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.
Sunday, December 8th
8:30 am - Morning Meditation
10:00 am - Dharma Service
Shotsuki Hoyo, Bodhi Day
11:00 am Dharma School Class
Bodhi Day Lunch
Open to Public
Saturday, December 14th
9:00 am -Washing of the Rice / Mochi Prep
Open to Public
Sunday, December 15th
8:00 am - Mochitsuki
Open to Public
Sunday, December 22nd
8:30 am - Morning Meditation
9:00 am - Q&A Session
10:00 am - Dharma Service
Open to Public
Sunday, December 29th
Tuesday, December 31st
7:00 pm - New Year's Eve Service
Open to Public
Wednesday, January 1st
10:00 am - New Year's Day Service
Open to Public
Sunday, January 5th
8:30 am - Morning Meditation
9:00 am - Q&A Session
10:00 am - Dharma Service
Open to Public
Please join us for some quiet sitting, chanting, and guided meditation. Most sessions last from 10 to 20 minutes. Sit in one of our comfortable chairs, borrow one of our zafus or bring your own!
-see above schedule for meeting times-
The official podcast of the Arizona Buddhist Temple hosted on SoundCloud. The purpose of this cast is to spread the teachings of the Dharma and provide different insights into the teachings of the Buddha. Every cast is a brief introduction of Buddhist concepts, followed by a Dharma message written by one of the temple ministers.
Rev. Lynn Sugiyama
Sensei Vonn Magnin
Sensei Mike Tang
Rev. Jundo Gregory Gibbs
The Arizona Buddhist temple has been through a lot in the five years I have been with you as a Supervising Minister. Just over the last two years you have lost key leaders at an early age, yet were able to host Jr. YBA seminars, study sessions, including the one with Rev. Dr. Ken Tanaka, and even hosted the National Council. Hardships, losses, accomplishments – a microcosm of the human condition in a two-year period.
I want to thank the members of this temple for their participation, their hard work and dedication. Your attendance at a weekly service is very good and I will continue to praise the work of the lay leaders and the Ministerial Staff – Rev. Lynn, Rev. Michael and Rev. Vonn. What this temple accomplishes with the resources it has is remarkable. We could, now, just rest on our accomplishments, However, …. I am sure we will not.
Again, a wonderful year of accomplishments is drawing to a close and we will do more in 2020. We will host the Junior Young Buddhist Conference over Labor Day weekend next year. This will be a challenge calling for much work. But it will be fun. It will be great. I am looking forward to it, as I am sure many of you are. I will be out to see you on 8 – 10 occasions and you will also have other guest ministers for a couple of special services. Lynn Sensei, Michael Sensei and Vonn Sensei will continue to lead the services and deliver the Dharma-messages most Sundays in the coming year.
We have much to do but it is going to be fun. As I always tell you, we are on a train whose inevitable destination is Enlightenment. May we continue to enjoy the journey, together.
Namo Amida Butsu!
Kris Nakashima - December 2019
The first days of winter have finally started to approach us, and this being Arizona, it arrived suddenly and with little warning. One week your wearing shorts and driving with the AC cranked on high, and the next week, its time to break out the hoodie and your feet are oh so cold. Fortunately, the chill winds have finally made going outside into the desert to be an enjoyable endeavor in the crisp morning air rather than an excruciating journey through an unforgiving hellscape. This is of course, unless you get allergies, or the cold makes your bones ache. Then perhaps stay inside where its nice and warm, drink a cup of earl grey tea, watch movies, and play video games just like you did during the summer. For is it not the peaceful warmth of the hearth and home that brings the simple joys of holiday season?
Nay! This is America, you got less then a month to get your procrastinatin butt outta the couch and finish up all those things that need doing before the year comes to a close! Those trees don’t just decorate themselves ya know and did you get gifts for your family and friends yet!? Get out there and start shopping! Our national economy is relying on you to purchase more things no one probably really needs but is kinda nice to have so that our 4th quarter financial growth can meet our investor expectations! Think of our children! Think of our corporate overlords! Also, have you heard about Disney+ and that new Star Wars?
