Why did the Shin Buddhist  cross the road? To get to the Other Shore.

—Shinran-shōnin (never said that)

(Photo Credit: Alex Wang. Source: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/wildlife/birds/kolea/)

 Higan literally means the “Other Shore” and in Jōdo Shinshū Hongwanji tradition refers to the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, Sukhavati—the Realm of Ultimate Bliss, Nirvana, Supreme Enlightenment, and Oneness with Amida. In Japanese tradition, Higan marks the seasonal equinoxes. Higan is also referred to as o-higan, using the honorific prefix “o-” to express reverence and gratitude for the significance of the event. The Equinox occurs twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, when day and night are exactly equal. The Autumn Equinox traditionally marks the end of the heat of summer and start of the cold of winter. 

Twice a year, we mark the Equinox as the perfect moment in our unrepeatable life to pause and sincerely reflect upon the balance between our spiritual and secular lives.

In our secular lives, we are always busy with all kine stuff at each stage of life: students are starting a new year full of hope, young people are discovering a brave new world, parents (and grandparents and uncles and aunties) are frantically running around and amazed how fast the kids are growing up, retirees are wondering how they’ll fill the day, caregivers are pondering how they’ll find enough time in the day…and life goes on. Which is why today, right now, higan, the Equinox, is the perfect time to reflect upon the reality-as-it-is of your unrepeatable life—just as it is—and who you are in this moment—just as you are. 

One of the joys of living on the temple grounds of Makawao Hongwanji is the rare and wondrous presence of the kōlea Pacific Golden Plover birds who begin arriving in August to winter in Hawaii, flying thousands of miles from Siberia and Alaska in a single flight! The temple’s kōlea birds can be seen protecting their turf fearlessly from the chickens of Makawao, random magpies, and that Buddhist priest-ly guy who hangs around the temple.

For this city boy, whose childhood memories of birds are limited to sparrows and pigeons fighting for fast food french fries and hamburger bun crumbs on asphalt parking lots of Los Angeles, the idea that a bird would fly thousands of miles to winter in Maui is absolutely…understandable! Doesn’t everyone appreciate how amazing life in Makawao is in every moment of every day? Beaches and mountains and water falls! Birds! Chickens! Goats! Rabbits! Horses! Trees! Avocados! Papayas! Hibiscus!  It’s eerily quiet as soon as the sun goes down but oddly noisy early in the morning—no need alarm clocks because the neighborhood roosters have a daily Zoom meeting at 3:35 a.m., always forget to “mute” their MICs, and refuse to admit they are hard of hearing so they cock-a-doodle-doo at maximum volume.

For Shin Buddhists, higan also marks a time for reflection, meditation, and re-dedication to living this life to the fullest, embracing the joys and sorrows of human life—and everything in between—just as it is. Shan-dao, the fifth of the Pure Land Masters revered by Shinran for revealing the doctrine of the Nembutsu path, teaches the Parable of the White Path as a metaphor for our journey in this unrepeatable life. A river of fire (anger) and a river of water (greed) separates this shore (shigan) (our lives in the “real” world) and the other shore (higan) (the Pure Land of Amida Buddha). The only way to cross the two rivers is a narrow white path, which is only four inches across. This is the Path of Nembutsu, NamoAmidaButsu, Mindfulness of Amida.

On this shore, you hear voices of Bandits saying, “You’ll never make it! Give up and stay where you are! You’ll never be good enough! You’ll fall off the path!” On this shore, you hear wild animals and beasts growling and fighting over who gets to eat you!

On this shore, you hear the calming voice of Shakyamuni Buddha saying, “Take refuge in Amida Buddha’s Great Love and Great Compassion, you are already embraced never to be abandoned, just as you are! Have no fear!”

From the Other Shore, you hear “Namo Amida Butsu”—the Calling Voice of Amida—“Proceed on the Path with singleness of heart. You will not drown in the River of Fire, or the River of Water.  You will not be hurt by bandits, you will not be eaten by wild animals! You will cross to the Other Shore without fail.”

