Two weeks ago, at the Shotsuki service, our temple cherry tree had blossomed beautifully. Over the next week, though, there were some rainy days and then some windy days. And so now, all the cherry blossoms have fallen and their petals are scattered. In Japan we call this flurry of petals a cherry storm. And many poems have been written using cherry blossoms to convey the idea of impermanence.
Impermanence is perhaps the most basic Buddhist idea. Impermanence means everything is changing and nothing stays the same. But to realize that ‘I myself will have to die one day’ is perhaps the most important point. I am impermanent and someday, I too will fall away like the cherry blossoms.
When you are little, you might not have much of a sense of “impermanence.” And when I was starting out as a minister in the States, some members told me that “ it is not good to give a dharma talk about death to kids.”
And when I attended funeral service, once again I distinctly felt that Americans don’t like to think about death, dying, or our being dead one day. In Japanese culture, people think of death as something sinister.
For instance, in Japan, people don’t like Buddhist ministers wearing their robes in the hospitals because the black robes remind them of funeral services.
But our teacher, Manshi Kiyozawa had a more balanced view of the matter when he said that ”We are not only a life. Death is also us. We are life and death combined.”
I would like to introduce an article from a temple newsletter of a Betsuin in Osaka written by Professor Takeshi Nakajima. In the article, he introduced an elderly man. He worked as a carpenter when he was young, and started a successful lumber business. He raised six children and took care his mother until she passed away. He did the best as he could possibly do. In the article the elderly man repeatedly says “One day I will become an ancestor”. In the tradition of Buddhist life, we have ancestor worship. In the modern world, we try to understand Buddhism as a theory rather than just as ancestor worship.
Here is the article, he said
But, if we keep the tradition of ancestor worship it means that someday you will be an ancestor and will be worshiped by your descendants. You want them to say, “Your grandpa was great man. You should try to be like him.” If so, you have to live to be a good role model for your descendants. You have to make an effort to be a respectable ancestor. Living your life now fully, when you die, dying finely. Living and dying we have to work hard now for the goal of the afterlife. We are living in a modern world where we are prone to forget the deceased once they are gone. Home altars and gravestones are gradually being done away with. People no longer respect Buddhist rituals and just do it as a cultural form. This means that not only have we lost our connection to the past but also we lost a sense of communication with the future. And so let me remind you that we are not living just only “now”. By continuing the way of life of remembering our loved ones who have gone we continue to live with them into the future.
We who are the survivors of the deceased owe it to them try to remember them.
We are all supposed to die someday, and so let us make that a reason to try to live hard each day to become a role model to guide our survivors. We are not living for only myself, we are living for others.
And so let’s realize that you are not living by yourself. There was always someone who was always there for you, someone who has constantly supported you.
Buddhism is the teaching of Buddha. When we realize that our loved ones who have passed on continue to guide us, they appear to us as Buddhas.