Ondokusan: Now More Than Ever

Ondokusan: Now More than Ever

(Radio Broadcast: October 2, 2022 7:45 a.m. (HST) KZOO Honolulu. Copyright (c) 2022 Moiliili Hongwanji Mission)


I would like to take a few moments this morning to explain the meaning and significance of the gatha Ondokusan because these words of Shinran speak to us now more than ever.

Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion, 
That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies; 
Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers, 
That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.

Shinran Shonin
Hymns of the Dharma-Ages, Verse 59, Collected Works of Shinran, Volume 1, Page 412

Musically, there are three different arrangements.

Shinran wrote this hymn at age 86 in 1258 CE —764 years ago— and is traditionally sung as one of the Shozomatsu Wasan, which sounds like this.

(play Wasan 59)

The original gatha arrangement that we know as Ondokusan was composed by Rev. Yasuo Sawa in Hawaii in 1918, more than one hundred years ago. 

(play Ondokusan I)

To our modern ears, Ondokusan 1 is solemn and somber but this was perhaps the first attempt to bring Shinran’s words to life through Western-style music during in the early 20th century — and we can be proud that Ondokusan is da kine MADE IN HAWAII.

The story goes that even the Japanese thought this arrangement was a bit solemn, so Mr. Osamu Shimizu wrote a new arrangement in a major key in 1952 in Japan.

(play Ondokusan II)

Ondokusan 2 is the “new” version many people in Hawaii know and sing in Japanese, even if we don’t understand the words.

Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion, 
That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies; 
Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers, 
That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.

What are Shinran words telling us today as we emerge from the restrictions of the COVID-19 public health emergency?

When we realize that Amida’s Great Compassion has embraced us because we are “only human”—just ordinary people driven by blindly self-centered desires and suffering from ego-centric attachments, we “must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies”.

Amida offers a path to Enlightenment through the Nembutsu, just as we are, precisely because we are flawed, limited, and lost—we are utterly human.

Indeed, this is a Compassion so great and all-encompassing that our human brain cannot comprehend fully.

This Truth, this Dharma, this reality-as-it-is, comes to us from Sakyamuni Buddha more than 2500 years ago; then over centuries through the Seven Masters of the Pure Land tradition to Shinran, and then across the Pacific Ocean to the generations of Hongwanji ministers and sangha who struggled through the plantation era, Great Depression, and the Pacific War. 

Do we, here today, deserve such compassion, such benevolence?

Are we worthy of receiving these teachings?

If we are totally honest with ourselves, if we are truly self-aware, the answer must be “no.”

And thus, we must endeavor to repay our debt of gratitude, “Even to our bones becoming dust.”

As we all struggle to “embrace change” that has been forced upon us by COVID-19 public health emergency, we are being given an incredible opportunity to confront our Ego-Self: 

Raging at the “unfairness” of restrictions on our lives; 

Stubbornly attached to longing for a “return to normal”; 

Seeking to blame others—politicians, tourists, and bats—for the inconvenience in our lives! How dare they interrupt MY LIFE!

Illuminated by the Unhindered Light of Wisdom that is Amida Buddha, we see ourselves as “foolish ordinary beings” or bonbu — this is our Ego-Self.

And yet, in the still of the early morning or in the darkness of the night, we feel the pain of those infected by COVID-19, and the suffering of their families and friends who cannot be at their side; 

The struggles and exhaustion of medical professionals trying desperately to help them; 

We feel the frustration of essential workers who risk the health of themselves AND their families so that we can eat safe food and drink clean water, receive letters and packages in the mail, and have our garbage taken away; 

We can sympathize with the very real fear and anxiety of so many people who have lost their jobs and have no income.

This is a glimpse of our True Self: the Heart of Compassion and the Mind of Non-Discrimination is already within us.

This realization of how lucky we are inspires us to try and help as best we can, just as we are. 

Whether it is donating to food banks, sewing masks, or simply smiling and saying thank you, we are able to “strive to repay our debt of gratitude.”

