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!


The Masks We Wear: Halloween 2021

“Does this COVID-19 mask make me look fat?”

(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)

Rev. Kerry

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.


The Kids Who Said Thank You Too Much

Once upon a time in a magical place called Maui, a beautiful island in the middle of the big blue sea, there lived a little girl and a little boy.

Maui was filled with kind and gentle people who always said, “aloha!” with a big smile and gave big friendly hugs.

One day, the little girl and the little boy were walking to school.

Suddenly, the school bully, a big kid who was always grumpy and mean, stopped them.

“Give me your lunch money!”

The little girl and the little boy smiled and said, “Thank you!” and gave the bully their lunch money.

The school bully was very surprised because usually kids were afraid of him and that made him feel strong.

The school bully was so confused, he gave the little girl and the little boy their lunch money back.

“Thank you!” said the little boy and little girl.

A little while later at school, the little girl and the little boy met some bigger kids who started teasing them.

“You’re stupid!” they said to the little boy, “Hahaha!”

The little boy smiled and said, “Thank you! Yes, I need to study harder! Thank you!”

“You’re dumb!” the other kids said to the little girl, “hahaha!”

The little girl smiled and said, “Thank you! Yes, I need to study harder too! Thank you!”

The other kids were confused because usually the kids they teased would cry, and that would make them feel powerful.

So they stopped teasing the little girl and the little boy, and walked away.

At recess, the little girl and little boy were playing in the sandbox, making a big castle in the sand.

Suddenly, the school bully and the bigger kids ran over their castle, until it was just little piles of sand!

The school bully and the bigger kids were sure that the little boy and the little girl would cry this time!

The little girl and little boy smiled and said, “Thank you! Now, we can make an even better castle! Thank you!”

The school bully and the bigger kids were confused — usually little kids would be sad and start to cry.

So there they were, shaking their heads.

“What’s wrong with those kids? They say, ‘thank you!’ too much! It’s no fun to bully or tease them!”

Just then, Amida Buddha appeared before them.

Amida Buddha smiled and said, “What happened, children? Why are you are looking so confused?”

The school bully said, “Amida, I was mean to the little girl and little boy. I took their lunch money and they said, ‘thank you!’ I was so confused because usually kids are scared of me, so I gave them their money back. And they said, ‘thank you!’ again!”

The bigger kids said, “We teased the little kids and called them names! The little girl and little boy just smiled and said, ‘thank you!’ and agreed with us! Usually little kids cry when we tease them, but they just said, ‘thank you!’”

The school bully and the bigger kids said, “Then we ran over their sand castle until it was just little piles of sand! We thought for sure they’d cry but the little girl and little boy, just said, ‘thank you!’ because we gave them a chance to build an even better sand castle!”

The school bully and the bigger kids said, “The little girl and little boy say, ‘thank you!’ so much that it is no fun to bully them or tease them or smash their sand castle!”

Amida Buddha smiled and said, “What did you learn from the little girl and little boy?”

The school bully thought very carefully and said, “I know! Sometimes things don’t go the way we want them to…and I only bully kids because it makes me feel strong, but in my heart of hearts, I’m lonely because I’m so much bigger than the other kids they are afraid of me. I just want to be friends.”

Amida Buddha smiled and said, “That’s very wise! Sometimes we do things without thinking that end up hurting us more than other people!”

The bigger kids thought very carefully and said, “We know! We only tease little kids because we are secretly afraid someone will tease us! We are afraid someone will call us names or make fun of us! That’s so silly! We just want to be friends!”

Amida Buddha smiled and said, “That’s very wise! Sometimes we try to hurt other people’s feelings because we are afraid they might hurt ours!”

The little girl and little boy smiled at Amida and said, “Thank you, Amida! You taught us that life can be difficult sometimes, but that is an opportunity to be kind and gentle to every living thing. You taught us that nothing lasts forever but that means we can always start over! We should be thankful for everything that happens in life!”

Amida Buddha smiled and said, “You children are so wise! Now, what will you all do today!”

The school bully, the bigger kids, the little girl and the little boy, all smiled and said together, “We are going to say, ‘thank you!’ too much, hahaha! And share what we have, speak pure and beautiful words, and play together in harmony! Namo Amida Butsu! Thank you, Amida!”

Amida Buddha smiled and said, “Mahalo, children, for being such wise girls and boys! Anytime you want to see me, just say Namo Amida Butsu! I’m always ready to come to help you!”

All the children smiled, waved to Amida, and said, “Mahalo, Amida! Thank you for always helping us! Namo Amida Butsu!”

