SHINJIN IS A VERB, NOT A NOUN: Arigatai, Mottainai, Namo Amida Butsu

Today, I would like to talk about … the “F” word.

No, not that “F” word!

I would like to talk about “Faith” — which is one of the ways the expression “Shinjin” is translated into English.

“Shinjin” is the key doctrinal tenant of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, the core of Shinran’s thinking, and often described as undefinable in English so best to leave in Japanese.

Faith with a capital “F” is something greater than yourself, a higher power, a deity, a creator who will judge you at the end of life but this is “not Jodo Shinshu”.

“Blind Faith” — is being naive or innocent, a negative in American Culture.

I guess that’s why we never seem to talk about Shinjin very much, even in the Hongwanji.

In my journey, I’ve come to my own understanding of Shinjin and I’d like to share that with you today.

Arigatai, Mottainai, and Namo Amida Butsu

The Japanese expression arigatai expresses how I feel, standing before you this morning.

It is nice to be back at Kailua Hongwanji, which my wife and I, and our granddaughter, visited three years ago, when we first moved to Honolulu

At the end of this month, Mimy and I are moving to Kyoto, where I will study at the main seminary of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha to become a kaikyoshi minister.

Ah! Arigatai! 

Many Japanese-Americans are familiar with the expression arigatai.

ari comes from the verb aru or to be, to exist;

gatai comes from katai, or hard, difficult;

So arigatai is something that is difficult to exist, something that is inconceivable in being.

Arigatai is the original form of arigatou or thank you in Japanese.

But the Buddhist nuance is also very important.

Arigatai means “to be humbled and grateful for something that is so inconceivable, so rare, so difficult to receive.”

Humbled because it is inconceivable, arising from immeasurable causes and conditions.

Grateful because it happening to me, someone who doesn’t deserve such wonderful things.

Thus, arigatou as “thank you” has its origins in the Dharma, the Teachings of Buddhism.

The Jodo Shinshu nuance of arigatai is being truly humbled and profoundly grateful for the Teachings of the Buddha, the Compassion and Wisdom of Amida Buddha, this chance for liberation from the bondage of selfishness.

In the Kikyōmon, the Three Treasures, or The Homages, we say

Hard is it to be born into human life, now we live it.

Difficult is it to hear the Teachings of the Buddha, now we hear it.

In more modern expression,

I am humbled and grateful to be living this life!

Lucky we live Hawaii, yeah?

I am humbled and grateful for this chance to be free of my selfishness!

We’re not worthy!

But why do we feel humbled?

As Americans, we don’t like to be “humble” — Humble is not the American way.

Our American upbringing teaches us to be proud of our accomplishments, our success, our power, our money, and the material things we possess.

To believe we deserve everything we get.

To blame others when things don’t go the way we want.

To want MORE.

To feel superior to those who don’t have nice things.

The “self-made” billionaire is the American Dream.

But is anyone truly “self-made”?

Without a mother and father, none of us would be here.

Without parents, uncles & aunties, teachers, and kind & gentle people, none of us would have learned life’s important lessons.

Without friends, none of us would have survived the bumps in life’s road.

Without being loved, we would only hate ourselves.

Without living beings, plants, animals, and the blessings of the ‘aina, we would have no food, no water, no way to sustain our lives.

Without countless unseen people laboring every day, we would not enjoy the comfort and convenience of modern life.

Without doctors, nurses, technicians, and caregivers none of us would have recovered from illness, or been cured of disease.

Without a Sangha of kind and gentle people, our friends and fellow travelers on the path of Nembutsu, we wouldn’t be here in this Temple.

Without immigrants, without Japanese plantation workers laboring in the hot sun, who then raised their children to be hard-working Americans, the Hongwanji in Hawaii would not have survived 125 years to be the place where we can find refuge, learn, grow spiritually, and pay it forward through compassionate service to others.

When we pause and reflect, we realize that the engi—the causes and conditions—of our life are an inconceivable chain of events, people, and situations that have guided us to this moment together, in spite of our stupidity, our limitations, our selfishness.