Amida Buddha is not just a golden statue in the altar of the temple. 

Amida Buddha is Great Compassion reaching out to us every moment, of ever day of this unrepeatable life, urging us to wake up now.

Amida Buddha is the Unhindered Light of Wisdom, illuminating our self-centered foolishness and our inherent potential to help others even to “our bodies being crushed and our bones turning into dust.”

Amida’s Compassion is so great that even during these most extraordinary of times, we are being guided to awakening of reality-as-it-is; we are “only human” and that is why we are embraced by Great Compassion, just as we are.

Embraced by Great Compassion and illuminated by the Unhindered Light of Wisdom, let us strive to do our best to help others. 

Let us become the source of aloha for our family, friends, neighbors, and communities.

Let us say Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu in joy and gratitude every moment of each day of this unrepeatable life!


Mahalo for listening this morning and may your day be filled with aloha!


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!


Mahalo, Moth!

Moth, Makawao Hongwanji, July 19, 2021

“Why am I here?” is answered by pausing to reflect on the wonder of life right in front of you in this moment of your unrepeatable life.


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)

To Vaccine or Not to Vaccine, that is the Question

“To vaccine or not to vaccine, that is the question.”

From a Buddhist perspective, there is no question: get the vaccine! 

Based on the Buddhist principle of ahimsa “non-harm,” protecting oneself and others from infection by receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is intuitively obvious. The Dharma of the Buddha’s Teachings consistently emphasizes causality, empiricism, and logical rationalism, the same principles upon which science is built.

As Shin Buddhists on the path of Nembutsu, we strive daily to practice “other-centric compassion” by washing hands, wearing masks, keeping distance, and staying at home as much as practical. We try to reach out to others, to help others, to smile with aloha, and to say mahalo.

For Shin Buddhists, the Faith of Shinjin, the Heart of Great Compassion gratefully received from Amida is the source of strength and serenity as life unfolds naturally, whether it is a novel coronavirus, political and societal change, or simply when things don’t quite work out as expected.

Culturally as Americans, however, we are trained to think and live life as if, “It’s about ME!”  It’s always about MY EGO (ME). Ego-centric selfishness compels thinking like, 

“I won’t get infected!”

“Even if I get infected, I won’t die, I’ll recover quickly!”

“Other people getting infected and dying? Has nothing to do with me!”

Because I’m the exception, I’m entitled, I’m special, I deserve all the good stuff in life, and none of the bad! And yet, in the back of our rational minds, we know this assertion to not hold true, and this disconnect creates anxiety, fear, anger, rage, and hate that manifests in irrational behaviors.

We know better but do stupid things anyway. This is the human condition.

Shakyamuni Buddha identified this clinging attachment to ME, the primacy of the Ego-Self, as the cause of all suffering, discontent, and dissatisfaction in human life. The Buddha taught that to eliminate the attachment to ME (or eliminate ME) is the end of suffering. This state of being is called Nirvana, the extinguishing of self-centered craving, desire, and attachment.

The challenge is that the Buddha taught renunciation of this world, becoming a monk, giving up everything, and living according to strict discipline by following the Eightfold Path of the Nobles. Not everyone is ready, able, or willing to become a monk!

Thus, Shakyamuni Buddha revealed in the Larger Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life the Dharma of the path of Nembutsu created by Amida Buddha precisely for ego-centric, self-centered, ordinary human beings who are dominated by their blind passions, exemplified by anger, greed, and folly. Like me!

Hearing the Calling Voice of Amida, and saying Namo Amida Butsu with absolute sincerity and the awaking the aspiration for Birth in the Pure Land to help others, we gratefully receive Shinjin, the Great Love and Great Compassion of Amida, the Heart of Compassion and the Mind of Non-Discrimination of Amida. And it is gratefully receiving shinjin that assures our Birth in the Pure Land, and thus becoming Buddha.

The argument against the COVID-19 vaccines is primarily driven by fear.

