Minister's Message (June 29, 2019)
When Mahelona Hospital hosted Bon Dance last month, I happened to receive a question from someone sitting next to me. Apparently he was a non-Japanese guy. He told me, “Dancers look so serious” and continued to ask me, “Why don’t they smile?”
This is actually kind of frequent question I receive from time to time since I first participated in Bon Dancing on Kauai back in 2000. My answer had been very simple until I participated in Bon Dance in Japan. “It’s because they try not to make mistakes for many songs. Yes, for people who just started Bon Dancing, 18 songs and 18 different dancing must be too many. They never intend not to show their smiles. Rather they simply cannot afford showing their smile since they are so busy dancing with making efforts of no mistakes. I thought this was good enough answer but I found a true meaning of no-smile. Of course, nowadays, we have many experienced dancers who are always smiling but there are always new dancers coming into the circle. They sometimes look seriously.
During the past 8 years, I was so glad I had opportunities to help O-Bon services at my father’s temple in Niigata every August. Not like Hawaii, many temples in Japan don’t host Bon Dance and there was a tendency that less and less communities are hosting Bon Dancing. In my hometown area, sponsor of Bon Dancing is combined towns community and they usually hold it in the late August. Last time I took part in this community event was over 30 years ago and I still don’t have a chance to attend it. But I have participated in Bon Dancing in Tokyo and Yokohama sponsored by cities and shrines during the past years.
The first impression of Bon Dance in Japan after my many years of my absence was a huge Yagura on which some Bon Dance instructors can dance there. Also they placed a big Taiko on the top of Yagura so that everybody can see Taiko drumming. Another remarkable difference was, Bon Dance in Japan didn’t provide chairs and benches for the audience but they just provided Yagura and open space. As you know, on the other hand, all Bon Dance host temples here provide chairs or benches for the people who come to Bon Dance. But almost no benches and no chairs are placed in Bon Dance in Japan. I thought about reasons why they don’t provide chairs.
The reason was simple. I got it just by watching dancers. In the beginning, there was not many dancers dancing around the Yagura but gradually it got more dancers and dancing ring became bigger and bigger. If they placed chairs or benches, I’m sure there was not enough room for dances to dance. I understood “having no chairs” was very important for dancers. “No chairs” made it possible for more dancers to dance in the very flexible dancing ring. And another important concept of Bon Dance in Japan is “Bon Dance is not “an entertainment show.” Because it’s not a show, they don’t need to provide chairs to the audience. The main job for the sponsor of Bon Dance is to provide Yagura and open space. That’s it. Yes, Bon Dance is held in order for people to dance. It’s not held in order for people to watch Bon Dance.
Also Bon Dance is not a message to deliver to the people while Hula is an important language to transmit various messages or stories to the people. For Hula, smiles are very important because hula is, after all, for the people to watch. But again, Bon Dance is originally not a show but for dancers to enjoy dancing. So it is supposed to be unnecessary for dancers to show their smiles to the audience simply because Bon Dancing is not for the audience. So if you don’t see smiles from dancers, please understand they are not dancing for you but for themselves and for their ancestors. Also please feel free to join in dancing if possible. Or even if you cannot dancing, please feel enjoyment of “dancing”……after all, Bon Dance is for you to enjoy.
It is my sincerest wish that we can provide good Bon Dance to all people and all spirits. Everyone, please have a safe and happy Bon dance!
Minister's Message (June 10, 2019)
Namu Amida Butsu and Happy 125th Anniversary of Hawaii Jodo Shu! I’d like to congratulate to all the ministers, members and supporters for their achievements of Hawaii Jodo Shu today. Especially, I’m so thankful to all the past ministers and members since my current happiness has deeply rooted to their dedication and hard working. They left not only temple buildings but also our source of happiness such as faith, virtues and cultures we can truly rely on now and in the future.
Of course, we cannot be happy without reservation if we are mindful of our problems and some difficulties we’re facing today. But I cannot be either pessimistic about future because our Buddhist teachings make sense and could attract more people internationally. So it’s now completely up to us whether our temple can continue to exist or not.
