Here in Hawaii, whenever we observe the Ohigan Service, most of us are thinking about Dana practices. Yes, it is one of the very important practices of the six paramitas, and we always do or offer this practice without knowing. Regardless of the size or amount, the most important thing is offering from our heart. This will be the most wonderful practice in our lives.
Being a Kaikyoshi (oversea minister) for 30 years, I have many different kinds of experiences. On September 11, 1991, do you remember what happened that day? I was the resident minister at Kapaa Hongwanji on the Island of Kauai. In the late afternoon, the eye of hurricane "Iniki" struck the entire island and the island lost their lifeline instantly. Everyone loss their power, water, telephone, other types of communication system, and so forth. After the hurricane passed, what was left was many destroyed homes, and thousands of telephone poles were knocked to down the ground.
Since we lived near the ocean, the police came to the temple and told me, "Reverend, it will be dangerous if your family stays in this house, we may have high waves hit the temple, so all of you need to evacuate from the temple and move to higher grounds.” So my family and I evacuated to one of our member’s home.
It was my first experience being in a hurricane. When the wind became strong, the house started making noise and if something hit the house or windows, the glass would shatter everywhere. We all stayed in the narrow corridor and just waited until the hurricane passed. I think it was about 30 minutes long or less but it was so scary. We were at a loss of words.
After the Hurricane passed, it became so calm and I went outside, it was a totally different picture. Many houses with corrugated roofs were ripped or completely gone; garages and many small sheds were smashed. It was a scary moment in my life.
That evening, my family and I went back to the temple through the cane road. When we returned to the temple, we discovered that the temple warehouse and garage buildings were completely smashed. The minister's residence looked like it did not have much damage, but when I went to our daughter's room I discovered that the windows were broken. A 2x4 lumber flew into the wall and made a big hole, and there were uncountable numbers of bended corrugated roofing. It was devastating. I am not able to express with words how much damage the entire island experienced through the hurricane. The images of the beautiful Garden Island changed. It looked like a deserted island. I felt that I was standing on a movie set.
Since we all lost our power line, we had to clean our refrigerators and freezers because all the food were going to spoil. So, what many people on Kauai did was make signs, which read "Free food." This included both residents and restaurants.
We saw similar signs on other streets. Yes, we all shared what we had in our refrigerators and freezers. We cooked using broken lumbers and fed the community. We all hoped that the power lines would be restored within a month or so. We faced a serious situation and did not recover within the time estimated.
Many of the people on Kauai never thought that we were all going to fall this deep and experience such a difficult life. Since the recovering process was slow, residents began complaining to the county, state, federal governments by expressing their frustrations On top of that, the shortage of materials and shortage of contractors, made it more difficult to recover. The insurance settlements were so slow that made the people of Kauai worry even more.
Even though many of the clergies got together, and tried to provide spiritual assessment services throughout the community, with no food, water, gas, and other life lines, it made it very difficult for people to receive or have a calm state of mind.
This made people change their thinking and life style. There were more fights within the community; people moved out from the island, and others started to do illegal gambling, taking illegal items, and the number of homeless people increased.
There was one thing that changed the people of Kauai. The military people came to the island and started cleaning most of the roads including the main highway, gave us MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), offered fresh water and vegetables at the armory. The phone company provided residents with free phone call services to the neighbor islands, other states, and oversea countries. With the aids we all received, many of us started thinking more positively rather than negatively and started to work together to re-build the island. As the days went on, what we discovered was that many people including our Hongwanji sister temples from all over sent their dry goods, clothes, and letters to us. However, since the post offices were closed, they could not deliver those items to the people. As soon as the roads became cleared by the military, one of the temple members and I started delivering candles to our temple members and talked stories with them, which made our relationship so close and we felt a warm feeling in our heart.
Three months later, in December, we had our first temple services at the temple. We shared our thoughts and feelings but no one complained about what people went through during their difficult time. What they said is "Let's try to fix our temple and get back on the right track!"
Once people had positive attitudes and thinking, many things, which were once hard and difficult, began to be solved and the temple was able to be repaired in 6 months after Hurricane Iniki. We all had the March Ohigan Service with a much joy and gratitude.
Sharing, following the rules, being patient, putting in effort, concentration, and wisdom, which is Buddha's great guidance, made the people on Kauai understand the great value of life which is living our lives interdependently. We, as Jodo Shinshu followers, always appreciate this great teaching of being interdependent. Because of you, I am here as I am. Because of you I am able to hear the great guidance of the Nembutsu and be able to see the truth of life with the mind of gratitude. So since we understand the true heart of Amida's vow, we are able to see our own faults instead of others.
Once we are able to be aware of Amida's heart, we will express our heart with sincerity of speech, kindness of action, sympathy of spirit, equal sharing with common property, following the same pure precepts and having right views. Ohigan Service is a wonderful time for us to learn and become aware of this very important guidance in our daily lives.
Namo Amida Butsu