The White Path crossing the River of Fire and the River of Water is, of course, our lives in the “real world”—chased by bandits and wild animals, we desperately seek refuge but the path is narrow, we have doubts, we have fears, we get distracted, we are lost.  On this Shore, our lives are filled with shouting voices telling us, “Buy this, want more, get ahead!”  “Bandits”—corporations who want ALL of our money—yell at us, “Use this shampoo, you’ll always look young! Eat this, you’ll live forever! Invest in this, you’ll retire comfortably! Buy this, you’ll have peace of mind!” On this Shore, our lives are filled with wild animals and beasts growling at us, “Hate the other!” “Give into your anger!” “Destroy them!” The River of Water, our greed, tells us, “If I only had more money, I’d be happy!” The River of Fire, our anger, fear, and doubt, insists, “I’m right, they’re wrong!”

Shakyamuni Buddha teaches in a calm voice, “Life is a winding road filled with potholes of pain and suffering. Selfishness causes all the suffering in your life. Eliminate selfishness, and suffering ends. The way to eliminate selfishness is the Noble Eightfold Path.” Amida Buddha calls to us, “If the Eightfold Path is difficult, or if you are unable to achieve the perfection of the Six Paramita, take refuge in Namo Amida Butsu, and you will reach the Other Shore of Enlightenment, without fail, through Birth into the Pure Land.”

When we are brought to truly hear Namo Amida Butsu, the Calling Voice of Amida Buddha, the inconceivable power of the Vow to Save All is already working in our lives ceaselessly to guide us to the Faith of shinjin, the Heart of Great Compassion and the Mind of Non-Discrimination of Amida Buddha.

Higan, when day and night are exactly equal, is a perfect time to reflect upon the balance between our spiritual and secular lives. Everything we need has been given to us: Are we truly living the Life of Nembutsu, the Life of Gratitude, making the effort and taking the time to be humble, grateful, kind and gentle? Truly reflect upon the balance between your “real world” life and spiritual life, and you will realize everything is as it should be, the kōlea birds have come back, life goes on naturally unfolding to its own cadence, creating the rare and wondrous opportunity for you to truly appreciate and savor this moment of this day of this unrepeatable life!



Click on the image to go to the Kindle e-book version on Amazon.com

In the Children’s Dharma Story Time on October 24, 2021, Barkley the Dog and Lucy the Lady Bug shared the classic book, Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon, a book I fondly remember reading to our son.

Stellaluna teaches a profound lesson about harmony: living together despite our differences.   Stellaluna is a fruit bat, who is separated from her mother as a baby by causes and conditions (symbolized by the owl). With her baby wings not ready to fly, Stellaluna falls into a nest of baby birds, who accept her, just as she is, and they become friends and share adventures together, and become ‘ohana, a true family.

To live in harmony with her bird family, Stellaluna must learn to (1) eat bugs; (2) sleep at night; (3) don’t hang upside down by your toes (which all bats do). Life is not easy but Stellaluna adapts, improvises, and overcomes a challenging situation!

Stellaluna is joyfully reunited with her mother, who teaches Stellaluna what it means to be a fruit bat: eat mangoes, fly in total darkness, and hang upside by their toes! 

Stellaluna shares her joy at discovering her true self with her bird family…and they discover birds cannot fly in the dark, and Stellaluna saves them because she can see and fly in the dark because she’s a bat!

And they all ponder the question:

“How can we feel so different and be so much alike?”

“How can we be so different and feel so much alike?”

Stellaluna and her bird ‘ohana agree, “It’s quite the mystery,” “but we’re friends and that’s a fact!”

It’s easy to understand why this children’s story is so beloved and has been translated into almost every language!

The lesson for adults: you may not like the situation in which you find yourself but you do what needs to be done, without complaint.

This is the meaning of the Japanese word, “gaman” which some of you may have heard your grandparents say. “Gaman” is often translated as “to endure, to persevere” — but the easiest way to understand the meaning in Japanese culture is as illustrated by the story.

If you are hungry enough, you’ll eat a bug. You may not like the taste but you will eat it to survive. You may not like the reality-as-it-is that you are a BAT in a BIRD nest. You are the OUTSIDER. You have to learn the rules of the house, and respect them, or you don’t get to live in the house.

And doesn’t that describe the human condition?