This realization is humbling because in our heart of hearts, we know “we’re not worthy” of such blessings, good fortune, and advantages.

In Japanese, one would say, “mottainai.

Mottainai is translated as “wasteful” but, again, the Buddhist nuance is very important — a feeling of awe and appreciation for this unrepeatable Life.

Being born, being alive today, hearing the Teachings, having this chance to awaken to the Truth, to walk the path of liberation from the bondage of selfishness, is “wasted” on someone as egotistical as I am…

Being surrounded by the kind and gentle people of this Sangha, the people of this Temple, is “wasted” on someone as selfish as I am…

Enjoying refreshments and fellowship every Sunday is “wasted” on someone as greedy and ungrateful as I am…

Ah, mottainai!

Ah, arigatai!

This realization, this awakening to reality-as-it-is, this moment is when Namo Amida Butsu pops out of my mouth.

Namo Amida Butsu!

The realization that I too am embraced by Great Compassion and Wisdom, never to be abandoned, is so mottainai that my heart is filled with arigataiNamo Amida Butsu!

This is a shinjin moment: awakening to the Truth, becoming able to see the world-as-it-is, not the world-as-I-want-it-to-be—when the Heart-Mind of Amida, All-Embracing Compassion and All-Inclusive Wisdom, takes over my selfish heart and egotistical mind, and frees me from the bondage of selfishness.

Let’s try a meditation exercise.

Sit back, relax, get comfortable, place both feet flat on the floor.

Close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Breathe in and out naturally. Just breathe.

Now think back to a moment when you surprised yourself by being caring and understanding, kind and gentle, loving without conditions or expectations.

Travel back in time to when your father and mother held you, comforted you, loved you without conditions, when you knew without doubt you were safe, happy, and loved.

Think back to a moment when you held your baby or held the hand of a child; or comforted a friend; when you were kind, gentle, and loving without conditions; when all you wanted in this world was for this baby, this child, this friend to be safe, happy, and loved.

Think back to a moment when you lived aloha and offered a helping hand to an elder; offered a friendly smile and a kind word to a stranger; or, when you let go of your pride and offered forgiveness.

Think back to the moments when your heart went out to the suffering people of the world: the refugees, the homeless, the victims of famine or war, elders with dementia and the people who care for them, or addicts and alcoholics — their pain was your pain, their suffering was your suffering.

A time when your heart cried out for any suffering of any human being or animal, anywhere, when you felt a deep connection to all living beings.

Think back to a time when you wished with all your heart that you could change the world, you could protect those who are weaker than yourself, you could stand up against injustice.

These are shinjin moments.

This is what it feels like when you return to who you truly are.

This is when shinjin, the Heart-Mind of Compassion and Wisdom of the Buddha Amida, illuminates the true and real you from within.

Shinjin has always been in your heart, shinjin has always embraced you, and shinjin has never abandoned you.

Now open your eyes.

“Welcome to the real world.”

How many times have we turned our backs on the homeless?

How many times have we discriminated against others, thought or said hateful things about tourists, haoles, Micronesians, Mexicans, Blacks, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Portuguese, Hawaiians, Hapa, or Kotonks; or resented poor people for using food stamps; looked down on families living in public housing; or hated on people driving big expensive cars?

How often have we expressed outrage on Facebook but not actually done anything about it?

In the real world, at some point in our lives, we “grew up” and our hearts & minds become hard, cold, unfeeling in the pursuit of the American Dream, chasing the illusion of superiority through wealth, happiness by acquiring more things, and eternal life by looking “forever young”?

That is when we started suffering from depression, anxiety, and fear.

That is when we started eating too much, drinking too much, becoming addicted to legal or illegal drugs, buying more things we don’t need, or venting on people who can’t vent back.

These are samsara moments, when we live in the world of delusion, anger, and ignorance.


Because the Heart-Mind of Bonnō—the blinding passions of Selfishness, Greed, Hatred—has covered our hearts with darkness and clouded our minds with delusion.

