Rev. David Nakamoto
Published with Permission

Editor’s note: The Rev. David Nakamoto, retired minister of the Kailua Hongwanji Mission, presented the following talk at a Hanamatsuri program at Kailua Hongwanji in April 2013. Hanamatsuri celebrates the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, who became the historical Shakyamuni Buddha over 2,600 years ago in the Lumbini Garden in India. The earth is said to have trembled in joy and many celestial birds appeared and sang. Additionally, beautiful flowers bloomed, and a sweet, gentle rain bathed the newborn baby.

This year’s Hawaii Buddhist Council Hanamatsuri service will be held Sunday, April 7, 9:30 a.m. at the Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin (1727 Pali Hwy.). Dr. Willa Tanabe, professor emeritus of Buddhist art history at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, will be the featured speaker.

There will also be two exhibitions downstairs in the Betsuin Social Hall. One is related to Dr. Tanabe’s talk on Hawai‘i’s temples and the other will be the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai photo panels on India.

Extra parking is available at Hongwanji Mission School, Soto Mission of Hawaii and Kawananakoa Middle School.

Happy Hanamatsuri . . . Happy Buddha Day!

It’s wonderful that we all come together at the temple, at this special time when we pay tribute to the founder of Buddhism on his birthday. We have much to be grateful for — being able to share in the learning and practice of his teachings. Coming together at the temple to learn and support one another in our learning is the wonder of it all. I say this because there is something very special about supporting one another — because as we participate in activities of the temple, we are addressing the idea of interdependence, an important part of Buddhist teachings.

A couple of months ago, the Living Treasures awards, an annual Hongwanji Kyodan-sponsored event, occurred. It honors distinguished men and women who serve their community in outstanding ways. What was interesting about this year’s event was that all of the awardees shared a common principle: Supporting one another, or the concept of collaboration, was often used in their stories. Their stories shared the common theme that I could not have done the work I did without the support of others. They all acknowledged how important supporting one another was in the accomplishment of goals that worked for the betterment of the community. Emphasis on one’s own effort was not made in terms of bringing success to the goal accomplished.

A story I would like to share is about the pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in January 2009. Miraculously, not one person was injured in the incident and the pilot was seen as an outstanding hero. Captain Sullenberger was later presented with a distinguished award, the key to the city, by the mayor of New York City.

This event became quite a news story. On television, Captain Sullenberger and his wife were interviewed by a newscaster. The interviewer asked Mrs. Sullenberger how she felt about her husband being a big hero in the eyes of the public. Mrs. Sullenberger said she felt uncomfortable about her husband being called a “hero” and said her husband feels the same way. She explained that her husband was just doing his job. There was no one else at the time that could do it, and he needed to do his job.

For me, however, and for many others, this was a tremendous undertaking for him to have endured, being responsible for 155 lives. But Mrs. Sullenberger spoke in such a sincere manner that I began to reflect on what was being said here.

Thoughts that came to my mind were about the importance of doing one’s job and that many lives depend on one doing his or her job. It does not matter what the job is. There are tremendous ramifications for doing one’s job. In effect, things go well all the way down the line when a job is done as it should be. At the opposite end, things may not go well down the line should the job not be done as it should be.

The interdependent nature of all things, I thought. All things change in relation to conditions. So here the thought of interdependence arises as we relate this truth of life to real-life happenings. During the daily normal course of our lives, it is difficult to comprehend the thought of interdependence, as most of the time, we merely see it from an intellectual understanding rather than a true awakening. Captain Sullenberger’s story is, to me, a real illustration of how interdependence unfolds in people’s lives.

He went on to share that he was doing the part of the job that required landing the plane safely, but that the rest of the crew performed their jobs by assisting passengers to adhere to safety procedures and assuring the passengers, allowing them to be safely rescued.

Captain Sullenberger emphasized the importance of the team working together so all could come through this episode, which could easily have resulted in a disaster. He emphasized that without the crew working together, the results would surely have been different.

I began thinking about how life would work if we all did our jobs and I began to relate this to our own families and our own communities. How would this affect our lives?

