Rev. John Iwohara
May 31, 2020
hank you to everyone who has been visiting our web site (www.gardenabuddhistchurch.org) during this “stay at home” period. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been visiting our on-line Dharma Essay and Dharma Video section. Finally, please allow me to thank everyone who has taken the time to comment on our messages.
In preparing these weekly messages, it has sometimes been difficult for me to decide which topic to do as an essay and which to do as an video message. These two media have their strengths and weaknesses as well as being challenging in different ways. Video tends to be easier to access than print. However, it is also harder to make fine points. It is easier to make fine points with text, but to do so often takes a lot of text. The more text that is used the harder it becomes for people to access.
The challenges are also quite different. Video requires a physical presence. You have to worry about what you look and sound like. When writing it does not matter how you look. Instead, you have to worry about spelling, punctuation and grammar.
The strengths and weaknesses of these two approaches partially helps to determine the contents of the message. It also plays a significant role in determining who the potential audience will be and whether or not that audience will listen to or read the message until the end. In the case of video, for example, although it is easier to access, it is unlikely that people will watch an explanation that is too nuanced or difficult until the end. On the other hand, text is better at explaining details especially since you can go back and re-read passages. However, not everyone is interested in knowing the finer details. Text can be daunting especially when there is a lot of text.
The challenges associated with these two approaches also determines who will receive the intended message. Again, in the case of video if I look too disheveled or otherwise “sloppy” people may not bother to watch the video. Writing requires a greater control of language than speech. In speech we do not always need to hear everything being said. Our brains are incredibly good at filling in the gaps. This is less true with text. There is no need to fill in these types of gaps because text is always available. All you have to do is go back and re-read it. However, grammatical and spelling errors will make the text “not presentable.” It is very easy for text to be “boring.”
These are some of the considerations that go into the making of a video or text message. Over the course of 25 years I have probably spoken and written several thousand messages. At this pace, if I am able to reach 50 years of service, I may be able to reach close to 15,000. This number is probably very generous, but I did this to compare it with the 84,000 messages that Sakyamuni Buddha is said to have given over his 45 year “career” as a Buddha. For me to reach this number would mean that I will have to speak and write for about 255 more years.
Sakyamuni Buddha delivered his messages in such an attentive way that all those who listened were made to feel that the messages were meant solely for them. This is reflected in the term that was created to help describe how his messages were given or, taiki-seppou (対機説法, “explaining the Dharma in accord with the person”). Although it is possible that the number 84,000 is arbitrary, it is also a number that is meant to convey the idea that Sakyamuni Buddha exhausted all the possible ways for a human being to reach enlightenment. In other words, it is meant as an expression for the universality of the Buddha-Dharma. Furthermore, within these 84,000 paths, there is one path that is best suited to us. Discovering this path is an expression of the personal aspect of the Buddha-Dharma. Sakyamuni Buddha delivered message after message to make sure we would be able to receive the message that was meant “just for me.” To assure that we would be able to receive that message the Buddha took into consideration all the strengths and weaknesses, as well as all the challenges involved in giving his taiki-seppou messages. As a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist, the message that was meant just for us is the path of “Becoming a Buddha through Nenbutsu.”1
Shinran Shonin helped us to understand just how personal the path of Nenbutsu is when he declared for us:
“When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma.” (translation from Tannisho as found in Collected Works of Shinran, p. 679)
1Nenbutsu (念仏) literally means “mindful (of the) Buddha.” Specifically, it has come to mean the voiced repetition of Amida Buddha's Name or Namo Amida Butsu. In Jodo Shinshu this voiced repetition is further qualified as being an act of gratitude and not that of gaining merit. As an act of gratitude it is the affirmation of having received the virtues of the Buddha through the Name. Because it is not an act of gaining merit the number of times one repeats the Name is not an issue.