A Time for Us to Remember and Express Our Gratitude
Written by Rev. Shinkai Murakami
Namu Amida Butsu
In November, we will observe a special service. Do you remember the name of the upcoming special service? Yes, it is called the Eitaikyo service. Eitaikyo service is known as Sangha Memorial Service here in Hawaii. The true meaning of Eitaikyo is translated as “Eternal Generations Sutra.” However, the full translation is really, “The Service of Chanting Sutras for Generations as an Act for the Beneficences Received from Our Ancestors.”
Eitaikyo service is an excellent time to remember or recall our loved ones who passed away. Some of you have lost your grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, and so on, and their memories genuinely exist in your hearts. Whenever I officiate the Memorial services, I always express genuine gratitude and appreciation to the deceased person. Due to their passing, family members come to the temple to feel gratitude, have a memorial service at the temple, and hear the chanting of a sutra.
As you may know, the Sutra is Buddha Shakyamuni’s message or guidance to his disciples. Sutra was written in Sanskrit; however, when Buddhism spread to China, it was translated into the Chinese language. Then, in the 6th century, Prince Shotoku accepted Buddhism into the Japanese Emperor’s family for their spiritual blessing. Years passed, and Buddhism became one of the significant spiritual assessments for people in Japan. In Japan, people used the same Chinese sutras, but used the Japanese pronunciation. Then, about 150 years ago, Buddhism came to Hawaii with immigrants. However, because of the language barrier, we translated it to English and used it at our Sunday morning services. So, most of us can learn Shakyamuni Buddha’s guidance as written in the Sutra.
One of the Sutras starts, “Thus I have heard.” Yes, Sutras are not what Buddha himself wrote, but after Buddha’s death, many of his disciples got together and shared what they learned from the Buddha. They spent many years establishing Buddha’s words and passing them on to the next generations. So, what is written may have changed from Buddha’s original words since there were no written records. Nonetheless, it was the guidance that people heard from the Buddha. That is the reason why many of the Sutras start with “Thus, I have heard.”
When we were growing up, we received profound guidance from our parents and grandparents. In our youth, most of us do not have much interest in the teachings, but amazingly it remains in our hearts and minds as great memories and lessons. After the memorial services, I sometimes ask family members if they recall the deceased person. After one service, a family member said, “Yeah, I remember my grandfather always said, ‘Ganbare, Ganbare’ which means ‘don’t give up, just do your best.’ These great words still exist in my heart even if my grandfather passed away so many years ago. Why? I guess I don’t want to lose my grandfather’s wonderful memories, wisdom, and guidance. It’s all my great treasures.”
Like the disciples of the Buddha, as you pass on the teachings from your ancestors, you too start with “thus, I heard from…” Yes, you heard very important teachings, also known as the thoughtful mind or “Kokoro”, which include wisdom and a compassionate heart, all of which are priceless gifts from your ancestors. When we think about our parent’s and grandparents’ excellent guidance and memories, we can feel great honor and appreciation for their great efforts. Because of their great efforts and establishments, we have much more comfortable lives. “Okage-sama-de,” we are here as we are! We must remember this truth and fact in our lives.
Shinran Shonin adopted one of the wonderful passages from his Master in China, saying, “People who were born before guide people who are born after, and people who were born after follow the great footsteps of people who were born before.” Like this passage, we can follow our great and dedicated Nembutsu follower’s great footsteps in our lives and pass them on to our children and grandchildren. We learned great values from them, and I firmly believe that values are precious gifts from them.
When I served at one of the Hongwanji Temples, I met a girl from Vietnam whose family escaped from their country and lived a difficult life. When she came to the temple and saw the statue of Amida Buddha, she spontaneously put two hands together in front of the chest and one knee on the floor and bowed to the Buddha. It was so beautiful as she expressed her genuine gratitude and respect. She received sincere hearts and wisdom from her parents and grandparents in Vietnam and never forgot what she learned from them.
Eitaikyo, is an excellent opportunity for us to learn the Buddha’s infinite wisdom and compassion and pass it on to the next generations as our faithful gift with the “Magokoro – sincere hearts.” This is the time for us to express the true mind of gratitude and appreciation to our ancestors who had shared their great teachings with us and for us to share and follow the path of the truth with the great mind of gratitude.
Namu Amida Butsu