An international team of scientists shared the first image of a supermassive black hole on April 10th.

That image shows a bright ring formed as light bends in the intense gravity around a black hole that is 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun. It is the hisotrical unveiling of the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow.

This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.

If we say that our life’s starting point is a black hole. We can say that each life on earth has a history of 13.8 billion light-years behind it even though we haven’t been born yet.

Our parents and grandparents handed over the baton to us. We are also living our parent’s life.

The theme of 750th Shinran Shonin memorial service was “Now, life is living you.”

If we think of this big Life as an Ocean, then our individual life is a wave on it.

We are living in a big ocean and it is not separate from the wave, we are part of the ocean.

We won’t disappear when we die, we just return to the big wave of the Big Life.

 The theme was “Now, life is living you.” It is not “we are live our own individual life.” You don’t own the life you are living.  Regardless of whether we see it or not, regardless of whether we understand it or not, we are part of the Big Life and its history that goes back billions of years into the past.

 The black hole, far far away, 55 million light-years from here, is connected to us. It is a part of us.

 We can restate the theme “Now, life is living you,” as “Now, your parents’ life is living you” or “Your grandparents’ life is living you” or “Your great grandparents’ life is living you” or “Your ancestor’s life is living you”

  “If you ate a tomato for breakfast then the tomato’s life is living you.”

Countless things sustain your life, our life. It is working now, working now to keep you alive. Long ago people called this working of the Big Life “Amida”.


Two Chinese characters 

(April 14, 2019)

In Japan, the current big news is that  “Japan has revealed the name of its next imperial era to be "Reiwa," set to begin May 1 as Crown Prince Naruhito is expected to take the throne.”

Reiwa is written with two kanji characters. While there was some deliberation over the exact meaning, the two characters that make up the new name, or the "gengo," translate roughly to "good fortune" and "peace" or "harmony," 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said two Chinese characters was taken for the first time from an ancient Japanese book instead of from Chinese classics. He said it comes from a section about plum blossoms in “Manyoshu,” a poetry anthology from the 7th to 8th centuries, and it suggests that “culture is born and nurtured as the people’s hearts are beautifully drawn together.”

The imperial era name, or “gengo”, is used on documents, newspapers, calendars and coins. It is the way many Japanese count the years, although use of the Western calendar is becoming more widespread, and many use the two systems interchangeably.

ORIGINS OF GENGO   Japan imported the imperial calendar system from China about 1,300 years ago. (Starting with the Meiji era (1868-1912), it adopted the practice of “one emperor, one era name.” Previously, era names were sometimes changed mid-reign, such as after disasters. )

There have been four era names in the modern period: Meiji, Taisho (1912-1926), Showa (1926-1989) and the current Heisei.  Emperor Akihito is set to step down on April 30 in the first abdication of the throne in over 200 years.


I think you know that we have a Dharma name which is composed of two Chinese characters, like this imperial era name, Gengo”. This is a common way to make a name by combining two Chinese characters such as a person’s name, school name so on. Usually we put our wish on that name by using two Chinese characters.  In Japan, when we introduce our name, people ask “how do you write it in Kanji, Chinese characters”


In the funeral service of our Shin tradition, we have a presentation of the Dharma name. Basically, we are supposed to get a Dharma name as a guide for our life at the confirmation ceremony. So we are supposed to have a Dharma name already when we die. An officiant introduces the dharma name at the funeral service. If the deceased person didn’t take the confirmation ceremony, then the officiant would give a new dharma name at the service.


By the way, I have received the question that “Should we call the service as a memorial service if we don’t have a casket.” The answer is no; we call it a funeral service only if it is officiated by Buddhist tradition.

That question came from Christian tradition. They call it a “memorial service” even if we don’t have the casket.

That is about how to call the rituals, so I actually don’t mind the name, but it seems like a few people are concerning about the name. So I am explaining it now.

In Shin tradition, we call it a “funeral service” lonly if we present the Dharma name at the service. 

We present the Dharma name at the service of the first official service of the deceased person. Here in the US, a few people wish to have the pillow side service. Usually it is for close family, while the first official service is for everyone who have a connection with that person. That is the funeral service. But sometimes, we have a funeral service only for the immediate family.

