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.
We are now accepting Donations online
Your generosity is greatly appreciated
Dharma in the Desert
Introducing our video Dharma Talks.
Even in times of great suffering there is always a path to enlightenment
A Dharma Talk for August 8th, 2022, hosted by Sensei Lynn of Arizona
Sunday, September 11th
10:00am In Person Service and Live Zoom Service.
11:30 am - Celebration for Sensei Vonn
for more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional services will be held in September, Stay tuned
Additional Activities will resume at some point, schedule will continue to be updated.
Stay safe, wash your hands, relax, and try to work on that enlightenment thing you have been meaning to get to. Its always a good time to practice the Dharma.
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
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-
Seijo Michael Tang
Happy summer, everyone. June 21, 2022 officially marked the first day of Summer here in the United States. This date obviously means next to nothing for members of our temple who have grown accustomed to recognizing the true start of summer as the conclusion of the Matsuri festival. That said, dessert heat is very much part of our daily lives here, and it’s wild to think that human beings can acclimate to such scorching temperatures.
If you’ve ever made it to our Youtube page, you’ve probably noticed that the title is called “Dharma in the Desert". When I first thought of the title, I cynically felt that the dessert might be a metaphor for the spiritual age we live in, the Last Dharma Age, one of MAPPO. The idea behind this is that at this stage there are no more enlightened beings, and because there are no enlightened people to teach the Dharma, it is impossible for any of us to become enlightened through practice. The title suggested that an age of MAPPO was barren of spirituality; hence, a dessert if you will.
Living in the actual desert, however, has a way of changing your view. While I don’t dispute that we live in this particular spiritual era, anyone who has lived here for a long period of time realizes that the dessert is not a barren location, but one that is actually teeming with life and beauty, if you know how to look for it. I honestly used to loathe the scenery of this area when I was younger, I would have wanted to live anywhere else. It wasn’t till I began to hike consistently that I began to appreciate the ancient nature of our surroundings, Saguaros that grow for hundreds of years, the way the textures of rocks seem to blend throughout one another when they cascade up and down the length of mountain, or the way that the sunset spills hues of purple into a churning sea of tangerine, that which you will never encounter naturally anywhere else in the world. I’ve lived here my entire life, but for the first part of it, I never stopped to consider how fortunate I was to be able to lose myself in these mountains while living in the middle of a bustling city. It’s easy to take these sorts of things for granted if you’re too busy to think about it.
And in as much, while Arizona might not seem like the likeliest location for a spiritual practice that originated on the Eastern continent, our form of Dharma has flourished and grown in this unique setting. Amidst the desert, our temple has existed since 1936, making it 86-years that we have been practicing with some version of this Sangha. Throughout those years, it has helped hundreds of individuals better understand the teachings of the Buddha, all through the words and experiences of our state and our community. From the South Mountain Flower Growers to thirty years of Matsuri festivals, and having endured everything from a catastrophic fire to Japanese internment, the history of our Sangha is inseparable from our understanding of what the Buddha taught and said. Dharma in the Desert it’s an homage to the fact that we have the privilege of being the oldest institution that teaches the actual words and wisdom of the Buddha, the Dharma, in the deserts of Arizona, and everyone who passes through our doors has been a part of that, including each and every one of you.
Every individual in the world experiences the teachings of the Buddha in their own way, and the lessons are born from the locations and histories in which they are taught. Whether one says the nembutsu to the cool breeze of a gentle tropic wind, or in the dry, radiant heat of an eternal sunset, one need only take the time to reflect in gratitude.
Kris Nakashima - August 2022
Happy summer season everyone, may you stay safe and sane with a cool drink in hand as we scorch the sky in a cavalcade of fire and pretty colors. Because nothing makes more sense in our Arizona desert like making it hotter outdoors and cooler indoors.
For the month of July, we plan to host two in-person services at the temple, on July 17 th and July
24 th, respectively. Please feel free to join us at 10am on those days. After that we are closed for the rest of August, though Dharma messages will continue to be posted online on our Facebook and YouTube channels.
However, coming this Fall we plan to finally start regular in-person services starting on Sunday September 11th . After which we plan to host in-person service every Sunday for the rest of the year. We will still maintain our mask mandates during in-person services in the Hondo for the time being. We also plan to continue to livestream our services on Zoom as well. So, if you cannot make it in-person, you can always message Lynn Sugiyama as always, for the Zoom link to attend remotely.
I would like to thank everyone who came out to our annual Arizona Obon Odori. This was our first in-person Obon since the pandemic began back in 2020, and it was great to be able to see everyone together again in such a long time. A very special thanks to all those who helped organize and run the event on Saturday. I would also like to thank those who brought snacks for the bake sale, the kitchen volunteers, drink and shave ice volunteers, our emcee and music team, and everyone else who contributed big or small. It was a lot of work, but it was great fun and totally worth it.