And the children all lived happily ever after, playing together in harmony on a white sandy beach in a magical place called Maui, a beautiful island in the middle of the big blue sea.


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


Nembutsu ga deru ka ne?

All Buddhists seek Enlightenment—awakening to the Truth, seeing Life as-it-is, not as-we-want-it-to-be.

Unnecessary suffering in life is caused by the gap between reality—Life as-it-is—and perception—the self-centered delusion that Life should be as-we-want-it-to-be.

When Life doesn’t unfold the way we want it to, we get angry, blame others for our disappointment, or whine about it on Facebook.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the goal of Enlightenment is to alleviate suffering of other people and all forms of life.

The goal of Jodo Shinshu is to “settle one’s birth in the Pure Land” in this life so that when we die, we are born in the Pure Land and, in Oneness with the Buddha Amida,  return to this world as Great Compassion and Wisdom working to save all beings by guiding them to the Truth.

To settle one’s birth in the Pure Land, Jodo Shinshu teaches the Path of Nembutsu—saying Namo Amida Butsu in gratitude for, and in response to, Life as it unfolds, accepting reality as-it-is, which empowers us to make the most of each moment in this unrepeatable life.

The Path of Nembutsu provides the way for unexceptional, totally average, self-deluded people—like me—to liberate themselves from the bondage of selfishness.

Jodo Shinshu helps people cope with the undeniable stresses and inevitable disappointments of modern life by igniting change—a ‘change of heart’ and a ‘change of attitude’ so we may see Life as-it-is.

If we believe fame, fortune, intellect, youth, or beauty make us superior to others, we despair when confronted with the truth that we are merely human.

If we believe we are the exception, that we will never grow old, decay, and die, then we are terrified by death, afraid of being a compassionate presence for people at the end of life.

If we believe we deserve only the sweetness of life, then we are devastated by the inevitable moments of bitterness of life.

In a single thought-moment, when we realize that we are not exceptional; that we are, in fact, deluded, ego-centric, and all-too-human average people incapable of any spiritual practice leading to awakening to Truth in this Life, that is when Jodo Shinshu reveals the working of Great Compassion and Wisdom in our lives.

We realize that no matter how good our intentions may be, we are simply incapable of helping others as much as we would like to believe.

We realize our inherent Selfishness blinds us so that we insist upon seeing Life as-we-want-it-to-be, not Life as-it-is, setting us up for disappointment, despair, and depression.

We realize that, despite our pretensions, we despise those who are different from us, we turn away from the hungry and homeless, we do nothing to prevent injustice.

We realize that we are not able to live up to our own ideals, our aspirations, our self-image.

This realization crushes the delusions of our ego-self, which is why we avoid true self-reflection; in our heart of hearts we know are we nothing like we would like to think we are.

We are not worthy.

And yet, our lives are filled with kind and gentle people.

Our lives are “pretty good” compared to so many people who are truly suffering, fellow human beings who don’t have enough to eat, a safe place to sleep, who face discrimination and hardship every day.

In a single thought-moment, we realize that Great Compassion and Wisdom has always embraced us, never to abandon us. And that Awakening liberates us from our attachment to the ego-driven “self”.

When we become free from the bondage of selfishness, we begin to live a life that is true and real.

When we reflect upon our lives, when we see Life-as-it-is, we stop believing we deserve all the “good” things that happen to us, and, we stop believing we don’t deserve the “bad” things that happen to us.

In that moment, we see kind and gentle people have always been in our lives — our ‘ohana has always been there for us.

We begin to truly appreciate, and not take for granted, the friends who have stayed with us through thick and thin, the communities that accept us, the ‘Aina and the living beings that sustain our lives.

We begin to truly rejoice in the companionship of precious animal friends, our beloved pets, whose only desire is to love us without judging us.

We begin to truly cherish the Great ‘Ohana of Life, the people who patiently teach us life lessons, the strangers who show us kindness, the unseen people laboring so that we can enjoy the comfort and convenience of modern life.

Jodo Shinshu awakens us to the True Meaning of Life, that we are One with all people and all forms of Life, and thus we are never alone; that we are accepted just as we are; that this unrepeatable Life is meant to be lived to benefit others.

We begin to see even the painful, embarrassing, and humiliating episodes in our lives as meaningful, positive, learning experiences.

In Jodo Shinshu, we revere this Great Compassion and Wisdom as the Buddha Amida, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light, Amida Nyorai, the Tathagata, the One who comes from Suchness.

