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!

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!


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.


“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!

“There’s Too Much Time”

When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma.

Shinran Shōnin (1173-1263)
Quoted in A Record in Lament of Divergences
Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. 1, page 679

When I was preparing to become a Buddhist minister, I was given the opportunity to visit a woman in a nursing home who was most comfortable speaking in Japanese.

“Hello, Mrs. N, how do you do? My name is Kerry.”

“Thank you, thank you for coming! Namo Amida Butsu!”

“It’s my pleasure. How are you feeling today?”

“There’s too much time, thank you! Namo Amida Butsu!”

I was very puzzled by this response but kept my mouth shut and just listened, as I was taught by my mentor, Rev. Dr. Bert Sumikawa.

Mrs. N was very happy to talk story about life in a nursing home, how everyone was so nice to her, how wonderful the facility was, and how grateful she was for being there.

When the nurse came to take her to physical therapy, Mrs. N smiled at me and said,

“Thank you for coming, thank you! Namo Amida Butsu!”

“Sure, Mrs. N, I’ll see you tomorrow!”

“Thank you! Namo Amida Butsu! Ah, there’s too much time.”

The next morning, I went back to visit her, hoping to find out what she meant by “There’s too much time.”

I signed in at the front desk and went to her room.

There was only an empty bed.

The duty nurse informed me that Mrs. N was taken to the hospital in the middle of the night, and passed in the early morning light.

Returning home, I pondered what this encounter meant, what Mrs. N was telling me when she said, “There’s too much time!”

Was she literally telling me that, having reached the end of her life, she was bored because she had nothing to do, no places to go, no one to see?

Then, in single thought-moment, I realized she was telling me to wake up to the preciousness of this moment of this day of this unrepeatable life, to not waste time, to receive “shinjin”—the entrusting heart-mind given to us by inconceivable power of Amida’s Great Compassionate Vow. Namo Amida Butsu!

During this lockdown, how often have I longed to return to my “normal” life: always “busy” and bothered, constantly wishing I had “more time.” Things to do, places to go, people to see!

Being forced to stay at home by causes and conditions, I now realize, “There’s too much time!”

“Social distancing” means it is all too easy to become bored, to feel isolated, to feel disconnected from life itself, to become angry, to grumble, to rage, to hate.

And yet, life goes on, just as it is.

In the Infinite Light of Wisdom, I see that beneath the black robes of a Buddhist minister, I remain self-centered, arrogant, and irritable!

I remain karma’s fool, just as I am.

When I go to the temple to check the answering machine, I always say hello to Amida.

Amida smiles at me and speaks to me in the voice of a California surfer.

“Oh, so now you’re bored? Dude, you were always wishing for more time!”

Now that I have been given “too much time,” I want to go back to being “busy”!

Shakyamuni Buddha taught my stubborn attachment to ME (My Ego) is the cause of unhappiness when life doesn’t go the way I want. Thus, many Buddhist paths seek to break free of the Ego-Self through renunciation of the world, discipline, meditation, chanting, and study.

Shinran taught that for bonbu—ordinary human beings filled with blindly self-centered desires and hopelessly attached to the fascinations of this evanescent world—the only path to Enlightenment is Namo Amida Butsu, the Nembutsu, single-heartedly entrusting in Amida’s Compassionate Vow, receiving the gift of shinjin.

In Shinran’s words, Amida created the path of Nembutsu specifically for ME (My Ego) because I lack the dedication, discipline, and endurance to single-heartedly pursue Buddhist practice, even when given “too much time.”

The Infinite Light of Wisdom reveals that given everything I ever wanted, I still bitch and moan about causes and conditions beyond my control.

I am wasting time!

There are so many people I can re-connect with today!

My mom, my brother and sister, my aunties and uncles, my cousins, my old friends from high school, my teachers here and in Japan, and especially all the Sangha members and friends of the temple that I took for granted when I was “busy.”

Mahalo, Mrs. N, for taking the final moments of your life to teach me that, especially during this COVID-19 lockdown, we have been given the gift of “too much time.”

Namo Amida Butsu!

April Fool Every Day

The shinjin of the wise is such that they are inwardly wise, outwardly foolish. The heart of Gutoku is such that I am inwardly foolish, outwardly wise.

Gutoku Shinran
Gutoku’s Notes, Fascicle One
Collected Works of Shinran, Volume 1, page 587

Shinran, founder of Jodo Shinshu, referred to himself as “Gutoku” Shinran. 

“Gutoku” means the “stubble-headed foolish one”. “Gu” means foolish, silly, immature, foolish, ignorant (from bāla in Sanskrit). “Toku” means “stubble-headed” and refers to Shinran’s self-awareness that he was unable to follow the precepts of a Buddhist monk, which include shaving one’s head.

Despite Shinran’s religious transformation through Shinjin, remarkable scholarly achievements, and great success in the propagation of the Jōdo Shinshū teachings, he always displayed a remarkable self-awareness of his true nature as a “bonbu” or a “…foolish being who is forever motivated by blindly self-centered desires, attached the fascination of this evanescent world, and unable to resolve the contradictions of human existence thoroughly. In fact, Shinran says that true wisdom is brought forth only from the heart and mind of the person who as awakened to Amida’s great compassion, and in the light of that compassion, realizes himself to be a foolish being.”(1)

At the core of the religious transformation experienced through Shinjin is an acute awareness one’s self-centered desires and attachments to the fascinations of this world of delusion; that is, awakening to the reality-as-it-is that WE are the “bonbu” who are the object of Amida’s Great Compassionate Vow.

In the midst of the sheer chaos of COVID-19, it is all too easy for me to insist that I am better than others. My need to feel superior to others is driven by my fundamental self-centered nature, that I am wise in comparison to those “other people who are stupid!”

Illuminated by Amida’s Unhindered Light of Wisdom, and embraced by Great Compassion, I see the truth of Shinran’s words, “…I am inwardly foolish, outwardly wise.”

Inwardly, I am karma’s fool, hopelessly selfish, greedy, angry … and yet I put on airs of being a wise Buddhist temple minister, the Hongwanji version of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid teaching Daniel-san how to “wax on, wax off.”

How silly is that?

Mahalo Amida for making me truly see I am the April Fool, each moment of every day!

Namo Amida Butsu!

Gutoku Kerry

P.S. Stay Home, Stay Well!


(1)  The Collected Works of Shinran, Volume 2, Glossary of Terms, page 187.

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!