I once saw an elderly temple member walking slowly through the garden. I hadn’t seen him in a while, so I asked how he was doing. “Can’t complain,” he said, then he joked, “I guess the man upstairs is looking out for me.”
I don’t know about “the man upstairs,” but some people like to think that somebody, such as a deity or divine being is watching over them. In Asian cultures, people think ancestors and recently departed loved ones can help the living, especially if they pay proper respects to them.
In our Buddhist tradition, Shinran Shonin warned people against relying on spirits, the supernatural or believing that one’s actions can determine good luck and fortune. Instead he encouraged people to understand the dharma, or great truth as taught by the Buddha. By looking inwardly at ourselves, we can truly understand the mysterious power of Life.
Although we like to think we are independent, can take care of ourselves and are responsible for our own successes and failures, actually we are quite dependent on others. There are many people in life who help us, such as doctors, teachers, spouses, friends and family. For the sake of argument, I’d like to focus on parents or that person who takes care of us when we are born.
Think of it, a parent feeds us, gives us shelter, clothes, love, affection and tries to keep us safe and healthy. As babies we are totally dependent on that person and we don’t even know it. The lives of parent and child are inextricably linked, a primordial bond that exists from the beginning of time. That mother’s parent did the same for her, and as her mother did and so forth, going back countless generations.
A loving mother wants her child to be healthy, safe and happy. Even as the child grows up and becomes “independent,” mother’s wish remains unchanged. She continues to wish the best for her child. If a child is troubled, in need of help, or is suffering, it is hard for a parent to leave this world in peace.
The “wish” that we live full lives comes not only from our parents, but our grandparents, great grandparents and all the others who came before us. That wish has been handed down since the beginning of time. When we deeply reflect on the nature of life, we can feel that wish living inside of us. It’s a gift given to us mysteriously unbounded by time or place.
Yet in our day-to-day lives, we may feel alone in our struggle to survive against the world. That’s because we think we are “independent,” that life is only about myself and no one else. This blindness to the truth the Buddha called “ignorance.”
We may look outside of ourselves for affirmation that our lives are worth living. That’s why it’s tempting to reach out to gods or spirits for help. But if we look inward, we discover an encouragement and strength in the form of a wish that has already been given to us.
When Shinran Shonin was nearing the end of his life at age 90, his disciples despaired over his impending passing. Shinran encouraged them to look beyond the temporary and transient, to see that their lives were already tied together as One.
“Though my life is at its end, to be born in the Land of Eternal Peace,
I shall return to this world, again and again,
Just as the waves of Wakanoura Bay return to the beach.
When you are alone and reciting Nembutsu, know there are two,
When there are two, know there are three,
That the other is Shinran.
Namu Amida Butsu”
On February 15, 2015 we observe our annual “Eitaikyo” (perpetural) memorial service in memory of all loved ones who have passed away. As Shinran reminds us, they are still very much a part of our lives. Let us honor and appreciate them with this special service. Please join us.