Awakening to the Truth, we realize that we only delude ourselves into thinking we are fundamentally “good” people, that we will help others when we are not so “busy” or have accumulated enough money.

But we always seem to be “too busy,” always desperately seeking to acquire “more” because we are self-centered, totally average human beings.

In our heart of hearts, we know we are limited, weak, and unable to accept Life as it unfolds, that we are afraid to embrace Life as-it-is.

In fact, we are constantly running away from admitting our utter average-ness to anyone, much less ourselves.

We deny the Truth of what we really are.

This delusion, this denial of reality, is the root cause of all unnecessary suffering in our modern lives: fear, stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, discontent, unhappiness, anger, discrimination, and hatred.

How do we become free of these delusions?

The only practice in Jodo Shinshu is the Path of Nembutsu, mindfully saying the name of the Buddha Amida—Namo Amida Butsu—in gratitude for Amida’s great compassionate vow to save all beings, beginning with silly, deluded, self-centered, unexceptional, and all-too-human people…just like me.

The Path of Nembutsu is the simplest practice in Buddhism.

Nembutsu can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, anytime, and doesn’t require any “thing” beyond the heart-and-mind that responds in gratitude to Life as it unfolds—good, bad, or ugly—Just Say Namo Amida Butsu.

My grandmother, Toku Nakawatase, was famous for confronting lay people, ministers, and even bishops, by saying, Nembutsu ga deru ka ne? which can be translated as “Namo Amida Butsu still doesn’t just pop out of your mouth?”

In other words, you haven’t realized that you are a deluded, silly, all-too-human self-centered being?

Haven’t you awakened to the truth, Life as-it-is, the reality that Great Compassion and Wisdom has always embraced you, never to abandon you?

That the Great Compassion of the Buddha Amida has created this opportunity to encounter the Nembutsu, allowing you to walk the path of liberation from the bondage of selfishness?

Aren’t you humbled and truly grateful that you have been saved from your Ego-Self?

“Nembutsu ga deru ka ne?!”

You still haven’t learned to just say Namo Amida Butsu in gratitude for life as it unfolds, for reality as-it-is?

Haven’t you acknowledged your debt of gratitude to the kind and gentle people who nurtured you in the past, and the countless people and living beings who sustain your life today?

You aren’t trying to repay this debt of gratitude by thinking pure and beautiful thoughts, saying pure and beautiful words, and doing pure and beautiful deeds?

You aren’t trying to be kind and gentle to every living thing and protect all those who are weaker than yourself?

“Nembutsu ga deru ka ne?!”

In Jodo Shinshu, you don’t have to believe anything, give up anything, or change your life in any way.

You are all right just as you are.

In Jodo Shinshu, you listen to the Dharma, pause and reflect, and look inward to find the Truth that is inside of you.

You are all right just as you are.

In Jodo Shinshu, you simply awaken to the Truth that Great Compassion and Wisdom has always embraced you, never to abandon you.

You are all right just as you are.

In Jodo Shinshu, you learn to entrust everything, just as you are, to All-Embracing Compassion and All-Inclusive Wisdom, the Buddha Amida.

In Jodo Shinshu, you accept that your birth in the Pure Land, just as you are, is already assured. You accept that your return to this world to help others in the way you truly aspire, is already assured.

In the single thought-moment when you awaken to the Truth, you transcend the Ego-Self and shinjinthe Heart-and-Mind of Compassion and Wisdom of Amida—comes to you, and you become what you truly are.

The hardest thing to grasp in Jodo Shinshu is that you can’t do anything to “achieve” shinjin—the heart-and-mind of the Buddha Amida comes to you naturally, as Life unfolds.

Shinjin comes to you, just as you are.

In fact, the harder you try to “achieve” shinjin, the faster it slips from your grasp!

To paraphrase the myōkōnin Saichi,

“You do not become Amida—Amida becomes you,” just as you are.

In Jodo Shinshu, we say Namo Amida Butsu in gratitude for the Great Compassion and Wisdom that saves us from ourselves not in spite of our limitations, but precisely because of our fundamental selfishness, our silly humanness, our Ego-centric belief that we are the exception.

Shinjin—the heart-and-mind of Amida’s Compassion and Wisdom—saves you, just as you are.

That’s why every morning when I look in the mirror, I ask myself:

Nembutsu ga deru ka ne?!

And that’s why Jodo Shinshu is for me.