Right after the commemorative service in the columbarium room at Betsuin, I had a chance to see some familiar names of the people who took good care of me when I was working at Betsuin from 1997 to 1999. I was a single and late 20s yrs old. To be honest with you, I felt ashamed to realize that I had forgotten them until I saw their names. But at the same time, I was so glad that I didn’t forget their kindness and dedication. Naturally I recalled their faces and memories…..I truly appreciated I had a chance to pray for them with Namu Amida Butsu there.
This 125th anniversary celebration gave me a great chance to reflect both history of Hawaii Jodo and my past 22 years of serving Hawaii Jodo shu. I was able to refresh myself to continue my missionary for more years in the future. Once again, Namu Amida Butsu and Mahalo nui loa to all the members and ministers of Hawaii Jodo shu in the past and present. I owe you what I am now today.
Namu Amida Butsu with Gassho,
Minister's Message (April 2019)
Last month, a Japanese baseball legend Ichiro Suzuki retired after playing 28 seasons combined in both Japanese Professional Baseball and the American Major Leagues. This became one of the biggest news this year in Japan and special TV programs on Ichiro were broadcasted through TV and Internet.
I read and watched many news on Ichiro but the interview right after his retirement game was quite interesting. One of the questions was on Ichiro’s age 45 which is actually amazing as for a baseball player. Ichiro, however, had a strong belief that he would be an active player until at least the age 50. It is said he even made a promise that he won’t retired until he turns 50.
During the interview, Ichiro admitted he was unable to fulfill the promise, but that without it, he would not have been able to come this far. Then he continued, “a promise expressed by words may be one of the good ways to get closer to the goal.”
What Ichiro said reminded me of the best teaching by our founder Honen Shonin.
Master Honen said, “One who plans to jump over a moat ten feet wide must make every effort to jump fifteen feet.”
We tend to hesitate to talk about dream or goal which seemed to be hard to achieve, but if we can keep having higher goal, we can always get closer to the goal. This is just like an English saying, “shoot for star” or “shoot for moon.” By shooting star, which is far above the sky, even though it won’t reach the star, but by having higher goal, it could reach the higher place. I remember Dr. Shinya Yamanaka mentioned this saying, too, in the interview when he received a Novel prize.
Ichiro, Dr. Yamanaka, and Master Honen are completely different persons of the different fields and different ages. However truly significant teaching from those who are called “Master” can be always shared with us beyond time and place.
Minister's Message (September 2018)
Dear members and friends of Koloa Jodo Mission
Aloha! First of all, I thank you very much for your help, kindness, and support during our 2018 O-Bon festivals. After Toro Nagashi sponsored by Koloa Jodo Mission, I was able to take my vacation to help O-Bon services at my family temple in Niigata and visited Bon Dances in Tokyo. As you know, because school was already started in August here in Hawaii, I couldn’t take my kids and wife to Japan. So I felt guilty to spend my vacation by myself but when my parents thanked me a lot for my help, my feeling of guilty was reduced.
In my home town Joetsu, O-Bon is observed from August 13 to 15 and special service is observed on August 18th every year. During O-bon, people visit their graves in the temple’s cemetery. Some people visit several temples in a day if they have many relatives. Usually my family temple has hundreds of visitors on the first day. And my job on the first day was to officiate grave memorial services for the members who requested. I usually do over 20 services in a day but this year, luckily or unluckily, thunder storm brought heavy rain in the afternoon. This was good because rain cooled down the temperature and I took more rest on the first day. On the 2nd and 3rd day, I drive to visit members houses to have O-bon services at their family altars. This is known as “Tanagyo” or “Bon Mairi” in Japanese. I’m sorry I couldn’t do this house visitation here on Kauai for years but this Tanagyo is still common and core event of O-bon in Japan.