Fear that the vaccine may not work or have serious side effects. Fear that government, the scientists, public health agencies, and/or the media are lying about the vaccine. Fear that the “best days of our lives” are behind us.

Fear is an emotional, psychological, and physiological reaction to external stimulus that the human brain and EGO-self interpret as an existential threat.

Fear is not rational. 

Thus, Fear can only be overcome by Compassion.

It is human nature for me to insist that I, alone, am right.

It is human nature for me to insist on “persuading” someone they are wrong.

It is human nature to resent others who insist upon “telling me what do!”

When both sides of conflict insist they are right and the other is wrong, conflict arises.

In the end, each individual must make up their own mind about whether or not to receive the vaccine, when it is available for them. Each individual must weigh the facts, the body of evidence, authoritative opinions, and make a judgement for themselves.

Personal exceptionalism, or individual liberty, is the American way. And, taken to an extreme, why we have such anger, division, incivility, hate, and rage in our nation today. 

As we’ve observed in the past months, the absolute reality is “personal exceptionalism” can be extremely harmful during a public health emergency.

While individuals have the inalienable right to express their opinions and to make individual choice, the right of individual liberty must not and cannot be allowed to infringe on the equally important rights of others to their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. 

As Buddhists, we must seek the Middle Path, seek to understand the other person’s position, and work together to find balance between extremes.

In my opinion, the science behind the vaccines is valid, and I plan to get the vaccine as soon as possible, when it is available. 

Clearly, there is a risk I might be one of the 5% for whom the vaccine doesn’t work, a risk of known and unforeseen side effects, or the discomfort of post-injection flu-like symptoms.

But as Buddhists, we know that there is “risk” in every aspect of human life! 

As Buddhists, we know the Truth of Impermanence applies to everyone without exception. As Shin Buddhists, we know all we can do is try the best we can in this unrepeatable life, and gratefully leave our Birth in the Pure Land, and becoming Buddha, up to Amida. 

The Faith of Shinjin, the absolute assurance of Birth in the Pure Land, and becoming Buddha gives Shin Buddhists the strength and serenity to adapt, improvise, and overcome the challenges and obstacles created by COVID-19.

If you asked the ex-copywriter in me to develop a t-shirt slogan for these times, it might be something like this: 

Get the vaccine 


Wear a mask 

Until you die.

Which is why I am an ex-copywriter.

Please stay on guard, stay healthy, and have fun, as we begin a new year embraced by Amida’s Great Love and illuminated the unhindered Light of Wisdom.

Let us aspire to be grateful, compassionate, and wise, always giving the gift of kind eyes and gentle words to every person and living being we encounter in this unrepeatable life.

May the year 2021 bring you and your loved ones the best of health, lots of fun, and wonderful encounters with friends and fellow travelers on the Path of Namo Amida Butsu.

Namo Amida Butsu!

Rev. Kerry

“A Great Torch in the Dark Night of Ignorance”

Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii Online Dharma Message on November 1, 2020: “A Great Torch in the Dark Night of Ignorance”.

Grateful for the opportunity to give an Online Dharma Message today—because it means I woke up not dead!

In reflection, everything in my life has led me to this moment, every person I encountered taught me something important, every success was due to other people, and every failure because I was angry, greedy, or stupid.

In reflection, the absolute truth and infinite reality of Namo Amida Butsu has always been in my life; it just took my entire adult life for my Ego-Self to get out of the way.

Good thing Amida has Immeasurable Life!

May your day be filled with aloha!Namo Amida Butsu!

It’s not about ME

When a person realizes the mind of non-discrimination,  

That attainment is the “state of regarding each being as one’s only child”

This is none other than Buddha-Nature;

We will awaken to it on reaching the land of peace.

     Shinran Shōnin

     Hymns of the Pure Land, Verse 97

     The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. 1, p. 350 

Or put more simply, “It’s Not About ME!”