Of course, December is more then just about saving our financial market through consumer spending. It is also the time where we celebrate Bodhi Day, where roughly 2,500 years ago, our founder Siddhartha Gautama, whom after meditating under a Bodhi tree for a considerable amount of time awakened to Enlightenment. Realizing among many things that our delusional pursuit of capital and material wealth is not very likely to lead to any long-term happiness or peace of mind, but rather our compassion and respect for others. It really does make you think right? So, we will be holding our Bodhi Day service on Sunday, December 8th at 10:00 am at the temple, with a special spaghetti lunch to follow after service. I hope to see you all there.
Taking place, the following week, our annual tradition of Mochitsuki begins, where we make Mochi, that delicious treat made from glutinous rice, pounded into a paste, then forming it into a nice bun with delicious sweet red Adzuki beans on the inside. Some people like theirs plain without the adzuki beans, I call these people “fools”, but we make both kinds anyways cause we’re cool like that. If you haven’t gotten your mochi order in yet, please do so right away before December 8th. The washing of the rice will begin on the morning of Saturday, December 14th at 8:00am and Mochitsuki shall begin the following day on Sunday, December 15th 9:00am at the temple. Making mochi is fun but requires a lot of people so we will need all the help we can get. If you are interested in participating in this cultural event of the season, feel free to come down, preferably in the early hours as that’s when we need the most volunteers.
It certainly has been an eventful year for us, and as the year 2019 finally comes to an end, we will be having our Joya-E or New Year’s Eve Service at the temple on December 31st at 7:00pm at night until 9:00pm. We encourage everyone to attend this final service for the year and ring the big bell to welcome the exciting New Year of 2020! The future arrives tomorrow. Kampai!
El Presidente del Templo Budista de Arizona
Arizona Buddhist Temple Women's Club
Our next event is Mochitsuki on December 15th. If you have not ordered mochi yet, please fill out and return as soon as possible. Deadline to order is Sunday, December 8. Those who are able to help, washing the mochigome and making the an balls will be on Saturday, December 14 starting at 9:00 am and we plan to be done by noon. Mochitsuki will be on Sunday, December 15 with the first batch of mochi to start at 8:00 am. As a “Thank You” for supporting the ABT Thrift Store, the women’s club will be supplying the main meal. Please bring your favorite side dish or dessert to share with all the working volunteers.
The ABT Thrift Store is busy with the coming holidays. Please visit us. Store hours are Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. The thrift store will be closed on Mochitsuki Day, Sunday, December 15. Please let us know if you would like to volunteer to work at the store.
The next BWA meeting will be on Sunday, January 12 at 9:00 am.
The Temple would like to thank all of the individuals who are constantly volunteering their time to take care of our Temple grounds!
Pictured are Mino Inoshita, Nancie Haranaka, Fran Johnston,
Joe Langlois, and Ellen White.
Our Maintenance crew has lost a couple of members due to health issues and welcomes anyone who would like to join! The schedule is variable, however the group meets 2-4 times a month depending on the weather and needs of the trees. Please see Fran Johnston if you’re interested!
Birthday Sunday: Dec 29th
Birthday Cake: Magnin Family
Chairing in Dec: Sangha Teens
Bodhi Day: Bodhi Day is coming up on December 8th. Bodhi Day is the Day that Buddha attained Enlightenment. The kids will be making their annual spaghetti lunch. So please stay after service for this delicious meal and wonderful friends.
Toy Drive: We are collecting new toys for the Toys for Tots toy drive. The Dharma School kids will be collecting the toys until December 15th. The toy box will be in the back of the Hondo.
What's Happening in Dharma School
The Young Kids have been happily working on the Toys for Tots donation box for the Hondo.
The Sangha Teens are working on a new project to beautify the Temple.
The Junior YBL have been cleaning out their meeting room and making plans for the 2020 Jr. YBL Conference in Arizona.
The Jr. YBL at Conference 2019. Ehsa Murray designed the poster and won first place. Way to go Ehsa!
Aaron was in the Chigo Parade when the Gomonshu came to L.A.
First Row (l to r): Naomi Mayer, Sean Belcheff, Aaron Murray.
Second Row (l to r): Fran Johnston, Kimiyo Oka Duda, Mia Duda,
Lauren Kawashima, Kendall Kawashima, Joshua Tominaga, Cole Siegrist,
Kenji Matsumoto, Zack Siegrist, Nicholas Murray, and Joe Murray.