Aren’t we all “outsiders” —a bat in a bird nest—in this human realm of confusion and delusion?

At each stage of life, didn’t you feel like a bat in a bird nest? Unsure of who you are…Ignorant of the rules, how to behave, what to think, do, say…But you listen, you learn, you adapt, improvise, and overcome! You are blessed to encounter kind people who take the time to teach you the rules.

Then, you discover who you really are! A bat! A fruit bat who loves mangoes, can fly in the dark, and sleeps during the day hanging upside down by their toes!

Think about that.

When you go off to college, do you know the rules? Nope, you have to learn things the “hard way” — make mistakes, get embarrassed, look silly—and eventually you figure it out.

Then, you get your first job. New set of rules, expectations, behaviors, and attitudes. You adapt, improvise, and overcome.

Then, you get married. Oops, now you are sharing the mundane ups and downs of daily life with another human being—New set of rules, expectations, behaviors, and attitudes.

Then, baby shows up! Then, baby is a toddler, pre-teen, teenager, college student! Then, suddenly, it’s time to “retire” — New set of rules, expectations, behaviors, attitudes.

Then, it’s “grandpa” time — and you blow out your back picking up baby…then, years later, grand-baby is driving you to temple…over and over again, you adapt, improvise, overcome.

Truth of Impermanence?

Each stage of life brings a new set of rules, expectations, behaviors, and attitudes!

When we reflect upon the story, we realize that Stellaluna was so lucky!

Stellaluna fell into a nest of birds who accepted her as a bat in their bird nest, shared everything they had with her, taught her how to live in harmony as a bat in a bird’s nest!

Stellaluna is then reunited with her mother, who teaches her how to be a bat in a bat’s world! And Stellaluna shares her joy with her bird family, who rejoice in her happiness. Now, Stellaluna has the best of both worlds!

Isn’t that the story of you?

“How can we feel so different and be so much alike?”

“How can we be so different and feel so much alike?”

In romantic love relationships, bonding between parents and children, navigating workplace interactions, friendships, fellowship with temple Sangha members and friends, being a good neighbor, a member of the community, this insight is the key to living in harmony with people who are different from you.

Different lifestyles, attitudes, values mean each individual FEELS things in a different way; and yet we can BE so much alike.

Different perspectives, life experiences, and causes and conditions mean we think, act, do things in a different ways and yet FEEL so much alike.

Buddhism teaches us if we live life as, “It’s about ME (my ego)!” we will be banging heads with billions of other human beings insisting “it’s about ME!”

And we can see this in our nation today. As Americans, we respect the right of all citizens to voice their opinion, to protest peacefully, to hold unpopular views.

As human beings, however, we instinctively insist, “Yes, but I’m right, you’re wrong! It’s about ME!” And thus, disharmony, anger, and conflict arise.

Buddhism teaches when we live life as, “It’s NOT about ME!”, we live together in harmony with other people, all living beings, the environment, and the planet. 

Human beings communicate best through telling stories, which is why the Children’s Dharma Story Time often has more viewers than the Dharma Talk for Adults.

It’s more fun to learn from a story than it is to be lectured to, or preached at!

What’s your Stellaluna story? When were you a “bat in a bird nest?” Who helped you learn the rules? What did you do to adapt, improvise, and overcome? Who helped you discover your true self?

And so, today, consider every person you encounter as a fellow “bat in a bird’s nest” — will you be the one to accept them as they are, teach them the rules of the house, and just BE friends BECAUSE of our differences!

If you’re a bat and you only hang out with bats, you’ll only know the world of bats. And that’s perfectly fine, you’re a bat!

But if you find causes and conditions have led to being a bat in a bird’s nest, what a rare and wonderful opportunity to learn new things, gain new perspectives, and discover your true self. It’s scary to be a bat in a bird’s nest and it’s not pleasant to be the “outsider”—as adults, we all know this.

As Shin Buddhists, Amida’s Great Compassion compels us to aspire to be the one accepting the other, just as they are, teaching the other, and simply being friends because we feel and do things differently.

