Gotan-E, Celebrating St. Shinran’s Birth
Written by Rev. Shinkai Murakami
Namu Amida Butsu
Dear Wailuku Hongwanji temple members, families, and friends, I hope all of you are well and enjoying the spiritual blessings of Amida Buddha’s infinite wisdom and compassion. Since the release of the COVID-19 vaccine, I have been told that many of our temple members and families have been vaccinated! I am so glad to hear this news and hope that our members and friends who have not, yet, received the vaccine will soon be able to be vaccinated, too. I look forward to seeing all off you in Temple when the pandemic recedes.
In the month of May, we have so many celebrations such as Mother’s Day, high school graduations, and Memorial Day. For Hongwanji members, we also celebrate the founder of Jodo Shinshu, Shinran Shonin’s birth. So, many Hongwanji Temples are celebrating his birth with special services for all of us to express our sincere gratitude and share our joyous happiness with our children and grandchildren.
I would like to share with you Buddha’s great guidance and a related experience of Shinran Shonin’s:
Once there was a man who was searching the true path in the mountains. He cared nothing for all the treasures of the earth, but he was searching for the teaching that would remove all mental delusion. The Buddha was impressed by the man’s earnestness and sincerity and decided to test his mind. So, the Buddha disguised himself as a demon and appeared in the mountains, singing “everything changes, everything appears and disappears.” The man heard this song which pleased him very much. He was as delighted as if he had found a spring of cool water for his thirst. He said to himself, “this is the truth that I was searching for, for a long time. Then he followed the voice and discovered that there is only the frighten demon. With an easy mind he approached the demon and asked, “was it you who sang the Holy song that I have just heard? If it was you, please sing more of it.” The demon replied: “Yes, it was my song, but I cannot sing more of it until I have had something to eat; I am starving.” The man begged him very earnestly to sing more of it, saying; “It has a sacred meaning to me, and I have sought that teaching for a long time. I have only heard a part of it; please let me hear more.” The Demon said again, “I am starving, but if I can taste the warm flesh and blood of a man, I will finish the song.” The man, in his eagerness to hear that teaching, promised the demon that he could have his body after he heard the secret song. Then the Demon sang the complete song. “Everything changes, everything appears and disappears, there is perfect tranquility, when one transcends both life and extinction.” Hearing this song, the man, after he wrote the poem on the rocks, trees around, and on the ground, he quietly climbed a tree and hurled himself to the feet of the demon, but the demon had disappeared and instead, a radiant buddha received the body of the man unharmed. (The Teaching of Buddha, the way of practical attainment, p. 213)
When Shinran Shonin left Mt. Hiei, he doubted the teachings he learned and struggled with the truth of the teachings. So, similar to the man, he sought for the truth. Then he found the Nembutsu teaching through St. Honen at his temple. I think Shinran Shonin must have felt, “Wow, this is a wonderful and dynamic teaching. Yes, this is what I was looking for and is a true salvation by the Buddha.” Of course, this is my personal interpretation about Shinran Shonin’s feelings. However, Shinran Shonin did express the following to one of his dharma disciples: “…there is nothing left [for me] but to receive and believe the teaching of the Venerable Master that we are saved by Amida merely through the utterance of the Nembutsu”. Today, we have the great Nembutsu teachings in our daily lives and it gives us great courage and serenity in our hearts. May we all rejoice in the spiritual joy and happiness with the Nembutsu followers and celebrate Shinran Shonin’s special birthday with a sincere mind of gratitude.
Namu Amida Butsu