One of the key philosophical principles of Buddhism is ‘an-atman’ or ‘non-self,’ the rejection of the idea of a ‘soul’ or ‘essence’ or a “me” that is eternal, unchanging, or fixed in any way.

In Brahmanism, the dominant religion in India 2,600 years ago during the time of Shakamuni Buddha, the assertion of the existence of ‘atman’ a soul, an unchanging essence of self, that cycled through countless births and deaths in the same social class or caste, was a means of social control.

Born a slave = you die a slave = you are reborn a slave.

Born a king = you die a king = you are reborn a king.

This cycle of births and deaths is endless.

Obviously, as Mel Brooks once said in a movie, “It is good to be the king.” 

And if you’re a slave, well, just shut up and do your work because there is no hope of changing the situation. 

And, hey! Look at those untouchables, yuck, disgusting! Let’s hate on the untouchables!

If we view our modern world from the perspective of Kings and Slaves, the drivers of conflict, anger, and anxiety become clear. 

Buddhism is a path to breaking free of the cycle of births and deaths, a path to Awakening to reality-as-it-is, not reality-as-we-want-it-to-be, living a True and Real Life.

Buddha taught that Life comes with pain and suffering, ups and downs, heartbreak and disappointment, and moments of happiness, pleasure, love, and joy.

Buddha further taught there is a cause of suffering; that the cause of suffering can be eliminated; and that the Buddhist path breaks the cycle of births and deaths. Becoming Enlightened is Awakening to True and Real Life, Nirvana, Enlightenment, Perfect Peace.

One of Buddha’s key insights into the human mind is that what we think of as “ME, My Self, and I” is “empty,” an illusion created by our mind and senses, which are constantly changing, not permanent, totally dependent upon others, and infinitely limited.

Thus, there is no Self, no eternal soul, no unchanging essence of “ME, My Self, and I.”

In Western psychology, the Ego is “the self, the part of the mind that reacts to reality, and has a sense of individuality”…

Individualism, the assertion of ME, MY EGO, is a key part of American culture.

“I am a self-made gazillionaire” = The American Dream, to be richer than others.

Taken to an extreme, individualism leads to personal exceptionalism = I am the exception, I alone am right, I am special, I am entitled, the world should revolve around ME. 

The assertion of “ME First” leads to conflict, anger, rage, violence, unhappiness, constant dissatisfaction with what we have, the insatiable “thirst” for MORE, and MORE, and MORE.

And precisely because we delude ourselves into thinking, “I am the exception, I am special, I am entitled,” the Death of ME is inconceivable and terrifying, the secret dark fear of kings and slaves alike. 

We believe that an after-life, something after death, must exist because “I” must continue in the after-life.

This assertion of Ego, expressed as the moral dualism of Good and Evil, reinforces our sense of entitlement, and leads to discrimination, judgement, bias, racism, nationalism, and inevitably to conflict, violence, and war.

“Good” people like me go to heaven; it’s those other guys, those “Bad” people who go to hell.

This dualistic view of the world = us vs. them = is a force for social control. 

If the elite, super-rich, powerful class can induce the lower classes to hate the “other,” to believe, “we” are better than “them,” then less-advantaged people hate the most-disadvantaged people and no one realizes about who’s really taking advantage of both.

Us vs. Them 

Winners vs. Losers

“Real Americans” vs. “Immigrants”

Labels like these are the Mind of Discrimination that divides people and nations. 

My mentor, Rev. Senmou Yamamoto of Kyoto, Japan, taught me that horizontal discrimination is naturally how our instinctive brain works = safe/danger; hot/cold; good to eat/poison. 

Horizontal discrimination is necessary for survival.

But vertical discrimination, using labels to make ME superior and “Others” inferior, this is how MY EGO works.

The mind of “vertical discrimination”—the need to feel superior—is the heart of MY EGO and the cause of my suffering.

The need to feel superior is one of 108 bonnō or blind passions.

The need to feel superior disconnects us from our heart of humanity, and separates us from the rest of humanity, pushing away the great ‘ohana of Life.