You don’t have to learn to enjoy eating bugs. But if that’s what needs to be done to live, you take a deep breath, suck it up, and just do what needs to be done. When we awaken to the reality-as-it-is we are all Bats in a Bird’s Nest, we become empowered, just as we are, to accept the other, just as they are.

The Infinite Wisdom of Amida guides us to this awakening—we are all Bats in a Bird’s Nest—through a children’s story that makes the adults think.

The Great Compassion of Amida knows our “adult” Ego-Self prevents us from seeing reality-as-it-is and so this Wisdom comes to us in the form of a children’s story we can read to children while absorbing Wisdom ourselves.

We are all Bats in a Bird’s Nest.

What are you going to do today to live in harmony with people who are different from you?

“How can we be so different and feel so much alike?”

“How can we feel so different and be so much alike?”


Living the Life of Ingratitude

Rev. Kerry Kiyohara reflects upon the reality-as-it-is that he is “Living the Life of Ingratitude” in this Dharma Talk for Adults at Makawao Hongwanji Buddhist Temple on August 15, 2021.

Living the Life of Ingratitude

Lacking even small love and small compassion,

I cannot hope to benefit sentient beings.

Were it not for the ship of Amida’s Vow,

How could I cross the ocean of painful existence?

—Shinran Shōnin, Gutoku’s Hymns of Lament and Reflection, CWS I, page 

In today’s Dharma Story Time, the wonderful book “We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga” by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frané Lessac, we learn about how the Cherokee people express gratitude for all things: the changing seasons, changes in life stage, and the clan/tribe/community that is the Cherokee Nation.

I’d like to introduce the Japanese word, “arigatai” which is very similar in usage to “otsaliheliga” and perhaps is a bit easier to pronounce. (CHANGE SLIDE)

“Arigatai” is composed of two roots: the verb “aru” (to be, to exist), and “katai” (suffix that mean “difficult/impossible”.

Thus, something that is “arigatai” is “impossible to be”… (CHANGE SLIDE)

For the most part, I don’t live the “life of gratitude” … because I am Ego-Self-Centered, I live the life of ingratitude.

ME (MY EGO) insists, “I deserve to live in Maui!” because I am such a wonderful person, who is entitled to live in paradise!

In reflection, I have done nothing to deserve living in Maui. 

ME (ME EGO) insists, “I deserve to live in Maui!” because I work hard, I’m brilliant, and because I’m spiritually superior to all by virtue of my priestly robes, chanting voice, and mastery of ritual.

In reflection, I just like the attention I get when dressed like a priest. 

I also love the sound of my own voice, and the brilliance of my words.

But when my Ego-Self insists “I deserve to live in Maui!” I am forced to encounter my true self, and it’s not very pretty.

When I get angry and vent my frustration, I see myself crying like Cadence, our one-year-old grandson, who can’t talk yet so he gets frustrated when adults don’t understand what he wants!

I’m the baby in the room!

Now, babies are allowed to cry. Grandpa is supposed to be able to control his impulses!

When I get depressed over the reality-as-it-is that parts of my body are decaying fast, and hurt all the time, I feel sorry for myself.

Why ME?!

And then, I see the ocean, the sky, the clouds, and aina of Maui.

It is as if Maui say, “Aloha, kotonk dude! Open da eyes!”

(CHANGE SLIDE)  “I am not worthy of living in Maui!”

How many times do I take the sheer beauty of this place for granted?

Every day.

How often do I just assume everyone in the Makawao Buddhist Temple ‘ohana will be kind and gentle to me, even if I am Mr. Grumpy?

Every day.

How often do I judge critically the ideas and efforts of other people?

Every day.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, spent my professional career in Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, and eventually ended up in Hawaii.

“I’m not worthy of living in Maui! And yet, here I am…”

This is “arigatai” — it is impossible for me to be allowed to live in Maui because I have don’t nothing to deserve (in fact, I actively think, say, do things that disqualify me from living here!)… “and yet, here I am…”

(CHANGE SLIDE) “Gratitude comes from being humbled every day.”

Mahalo, Maui, for whacking across the head with rainbows, blue oceans, and white clouds EVERY DAY!

Mahalo, Makawao, for showing me how fruits and vegetables grow from seeds to plants to things you can eat!