My father, my brother and I separately visited house to house this year. Because we didn’t want my father to drive far, we took in charge of visiting houses in the country side. My assignment of visitation was 15 houses, but I drove more miles this year. This is customary done over many years and believe it or not, notice of visitation was never sent from the temple. Every year, our members just expect our visitations according to the previous year’s schedule which has been same over years.
This Bon visitation is my joy of helping O-Bon since members prepare their homemade pickles and sweets as refreshments after the service. All houses I visited gave me nice treats with both cucumber and eggplants pickles. They were so delicious as I wished I could bring them back to Kauai. Because it’s been a long time ever since I visited hoses with my father when I was a kid, they always give me the warmest welcome and enjoy talk-story with this once-a-year visitation.
On my last day at my family temple, I helped Segaki Service. This year my brother-in-law who was recently elected as a Senator of Niigata Prefectural Assembly presented music concert before the service. My niece played the violin accompanied by the piano by my sister. My brother-in-law played the oboe and made an impressive speech and explanation of the songs they played.
Lastly, I share a funny story with you. As soon as my parents saw me, they both told me…..I became too big! They even warned me and said how important to reduce weight. However, at the same time, my mother prepared plenty food for me every meal and said “This is something you cannot eat in Hawaii. Eat hard this and that. “ What a contradiction! I had to tell her “Hey mom. Do you want me to gain weight or lose weight?” Anyway, during my staying home, I didn’t need to cook at all. I didn’t need to dishwash at all and I didn’t need to wash my clothes……What an easy life!!! I enjoyed being a child and I almost forgot I was a father! But please don’t worry….I didn’t forget I was a minister! Now I’m completely back to the normal life and please feel free to let me know if you need help. I’ll be happy if I could serve you better. Gassho
Mr. T says "Make America Great Again." But I think America is already Great. America gave me rights to live and work legally, freedom of speech, and religious liberty. I'm very thankful to America for my source of happiness and therefore I believe America is already great.
On the other hand, what made Mr. T think that America is not great now. Why? I thought about the reason and finally found it out. The reason was quite simple.
My definition of "great" and his definition of "great" are totally
different. For Mr. T, "great" is understood as getting "more money" "more jobs" and "more factories in the US." "Great" is used as a simple meaning of "materially rich." I
agree many people need to be employed and be richer. In this sense, Mr. T is right.
However....if much more factories come to America and hire more people to work, what will happen? Is this the way for the country to be richer? I am not sure the answer.
But at least I know one thing. Prices of products are all going up because companies need to use more money to use workers. Then if they spend more money, eventually they might need to lay off people.
Building walls at border is same thing. If America is charging
more tax for the foreign products, it's not foreign companies to pay tax but American companies need to pay more tax for the imported products. And eventually it comes to customers who buys
the imported products.
"Make America Great Again" sounds great and inspiring. But to be "great" is actually never easy. And we need to have a different goal or direction if existing way doesn't work good.
Our goal is better to make our mother Earth great instead of USA. Through the many wars in the human history, we all know Fascio (nationalism) is out of fashion and globalism is the one we should grow.
Needless to say, no countries can exist without our mother Earth. Also we human being cannot live without our planet. However, vice versa is not true. Without country, Earth can live. Without America, people can exist and we can live without Japan. It is my hope more and more people can aware the importance of globalism and contribute what we can do for our earth.
When I was assignemd to Koloa, there were active Nisei(2nd generation) members. Because they worked so hard, I had almost nothing to do for them and I didn’t have any special talent either, except chanting sutras. All I could do for them was, I thought, maybe dishwashing. So I tried to dish wash many times but they never let me to do. They told me, “Sensei, sit down and relax.” That’s our job.” I cannot forget their kind voices and faces, dedication and kindness.
16 years have passed by here on Kauai. Lately at our New Year’s Party at Koloa, I found myself doing dishwashing very naturally. Nobody told me not to do dishwashing anymore! Rather, I had more things to do and responsibilities. Without knowing it, I’ve become one of hard workers and gotten a talent of making Sushi and Cake. I’m now very proud I am always sharing Sushi to our members, friends, and visitors. And this is all thanks to Jodo Mission, members and friends.
