came to know that those students who did not know 12 animal zodiac came from islands in Setonaikai Inland Sea. What's done is done, but I was ashamed as a son of priest, when I came to learn the fact.
On several islands in Inland Sea of Japan, even today Jodo Shinshu temples are performing everyday early morning ritual services. Unlike Jodo Shinshu followers in urbane area who respect their religion somewhat superficially, peoples' lives in these islands steadfastly follow traditional Jodo-shinshu practices.
Let me rerpeat why Jodo Shinshu followers have rational ideas in daily life. Jodo Shinshu society is free from serious taboos that have been kept traditionally for hundreds of years and were found commonly in communities derived from animism, a private belief that natural objects and forces have souls.
In the previous part I mentioned that Japanese immigrants had "a sort of easiness" in their motivation. This nature made it easier for Japanese emigrants to fuse Jodo Shinshu theory and faith to the so-called "Ubusunagami (Birthplace god)", an extreme emotional attachment to one's birthplace found in animistic religious environments. This fusion resulted in a few form of belief. As a result, a taboo related to moving or emigrating from one's birthplace originally based upon faith to ancestors could be nullified.
On the other hand, blood relationships were the yardstick for everything in primitive religious forms before Buddhism. The universe consisted of family, relatives, tribe and community members. Jodo Shinshu followers were not fully free from this, but compared with people in different region they were able to move beyond serious taboos associated with animism.
When you visit graveyard in western part of Japan, you are likely find four kanji characters, "Ku-e-is-sho", curved on the tombstones. These characters are from one line in "Bussetu-Amida-kyo". Jodo Shinshu followers never doubted that their next life would be in the Realm of Amida where they would meet again with relatives. The conviction "to be together" for the name of "Na-mu-a-mi-dhan-buh", was just as important to earlier Jodo Shinshu followers as Amida's Great Vow itself. In this innocent but clear theory we find a cosmic view of life and death.
Customarily, most Japanese in the pre-modern era, except Jodo Shinshu followers, had a common mythological idea of "Kozan (O-yama = a hill at the back of their village)" as a gathering place of the spirit of their ancestors. This idea was the main reason that ordinary Japanese didn't want to move from their birthplace. This is another way Jodo Shinshu followers were unique in Japan's society. Jodo Shinshu followers were comparatively free from a common law of fixed settlement because of their understanding of life-and-death that came from the teachings. This is why Jodo Shinshu followers could cross over the sea 'with easiness' after Japan had opened its doors to the world.
When Japanese government began to promote its emigration policy, they established more than forty companies from Hokkaido to Kyushu to encourage emigration from Japan. Together with this historical background of Jodo Shinshu in Japan, we can now understand why these companies were able to recruit applicants efficiently only from some Jodo Shinshu areas. Thus we see that followers of Jodo Shinshu teachings formed the predominant group of immigrants from Japan due to their clear understanding of birth and death and ability to move beyond primitive beliefs and superstition. We also learned that much of the emigration from Japan was actually from more prosperous areas where Jodo Shinshu flourished and was not primarily due to poverty.
This concludes the background of the Japanese immigrants who came to the United States and eventually built more than sixty Jodo Shinshu temples that now form the Buddhist Churches of America.
The Peony and The Lion by Kakei Nakagawa, Sensei
With the symbolic figures of the Buddha and his teachings, also people's dream and ideals are expressed inside of the temple as the ornamental decorations.
For example, enter any Buddhist temple and you will see a see-zoo animal picture or carved statue. This designed animal is called KARA-JISHI (Chinese-lion). KARA-JISHI is an imaginary figure of a lion created by the medieval Chinese. KARA-JISHI does not look like a real lion, as the medieval Chinese people had never seen a lion.
In some part of the temple you will find KARA-JISHI always flanked by a gorgeous flower. That flower is a BOTAN or peony. The lion figure and peony combination is recognized as one of the symbols of a Buddhist temple.
The story of the lion and peony was well known among eastern Asian Buddhists. The lion is considered the king of animals. India, where Buddhism originated, is not an exception. Many lions inhabited all of the Indian plains before the medieval era. Mighty lions reigned over the wild side of the Indian subcontinent. It seemed that there was no enemy to match up with the lions. Even the tigers dodged and kept away from the Lion kingdom. However, there is no perfect life in this world. The lion had one fatal enemy that could create havoc inside of its body. The fatal enemy was a tiny worm parasite that fed on the lion's liver. Once this tiny worm took up residence in the lion, even the mighty lion could not run from its fate. However, there was one remedy for the lion to survive.
When the lion felt sick and realized that the liver worm may have caused it, he went to where the peony plants grow luxuriantly in the wild peony garden. The peonies were a natural herb for the lion¡¯s liver disease. The liver worm hated the fragrance of the peony flowers. The lion would stay quietly in the wild peony garden for a few weeks, then the parasitic liver worm would naturally come out from the lion's body, and the lion's health would be restored.
When the ancient Indian people observed what was happening in nature, they thought that the relation between the lion and the peony garden was similar to the relation between human beings and the temple of the Buddha-dharma.
Human beings are true kings of all animals on this planet. No other animal can match our civilization and scientific accomplishments. Otherwise, human beings also have one serious fatal enemy like in the lion's case. However, instead of a worm inside of the body, there lurks a poison inside of the mind. The Buddha taught us about this poison which is self-attachment or GA-SHU.
Self-attachment is the mind that solely attaches to its own existence. Otherwise its substantial is temporary and for a brief space of time, it is always under an illusion that everything have its substantial and it originates in the eternal life. Buddha-dharma teaches us that this state of attachment is called as 'Self-attachment' or 'GA-SHU'. This mind can only be faithful to its own desire, never thinking about others sincerely - both on the conscious and unconscious levels. It is the most deadly poison that will bring ruin to our society someday. 'Self-attachment' is the cause of every difficulty that we human beings have to suffer during our lifetime.
When people realize that the mind of self-attachment might cause their un-happiness and even lead to the ruin of their civilizations, they come to the temple and start to hear the Buddha-dharma, like the lion in search of the wild peony garden. Just an atmosphere that is oriented by the Buddha-dharma has the power to stop the wild-run of 'self-attachment'. People appreciate the Buddha-dharma and enjoy staying at temple like a wild lion in a peony garden.
Thus the combination of lion and peony has been adopted as an emblematic symbol for the Buddhist temple.