Mahalo, Makawao chickens, for waking me up before sunrise every morning … so I can experience the sun rising over Haleakala every morning…


The realization that I am not capable of discipline, practice, self-denial, or being virtuous, thus I will never become Buddha on my own, is a shock to my Ego-Self, who believes I am Superman.

My failure to maintain discipline, to control my urges and cravings, my fundamental inability to “think, say, do pure and beautiful” is humiliating.

“Why are you here?” my Ego-Self asks.

“What did you do to deserve being here?”

You cannot lie to yourself forever. Eventually, you realize that the Ego-Self is a total sham. 

Fake ME.

The dream of ME that I’ve been pursuing is “empty.”

ME is “empty.”


And here, the words of Shinran jump out at me.

Lacking even small love and small compassion,

I cannot hope to benefit sentient beings.

Were it not for the ship of Amida’s Vow,

How could I cross the ocean of painful existence?

—Shinran Shōnin, Gutoku’s Hymns of Lament and Reflection, CWS I, page 

Shinran’s intense self-reflection leads to the realization that his human love and compassion are not capable of benefiting all sentient beings; and simultaneously the realization that the ship of Amida’s Vow is his only hope, and that he is already on the ship!


“otsaliheliga!” We are grateful!

NamoAmidaButsu! Mahalo, Amida, for embracing me, of all people, just as I am, and allowing me to live in Maui!



The essence of Shin Buddhism is the Faith of Shinjin, the Great Love and Great Compassion of Amida embracing us, assuring our Birth in the Pure Land, and thus becoming Buddha. The Faith of Shinjin empowers us to live this unrepeatable life with strength and serenity. In profound gratitude, we put our palms together, bow our heads, and say NamoAmidaButsu, entrusting in All-Inclusive Wisdom and All-Embracing Compassion.

Mahalo for listening this morning. May your day be filled with aloha!


Happy Sons & Daughters Day!

In reflection, a father is a father only because of his sons and daughters. Rev. Kerry shares how he truly came to appreciate just how hard his father worked when he was brought to see his own son work so hard to provide for his children. Happy Sons & Daughters Day! Mahalo for allowing me to be called both father and grandpa! NamoAmidaButsu!

Dharma Talk at Makawao Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Historic Makawao Town on the beautiful island of Maui in the great state of Hawaiʻi on June 20, 2021.

Put on your Amida Face!

Dharma Talk at Makawao Hongwanji, Maui, Hawaiʻi, on June 13, 2021.

「和諺愛語」”Wa Gen Ai Go” is an excerpt from the Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life that refers the “peaceful countenance” and “gentleness in speech” of Amida Buddha with all people regardless of wealth, power, or education. Rev. Kerry shares a story about how changing granddaughter’s diapers taught him about how the karmic consequences of one’s thoughts, words, and actions echo on in inconceivable ways. Rev. Kerry reflects how our attempts to emulate Amida’s “kind eyes, gentle words” can and will influence our thoughts, words, and actions and thus how those thoughts, words, and actions make other people feel.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
—Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

“A Mother’s Tears” Memorial Day Dharma Talk 2021

Rev. Kerry reflects upon the Dharma reality-as-it-is that Memorial Day begins and ends with “A Mother’s Tears”. Full text of the Dharma Talk is below the video.

This Dharma Talk was recorded LIVE FROM MAKAWAO! at Makawao Hongwanji Buddhist Temple on Maui on May 30, 2021.

Let us live happily then, hating none while in the midst of those who hate. 

Let us dwell free from hate while among those who hate.

Gautama Buddha, Dhammapada

Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional “beginning of Summer,” when kids have summer break, the weather turns warms, and the ‘ohana gathers together to feast around the BBQ, talk story, laugh, and simply enjoy being together.

Especially this year, 2021, as vaccination rates rise and hospitalization/death rates fall, there is a new sense of hope that we are moving in the right direction for managing COVID-19. 

Sooner, rather than later, we look forward to restarting full in-person activity at Makawao Hongwanji, including religious services and observances, sharing the Dharma experience, and community-building as Buddhist “practice.”

Thus, we have even greater reason to “celebrate” Memorial Day in 2021!

