Most Buddhist temples in Hawaii observe Ohigan during the months of March and September. It provides Buddhistsan opportunity to reflect upon ourselves through the teachings of the Buddha Dharma and re-dedicate ourselves.
Higan, refers to the "Other Shore", which is Nirvana, or Enlightenment. You may have heard these words and heard stories using these words many times during the months of March and September. As you listen to these stories, you get tired of it and don’t want to listen to the same stories over and over.
According to Buddhist tradition, it is said that "in order to reach the Other Shore of Nirvana,” we must practice the Six Paramitas. The first one is Fuse or Dana Paramita, which is the practice of the Offering or Sharing, the Second is Sila Paramita, which is the practice of the Precepts or Morality, the Third is Ksanti Paramita, which is the practice of "gaman" or patience, the fourth is Virya Paramita which is the practice of Effort or Endeavoring, the fifth is Dhyana Paramitah which is the practice of Concentration, and the sixth is Prajina Paramita which is the practice of Wisdom.
Somehow we participate in these practices in our daily lives without knowing it. Through the practices of Paramitas, we receive joy, happiness, thoughtful minds, and courage and many wonderful gifts from each other, which create the new friendship and fellowship in our lives.
The following story took place in Japan about 400 years ago and it is associated with the practice of Paramitas.
One day Taro (a farmer) was walking on the side of the road near a rice patch. Unfortunately, he tripped on a stone. He tried to protect his body before he hit the ground. He extended his two arms and tried to hold on to something before his body hit the ground.
Despite his efforts, he tumbled over and over on the ground. He could not hold on to anything except a piece of straw. He looked at the piece of the straw and said, "Well, this piece of straw is worthless, but it seems that I was meant to pick it up so I won’t throw it away."
As he continued walking, he held on to the tiny piece of straw in his hand and was swinging it around. A dragonfly came flying around him. It was bothering him so he tried to chase it away with the straw. However, the dragonfly continued to bother him and finally perched on the tip of the straw. .Taro pulled the straw slowly toward him and gently caught the dragonfly and tied it with the straw. While he was walking on the road, holding the dragon fly on the tip of the straw Hen met a lady who was with a little boy.
When the little boy saw the dragonfly, he wanted it very badly and said to his mother, "Mom, I want the dragonfly, please get it for me." He begged his mother a number of times. Taro, hearing the boy’s plea. kindly said, "Oh, you can have it." Taro handed the dragonfly to the little boy. The little boy was so happy and instead of saying "thank you" to Taro the boy said, "Wow, I have a dragonfly, I have a dragonfly."He was so excited to have a dragonfly.
His mother was embarrassed by the way her son acted and expressed her appreciation by giving Taro a bag of tangerines(very juicy Japanese mikans), which she was carrying.
Taro said, "No, it’s okay, don’t worry about it." However,she felt so bad, she forced Taro to accept the bag of tangerines.Taro said, "Thank you very much, I will share it with my village people." Taro expressed his appreciation to the lady and continued on his way home. It was a very hot day so Taro said, "I have to go home before I dry up!”
A little over a mile away from his village, he discovered that someone was having an emergency. When he looked at the crowd, there was a young lady who was dehydrated. The only water around was from the ditch, which was not clean and the nearest village was about a mile away.
He told the crowd, "Excuse me, I have tangerines please have it." The bag of tangerines that Taro received from the lady was now given to the people who were administrating first aid to the young lady.
After he offered the bag of tangerines, he continued to walk home. Then, a few samurais chased after him and said,"Wait, please wait." Taro thought to himself, "Did I do something wrong? The lady looked like a noble person and I should not have talked and offered anything to those people."When the samurais reached him, Taro said to them, "I am sorry, please don’t kill me."
However, the samurai said, "Oh, you saved the princess’s life. Without your kind offering of tangerines, our princess might have suffered a very serious illness. This is small token of appreciation from the princess."
The samurai offered him something in the large bag. Still concerned, Taro said, "I am sorry, I just wanted to help the people. I did not expect to receive any reward." So Taro refused to accept it. However, the samurai said, "If you don’t accept this, we have to take you to the castle and let our Lord talk to you." Taro was afraid to go to the castle, so he accepted the gift from the samurai.
When he returned to the village, he opened the bag and discovered that it was full of shiny gold coins. He was surprised and said, "Wow, what should I do with it?”
He thought over his day. It started when he fell down at the rice patch. He grabbed the piece of tiny straw and caught a dragonfly with it. He received a bag of tangerines because the boy wanted the dragonfly. The bag of tangerines became a bag of gold coins.
As Taro reviewed his day, he said, “The straw was not mine, it belongs to all the village people.” So, what Taro decided to do was share all the gold coins with the entire village. In those days, most farmers were not able to own their property. However, with the lord’s money, which the people received from Taro, everyone was able to purchase their own property and enjoy their lives.
When I read this story, I was impressed and felt how important it is to share our lives and happiness with others. We must remember that without knowing it, we are receiving wisdom and guidance from our parents, grandparents, and friends. And without knowing it, we are sharing our legacies, thoughts, and guidance with others.
These gifts which each of us receive from our Issei and Nisei are very precious. The culture, the history, the peace, and the serenity, all of these wonderful gifts, were from our ancestor’s efforts and their wishes for us to have a great life. Fortunately for many of us, we are receiving the spiritual guidance of the Nembutsu.
When you attend the temple services and hear the minister’s sermon, you may hear other stories. However, the most important way in accepting the minister’s messages into accept it as a personal story. If we accepted things as it is, each of us are able to understand other people’s true feeling of joy, sympathy, difficulty, hardship, and minds. Spontaneously, we are able to offer our kind words, hands, labor, and minds to others.
My understanding of the Nembutsu is Amida Buddha’s spiritual wisdom and compassionate heart. It is always encouraging our lives to have a positive way of thinking and T obe able to see things as it is without any doubt. Amida Buddha’s wisdom is just like a the great sunlight. It is always shining from corner to corner and giving us a warm feeling of wisdom in our hearts and lives.
Once we realize the Amida’s great light of wisdom, the ignorant and dark ideas in our hearts will disappear just like cold ice covering the mountain that melts slowly by the sun and becomes pure water. Our ignorant and dark ideas which cover our hearts will melt when we receive Amida Buddha’s wisdom and it will become pure water of the Amida Buddha and that water will nourish us to become examples of the community.
Thus, the Ohigan service is a wonderful time for us to reflect upon ourselves through the listening of the Buddha Dharma, light of the Buddha’s true wisdom, the heart ofNembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu. Through the guidance of the Nembutsu, we will realize that through Amida Buddha’s spiritual mirror we will realize our shortcomings.
Regardless of any race or language and through the action of Dana, we all are able to communicate and understand each other and are able to make our lives more meaningful with peace and serenity.
All these feelings and tranquility are Amida Buddha’s great wisdom and compassion which reach into our heart sand are truly precious gifts to each one of us. May we always listen and rejoice in the Buddha Dharma as our true spiritual guide and rededicate our lives through the spiritual light, wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha which is his great precious gift of the Nembutsu.
This is the reason why we observe the Ohigan services twice a year and try to realize and re-dedicate ourselves by listening to the Buddha Dharma.