Please join me in putting our hands together, bowing our heads, and saying Namo Amida Butsu,

Mahalo Amida for the blessings of the ‘Aina,

Mahalo Amida for the Aloha in our hearts,

Mahalo Amida for the great ‘Ohana of Life that always supports and nurtures us, never to abandon us,

Mahalo Amida for saving us, just as we are.

Namo Amida Butsu!

Everything I Needed to Know about Buddhism, I Learned in Dharma School

I just love the song, “Buddha Loves You”…it’s supposed to be a children’s song but it makes Buddhism so easy to understand for anyone!

Fly, fly, little bird,

Buddha loves you little bird,

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet tweet!

Run, run, little pup,

Buddha loves you little pup,

Bow-wow, wow-wow-wow-wow wow!

Don’t cry pussy cat,

Buddha loves you pussy cat,

Mew, mew, mew-mew-mew-mew, mew!

Swim, Swim, little fish,

Buddha loves you, little fish,

(just open mouth like a fish)

What does this song teach us? It’s okay to be who and what you are.

Birds fly, so fly!

Dogs run, so run!

Cats are hard to understand, so be hard to understand!

Fish can’t talk, so don’t talk!

Why? Because Buddha loves you just the way you are!

Buddha is like your mommy and daddy put together.

Mommy and Daddy love you most of all, just as you are.

Mommy and Daddy will do anything for your happiness.

Mommy and Daddy will scold you when you deserve it.

But not because they want to be mean to you.

No, Mommy and Daddy get mad because they love you, they want you to learn important lessons in life.

Mommy and Daddy will always love you, always worry about you, always want you to be happy, always work hard to give you the good things in life.

All you have to do is be yourself. Be who you really are.

Be kind and gentle to every living thing.

Protect all who are weaker than ourselves.

Just say the magic words: “Please” and “Thank You!”

Have you ever been teased or bullied?

It’s not fun, is it?

But did you know that bullies are bullies because they are afraid?

Sometimes big kids are so scared that someone will discover they are actually afraid inside that they tease and bully smaller kids, weaker kids, kids who are different.
It hurts, it is not right, it is not fair.

Life is like that sometimes.

Your mommy and daddy would like the world to always be a safe and nice place for you.

But sometimes there are bullies in your life.

What should you do?

Sometimes being kind to bullies, trying to understand why they are bullies, will change their hearts.

Sometimes being gentle to bullies, not responding to teasing, will change their minds.

And sometimes, you must be strong and stand up to bullies, especially when they are teasing kids weaker than you.

Then you must have the courage to be called a tattletale or a snitch, and seek help from other kids, teachers, parents, or even the police.

Did you know the mommies and daddies of bullies don’t want their children to be bullies?

Is it easy to be kind, gentle, and strong?

No, it is not easy.

Being kind and gentle, protecting all those weaker than yourself is difficult, especially when you are smaller than the bully.

But, if you look inside your heart, you will find the Compassion you need to be kind and gentle.

If you look inside your heart, you will find the Wisdom to think of a way to protect all those who are weaker than yourself.

If you look inside your heart, you will find the Strength to be who you are.

Be Kind and Gentle.

Be the Protector of the Weak.

Be Strong and ask for help.

Be who you are.

Because Buddha loves you, just the way you are.

So, remember, Children.

Come to Dharma School every Sunday!

Remember that Amida Buddha is inside your heart.

Remember that you are kinder, gentler, and stronger than you think.

Be who you are.

Be proud to be Buddhist.

Just smile, be kind and gentle, and be strong, no matter what.

Just say, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ every time.

Say mahalo to Amida Buddha, mahalo to mommy and daddy, mahalo to ‘ohana, mahalo to teachers, and mahalo to friends for loving you just as you are.

And don’t forget to make sensei happy by coming to Temple every Sunday, putting your palms together in gasshō, bowing your head, and saying Namo Amida Butsu, no matter what!

Namo Amida Butsu!


I will try to be grateful for this moment, aspiring to see the world as-it-is, not as-I-want-it-to-be, so that I may alleviate suffering for all beings.

I will try to be wise so that I can see both sides of conflict wth clarity, and not insist that I alone am right.

I will try to be compassionate so that I can help all people without discrimination or judgement.

I will try to be kind and gentle to every living thing and protect all those who are weaker than myself.

I will try to allow the Aloha in my heart to manifest as Mahalo for the great ‘Ohana of Life and the blessings of the ‘Aina.

In the Hongwanji tradition, I express my profound gratitude for this unrepeatable life by placing my palms together, bowing my head, and saying Namo Amida Butsu, entrusting in All-Inclusive Wisdom and All-Embracing Compassion.