Let’s all stay on guard, be safe, and live aloha this weekend.

As Buddhists, Memorial Day is a wonderful opportunity tolisten to the Dharma, tohear the Dharma, and to make the Dharma your own “great torch in the dark night of ignorance” in this Samsara world of confusion and delusion.

As Buddhists in the Hongwanji tradition, we often refer to “reality-as-it-is” as opposed to “reality-as-My-Ego-wants-it-to-be” — this is Awakening, Enlightenment, Becoming Buddha.

Thus, Memorial Day Weekend, “party time, whooya!”, is “reality-as-My-Ego-wants-it-to-be”…and yes we all deserve to have some fun after a year of great change!

But, when we pause for a moment to reflect upon reality-as-it-is, we realize—awaken to—the deeper and profound meaning of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is a somber and solemn occasion when we remember “when Jiro didn’t come marching home again…” 

Memorial Day is to honor the fallen, the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunties that marched off to war, and didn’t come marching home again.

Memorial Day is when we must awaken to the reality-as-it-is that Memorial Day begins with a mother’s tears.

Rev. Gensho Hara, resident minister of the Lahaina Jodo Mission and one of the longest-serving Japanese Buddhist ministers in Maui, shares the story of how the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Makawao Veterans Cemetery, which is now a large ceremonial occasion, actually began with a Japanese immigrant mother’s tears.

The story is universal. It is a story of “a mother’s tears”…

A son or daughter marches off to war, a mother’s tears.

A son or daughter marches home again, a mother’s tears.

A son or daughter does not march home again, a mother’s tears.

This experience is shared by all parents of sons and daughters that march off to war; and by brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, cousins, and the ‘Ohana of life.

Shakyamuni Buddha taught that being born human, one of the greatest sufferings in life is the loss of a loved one. 

The pain, grief, sorrow of bereavement comes to all people without discrimination because all things arising from causes and conditions, including ourselves, eventually and inevitably cease to exist.

Thus, Memorial Day serves to remind us as Buddhists of the Truth of Impermanence, the Dharma reality-as-it-is, applies to all things, all people, without exception.

When we “listen to and hear” the deeper meaning and significance of Memorial Day, we pause for a moment to reflect, remember, and express our shared sadness for those mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends, community, the great ‘ohana of life, who lost a loved one to war.

Tomorrow, Memorial Day 2021, when you see an American flag, pause for a moment and reflect upon the Dharma, the reality-as-it-is, that you, of all people, are embraced by Great Compassion and your path in life is illuminated by the Light of Infinite Wisdom, that Namo Amida Butsu, Amida, is working in your life, right here, right now.

Namo Amida Butsu!

How sad, when we reflect upon Memorial Day as beginning and ending with a mother’s tears.

Namo Amida Butsu!

How grateful, when we remember the sacrifice of others so that we may live today.

Namo Amida Butsu!

How joyful, when we realize that this moment of this unrepeatable life is given to us!

Namo Amida Butsu!

This Memorial Day weekend, please take a moment to remember a mother’s tears…

Namo Amida Butsu!

Now, let’s fire up the BBQ! Please be safe out there!

The essence of Shin Buddhism is gratefully receiving the Faith of Shinjin through the working of Amida’s Great Compassion and Infinite Wisdom in our lives in every moment of each day of this unrepeatable life!

Then, in gratitude, we put our hands together, bow our heads, and say Namo Amida Butsu!

Just Say It. Namo Amida Butsu

Just Say Mahalo.

Mahalo for joining us this morning.

May your day be filled with aloha!

Namo Amida Butsu!

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!


A reflection on my personal reactions to the horrific insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and how as Shin Buddhists, we can try to respond to the relentless images of violence and destruction. From a Buddhist perspective, there are no “winners” or “losers”, no “good” or “evil”, no “right” and “wrong”, just us, ordinary human beings trying to understand the Truth of Impermanence and cope with relentless change. As Shin Buddhists, all we can do is try to respond in gratitude, to respond to hate with love, empowered by the Faith of Shinjin, the Great Compassion and Great Love of Amida that assures us of Birth in the Pure Land. Recorded live on January 10, 2021 at Makawao Hongwanji.