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  • Writer's pictureSweet Orange

#30 おかげさま(3)Thankfully (Okagesama) 3

Rev. Kodo Tanaka 田中孝道

Title: Thankfully (Okagesama) 3


How is “a person” depicted in both English and Japanese? In English, the subject of a person is always “I”, which consists of “one” line standing. It may be because he/she is independent as an individual created by God. In Japanese, a person (hito) is depicted as “人”, which looks like two lines leaning against each other. This glance may tell us that no one can live alone. But let us think of this appearance as that no phenomenon consists of a single condition. 

How about a phenomenon, “I see things.”? Why can I see things? Is this only because I have eyes? No, my eyes can see because there is light. What about flowers? You cannot make a flower bloom if you plant a seed and just leave it. It needs sunlight, rain, and good soil to sprout. A sprout also needs a stable condition to receive sunlight, rain, and good soil to blossom. A seed is a cause and a flower is its effect. In between the relation of this “cause and effect”, there are such conditions as the sun, rain, and good soil, that support a seed to grow. In Buddhism, these conditions are called “en(縁)” and all phenomena in this world are regarded as “en-gi(縁起 Phenomena that arise by conditions )”, which is subject to change depending on conditions. 

However, as there are days of draught or long rain, conditions for a flower to bloom are not always provided. As long as the same condition is not constantly present, the phenomena are not always the same, either. This idea is called “shogyo mujo”, “All things must pass or arise, subject to the internal/external conditions, which of course applies to our human lives. Once we are born into this world, we gradually grow old, suffer an illness, and die. We cannot live without being influenced by such conditions as aging, illness, and death that are originally equipped for our lives. 

In addition, many external conditions would unexpectedly hit us, such as natural disasters, traffic accidents, and so forth. No one knows what would happen tomorrow by the change of conditions behind the scene. No matter how much we enjoy meeting with friends today, nothing can guarantee that there would be a next one in the future. 

Have you ever regretted upon hearing someone’s death like, “In the end, that party long ago turned out to be the last time I met him.”? When the aforementioned Buddhist idea of “shogyo mujo” is applied, one meeting may always become the last in our lifetime. In Japanese, this idea is called “ichi-go ichi-e,” teaching that “every meeting can be once in a lifetime”. Have you ever wondered why people in Japan keep standing outside to see their guests off till they turn the corner and get out of sight? I think this may be a good example of how the idea of “ichi-go ichi-e” is put into practice. 

Let us move on to a question, “What made me exist in this world?” From the perspective of Western monotheistic religions, it is because God created. On the other hand, if seen from Buddhism, which upholds the aforementioned teaching of “en-gi”, this is because there are parents. But the parents are not adults from the start. They were babies as well and had another pair of parents who raised them. Please try counting the number of individuals who made it possible for you to be born, like 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16, 32… and ascend 10 generations. How many individuals do you think are there? It is 1,024, all of who are related from the past to your present life. It does not end at the 10th generation and goes on. It is immeasurable. 

I, by the way, am a parent of two daughters. It is sorry, but my daughters are the sweetest of all children in the world. I must be nothing but a doting parent, but I believe I am not the only one. All parents wish their child(ren) to grow healthy, scold when the child(ren) makes wrong conduct, and watch over the child(ren) patiently when in trouble. I think that all parents, in their own experiences of parenting, would have been made to realize, “In my childhood days, I, too, grew receiving these feelings of my parent(s)!”. This love and affection, worries and patience, are not something that should vanish after the child(ren) becomes an adult. 

“Why do you hold a memorial service for the deceased after many years he/she is gone?” 1,024 individuals in 10 generations of your ancestry are not only the matter of bloodline and family lineage but also the succession of this love and affection, worries and patience, passed on from a parent to child, generation to generation. This is ancestry from the perspective of Buddhism. There is an old Japanese saying that goes, “If you are delighted to see the flower blossoms, think about the root in the ground that made it happen.” It teaches us that to respect the preceding conditions of your life is to embrace your present life. 


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