THE KIESHIKI AFFIRMATION CEREMONY
A group of 45 people went on a trip to Japan from June 20th to July 1st. It was a wonderful trip and everyone learned so much and enjoyed the many places we visited. This included a trip to Hompa Hongan-Ji, the mother temple of our tradition Shin Buddhism. During our visit to Hompa Hongan-Ji, 14 people (9 Jr. YBA Members, 2 children, and 3 adults) took part of the affirmation ceremony, called Kieshiki, to receive their Buddhist Names.
In this ceremony, an official from Hongwanji performed the ceremony before the altar of the Amida Buddha. All the participants took the important step of affirming their reverence for the Buddha (Sakyamuni), Dharma (the Buddhist Teachings), and Sangha (the Buddhist Community), and their determination to follow the path to Buddhahood. This path is of great value to all followers because they are entrusting themselves to Sakyamuni Buddha’s teaching. For this reason, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are called the Three Treasures.
As part of the ceremony, the officiant touches the head of each participant with a scroll inscribed with the words of the Buddha. This is referred to as Chokyo, or receiving the teachings. The affirmation ceremony in Shin Buddhism has deep meaning because the participants are declaring their entrusting heart and mind to the Buddhist teachings.
By participating in the affirmation ceremony, one receives a Buddhist name, or Homyo. The name begins with the kanji, Chinese character, for Shaku or “disciple of Buddha,” then followed with two kanji characters of Buddhist meaning. To be the disciple of Buddha signifies that the person has joined the followers of the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha, a community that transcends race or nationality. As Shin Buddhists, the participants endeavor to hear the teaching of Amida’s Primal Vow, and teach it to others who want to learn.
We congratulate the recipients who received their Buddhist Name.
This year’s scholarship recipient winner was Emiko Jay. She has received the Chuck Matsumoto Memorial Scholarship. We would like to share her essay below. Congratulations Emi!
Q: What is an example of a time when you had a hardship that you overcame by the Jodo Shinshu and Buddhism teachings?
My life has often felt as if I am landing in an airplane feeling the jolt of the brakes pushing me--and the plane-- back, preventing me from stopping. I need to hold on long enough to push through the pressure and then everything will run smoothly. Finally, I can walk through those plane doors to a new day.
Growing up in a predominantly white area I have always viewed myself as not “White” enough. At age two I was adopted from China; and by having no connection to my Chinese roots, I never felt “Chinese” enough. However, the small Asian community I am connected to comes from temple. Because most members of the temple are Japanese, it has resulted in me never feeling “Japanese” enough either. It didn’t seem like I had a solid place to feel accepted and at peace with who I was. Consequently, I have always felt as if I would never be good enough for anything. This mindset was the catalyst for the constant cycle of trying to prove my worthiness to everyone.
In my junior year of high school I moved across the country from Arizona to Connecticut. I was no longer competing against my life long friends and acquaintances anymore. Instead, they were complete strangers. The scrutiny of my new peers was at its peak; and with the addition of sitting alone in class everyday, I felt like an alien. I thought of how much easier it’d be to make friends if I was more White. If maybe I could have blue eyes. The snarky seniors in my math class whispering I would get an A, “because I was Asian.” All of this contributed to the shame I felt in being me.
I used to find escape from these feelings at temple surrounded by the teachings of the Buddha, but once I moved away, I felt as if I fell off the Eightfold path and was lost. Though I would feel more similar to everyone around me, the color of our skin didn’t mean cohesion. I know a variety of Japanese traditions and all about their history, but nothing about my Chinese roots. I’d sit and think, “If only I could be Japanese” during meditation, unable to clear my mind. Why couldn’t I be Japanese or White like everyone else? I felt isolated with no one to talk to, no place to fit in. That is until I became more heavily involved with the Jr.YBA, where I had the opportunity to meet more people like me, who were adopted into a Japanese lifestyle; we’d relate on feeling out of place and I finally felt understood and no longer alone.