Stay cool, stay chill, and have a great Summah!
Arizona Buddhist Temple Women's Club
We would like to thank everyone who helped with the cleaning and setup for the Obon odori and to those who helped prepare the obentos. It was the hottest day of the year, but everyone worked together to set everything up. Thank you to Mino and Kathy Inoshita for donating the corn, Alan Matsumoto for donating the rice and ice, and to the AZ Buddhist Women’s Association for donating the tsukemono and tonkatsu sauce. Also, thank you to those who brought their favorite desserts or made a monetary donation for the pastry sale.
Hopefully, we will be able to start having in-person meetings starting in the fall.
The next meeting will be posted in the September Prajna.
KIDS KORNER - DHARMA SCHOOL
It was nice to see everyone at Obon. Thank you to all the Sangha Teens, Jr YBA kids and parents that helped clean the residence and classroom, set up for Obon, and helped at the shaved ice and drinks booth.
Calendar: No Dharma School for the summer. Classes will resume in September.
Please check the September Prajna for more details.
The Arizona Buddhist Temple will continue to limited services each month until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dharma Services and Dharma Talks will continue to be posted online every Sunday. Please visit the Temple website at https://www.azbuddhisttemple.org/ or our Temple Facebook page to view the Dharma videos.
Adult Discussion Group
Adult discussion group will continue via Zoom online this Summer. Sensei Lynn Sugiyama will be the host for the discussion group. Please email the Temple at email@example.com if you are interested in attending to receive the online Zoom meeting information.
Meditation Class will continue via Zoom online. Please join us for some quiet sitting, chanting, and guided meditation hosted by Sensei Vonn. Most sessions last from 10 to 20 minutes. Grab a comfortable chair or cushion, wear something comfy, and "let go” for a few minutes. Mediation sessions are offered on Wednesday evenings at 8 PM and Sunday Mornings at 8 AM. To reserve a spot and receive a Zoom Meeting link, please email firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 24 hours in advance.
The Temple now has online donation payment methods on the Temple website https://www.azbuddhisttemple.org/. The Temple thanks you for your dana.
Sensei Lynn, Sensei Vonn, and Sensei Michael are all available for any religious needs including memorial services. Please reach out to them directly or via email at email@example.com for any needs!
My name is Kara Chu, and I’m a high school senior from Orange County, California and a member of the Issei and Nisei Farmers Legacy Committee, a new project of Walk the Farm.
With a lot of home family time being spent due to the pandemic, this is the perfect opportunity (especially for teens like me) to reach out and learn more about our family history.
To commemorate the 10th Anniversary of Walk the Farm, we are honoring our Issei and Nisei, and WE NEED YOUR HELP!
We are paying tribute to Issei and Nisei in the farming and agriculture industry (truck farming, fishing, eggs, floral, nursery, etc.) Our goal is to create the largest repository of JA farm histories so that our ancestors’ sacrifices and hard work will be recorded and never forgotten.
Your farm description, photos and names will appear on the Walk the Farm website. In addition, a photo collage for each family farm will be displayed at the next Walk the Farm event on Saturday, June 19, 2021!
We ask that you gather photos and write a brief family farming history and submit via this Google Form.
For more information go to WalkTheFarm.org and click on “The Issei and Nisei Farmers: Their Legacy.”
Please spread the word and encourage others to submit as well!
Thank you for helping us preserve Japanese American farm history! There are not as many Japanese American farm history accounts out there as we would like, so we want to make sure our history is available for future generations.
Walk the Farm is a community fundraiser which supports the recovery of Japanese farmers affected by the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami and American farmers impacted by natural disasters.
Our Temple Maintenance Crew worked hard to trim our evergreen tree at the Temple. Thank you for your hard work to take care of our temple grounds! Pictured are Katsuji Uchiike, Mino Inoshita, Sumiko Tokudome and Nancie Haranaka. We would also like to thank Hiroo Tokudome and Fran Johnston on the AZBT Garden Team
Our Maintenance crew 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!
PURIFYING HEART AND MIND
Thank you for volunteering the time and effort to keep our Hondo and Temple clean. At this time due to Temple closures, Toban will also be cancelled for the time being. A new Toban schedule will be available once the Temple has re-opened.