This disconnection is what leads to suffering in form of sadness, loneliness, and depression.

The need to feel superior is very subtle—easy to see in others but almost impossible to see in ourselves—and thus it is one of the most difficult spiritual challenges to overcome.

Paradoxically, the more we feel superior to others, the more we suffer.


Because there is always someone superior to us.

And even if you are the richest, most powerful, most feared—even if you’re the King—the winds of impermanence: aging, decay, and death come to all people equally, without discrimination or judgement.

Buddhism is Awakening to the Truth of Non-Self: 

It’s not about ME, It’s never been about ME, “I” am the problem!

The Bondage of Selfishness is ME = MY EGO!

Liberation from the Bondage of Selfishness = True and Real Life

True and Real Life is not about ME, MY EGO, it’s not about “I” this or that.

True and Real Life is about awakening to the emptiness of My Ego, the non-importance of My Ego, the realization that it is my attachment to ME, My Ego, that is the cause of my unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life.

Through intense meditation under a Bodhi, the tree of Enlightenment, like the one we have growing in front of the temple, the Buddha awakened to the illusion of Self, the “emptiness of Self.” 

Buddha taught letting go of “Self” or realizing the mind of non-discrimination is the Path that leads to Awakening, Enlightenment, Nirvana, perfect peace of mind, True and Real Life.

To realize Enlightenment in this life, some Buddhist paths recommend a monastic way of life: shave your head, renounce the material world: minimizing one’s possessions to only three pieces of cloth as robes, a begging bowl, and a razor to shave one’s head; living by the precepts of non-violence, celibacy, self-denial; constant study of the Buddha’s Teachings; intensive meditation and ritual practice…total discipline and commitment for the rest of one’s life.

By letting go of the Ego-driven, self-centered way of life, Awakening becomes possible.

This is the Path of Sages, the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, which aims to extinguish the insatiable self-centered thirst for existence of the Self, the craving for sensory pleasures of the mind and body, and the burning need for ME to continue after death.

The Path of Pure Land, a branch of the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, seeks birth into the Pure Land, the Buddha-world created by Amida, becoming Enlightened, then returning to this world to help guide others to the Truth.

The Pure Land way is based on the Truth of Non-Self, and living this unrepeatable life without MY EGO in the service of others.

The paramita of Dana, the perfection of ego-less giving is the first of the Six Paramita, the six perfections that lead to the spiritual stage of Bodhisattva in the Mahayana tradition.

How ironic that a Makawao Hongwanji Preschooler taught me the expression, “Caring is Sharing,” which allowed me to see clearly the deeper meaning of ego-less giving.

Caring is Compassion.

Understanding is Wisdom.

Love is caring and understanding.

Love is Compassion and Wisdom.

Amida’s Heart of Great Compassion and Wisdom, the Primal Vow to save all beings without discrimination, is Perfect Compassion and Pure Wisdom = Truly Unconditional Love = the “state of regarding each being as one’s only child” = “Caring is Sharing!”

Intellectually, we understand this—after all, even a preschooler can understand “Caring is Sharing” but how many of us actually are able to practice “Caring is Sharing” without discrimination, judgement, or conditions. I know that I cannot.

The Teachings of Shinran, Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, the Hongwanji tradition, assert that ordinary human beings—born with all-too-human flaws and weaknesses—are unable to escape from ME, My Ego, on our own.

Try as we might, relying only on our own self-power and limited understanding of reality-as-it-is, we are unable to realize the Mind of Non-Discrimination, the “state of regarding each being as one’s only child.”

In Shinran’s quote, Buddha-nature—the potential in all people to become Buddha—is the “state of regarding each being as one’s only child.”

Shinran teaches, “We will awaken to it on reaching the Land of Peace,” when we are born into the Pure Land. 

Shinran teaches the Mind of Non-Discrimination will be realized when we pass from this world, and are liberated from the bonnō blind passions of this human mind and body.

That may sound a bit pessimistic, especially to our American “I WANT IT NOW” minds.