Because, in our heart of hearts, we know the material things we so desperately chase are actually “empty,” devoid of true and real value.

Because, in our heart of hearts, we know we are living a life that is “empty,” a life without true and real purpose and meaning…

Because, in our heart of hearts, we know we have become “empty,” totally lacking in true and real humanity, empathy, caring and understanding…

Because, in our heart of hearts, we know our lives have become “empty,” that we are selfish when we should be serving others.

What happened to the kind and gentle, loving and loved child with a pure heart we used to be?

Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, the Hongwanji, this Temple, this Sangha, the ‘ohana of Life gives us refuge from the world of delusion in which we live, gives us a chance to awaken to the Truth, and offers us a path to liberation from the bondage of selfishness, a way to return to who we truly are.

That is why I am leaving to study in Kyoto, to return as a minister, to serve the Hongwanji, its temples, and all people suffering in the world of delusion, to live the Truth of the Dharma Teachings, to share the joy of liberation from the bondage of selfishness.

Me, of all people!

Ah, arigatai, mottainai, Namo Amida Butsu!

I am humbled by the inconceivable chain of events, people, and situations that have led me to this point in my life.

Ah, arigatai, mottainai, Namo Amida Butsu!

I am grateful to have a loving wife, a strong son, a lovely daughter-in-law, a smart and cute granddaughter who let me follow my innermost aspiration.

Ah, arigatai, mottainai, Namo Amida Butsu!

I am incredibly lucky that the Sangha of the Hongwanji in Hawaii has supported me, encouraged me, and wished me the best on this journey.

Ah, arigatai, mottainai, Namo Amida Butsu!

I am blessed to have the people of Hongwanji Hawaii as my teachers, my guides, my mentors.

Ah, arigatai, mottainai, Namo Amida Butsu!

I am not worthy of this chance to devote my life to studying and sharing the joy of Nembutsu, the life-changing experience of Shinjin.

Ah, arigatai, mottainai, Namo Amida Butsu!

I am an evil, self-centered, silly human being and yet this chance to serve others is given to me, of all people.

Ah, arigatai, mottainai, Namo Amida Butsu!

I have been hurtful to so many people who did not deserve it, and yet I am given a chance to redeem myself.

Ah, arigatai, mottainai, Namo Amida Butsu!

In the Shōshinge, the Song of True Shinjin and Nembutsu, written by Shinran in the 13th century, it is written:

The person burdened with extreme evil should simply say Namo Amida Butsu.

Although I too am within Amida’s grasp, the bonnō of Selfishness obstructs my eyes and I cannot see the light;

And yet, great compassion is untiring and illumines me always.

When I struggled with my addiction to my ego, Rev. Bert Sumikawa taught me, “It is easy to see shinjin in others but impossible to see shinjin in yourself.”

Rev. Bert taught me to work hard, be humble, and be grateful.”

Rev. Bert taught me, “It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do.”

And that’s how I learned that Shinjin is a verb, not a noun.

Shinjin is not something to understand, grasp, or achieve through religious practice.

Shinjin is simply being grateful for this Life, for this moment, for the ‘ohana of Life.

Shinjin is simply living this unrepeatable life humbly in joy and gratitude.

Shinjin is simply being who and what I truly am.

Shinjin is simply being.

Ah, arigatai, mottainai, Namo Amida Butsu!

As I prepare to move to Kyoto, I don’t say Sayonara or Good-bye.

I say, “go-en ga arimasu you ni” 「ご縁がありますように」

May the causes and conditions of Life allow our paths to cross again!

Please join me in putting our hands together in gasshō:

May we say Namo Amida Butsu in joy & gratitude for this moment together,

May we say Namo Amida Butsu in joy & gratitude for this chance to be who we truly are,

May we say Namo Amida Butsu in joy & gratitude for the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, truly the Three Treasures!

May our days be filled with aloha and mahalo for the great ‘ohana of Life!

Namo Amida Butsu


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