If you are interested in joining our Toban teams, please contact Mine Tominaga at 602-300-9621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buddhist Churches of America:
Statement in Support of Black Lives Matter and in Opposition to Racism
Today we find ourselves in a time of deep unrest and pain. There is no justification for the killing of George Floyd, of Ahmaud Arbery, of Breonna Taylor. These and other countless racially motivated misuses of force against Black people are a travesty that must not continue. The pain and anguish of the Black community is resounding throughout the United States and the world, and is touching the hearts of many more people, including our own ministers and members.
Amida Buddha is said to have the “Wisdom of Non-Discrimination.” This is manifested in the Great Compassion that embraces ALL beings. Amida Buddha does not reject anyone based on age, gender, class, race, or any other basis. Although it is difficult for us as unenlightened beings to manifest this Wisdom of Non-Discrimination, this radical equality is an ideal in our tradition.
Although it is difficult for us as foolish beings to manifest the all-embracing Great Compassion, this kindness and caring is our model to strive for. However, this equality will never be reached until Black Lives Matter.
Buddhists are not immune from racism. The insidious influence of racism is learned from many sources, usually unconsciously. It is important for us as Jodo Shinshu Buddhists to engage in self-reflection, and to be open to finding this racism within ourselves, as well as within our temples.
To learn more please check out the following links:
The Importance of Sangha
A few weeks ago I was part of a group that travelled to San Fernando in the LA area for the Southern District JRYBL Seminar 1 event. The six paramitas were the focus of the workshops and discussions, and during the closing message Rev. Usuki introduced us to an activity that would demonstrate all six. I was fortunate enough to participate in the game, which was similar to musical chairs, except everyone needed a seat when the music stopped and chairs were removed. To us, the activity was a challenge we needed to overcome; to the rest of the Sangha, it was entertainment as they watched and laughed at our struggles and victories. At one point I tried to give someone a piggyback ride, thinking it would simplify matters a bit. At the last stage of the game, with one chair left for the 14 of us, I figured one less pair of legs to worry about should make it easier, right? Wrong, as we found out when I tried to balance on someone’s knee and we both came crashing to the ground.
On the surface, this activity was a 15 minute period of watching 14 teenagers trip over each other and attempt to sit on chairs in creative ways. But on a deeper level, it allowed the group of us to work together and rely on each other. We practiced Dana, the generosity of our peers to help each other; Sila, the moral discipline to pick each other up and provide encouragement after we fell; Ksanti, the patience when we had to adapt; Virya, the effort we put into problem solving; Dhyana, the mental fortitude to continue and persevere; and Prajna, our mindset throughout the process and belief in ourselves. We trusted that if we were about to fall, one of our friends would catch us and hold up our legs or arms to fulfill the objective.
This idea also forms one of the basic principles of Buddhism. We as human beings cannot walk the path to enlightenment by ourselves. Sure, we can try our best to and strive to follow the teachings Sakyamuni preached, but if we do so alone, we have already failed. At some point along the journey, we are forced to lean on other people, whether it be something minor like a ride to school or something more significant, such as the emotional support from family or a close friend after the loss of a loved one. Everywhere we look, throughout our lives, others have been there for us. Parents, siblings, teachers, friends, coaches, even strangers have impacted our lives. A kind word when we are having a bad day, a voice of motivation when we’re feeling defeated, a consistent reminder of what we’re trying to accomplish in this life as well as the support and assistance to do so.
Every Sunday we sing the phrase ‘I go to the Dharma for guidance’. The Dharma contains teachings such as the Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, and the Six Paramitas. These ideas provide a roadmap for us to follow in our lives. However on a much more physical and realistic level, we turn to the people around us for guidance, we go not only to the Buddha and the Dharma but also to the Sangha. The Buddha teaches us the Dharma, but without the Sangha we have no one to ask questions to when we are confused or struggling with our lives, no one to lean on when we can’t hold ourselves up, no one to walk the path with us. We would be alone in our suffering. We would have the Buddha and the Dharma to look to, but at a much more primal level, we need others. We need others to care for us, to nurture us, to keep us disciplined, to push us forward toward our goals and aspirations. We need others to help us solve problems, and to help us sit on a chair currently occupied by 12 other people. The Three Treasures of the Truth are a vital part of Buddhism, and the next time we sing Vandana and Ti-Sarana, find new meaning in the words ‘I go to the Sangha for guidance’.
Pet Hoji Service - formerly March 29th
CANCELLED for Now
The Arizona Buddhist Temple will be holding our 4th annual Pet Hoji Service. This service will be held in memory of the deceased pets of the Arizona Buddhist Temple members. If you have a specific pet you would like to have commemorated, please submit their name and a picture (optional) to Lynn Sugiyama, Vonn Magnin, Michael Tang, or email the Temple at email@example.com
The Pet Hoji Service has been Cancelled at this time.
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.
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.