#36 おかげさま（6）Thankfully (Okagesama) 6
Rev. Kodo Tanaka 田中孝道
Title: Thankfully (Okagesama) 6
We all embrace ourselves more than anyone as described in the legend of Sakyamuni Buddha’s birth “I alone am most noble,” and it is true for all of us. It is called “otagai-sama” in Japanese (“everyone’s the same”). At the same time, we all exist being supported by countless exterior conditions both vertically (ancestry) and horizontally (lives of other living beings). It is called “okage-sama,” meaning that we exist “thanks to whomever and whatever.” If so, the truth of our life should be that to embrace others is to embrace yourself, and to disregard others is to disregard yourself. No one can live only prioritizing one’s circumstances because all others have their own as well. If based upon this truth, we all are encouraged to exercise acts of thoughtfulness to others, verbally and physically. The metal attitude behind these actions is called “omoi-yari” in Japanese; to put others first. However, it is a different matter whether we can exercise acts of thoughtfulness or not, even though we recognize the aforementioned truth. It is already too easy and comfortable to embrace one’s self. Don’t we tend to forget the spirit of “omoi-yari” being occupied by our matters most of the time, such as blaming others for one’s failure, disregarding memorial anniversaries of our families and friends, and wasting food?
Let us assume this truth of “okage-sama” a wallet sank at the bottom of a pond and our hearts the pond. If this pond ripples with muddy water, the wallet is impossible to be seen. It is the state of our mind that is occupied by our own business. Unable to see the truth at the bottom being obstructed by muddy water, the speech and action expressed from this state of mind should be in disaccord with the truth. For us to face the truth, we need first to calm down the ripple of the pond and clear the water in it, for the wallet at the bottom to be seen.
This is why Buddhism promotes many practices that accompany the participation of our verbal and physical actions. This tradition is called “butsu-do” (Buddhist Path) which encourages one to lead his/her life with a certain practice to nurture the purity and calmness in their hearts. In Jodo Shu, Nembutsu, the recitation of “Namu Amida Butsu” is the very practice that is encouraged to exercise not once but a lifetime. One should not stop reciting it but continue it each day, just like keep walking. Because one walks, there comes a path.
For instance, if you clean your room, it becomes tidy only temporary. Because dust never stops accumulating, your room wears dirt again. The cleanliness is unable to be maintained without cleanups regularly, and because you continue cleaning the room you notice the dirt. This theory can be seen in many aspects of Japanese culture, such as the art of tea serving and flower arrangement, and martial arts of judo and karate. All aforementioned arts accompany the act of making a bow to each other, even against the opponent, at the beginning and end of their performance or match. The purpose of these arts is not to train their practitioners to acquire the skills and techniques to show off or compete but to encourage them to bring calmness to their hearts with the truth of “okage-sama” in mind. Even in our daily lives in Japan, it seems symbolic that the word “itadaki-masu” before taking meals always accompanies both the vocalization of the word and physical acts of pressing the palms of our hands together in front of our chest with making a bow. If you are Japanese, you would notice your head bowing naturally once you say “arigato (thank you)” or “gomen-nasai (I am sorry)”. This tradition teaches us the importance of cultivating our inner self by putting verbal and physical acts into practice every day. This, I think, is the philosophy of walking one’s “path” through his lifetime.
Through the past six columns, I have introduced the Buddhist view of humanity seen in Japanese customs and culture. I think that this was only possible when compared with another unique culture: American society. If we Japanese would prioritize the islander way of thinking too far that “people should be the same” without looking at ourselves objectively, Japanese society would become a difficult place where its residents are constantly forced to live under the pressure to adapt to a majority. Likewise, if the idea of this western multi ethnical society, individual freedom, would be prioritized too far, our local society would also become a difficult place filled with selfishness and egoism. However, in reality, both cultures have many good aspects, that should contribute to each other. All our experiences in a different culture should contribute to our society, either in US or Japan. I wish to thank Sweet Orange and its readers and hope you enjoyed the article. Thank you.