by Rev. Daien Tsutomu Haseo
(at Touzenji Buddhist Temple, Japan, August 8, 2004 )
Thank you all for coming to attend the service for Obon at Touzenji Temple in the heat of summer. As it was an unusually cold summer last year, it goes completely the other way around this year. Since the main hall of our temple is not air-conditioned, I hope none of you will suffer heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke and be taken by an ambulance to a local hospital as we know some people have developed heat exhaustion even indoors. It is important for you to lower your body temperature in this unusually hot summer. Thus, please go ahead and get some cold drinks at the guest house, which is right next door to the main hall, if you do not feel good. Even though you all sit in front of the Amida Buddha, it is just too early for you to go straight into the Pure Land from here (laughter).
Obon is an appropriate time for us to look back and see how we are indebted to the past. We have so far met many teachers called Zenchishiki in our life who led us to be awakened to the true reality of life and the universe so that we may attain a true happiness in our life. They are indeed the models for us to live the rest of our lives. All of us have our individual stories to tell how we owe to the deceased members of our family and our ancestors as a whole because they have put a foundation in place for us to live now and survive into the future.
Also, Obon is a good opportunity for us to stop and think about the countless powers that protect and sustain our lives. Such countless powers are called ‘Tariki’ or Other Power. ‘Tariki’ is often misused in political speeches, business presentations, and our daily lives as implying something weak, passive and irresponsible. On the other hand, ‘Jiriki’ or Self Power is interpreted as meaning something strong, positive and responsible. This is a misunderstanding and misuse of those words. ‘Tariki’ is, indeed, the true reality that we all live with both within ourselves and outside. We can not live even a single day without ‘Tariki.’
This means that we are all dependent upon each other to survive whether we recognize it or not. Nothing can exist just by itself without dependence upon Other Power. This is the truth called ‘Muga’ in Buddhism. In Japanese, however, ‘Muga’ is often misinterpreted as meaning the state of mind that Zen monks are said to have reached in their deep meditations (muga no kyochi). ‘Muga’ is also literally translated as non-self or selflessness. What is important for us is to understand the true meaning of ‘Muga,’ which can be put in a single word, i.e., interdependence in English. This is the very basic principle under which all lives can exist. If we ever neglect the principle of interdependence and take actions unilaterally without recognizing the existence of others, then this drives our ego and creates tensions in our society, resulting in the conflict of interests one after another.
As we fully recognize the meaning of interdependence, we are led to believe that ‘‘to live is to be lived’’ and want to do something in return for what is received. Because we can hardly get rid of our egoistic self-centered mind, however, it is not possible for us to do any good deeds in a true and sincere mind. Thus, all we can do is to recite the name of Amida Buddha (the Buddha of eternal life and infinite light) as an expression of gratitude for what is received from the bottom of our hearts.
I am sure that most of you will get together with your family members, relatives, brothers and sisters to celebrate Obon shortly. There is no question in that this is a good opportunity for you to sit right in front of your family altars, think about the deceased members of your family and the ancestors as a whole, the countless powers that sustain your life, and express gratitude for what is received from all of them. This should reaffirm your family ties and lead you to live the rest of your life in a more positive manner.
Thank you very much for your close attention.
Namo Amida Butsu