(Minister Message, Makawao Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Newsletter, October 2021)
Twelve months have passed since the Makawao Buddhist Temple hosted its first (and supposed to be only) “in-person distanced trick-or-treat” Halloween Fun Day in October 2020. This was first time in months we were able to welcome back on temple grounds our precious keiki, Dharma School students, and young people as trick-or-treaters; AND parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunties as treat-givers. Everyone had a wonderful time seeing the kids run around excitedly, treat-givers delighting in playing the role of “small kine scary” to give the kids a thrill, decorating their “haunted” cars and trucks, and then letting the kids choose their own very special, individually wrapped Halloween goody bags!
Even masked and distanced, you could feel the joy of children simply playing, the relieved smiles of the parents who enjoyed a brief moment of “normal” for their keiki, and the delighted laughter of the treat givers (grandparents, uncles, aunties, temple friends) as the kids realized they could choose any goodie bag they wanted from each “haunted” tailgate of each car!
We weren’t sure if we could pull it off, whether parents would feel comfortable bringing their kids to temple, if grandparents, uncles, and aunties would be willing to take the risks of infection and transmission (remember this was before vaccines became available!).
With tremendous support from temple members and friends, the evening was spooky and fun, and created the time, place, and occasion for people to re-connect, for children and adults to “be” who they wanted to be, whether ghost or goblin, monster or super-hero, if just for a moment of “sorta normal” in the midst of chaos.
I think we all hoped this year we’d be hosting an even bigger Halloween Trick-or-Treat in-person event with everyone in attendance, in costume, and just “be-ing” who they really wish they were.
Obviously, causes and conditions won’t allow us to do that this year so we will dust off the plans from last year and host Halloween 2021 as a distanced in-person event. (See separate article for details!)
Such being reality-as-it-is, all we can do is make the best of it. And that is the message for this month’s newsletter. Buddhism teaches us how to look beyond our ego-centered, self-centered human mind, to accept gratefully the Truth of Impermanence of our frail human minds and bodies, so as to NOT take for granted each moment of this unrepeatable life, filled with the love and support of family, friends, and community as life unfolds naturally. The Truth of Non-Self, the insight that all life is inter-connected and inter-dependent, was evident when isolation forced upon us by the public health emergency created a “dis-connect” from our family, friends, and community—all the things we treasure but all-too-often taken for granted under “normal” circumstances. We just assume we have time.
The role of a Hongwanji Temple is to create the time, place, and occasion to “re-connect” with family, friends, and communities that form the sangha, the community of the Makawao Buddhist Temple, and to guide us on the path to awakening to reality-as-it-is, All-Embracing Compassion and All-Inclusive Wisdom of Amida Buddha, NamoAmidaButsu!
This reconnection at all aspects of our life is the original meaning of “religion” (from Latin re+ligere “to re-connect”) why the search for spiritual understanding is fundamental to finding meaning and purpose in life.
When we consider wearing a mask, there are masks were are forced to wear, and masks we choose to wear. The masks we are forced to wear include masks and face coverings to prevent the spread of disease, of course. And everyone will admit to being at least a little tired of wearing masks all the time, everywhere.
But consider the “masks” we wear at work, home, or temple.
During my “career” I wore a “Big Success!” mask and costume—self-satisfied smirk, stupidly expensive hand-tailored suits, encyclopedic knowledge of exquisite wines and foods, single malt whisky, and Cuban cigars because clients expected their (expensive) creative director, corporate executive, or consultant to look, talk, and walk like a big success. But when I came home, Mimy and our son Kendall made sure I left the “Big Success” mask at the door and remembered to put on my “Dad mask”. It STILL took ME decades to realize “Big Success!” was not who I wanted to be when I grow up. Duh.
At work, I am the resident minister of Makawao Hongwanji Mission, and serve not only the Makawao Buddhist Temple, but also affiliated organizations like the Makawao Hongwanji Preschool in Pukalani, BWA, Scout Troop 18, Cub Pack 18, Makawao Hongwanji Judo Club, and any number of “informal” organizations that have found a home at Makawao Hongwanji. Thus, at work, I wear the mask of an ordained Buddhist Priest: the robes and vestments, the ritualized movements, the stylized vocalizations, my apparent encyclopedic knowledge of spiritual “stuff” so as to guide people to discovering the path that is for them and them alone.
As a resident minister of a Hongwanji temple in Hawaii, I expected to wear a “Bon-san” mask—the kind and gentle, wise, “I’ve found inner peace” look (sort of like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid but ministers don’t get to punch the bullies in the face).
But the isolation of the pandemic forced me to see underneath the mask is the same self-centered, egotistical, “ME! It’s about me!” butthead that I’ve always been—I’m the “bad” guy in the movie!
The reality-as-it-is, the Dharma is that, born human, I will always be “only human”—limited, flawed, driven by self-centered insatiable urges, cravings, and attachments; simply not-as-good-as-ME-wants-to-believe—for as long as I live in this human body and think with a human mind.
It’s not possible to take off the “mask” of who you really are!
In Shin Buddhism, we often hear the expression “just as you are,” which is a translation of “sono mama” in Japanese. As Americans, we tend to interpret “just as I am” as “I am already awakened to reality-as-it-is, I am kind and gentle, and I live the light of gratitude. It’s those other people who are stupid!”—as a validation of ME (my Ego-Self) because we can only see things from a self-centered perspective!
The Japanese “sono mama” understood in context is actually from Amida’s perspective! I believe you can begin to see this perspective in the English translation of Monshu OHTANI Kojun’s most recent message.
Gratitude for the Jodo Shinshu Teaching
Namo Amida Butsu. “Entrust yourself to me. I will liberate you just as you are.”
This is the calling voice of Amida.
My blind passions are embraced in the Buddha’s awakening,
So the Buddha calls to me “I will liberate you just as you are.”
Gratefully responding to the Buddha’s call,
I find that I am already on the path that leads to the Pure Land.
And the Nembutsu flows freely from my thankful heart.
Living with the Dharma as my guide
Softens my rigid heart and mind.
Gratitude for the gift of life I have received
Frees me from becoming lost in greed and anger,
And allows me to share a warm smile and speak gentle words.
Sharing in the joy and sadness of others, I shall strive to live each day to its fullest.
April 15, 2021
Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha
The Great Compassion of Amida embraces me, gives me my path to becoming Buddha, assures my going forth to Birth in the Pure Land, not because I am kind and gentle, wise, and patient! No, NamoAmidaButsu is for ME precisely because Amida sees my True Self: hopelessly self-centered, intellectually arrogant, and relentlessly whining about the physical and mental aches and pains that come with the Truth of Impermanence.
In the screenplay of the Hollywood version of my life, the scene unfolds like this:
Amida smiles and says, “Dude, which mask do you wear for Halloween? Which mask do you wear every day? Who is behind the mask?”
ME: “I am not the mask. I am the limited self-centered human being behind the mask.”
ME: (inside my head) “Haha-ha! Such profundity! I indeed stand spiritually above all others!”
SFX Karmic Buzzer: “Bzzzz!”
Cosmic Narrator: “Wrong! Back to square one, you self-centered egomaniac, the world doesn’t revolve around you!”
ME: Arggh! NamoAmidaButsu!
(Fade to Black)