Jr.YBA led me to the friends who would unconditionally stick by my side. When I’d fly to see them, it was refreshing to be able to open up about my feelings. Opening up for the first time, led me to accept my differences rather than be ashamed of them. The teachings of the Buddha that we would discuss and learn more about at the events, along with the camaraderie of everyone is where I learned that concept and importance of interdependence. Our similarities and differences are what allow us to grow closer and bring people together as a whole.
At a very young age we learn about The Golden Chain of Love. I will have it memorized in my mind forever. When I think back to learning it, I used to perceive it as just a children’s lesson that would not apply when I was an adult. For example, this line has shown much significance to my troubles as a teenager:
“... knowing what I know now, not only affects my happiness or unhappiness but also that of others...”
I have learned that it is not all about myself, that it is also about everyone that surrounds me; it is chain made up of a numerous people, all trying to attain the unanimous goal of being their best self. We are all connected in this chain of love, togetherness and unity, interdependence. Without everyone else’s group effort, there would be no chain. Each member of Jr.YBA is a part of this chain, including me. I am a part of something much bigger than myself, contributing to better myself and the world around me. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and let go of your ego and selfishness. I finally realized not everything is about me, everyone else has their own insecurities too and are suffering in their own ways. I decided to stop dwelling on how my differences hurt me and ‘what could be’ to what it is and bettering myself.
With that push forward I began joining more clubs to put myself out there. I stopped focusing on what people think of me because of what I look like, but how they’d think of me based on who I was. A year of my life wasted, being isolated with no one in class to talk to. What I needed to figure out earlier was that it doesn’t hurt to try; the worst that could happen is they don’t like you. In certain classes I wasn’t scared to talk in front of the class and participate anymore; I needed to stop caring and set myself free.
I learned you can’t do everything alone, and that’s okay. Life begins with ignorance, uncertainty, and it definitely has its fair share of difficulties, but it will always find a way to make sure you do walk through those plane doors to a new day. Without the acceptance and love I found through the teachings of the Buddha I don’t know where I would be; I am so thankful to be apart of such a supportive and caring community.
Dharma School Kid of the Month
Our Dharma School Kid of the Month is Sean Belcheff! Sean made a wonderful picture about family! Great job Sean!
Japanese American Citizens League, Arizona Chapter
Announces Flower Growers Memorial on Baseline Road
PHOENIX, AZ— On October 20, 2019, the Japanese American Citizens League, Arizona Chapter (JACL-AZ) in collaboration with the Circle K Corporation and the City of Phoenix, will unveil a memorial to the Japanese American farmers who grew flowers on Baseline Road for over 50 years. The memorial will be located at the northwest corner of 40th Street and Baseline Road and will include photographs of the fields and a short history of the Japanese American families who lived and farmed along Baseline Road.
Funded and installed through a donation from the Circle K Corporation, the memorial was conceived and included during the master plan redesign of the Baseline area. Historian Pamela Rector and former JACL-AZ president Ted Namba worked with the City of Phoenix and Circle K to ensure that the vision of the memorial was fulfilled.
The unveiling will take place on October 20, 2019 at 10 am at the northwest corner of 40th Street and Baseline Road and will be followed by a reception at Baseline Flower Growers, 3801 E. Baseline Road, Phoenix 85042.
Contact: Kathy Nakagawa, Board Member, Japanese American Citizens League-AZ Chapter, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: (602) 373-7322
AZBT Wants YOU!
We are looking for additional volunteers for the Toban schedule. The Temple needs more people to help keep our Hondo and associated facilities clean. Right now the schedule is 7 groups rotating every other week with 3 people in a group. The cycle is about every 2 months.
It takes about 1 hour to vacuum the "Hondo" (Main Hall) area and mop and clean the restrooms and kitchen. We would appreciate any availability anyone has to help keep our Temple clean.
To sign up or for more information, please contact Mine Tominaga at
480-‐838-‐3057 or see her at Sunday services.
Arizona Buddhist Temple Board Members 2018
I have been coming to temple regularly since my senior year of high school. I have
childhood memories of coming to temple for Obon and Hanamatsuri. I met my now
husband through the Temple and we have been happily married now for 6 years.
Chuck Matsumoto helped Mike and I fulfill the Temple roles we now have today.