Reflecting upon my past years, I’m so very grateful for knowing Nisei members and some Issei. Their dedications were incredible. Many of them were not young. They could be relaxed more at home. But I saw they spent 100% energy and much time to our temple. Without their sincerity and efforts, I couldn’t become what I am today. It’s sad, one by one, they passed away or got to be older and older. But this fact naturally take over their jobs. At the same time, thanks to the temple which couldn’t pay me enough, I was able to work outside at Sushi bar, movie extra, and a tour guide job. As a result of doing some part time jobs and more temple jobs, I’ve gotten “experiences” that cannot be bought.
Recently, I once enjoyed reading biographies and essays of some successful Japanese business men such as Konosuke Matsushita, Soichiro Honda and Akio Morita. They were so interesting but amount them, I was so touched by words by Mr. Matsushita who founded Panasonic. Mr. Matsushita mentioned three things for his success in making a worldwide famous company when he was asked about a secret of success. He pointed out three things; He made a success; because 1. He was poor, 2. He didn’t go to school, 3. He was physically weak and sickly.
These are all negative factors of the life and he experienced all hardships from his first job when he was 9 year’s old, separating from his mother. However, he understood these negative experiences as positive ones. Because he was poor, he wished to be wealthy. Because he didn’t go to school, he read many books. Because he was sick, he was able to ask people for help naturally. As a result of asking his men to do, many of them became responsible men which made a stronger company.
Of course, “luck” in his life, was very important and he said people cannot do anything about luck. And he believe in “luck.” Indeed, he experienced his father’s bankruptcy, a great depression, and world wars two times. Nevertheless, he believed he was always lucky. That’s, I understand, a very secret of his success.
After thinking about his secrets of success, I thought of plantation workers and their descendants in Hawaii. Many of them were poor and didn't go to school. However, just like Mr. Matsushita overcame the hardship, many people got success because of their hard experiences.
In a sense, we living in Hawai, are all successful people, because of the fact of living in the place where tremendously many people in the world are dreaming to live!!! Though I’m not monetary rich, but I can definitely call myself a successful many who’ve live in so-called “Paradise” for many years.
Last but not least, my sincerest and deepest mahalo to all of your support!!! I’m very happy. And because I’m happy, I wish to share the way to happiness with you. Namu Amida Butsu
How rare and precious our life is.
In order to explain it, Shakyamuni Buddha once used a metaphor, known as "Blind Turtle & Floating Log."
Buddha told Ananda,
" Suppose there is a blind turtle who lives in the bottom of the vast ocean. This turtle has a long life. It comes up to the surface of the sea only once in 100 years."
"Then suppose, there happen to be a log floating in the huge ocean. This log has a hole in the center. The size of hole is as small as a neck of the turtle."
Buddha asked Ananda, "Do you think this blind turtle can get to the hole of the floating log in the vast ocean? Turtle's head should be just in the hole of the floating log"
"It's impossible! It cannot happen, my master!" , replied Ananda.
Then Buddha said, "To be born as a human being is actually much more difficult than the possibility of the blind turtle going inside the hole of the floating log. Life is such a precious."
When I learned this metaphor so many years ago, I honestly thought what an exaggeration! I knew how hard to be born as a human, but I thought it was not so impossible. The turtle is blind. It only comes up to the ocean once in 100 years. Very rare chance. Then the possibility of floating log which has a hole seemed to be very very rare. Just like Ananda, I also thought "It is impossible!"
But as I get to know more and more about the mystery of the universe which was considered to be born about 13,700,000,000 years ago, I knew the possibility of the earth was born such a miracle thing. So was true to the birth of life in this planet. The more I study science, the more I get to know just nothing but mystery!
Now I think the metaphor of the blind turtle seem to be very reasonable. Yes, it is almost impossible. But it happened. I also happened to get "life."
On this special day of March 11, I cannot help but appreciate life, a miracle life. I am so grateful and happy for living here today.
