The Pain is ME: You’re Only Human

Dharma Talk at Makawao Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Historic Makawao Town on the beautiful island of Maui in the aloha state of Hawai’i.

Aloha kakou! Aloha everyone! Ohayo gozaimasu! Good morning!

Let’s begin with wisdom of Shinran Shōnin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu.

My fervent wish is this: Whether monk or layperson, when on board the ship of the great compassionate Vow, let pure shinjin be the favorable wind, and in the dark night of ignorance, let the jewel of virtue be a great torch…”

Shinran Shōnin
Passages on the Pure Land Way, Conclusion
Collected Works of Shinran, Vol I, page 303

Recently, the causes and conditions of this unrepeatable life required an “emergency” root canal procedure, which is a bit less fun than a “regular” one!

And, duh, I completely forgot to take a sweater and wear socks—three hours without moving in a freezing cold dental office is an excellent way to perfect the Bodhisattva practice of “endurance,” which our Bachan used to call “gaman”.

Having reached “kanreki” or age 60, the “return to childhood” in Japanese tradition, the time it takes to go from “Do I need to make shi-shi?” to “I need to make shi-shi now!” is two seconds.

Old guy jokes aside, I’m forever grateful to Dr. Kevin Omuro and the staff of Pukalani Dental Group for seeing me on an emergency basis, quickly diagnosing the problem, referring me to a specialist, Dr. Randall Yee and his staff, who bent over backwards to perform an unscheduled root canal procedure that alleviated my pain.

How grateful that healthcare professionals are working so hard under such difficult conditions at great risk to the health of themselves and their ‘ohana.

But, “It’s about ME!” It’s about my pain! Yes, MY PAIN! ARGGGH! It’s about ME!

There is nothing like acute pain to make you Mr. Grumpy, a true pain in the okole to other people, and his buddy Mr. Whiner, who pouts because no one can see his pain, boo-hoo!

(CHANGE SLIDE: “Without the falling down, you won’t learn to walk.”—Kerry’s Grandson, age 1)

Pain, of course, is part of human existence.

Our grandson Cadence just turned one year old and has just started walking! And, of course, learning to walk involves falling down, and sometimes getting an owie!

When Cadence falls down, he gets up, he’s cautious, he grabs onto things so he doesn’t fall down, and smiles when he gets to where he wants.

Without the falling down, Cadence would not learn to walk.

Sangha friend Diane K asked a great question about my use of the metaphor “It’s not about ME!” vs. “It’s about ME!” to explain different schools and traditions of Buddhism.

“Don’t we sometimes need the Ego to survive?” —Diane K
The answer is “yes,” of course, the human instinct for survival, is what prevents us from walking in front of a truck on Makawao Avenue!

In the real world in which we live as human beings, the Ego-Self is necessary.

And it’s also not like we can easily get rid of the Ego on our own.

On April 8, Buddhists around the world mark the birth of the Buddha.

The Buddha’s insights and teaching of the way to the ending of suffering, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness became know as Buddhism and has inspired and guided human thoughts, words, and actions for 3000 years.

Nowadays, the Buddha doesn’t get any respect, to quote Rodney Dangerfield. Search online or in social media and you’ll quickly come across “Buddha-isms” like these that actually misquote or “improve” upon the Buddha’s words (“what the Buddha meant to say was…”):

“Life comes with pain. Suffering is optional.”

—The Buddha (never said that)

The Buddha, the human being who awakened to reality-as-it-is, simply taught that reality-as-it-is means born human, you live in a human body and think with a human mind, both of which grow older and function less well every day, and eventually your human body and mind reach the end of life.

The Buddha’s insight was that born human, we are also hopelessly attached to our “Self” —the false idea that there exists an unchanging, permanent “essence” of Kerry, that’s ME!, that lives on forever.

And because we are self-centered, we willfully ignore reality-as-it-is and we experience not only the natural aches and pains of an aging body and mind, but also dissatisfaction with everything we have now, burning desire for “winning,” and the narcissistic insistence on “It’s about ME!” (my ego).

The Buddha’s insight is the reality-as-it-is, the Dharma, that human nature is to be self-centered, egotistical, and selfish.

My self-centered and egotistical nature makes me delight in identifying other people’s foibles while deliberately ignoring mine!

The Buddha taught that this self-delusion is human existence in the Samsara world of confusion and delusion.

The Buddha taught the way to eliminate suffering is the Eightfold Path of the Nobles, which evolves over centuries into the Six (or Ten) Paramita Perfections of the Mahayana tradition, and countless other paths and practices, including early Pure Land practice

In the beginning, all Buddhist paths required becoming a monk: shaving one’s head, renouncing this world, turning one’s back on all duties and responsibilities, and total commitment to study and practice in isolation from the “real” world.

By doing so, Buddhist monks strive with single-minded dedication to eliminating attachment to Self, to shift their thoughts, words, and actions from “It’s about ME!” to “It’s not about ME.”

My ego likes to think I’d be a great monk but Self-Centered ME says, “But then you’d have to give up Mimy, the love of your life, and your son, your granddaughter, and your grandson!” and it is obvious the causes and conditions of my life don’t allow for me to choose that path.

And, just between you and me, I’m not actually capable of any disciplined spiritual or intellectual practice but don’t tell anyone, okay?

The strength and serenity to accept the inevitable aches and pains that come with a human body and mind come from the faith of Shinjin, which we gratefully receive through the working of Amida’s Vow to save all people without discrimination or judgement, as Namo Amida Butsu, entrusting in All-Inclusive Wisdom and All-Embracing Compassion.

The life of Nembutsu, the life of gratitude, the life of Dharma, is:

  • to study and embrace the Teachings;
  • to awaken to the Dharma, reality-as-it-is, in your unrepeatable life;
  • and to think, say, and act in accordance with the Dharma, reality-as-it-is, not, reality-as-my-Ego-wants-it-to-be

—all while carrying out one’s duties, fulfilling one’s responsibilities, doing what needs to be done to service, live long, and prosper.

This is the Way of the BuddhaDharma, the Path of Nembutsu, the life of Namo Amida Butsu, this is Amida’s Great Love and Great Compassion working in our lives and the lives of our honorable friends and fellow travelers on the journey that is this unrepeatable life.

This unrepeatable life is rare, wonderful, and precious because of the aches and pains that come with being born human, living in a human body, and thinking with a human brain.

And precisely because you are only human, Amida’s Great Love reaches out to you, embraces you, and will never abandon you.

This is Namo Amida Butsu, the Path of Nembutsu, the Life of Gratitude.

Mahalo for listening this morning.

May your day be filled with aloha!

Namo Amida Butsu!

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