The reason we present the dharma name at the first official service of the deceased person is that we, the survivors, will listen to and receive his or her life energy and wish into ourselves at the service. It is the instructive education and transference of love and energy working (回向) from deceased to us. The life wish of the deceased is being turned over to us and we are being immersed in it. We need to listen and receive it.

That is why we have a presentation of the Dharma name and it is different from other memorial services.

There is a wish that is being turned over to us for our lives. We have to listen to the wish. We cannot see the wish ourselves, and so we are given a name for it.

The meaning of the wish is put into words when we apply the two Chinese characters to a name.

We need quiet and peaceful time

Rev. Ryoko Osa

These days, the air is full of music, images, even 3-D movies that create our world. Such media are stimulating to people. But I heard some psychiatrists say that modern people living this busy and noisy life are losing it. They are losing patience and are becoming more vulnerable now than ever before. The reason is that we are receiving too much stimulation, too much information,too much noise. We need the peace and quiet that our temple offers.

Maybe you prefer to have a casual and friendly atmosphere. But in our life, there are times when we stand before something greater than ourselves, something infinite. At those times we stand in quiet awe before the sacred and the holy. The very quiet feeling it brings is not something we can create. We can only sit by and observe it. It is very simple and quiet. So when we are here in the temple, we want to try to calm down and reset our mind to the simple quiet mode. These quiet rituals are meant to refresh ourselves. You might call them a form of quiet meditation. 

There was a Japanese comedy show called “Frankly speaking about temple life” in Japan. About 12 ministers were featured along with a group of comedians. In the show, there were some videos on temple life or Japanese history. And the ministers gave some comments. The ministers were from all denominations of Buddhism. My friend was among them. 

Shin Buddhism is very different from the image, which ordinary people have of it.  I often tell people that “Shin Buddhism is different from other forms of Buddhism. Other forms of Japanese Buddhism is blah blah blah ..but, Shin Buddhism is  blah blah blah ..”  So I thought the different ministers might affirm my assumption and have different explanations about Buddhism, because they come from different teachings. But to my surprise I found that the basic teaching is the same. To live simply rather than have desires, to know that everything is changing, to appreciate our life because we are supported by countless people and things.  To respect something greater than ourselves, to stand in quiet awe before the infinite.

And so Japanese Buddhist teachings used to look quite different to me. After all there are very big differences among them. But now I see it is only our points of emphasis and choice of words that are different. Our original teaching is the basically the same.

I think all of Japanese Buddhism, as well as other religions, is useful for our daily life. We enter the temple grounds to attend the services leaving our busy and noisy world behind. As we sit through the services we can quietly reflect on our lives. As we stand in awe before the infinite we receive the power to live and are refreshed again for whatever tomorrow brings. 

So everyone please come to our Sunday service to put aside your busy minds and feel the quiet atmosphere here.

Translating Hongan With His Life

When I joined this temple in the late 1970s, I felt a personal closeness to Rev. Gyomay Kubose. I attended his weekly study class and the Sunday morning meditation that he led. At that time the meditation group was very tight-knit and we had social gatherings where we got to be with Rev. Kubose in a relaxed setting. On my days off from my banking job, I would hang out at the temple and visit with Rev. Kubose and from time to time he and his wife Minnie would invite me to their apartment for dinner.

So while I felt close to Rev. Kubose, Rev. Gyoko Saito was a distant figure to me at BTC. I thought some of his Dharma talks were interesting, but he seemed to speak as a “pedestrian,” just another man on the street, not from the lofty heights of transcendent wisdom as Rev. Kubose did. Then one time on the day of the study class, Rev. Kubose fell ill and it was too late to contact everyone to cancel the class so he asked Rev. Saito to fill in for him.