We hope to serve our Sangha to the best of our abilities. We are grateful for the
temple community and hope to continue to aid in spreading the dharma for future
I really had an awesome experience attending the Buddhist Temple in San Jose during my youth years and Jody & I want our children, Lauren and Kendall, to have the same. Many of my best friends are from the temple and from the YBA. I enjoy and appreciate the Dharma talks and learning Buddhism. I value the friendships made and building relationships with the Sangha.
84 still young and healthy. BSEE from ASU, retired computer HW designer, married 55 years to only wife Kathryn and have one daughter, Sandra. ABT Board member for about 37 years and counting.
I have been attending services at the Arizona Buddhist Temple since I was little, long before I can even remember. My family is originally from the Big Island of Hawai'i, having associated mainly with the Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin as well as the Puna Hongwanji. My parents after having lived in Hawai'i, Saipan, and California for a number of years, eventually moved to Arizona where I was born. The youngest of my siblings, I grew up in Chandler for most of my youth until I started High School where I then lived in Las Vegas for a few years before eventually returning to Arizona to attend Art School, where I graduated with a Bachelors in 2007. Even when I was living in Las Vegas, I would regularly travel with my parents to Phoenix to participate in Arizona Jr. YBA activities., in addition to Obon, the Arizona Matsuri, Hanamatsuri, Potlucks, and regular Dharma Services.
These days I work as an editor for a film and video company in the east valley along with freelance graphic design as a side gig. I also manage the AZ Temple Website, so let me know if you feel like posting something cool! I consider many in the Sangha as my friends and family as well, having encouraged me throughout my lifetime to maintain an open mind, a compassionate heart, and to seek a greater understanding of the world around us.... hmm does that sound too corny?
I have been a member at our Temple for 11 years. I have been happily married to
Vonn Magnin for the last 21 years. I have two beautiful boys: James and Lance. I
have been a kindergarten teacher for the last 21 years. I really enjoy being a member
of our Temple and the community.
I am a second generation native Arizonan. I have lived in the Valley all my life.
My favorite reading is science fiction novels.
Assistant Treasurer, Finance
The first time I came to the Temple was with my then girlfriend Enid Sugiyama for an Obon dance where I sort of learned how to dance the Tanko-Bushi. Over the next
few years, we would attend occasional services on special occasions, but we did not
begin to attend regularly until our daughter Ehsa was born. (I will never forget the
generosity of the temple members during Enid’s baby shower). When Kaoru was not
feeling well and Enid was expecting Nicholas, Sugiyama Sensei, two-year old Ehsa
and I would attend service and have lunch at Cherry Blossom afterwards. Over the
years we have made many good friends and memories while participating in Temple
activities, road trips and events and we hope to continue to contribute to the Temple
for many years to come.
Member at Large
My name is Lorenzo Frausto and my family and I have been coming to temple for
about 4 years. My wife, Suzanne, found out about temple through the booth at
Matsuri and we immediately liked it after our first visit. I have lived in Arizona my
whole life and am an immigration attorney. I watch too many movies.
Member at Large
I am a last year pharmacy student whose temple attendance probably predates my
birth. Seeing the involvement of my family and the support of my community has
shaped the person who I have become, and I want to help give back to the community that has given me so much. When I am not doing artwork, design work, or home work, you can find me watching the latest Korean dramas. Please feel free to stop by and say hi or contact me with any questions!
Memorial Services for 2018
It is never easy to lose someone we love. Unfortunately, everyone has to go through this event. Even though we grieve for our family member who is dying, as Shin Buddhists we believe that they become awakened to the heart and mind of Amida Buddha and at the time of death they are directed to the Pure Land by the Amida Buddha. There, they join the ranks of the truly settled where they attain Nirvana, the place of eternal bliss and tranquility. (Collected Works of Shinran, pg 153, 1997). They have attained Buddhahood, and it is taught that our loved ones then return to this world to teach and guide us to the Pure Land.
The memorial services are for the living because they are opportunities for us to remember our loved one and to listen to the Buddhist teachings. The memorial should not be considered to be a burden to the family and grudgingly planned. It should be planned from the heart. In this manner, the memorial service can be conducted without ill feelings and the Dharma message can be clearly heard. Memorial services can be planned this year if your loved ones passed away during the years in parentheses listed below:
1st Circuit (2017)
3rd Cycle (2016)25th Cycle (1984)
7th Cycle (2012)33rd Cycle (1976)
13th Year (2006)50th Cycle (1969)
17th Year (2002)100th Cycle (1919)
If you have any questions, please call the temple at 602-278-0036. Thank you.
