Office of the Bishop

2021 New Year’s Greetings / Japanese Version

On behalf of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada, I wish to thank all of you for your support and understanding throughout 2020.   As December brings the year to a close, we naturally find ourselves reflecting on the events of this year.  Due to COVID-19, there have been so many changes and challenges.  2020 has certainly been full of many meaningful meetings and many difficult partings — new friendships, marriages, and births, and also the loss of people we love.

I recently read an article in a Japanese newspaper, which reported on a survey taken on people’s perception of happiness.   In response to the question, “What gives you the greatest sense of happiness?”, the number one answer was “to be healthy” and the number two answer was “to be able to do what one wishes.”  Certainly, it is the wish for all people to be healthy.  However, in reality, no matter how much we wish for a healthy life, there are no guarantees in maintaining good health, and we do not know if we will ever be free from suffering ill health.    

The famous Japanese poet and Buddhist monk, Kenko Yoshida (1283-1352) states in “Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness, also known as the Harvest of Leisure)” that,“there are seven undesirable things seen in friends”, and lists one as, “a strong person who has never been ill”.  He says that people who are healthy and who have not been sick are not well-suited to be friends.  Why did he make such a statement?

In general, we learn to understand things through experience.  To know the suffering of illness, we first learn the pain and hardship of illness when we fall ill ourselves.  Similarly, it could be said that people having personally struggled with hardship and pain are better able to understand suffering and pain in others, and therefore, are kind and understanding.  Those who lack that kindness and understanding are said to be not appropriate as friends.  

For Shakyamuni Buddha, and other Masters, they taught the path to enlightenment, having the heart of sorrow through truly knowing the suffering and anxiety of people.  It is important to understand Buddha’s words, “Life is suffering”, from this viewpoint, and not to confuse his teachings of old age, illness, and death as a pessimistic teaching based on a negative perspective.  The underlying foundation of Buddha’s teaching is based on a deep view of the reality of life.  This view is born from the heart of deep sorrow, and transformed through enlightenment, to become the heart of compassion helping all people with comfort and courage.  Buddha’s serene pose illustrates this.  

   The poet Akio Murakami who passed away in his twenties wrote,

“Through illness I learned of something that was faster than light

Through illness I learned of something that was wider than the ocean

Through illness I learned of something that was deeper than the ocean. . .”

Written while suffering an illness in which he could not move his body even slightly due to paralysis, it shows us that there is an important view to looking at life.  The literary critic Shouichiro Kamei, who hails from Hokkaido like myself, has stated, “Anguish is the labour pain of humans to become reborn.”  There is no life without anguish, and people are able to understand themselves through their anguish.  According to him, through anguish, people’s eyes are opened to view life truly, resulting in the birth of a new human.

Shakyamuni Buddha makes clear the reality of humans in which we are drowning in the ocean of endless desire and sinking in the abyss of ignorance.  “Life is suffering” are words of the Buddha, as one who understood the reality of himself, as he was.  Through these words, I am now able to touch Buddha’s deep wisdom and boundless compassion.  How wondrous is the truth of enlightenment!  The poet probably felt that ‘wonder’ and wrote those words.  I think that to have “learned”, is an expression of joy at having awakened to the unattainable Truth.     Please continue to take good care of yourself.  Be safe, be kind, and be mindful.!

In gassho,

Tatsuya Aoki, Bishop
Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada