Talk for BWA World Convention
Panel, “Live the Nembutsu”
Carol Valentine, Hawaii
September 1, 2019
Good morning everyone. A special greeting to our honored guests, His Eminence Gomonshu Kojun Ohtani and Lady Ohtani, Bishop Umezu, Bishop Matsumoto, Bishop Aoki and Bishop Kajiwara. A special thank you to the BWA presidents and members who have traveled far to attend this wonderful convention.
My instructions were to reflect and share how I live the Nembutsu. I asked myself “Why did they choose me?” My first response was that it makes sense since I talk a lot. My second response was “But I really am imperfect, surely not the one to be a model for others.” Then I realized that is just right. I am a foolish being so I can speak from the experience of foolishness. I am a work in progress.
Then the difficult part started –working on my talk. As I have read, “We can enjoy Nembutsu, anytime and anywhere in our daily living. Let us listen to the Dharma so that we can live a full life in Nembutsu.” The Nembutsu should reflect real life, our everyday lives, which to me is “Living the Dharma.” After all, Buddhism is not in a book; we are living it as fellow travelers along life’s path. Yes, we are embraced by the Nembutsu, but we also have an obligation to our fellow travelers.
As I started to put my thoughts together I thought of something one of the former presidents of the United States, the late George H.W. Bush, shared in an interview when asked about a plaque he always had on his desk. I am going to paraphrase what was written, which is that we should share the Dharma every day and use words when necessary. Those few words are powerful and seemed to me to be so very appropriate for my talk.
As the theme of our convention says, we need to Live the Nembutsu, Live the Dharma. How many times have we heard those words “Live the Dharma?” But what do those words really mean; what do those words actually say to us? Are they only words we say? What does it mean we do? How do we show our beautiful faith to others in a way they will understand, especially those who may know nothing of who we are as Jodo Shinshu followers?
Rev. Dr. Mark Unno has visited Kauai and I remember his words, “Don’t just recite the details, live the concepts.” He also said, “The real teaching is the living Dharma; small gestures with sincerity, humility and generosity.” To say it simply, it is not only about “talking the talk” but also about “walking the walk.” I believe that our practice is not just something we do; it should also be who we are.
There are so many teachings that it can almost be overwhelming. To simplify the task, I asked myself “How do we show the Dharma in our lives?” With apologies to the ministers, I believe that “Living the Dharma” is not about being the best we can be at chanting or doing gassho perfectly. It is not about how well we sing or offer incense. It must go beyond rituals, beyond Sunday service and be a part of our lives every single day, to include how we treat others and how we handle adversity whether we are with our sangha on a Sunday, with strangers on a Wednesday or with our families every day. We should be a living breathing advertisement for Buddhism every moment of our lives. Others may not know we are Buddhists, but they will know we cared.
In striving to “Live the Dharma” and to simplify the task, I like to think of four qualities I think are important to practice as a Buddhist. I know that I fall short, usually on a daily basis since I am a foolish being. But then, I am not a monk and I cannot practice in isolation. I must live within this life I am given with all of its stresses, decisions, disappointments, obstacles and of course, joy.
Those four qualities are Gratitude, Kindness, Compassion and Interdependence. Let me elaborate on each one and the simple notions I try to incorporate into my life.
- We know what gratitude is but often in our busy and hectic lives, we forget to practice gratitude, forget to say a simple “thank you.” So, say “thank you” every day. It’s really that simple. Say thank you even to those who are doing their job. Remember to thank the wait staff in the restaurant, the store clerk, the gate agent at the airport, the pharmacist, the barista at Starbucks. You know what I am saying. Gratitude is showing kindness.
- Remember to also say “please” because it shows our gratitude to those we are asking for help.
- We can, and should be, grateful every day. Need some ideas? Feel grateful for:
- Your first cup of coffee in the morning.
- Finding your car keys.
- Having a place to live.
- Your family, even though they may no longer be with you.
- By the way, science has found that grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships. Doesn’t that sound nice?
To me, kindness means to do the right thing, just to do the right thing, without promise of a reward.
- Ideas for kindness:
- Don’t gossip. Remember that gossip is like slicing open a feather pillow in the wind. There is no way to take back all of the feathers you have set loose.
- Hold a door for the person behind you; hold a hand if someone needs help.
- Choose your words carefully. Use kind and gentle words as the “Golden Chain” reminds us.
- Smile. You may be the first smile someone has seen all day.
- Apologize when appropriate.
- Give a sincere compliment to someone you know or even to someone you don’t know. Like the shoes of the person behind you? Tell them that.
Let me share a personal story to highlight the importance of gratitude and kindness. In my life as an educator I worked with many challenging students, especially in middle school. One such student came back to me two years after being in my class. He apologized to me for how he had behaved in my class and thanked me for helping him learn. He touched my heart and I have never forgotten the gift his words gave to me more than twenty years ago.
One definition of compassion is this one: “The feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” If we can help others, then we should. After all, didn’t Buddha want to help alleviate suffering?
- Compassion helps us to focus on others to create a greater feeling of interdependence with all around us.
- Need ideas for practicing compassion?
- Listen more than you talk; listen with your ears and with your heart. Sometimes listening is all that is needed.
- Lose the need to be right; let go of control. Choose to be kind over being right.
- Make people feel comfortable if they ask for help.
- It is ok to disagree with others or tell them “No.” Just do it with compassion.
Good news, compassion acts like preventative medicine for many of our afflictions. The greater our compassion, the more peace we will experience.
This concept may be the most difficult because it seems like such a large, global notion. If we break it down into smaller units, it becomes more manageable.
- Let me use a quote from Rev. Koshin Ogui, former Bishop of BCA. “I realize my life is possible only because of others’ sacrifices, thoughtfulness and patience. What I can do for others in return is my good question.” That is interdependence; others help us so we help others. Like the phrase says, “Pay it forward.”
- We no longer live in a world where we depend only on ourselves. Everything we touch was touched by many other hands before we had a chance to receive it. Silently thank the hundreds of people who make your life possible.
- Ideas? Here are a few:
- Recycle, every chance you get.
- Clean up your own mess; throw away your own trash.
- Share an umbrella with someone else when it is raining.
- Admit when you are wrong.
- Share that last cookie.
As we know, nothing exists in isolation. This talk is a perfect example. I have used the words of many others who say so eloquently what I think and feel. Without the words of others, I would not have been able to create my talk. To those whose words I have used and not named, including Gomonshu Sama, Bishop Eric Matsumoto, Rev. Mieko Majima and Pieper Toyama, thank you. And from my home temple, thank you to Lynne, Edith and my husband Wayne for suggestions and support.
In closing, a reminder for me, the foolish person. I know that Amida Buddha is always there with me and for me. He is with me and he will wait for me at my finish line, no matter how many detours I may take or bumpy roads I choose to travel. As we have heard, the Nembutsu is not my call to the Buddha; but the Nembutsu is the Buddha calling me.
Thank you for this time.
Please join me with your hands together in reverence. Namo Amida Butsu