Buddhism In My Life
By Sara Jay
Since I was 5 years old, I have been attending the Arizona Buddhist Temple on Sunday’s, as well as attending seminars and conferences in Los Angeles in the Bay Area for the Jr. Youth Buddhist Association. Because of my dedication to Buddhism, you may think I completely rule out any other religion. However, my father has taught me the complete opposite. The many teachings I have learned, only sought to teach me that everyone in this world is made up of events that make them different and unique from each other. However, our connections to each other, interdependence, make us a unifying force in the world. Our differences are not meant to make us defy each other. They are meant to contribute to a grander force that will better the world and make a more peaceful place. By following the Eightfold Path, I have been able to see the brighter light and that you make your own path. By doing so, I have pursued a more open lifestyle, accepting the change I see in the world instead of running from it.
One of the most substantial events in my Buddhist life that helped me to become who I am today is my first leadership conference at Nishi Buddhist Temple my freshmen year. It was an event that brought us so much closer to one another in a period of hours. We were in a room with posters around us that read: school, friends, family, economic status, the future, yourself, etc. Then the administrator would say, “go to the side of the room that makes you feel secure.” Because of this, I was able to witness who felt most comfortable at home, and who was most comfortable with their friends. Then they would say, “go to the side of the room that you hide from the world.” This was the point that made me said. I saw people at ever poster. Some were insecure about themselves, others who lacked friends, and some who had troubles at home. This made me see that so many people lead different lives than us. We may know them as our friends from YBA, but that is only one small, minute part of their life. Similar to what we see in everyday society, you really cannot fathom what people are experiencing in their lives, as humans are very skillfull at picking and choosing what they express on the outside.
The teachings I have learned from seminars, conferences, and weekly Dharma service discussions have taught me that each and every individual is different. There are aspects of our lives that intertwine us, but the events, people we have met, and places we visit separate us from being identical. I learned that there are reasons why some one may have said a rude comment, or why someone chooses to be extremely quiet in school. We should not judge them for this, as we most likely express some of these habits ourselves. But if we can learn to identify and express understanding towards one another, then we will only better ourselves and the world as a whole. Overall, Buddhism has taught me that diversity is a beneficial attribute, and we should rejoice in its presence instead of shying away from it.
What Reincarnates: A Clear Explanation
I have received valuable responses to my article, “Buddhist Peace—Before, After, and During This Life”, (Prajna, November, 2016; and the British journal, Pure Land Notes #30, December, 2016). The problem of traditional Buddhist doctrine simultaneously upholding the notion of no-self (anātman) and the contradictory notion of reincarnation has been an object of sustained contemplation for me and a topic of discussion with Dharma friends for years. One Dharma friend directed me to the work of Ian Stevenson. Another Dharma friend claimed that the Buddha simply left us with a mystery regarding the simultaneous assertion of reincarnation and denial of substantial selves. So, with help from my friends and the Larger Sutra, I pressed on, trying to make sense of this “mystery” until, at last, discovering a satisfactory explanation that conforms to Siddhārtha Gautama’s rational methodology and to his great insight into the issue of impermanence: It is relationships—most technically, patterns of relatedness—that reincarnate, not individuals. For humans, especially, patterns of relatedness between our genes (biology), memes (communications culture), and extended phenotypes (material culture) reincarnate. This view takes the Buddha’s assertion of no-self seriously. Also…
• It explains all of the phenomena related to testimonies of reincarnation, including visitations from dead loved ones, without positing survival of individual personhood after death. Think of patterns of relatedness rippling across regions and generations, much like the hundredth monkey effect.
• Relationships exist between the “extremes” of pairs (or groups) of subjectivities. Therefore, relationships accord with the principle of the Middle Path. And, as such, relationships are not accessible to the grasping or calculating mind. Relationships are homeless. Relationships do not dwell exclusively in this or that personality, but visit them all.