Instead of showering us with knowledge about Buddhist history and concepts as Rev. Kubose did, Rev. Saito spoke not to our heads but aimed for our guts. “What is your highest wish?” he said to our class and he paraphrased Soren Kierkegaard, “If you have ordinary wishes, there are no problems, but if you have the highest wish, the problem of living arises.” In my case at the time, I felt I had lots of problems, but I realized those problems coming from my “ordinary wishes” couldn’t be the problem of life that Rev. Saito said Kierkegaard and Shinran struggled with. To know that wish that comes from beyond our selfish material desires, Rev. Saito said it was important to encounter the teacher who attacks our shallow egoistical view of ourselves and awakens us to the path leading to the discovery of who we really are.

There is the Buddhism that makes us feel comfortable when we hear phrases like “come as you are” and “everyday suchness.” But at that study class, Rev. Saito reminded me that there is the Buddhism that is about earnest seeking and not plopping down into a complacent state. It is the Buddhism that kicks us out of the bubble of associating only with people similar to us and makes us discover the magnificence of lives very different from ours. That is the Buddhism of hongan, what Rev. Saito and Dr. Nobuo Haneda translated as “innermost aspiration” instead of using the misleading term “Original Vow.” That deep wish to awaken to the oneness of life is in each life – it’s not some particular “vow” (promise) originating with a specific being, as thought by those who read the Larger Sutra too literally.

More than that new way of translating hongan into English, Rev. Saito translated the “innermost aspiration” with his whole life. Remembering the talks he gave in Chicago and Los Angeles and reading his articles, I see how he identified with a wide variety of lives, not judging anyone as separate and inferior to himself. He could reverberate with the courageous dedication of Martin Luther King, Jr. and see himself in the scam artist walking down Broadway or the disturbed woman shouting on Leland Avenue. Animals and children were his teachers and like his main teacher, Akegarasu Haya, Rev. Saito learned from the great thinkers of diverse cultures and religions, not just Asian Buddhists.

Rev. Saito could have lived his life satisfying his “ordinary wishes” by continuing his studies to be an electrical engineer. Instead, inspired by Akegarasu, he entered the Buddhist ministry. In Chicago, the members really wanted a minister who helped people feel good about identifying as Buddhist mixed in with pride and appreciation of Japanese culture. But Rev. Saito failed to be that kind of minister and instead strove to make each of us aware of the “highest wish” that goes beyond a Buddhist or Japanese identity. He did this in his talks, writings and most poignantly by example.

In this month of March for Founder’s Day, we will sing the praises of Rev. Kubose who is a significant figure in bringing Jodo Shinshu to English-speaking audiences as well as being important as our temple’s founding minister. But in March is also the observance of Koshu-ki, the memorial of Rev. Saito. Maybe if for no one else but me, it’s an occasion to reflect on how Rev. Saito is the true teacher by showing me how to be the true student of life, to open up and let go of my self-serving tribal views.


From “The True Birthplace of Humanity” by Rev. Gyoko Saito

[I like this excerpt because it shows Rev. Saito’s joy at learning from other people – such as this account about Nigerian people – PN]

Last night for our gathering of young Buddhist groups we had a guest speaker who had majored in educational psychology.  He talked about his experiences while he was in Nigeria for two years as a member of the Peace Corps.  “When we Americans think of Nigeria from the United States, then Nigeria is a very backward and culturally undeveloped country, and there is nothing to learn from it.  But when I went there I learned the most important thing in my life.  One day I went to buy flowers at the market.  I asked, ‘May I buy these flowers?’  The Nigerian said, ‘Hello.’  So I asked him again, ‘May I buy these flowers?’  For a second time he said to me, ‘Hello.’  When I asked him a third time, I got back a thunderous answer, ‘HELLO!’  Then I remembered the Nigerian custom that even when we buy something, first we have to exchange ‘Hello’ with each other, that is, we have to communicate with each other as human beings.  Then business can follow.  I had forgotten the custom completely.”

When we think from the United States, we think of Nigeria as a backward country, but according to this man, the most important human teaching, that is, the dialogue of human beings, is there, strong, in Nigeria.  When I realized this, then I thought to myself, the real native country of our life is the country where we have true dialogue between human beings.  That is the true native country of humanity.


From News letter of Chicago Buddhist Temple, 2018 March Isssue

One day I will become an ancestor

 Rev. Ryoko Osa

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.