Being more in touch with our families and community situations, being sensitive to how others are doing. How might this impact our lives differently? Knowing that conditions bring forth fruitful or unfruitful conditions, what could result if we just did our jobs, so to speak. To put this on another level, what would it feel like to be listening to each other again about what disturbs and troubles us? About what gives us energy and hope? About our yearnings, our fears, our deep wishes, our children? This might be an interesting question for many of us. In one sense, could we all become true heroes in life?

Interdependence and its true acceptance into our daily lives is quite difficult and, as I said earlier, seen as more in an intellectual understanding rather than actualized in our lives.

One story I can relate here was told by a minister I know. He told me about this place in Monterey, California. On a rocky cliffside by the ocean is a large rock appearing to be standing on its own. And on the rock grows a beautiful cypress tree. This tree has weathered all kinds of storms and hurricanes and has been admired by many visitors throughout the years. It is considered to be one of the most photographed spots in America.

The interesting part of this story, however, is that upon looking at this scene, there are things that cannot be seen. You see, this beautiful cypress tree appearing to be standing alone by itself, has, in reality, much support. What our eyes do not see is the strong system of roots that go deep down into the rock. It is this large support, one that is not easily seen, that is at the foundation of the tree and, therefore, allows the tree to remain strong and able to withstand all kinds of conditions. Something not visible and yet so real provides the support. This tree has since been named the “‘Ohana Tree,’” as it represents the family and its strong foundation. After being told the story, I visited Monterey and now have a framed picture that an artist drew to remind me of this story.

Supporting one another, an interesting statement. Stories such as the heroic experience of the team working together to prevent an airline disaster and the ‘Ohana Tree remind me that there is something going on beyond my narrow sense of self. It reminds me that there is more than just me, that we are part of a larger and purpose-filled place. Much support is also behind me, whether I see it or not.

Do I truly appreciate what this all means? That is a good question.

My wife happened to share with me an article she received from an organization she belongs to that captured the story of US Airways Flight 1549, the plane that landed in the Hudson River. The article is about an actual passenger on the flight who shared four lessons he learned from the experience: 1) Cherish your families as never before and go to great lengths to keep your promises; 2) Be thankful and grateful for everything you have and don’t worry about the things you don’t have; 3) Keep in shape. You never know when you’ll be called upon to save your own life or help someone else save theirs; and 4) When you fly, wear practical clothing. You never know when you’ll end up in an emergency or on an icy wing in flip-flops and pajamas and be of absolutely no use to yourself or anyone else.

When one is in a life-threatening situation, one begins to truly appreciate the value of life. We may pay less attention to this in the normal course of our lives and take things for granted, however.

Shinran, I believe, understood our humanness, our self-centered nature (as well as his) and turned to the Nembutsu teachings for guidance.

From a poem from “Dharma Treasures,” Iwaichi Nakamura brings perspective to our attempts to grasp the teachings. He says:

It is a downright lie that I have listened.
That I have understood is also a downright lie.
When the skin is peeled off, only the true nature is left.
My true nature is to fall into hell.
But, true compassion saves me just as I am, as I fall into hell.
Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu
In the timeless process of birth and death,
For the first time I was made to realize
The Other Power of Amida Buddha.
My understanding resulted from listening,
But listening is nothing but a little scratch on a precious gem.
I trusted my understanding instead of trusting Amida.
Until now I was satisfied with my
But, my understanding does not save me;
It is Amida who saves me. The true reality of Wisdom and Compassion.

Our Nembutsu Teachings brings this question of awakening to the interdependent nature of life for me. Trying to understand may be one thing, but awakening is another. Clinging to one’s self-centered view is at the forefront.

But from what I understand, Shinran, in becoming aware of his self-centered nature, was able to then perceive things from a refreshing, creative newness to life and was able to live life fully. Gratitude to the Nembutsu Teachings

In conclusion, as I search for this understanding of the interdependent nature of life, it becomes important that listening is critical and that the compassion of the Buddha is always there supporting me.

Supporting one another, an interesting statement. Here, I am reminded that life is not just me, but that we are part of a larger and purpose-filled place . . . and much support is behind me, whether I see it or not.

So on this Buddha Day celebration, may we acknowledge the wonderful teachings of the Buddha in gratitude and may we practice these teachings through the opportunities we have in supporting one another in our daily lives. Namo Amida Butsu.


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