But thanks to a preschooler, I came to see the Primal Vow of Amida’s Great Compassion to save all people working in my life right here, right now.

The first step to overcoming addiction to ME, MY EGO, my selfishness is recognizing I have a problem. In fact, “I” am the problem.

The solution is listening to the Dharma, studying the Teachings, cultivating compassion, and becoming aware of the true nature of Self.

The second step to overcoming addiction to ME, MY EGO, my selfishness is accepting MY problem creates my suffering and negatively affects others, especially the people I love.

The solution is truly Hearing the Dharma, internalizing the deeper meaning of the Teachings, relentless self-reflection leading to true self-awareness, seeing ME, MY EGO as-it-is not MY EGO as-I-want-it-to-be, and accepting ME, just the way I am.

Sharing the Dharma is Living the Dharma = trying to be kind and gentle, trying to think pure and beautiful thoughts, trying to protect all those weaker than my self, trying to say pure and beautiful words, and trying to do pure and beautiful deeds.

More concretely, living the Dharma is in the thoughts, words, and actions we take in our interactions and relationships with other people.

How? Here’s Three Things To Do Today.

  • Give the gift of a smile, kind eyes, and gentle words to everyone today.
  • Respond in gratitude to everything, convenient or inconvenient, as life unfolds today.
  • Just say Namo Amida Butsu in gratitude for your life, just as it is, today.

In this way, you begin to hear the voice of Amida Buddha calling to you, “Take refuge in Amida’s Compassion! Amida will save you without fail!” 

Namo Amida Butsu!

Amida Buddha, Namo Amida Butsu, the Nembutsu becomes you.

Namo Amida Butsu!

Namo Amida Butsu is you, just as you are.

Namo Amida Butsu!

In this way, one day you wake up and truly realize that you are alive, given the chance to live life to the fullest, in this moment, right here, right now.

Namo Amida Butsu!

Do you hear Amida calling to you, “Wake up! What are you going to do today?”

ME, of all people, who is not worthy of yet another second chance to become who I truly am, just as I am.

Today, I am given the choice of being selfish or living for others!

Do you hear Amida calling to you, “Wake up! What are you going to do today?”

Waking up in the morning, not dead, is all the proof you need, to know without doubt that Amida’s Compassion and Wisdom are real, and working in your unrepeatable life, right here, right now.

Do you hear Amida calling to you, “Wake up! What are you going to do today?”

When you awaken to the Mind of Non-Discrimination working in your life, when you begin to “see each being as one’s only child,” this is when you discover Buddha-nature inside of you, Shinjin comes to you, when your birth into the Pure Land is assured.

Awakening to the working of the Mind of Non-Discrimination in your life, to Great Compassion and Wisdom in your life, this is when you hear the Voice of Amida calling to you … this is Shinjin, the heart of true entrusting, the heart that can fall in love, the heart that loves all beings without discrimination, judgement, or conditions!

The myōkōnin Saiichi said,

Shinjin comes to me, 

Amida becomes me, 

I don’t do anything, 

Amida does everything!

Namo Amida Butsu!

Awakening from the dark night of ignorance, you realize “I have been saved from ME = I have been saved from MY EGO!” Namo Amida Butsu!

Shinjin is the heart and mind of Amida, embracing all and abandoning none. Do you hear it? Namo Amida Butsu!

Shinjin is the heart that can fall in love with all beings, just as they are. Do you hear it? Namo Amida Butsu!

Shinjin is the heart that joyfully entrusts all that you are, just as you are, in Amida’s Great Compassion and Wisdom. Do you hear it? Namo Amida Butsu!

Shinjin is the heart of Buddha-nature, beating inside of you, just as you are. Do you hear it? Namo Amida Butsu!

Listen! Do you hear the voice of Amida calling to you?

“Take refuge in Amida’s Compassion! Amida will save you without fail!”

Namo Amida Butsu! Namo Amida Butsu! Namo Amida Butsu! 

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