Because I happen to be a very happy rignt now, I feel strongly it's my mission to help others to be happy.
Aloha and have a good day!
March 11, 2015.
Yesterday was another special day for me not because of Super Bowl but thanks to visitors.
It happened last evening. When I was at Poipu shore, I received a phone call from my wife.
" We have a visitor from China. Come back to the temple ASAP!"
To be honest with you, I was actually not happy to hear that.
In the morning, I had a Service. After the service, I made Sushi. In the afternoon, I visited old members with Sushi and "Hawaii Buddhism" which was recently published. Then I had some shopping at Lihue for our temple's New Year's Party.
I thought I did enough today for the temple and I tried to call it a day.
I left for Poipu for my own hobby as soon as I came back here from Lihue around 5:00 p.m.
Then I received a phone call from my wife..."Come back ASAP...in 5 minutes!" I was about to take a picture of humpback whale which I had been waiting for at least a week!
So I told her "It's supposed to be Pau Hana! My fun has just begun." *Pau Hana in Hawaiian means "after work."
But she insisted a minister should be back here to meet and welcome them." She reminded me importance of meeting new people. The answer became very clear when she asked me"which is important, whale or visitor?"
As soon as I met a visiting family from China, I knew her judgment was true. They looked happy to hear me say, "Welcome , Ni Hao and Namo Āmítuó Fó. " Soon after I knew they are Buddhists who believe in Amida Buddha.
They prostrated themselves in front of the Buddha and recited " Namo Āmítuó Fó" for a while. And I recited "Namu Amida Bu" together.
Later I explained that we greatly respect two Pure Land masters, one Chinese and one Japanese, who are Master Shan tao (Zendo in Japanese) and Master Honen. Because my pronunciation of "Shan tao" was not good, they couldn't get it. But when I wrote "善導" on the whiteboard, instantly they got it and told me "善導" as "Shan dao."
While chanting Nenbutsu together, I really appreciated wonderful moments, realizing Amida Buddha is universal.
I am from Japan and they are from China, but in front of Amida Buddha, we are just one of human beings. The Nenbutsu gave me the sense of brotherhood. I felt very close to them. In addition, I realized that we are going to the same destination which is Pure Land called "Jodo" in Japanese.
Currently, the relationship between China and Japan is not good, rather dangerous. However, I saw the light and hope in the future through our experiences of chanting Nenbutsu together.
Every morning around 5:00 a.m., I usually receive an email from our Hawaii Council of Jodo Missions President Mr. Mark Nakamura. His email starts with “Hi Gangs...” and ends with “Aloha and have another Fun Day!” I think some of you are familiar with his emails because he sends them to many of us. Actually, his daily emails are very interesting, just like my sermons (just kidding). He shares funny YouTube videos and some pretty amazing videos. He also sends beautiful photos as well as informative educational information.
What I’d like to introduce at this time is one of the many links of amazing videos he has sent me. The title of the video is called “The Power of Words”. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzgzim5m7oU ) It was a short, but an inspiring message which emphases on the possibility that words can change the world.
The story starts with a blind man sitting beside the road. He has a sign saying, “I’m blind. Please help”. There were very few people who stopped to give him offerings. One day, a young lady was passing by the man and noticed his sign. She retraced her steps, going back to him. She wrote something on the sign. The blind man felt “something” and tried to remember that person by touching the shoes.
After that, a change happened. Many people started to leave offering to him after seeing the sign. More offerings came to him. And again, the lady appeared in front of him.
He recognized her by touching her shoes. He asked the lady, “ What did you do to my sign?” The lady replied, “I wrote the same, but different words”. What was it she had written?
What wrote, “It’s a beautiful day and I cannot see it”. The message ends with a powerful phrases, “Change your words. Change your world.”
Now I’m looking for the magic words that could attract more people to the Temple. What words can they be, I wonder? I will continue to think of the words, and at the same time I will welcome and appreciate your ideas to make our temple better.
Kosen Ishikawa, Koloa Jodo Mission