In this world, we make many labels and distinctions such as religion, sex, nationality, etc. From Buddha’s eyes, we are all equal. We always judge one’s quality and ability in our daily lives whether it is good or bad, valuable or not, etc. However, from Buddha’s eyes, there is nothing to compare. Although we always create our own world by our limited thoughts which arise from our self-centered mind, Dharma is absolutely truth and free from self-centered thoughts.
I believe that there are two kinds of ways becoming Buddhists. One is those who become Buddhists by taking over the family religion from their ancestors, grandparents, and parents. The other is those who become Buddhists by realizing great teachings of Amida Buddha. Most of you are Buddhists because your ancestors were Buddhists. However, are you a true Buddhist, not only the surface? Why are you a Buddhist?
When I was on Kauai, Hawaii, I involved the interfaith movements and started sharing the Dharma with other faiths at the religious and community services. Since then, some of other faiths came to temple to listen to and practice the Dharma. When they first came to the temple, most people asked me what it means to be a Buddhist. Those who are members of Arizona Buddhist Temple probably declare themselves as a Buddhist. However, what does it really mean to be a Buddhist?
I would like to share about Toshiko Kawamura who strongly believed the teachings of Jodo Shinshu. She was born in Kobe, Japan. Her family was strong Christian. Her grandfather built the Christian church in his property and propagated the teachings of Christ around the area. This is why she was naturally raised as a Christian.
Before her marriage, she had an agreement with husband’s family that she did not need to change her religion, although her husband family was strong Buddhist. After her marriage, she lived in Tokyo; however, she had to move to Yamaguchi which was the husband’s hometown when Tokyo was bombed by US Air during the war.
When she started to live with her parents-in-law, she surprised that the whole family observed services every morning and evening in front of the family altar. However, she did not care and understand the services because she was a strong Christian. Moreover, she preached the teachings of Christ to her parents-in-law and tried to convert them to Christianity.
One of the family mottos for the Kawamura Family handed by generations to generations was that the most important thing was to go to the temple and listen to the teachings of the Buddha. Wherever the temple observed a service, her parents-in-law went to listen to the teachings. Then, she became curious why they looked so happy when they went to the temple and why they went to every temples in their area to listen to the teachings. So, she decided to visit the temple to find out.
She listened and listened to the teachings of the Buddha, however, she could not understand why they were in joy and happiness while listening to the teachings of the Buddha. Because of poor understanding, she was going to quit listening to the teachings. However, she did not because of her parents-in-law’s encouragements and Amida Buddha’s embrace and guidance. So, she kept listening to the teachings. One day, she was surprised that she was reciting the Nembutsu naturally although she never thought she would recite the Nembutsu. She had strong faith in the teachings of the Buddha and continued listening to the teachings in joy and happiness in her daily lives.
We always tend to cling to the word such as Buddhist. However, Buddhism teaches me that there is no distinction between Buddhist and non-Buddhist. Dharma is for everybody whether you are Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, Jewish, or Hindu, young or old, rich or poor, man or woman, educated or non-educated, and so forth. Moreover, it is not only for human beings but also for all beings. In this sense, the word ‘Buddhist’ does not have any deep meaning for me. It is just one of a means to communicate with others.
Regardless of our religion, sex, nationality, etc., we are all same beings. We all equally have life. We received a precious life through numerous conditions and circumstances. Once we are born, we experience being old, ill, and dying. All beings definitely experience those sufferings without any exceptions. When we feel joy and happiness, we have same joy and happiness regardless of any of our labels. When we feel sadness or anger, we have same sadness or anger regardless of any of our labels. Whenever I rejoice the true fact of my existence, Dharma always exists for me. Dharma is universal for all beings. What does it mean to be a Buddhist for you?