The mission of the ARIZONA BUDDHIST TEMPLE is to encourage Sangha:
1) to learn the joyful and compassionate teachings of Amida Buddha;
2) to practice these teachings in their daily lives; and
3) to share the teachings with others.
All beings be happy. May they be joyous and live in safety. All living beings, whether weak or strong, tall or short, big or small, visible or not visible, near or far away, already born or yet to be born. May all beings be happy.
May no one deceive or look down on anyone anywhere, for any reason. Whether through feeling angry or through reacting to someone else, may no one want another to suffer. May all beings be happy.
As many of you know, I will be leaving for Japan in early July to further my
understanding of the Dharma by undergoing Tokudo ordination. There are a lot of
different practices and rituals to memorize in preparation for this trip, ranging from
the different ways to oshoko to many of the different teachings that are written
into the history of the Jodoshinshu practice. That said, the most difficult practice
to date has been the memorization of of Shoshinge.
Shoshinge was of course written by Shinran Shonin, and as one of the most
important writings of Jodoshinshu, it encapsulates the working of the Primal Vow,
the teachings of the seven masters and the joy that Shinran experiences in
reciting these teachings. Moreover, its memorization is not an easy task –it’s over
twenty stanzas of chanting. In addition to this, there are three different ways to
chant Shoshinge, customs that align with its chanting and of course, written in
classical Japanese. As a result, I constructed a plan to attack undertake the
endeavor shortly after my first tokudo session.
The plan was simple. I decided to combine one of my hobbies (hiking) with my
chanting practice. I would select a stanza to memorize and then climb a
mountain, reciting that stanza in my head (or at loud) as I went up and down the
mountain. This usually took place at Paestewa Peak, but it also included
Camelback or any number of different trails. I began every attempt the same way,
reading through a few lines, reciting them to myself over and over, and then
proceeding to make my way through the ridges and rises of the Phoenix
landscape. I’d attempt to recite the lines, to picture the hiragana as I recited the
lines, and then I’d connect them to the rest of the lines I’d worked on. I’d do this
again and again, line by line, dodging other hikers, weaving between the narrow
gaps of rock for more than two months.
Unfortunately, none of this really worked all that well. The problem, I realized, was
that no matter how many times I recited the same words, over and over, they
remained just lines, just words that lacked any meaning to me on their own. I’d
memorize the cadence, the way the syllables formed, their order; however,
without meaning, without their connection to the rest of the lines, I failed to
remember them. The truth of the matter is that to really undertake this task as
anything but work, was to begin to enjoy it.
To climb a mountain again and again for the sake as nothing more than
exercise, is to transform something beautiful and to make it ugly. To only count
calories, to only fixate on reaching the top, ignores the majestic beauty of the
mountains, the cool air, the expansive landscapes. It ignores the reason we
are outside at all –to enjoy the beauty of the hike itself.
Similarly, I realized shortly thereafter that the best way to memorize the text
was not to simply say the lines, to force memorize them as words, but to sing
the lines, to recite them as part of the whole, and to listen to them as
something more beautiful than a text. I realized that as I treated my
memorization of the words as a job, as a task, I’d only strenuously learn to to
understand them as a task. However, to sit and chant them as song, to listen to
them as the melodic poetry that they are, and to understand what the words
convey, is something entirely more meaningful.
The chanting instructor that Sensei Vonn and I have practiced under, Rev.
Kusunoke, has said to us many times that chanting is something that we
should enjoy. He has intimated that the fact that we have the chance to recite
the teachings of Shinran Shonin, hundreds of years after his death, more than
a thousand years after the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, is a privilege that we
should cherish –a gift. This is a thought that I have begun to better understand
throughout my practice. What I am undertaking is a gift, and not just a gift as it
is proscribed in the context of the Dharma itself.
It is a gift allowed by all of you, the sangha, from all of your kind words and
support. It is the encouragement and training I receive from Sensei Sugiyama
and Sensei Vonn. It is the honor of representing a community.
As I continue my practice, I try to keep this in mind. When I hike, I hike. I look
around me and take in the beauty of the Arizona mountains, it is all I do when
I hike. Similarly, when I practice my chanting, I listen to the sound of the
words, and I contemplate its meaning; this is also all that I do, because this
too is not a chore, but a gift. I do both with a single intent: to enjoy the
experience, in gratitude to all of you and to the Dharma.