• If patterns of relatedness persist, life after life, then the unique personalities involved in a given relationship are merely – and wonderfully, and deliciously – incidental, accidental, finite, mortal, evanescent, special. From the gratuitous aid of a stranger to a loving life-long relationship, the “and” of Martin Buber’s “I and Thou” spontaneously manifests, ever fresh and alive, as the dependent arising of mutually-acknowledging subjectivities.
Furthermore, relatedness (rather than personalities) reincarnating is falsifiable. Our relationships with others—whether alive, dead, or fictional—already reincarnate from instant to instant, so we can empirically test the correctness of this view at any time. It is not persons, but relationships that are reborn each instant. It is patterns of relatedness that account for personalities, and that “return” over and over again in the “return to earth-school until getting it right and graduating from the wheel of samsara” analogy; for example, centuries-old conflicts that still persist today.
This view puts to rest worrying about what happens after we die. Liberated from such ontological anxieties, we are free to focus on peaceful and happy relationships (which is what we really are), rather than obsess about the right-or-wrong, he-said-she-said, rule-bound, tit-for-tat exchanges within relationships—whether generous or mean-spirited. Am I so mighty? No matter how great my self-cherishing, my precious identity, my spiritual ego, my “annoying humanity” (as my wife calls it), I am still going to face the same oblivion as Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” Yes, it is true that everything we think, say, and do matters a great deal, and we are all “responsible for our actions,” as we robotically remind ourselves. But when we misunderstand a self (whether our own or another’s) as an atomistic automaton, rather than a complex assemblage of relationships, we fall into error. When we attack another, we never just attack an individual being, we attack an entire network of relationships. Likewise, when we love another, a wondrous union of relational love flows through us into the midst of another wonderful gathering of relationships, affecting untold revolutions of “peace and happiness” (see Dharmākara’s thirty-third vow).
Ultimately, then, it is our relationships that really matter. Relationships are powerful. Individual identities only seem so. Shin Buddhism has a wonderful term that helps us understand relationships, rather than individuals, as the locus of life-activities, and even of consciousness: “Other Power” (Tariki). Other Power undulates through friendships, studentships, parenting, devotion, pastoral care, diplomacy, charity, etc., and also through our relationships with food, technology, and other non-human beings we encounter in the world.
When understanding patterns of relatedness, and not individual persons, as that which “reincarnates,” the term, Sangha, and Shinran’s notion of Dharma friends (ondobo/ondogyo), come to mean so much more, and the Shin canon can be heard in a much deeper key
1) Amida Buddha selects all helpless, hopeless, foolish, ordinary beings drowning in the karmic ocean of birth and death as the targets of his inconceivable Vow. This means that we have a special connection with all other beings as fellow targets of Amida’s Vow. How, then, could we not naturally aspire to regard all others with the same compassion expressed in Amida’s Vow “to remove the roots of the afflictions of birth and death of all” (Larger Sutra 1:6)?
2) In his “causal stage,” as the bodhisattva, Dharmākara, Amida Buddha learned an eternal practice from his teacher, Lokeśvararāja. This practice is called kuyō (Skt., puja, lit. “worshipping with offerings;” see, e.g., the twenty-fourth vow). Kuyō involves visiting countless Buddha lands, making offerings to them all, and learning relational wisdom from the “good and evil natures of heavenly and human beings living there.” The practice of kuyō emerges spontaneously from the relationship between Lokeśvararāja and Dharmākara, spreading out like rebounding ripples in a pond, expressing itself as the Vow to save all beings, to make each and every one a Buddha. Identified especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth vows, and supported by all forty-eight vows, the relationship Amida has with all beings, the kuyō selected as his eternal practice, manifests in his Name.
From these two relational templates, we develop an awareness of every being we encounter as: 1) a fellow target of Amida’s boundless compassion, and, thereby, 2) a Buddha in the making, or a teacher of relational wisdom. Amida’s Vow-mind, then, models the correct attitude to maintain towards every being, in every moment, in every incarnation.
For further study, see: the third, sixth, and ninth chapters of the Tannishō; and the third, fourth, fifth, and forty-fifth vows of the Larger Sutra, reading the events of past lives as history, and the beautiful, homogenous golden appearance of humans and devas as relational rather than as personal forms of being, i.e., as love.