Minister's Message

May 2014


Rev. Masanori Watanabe 

I come to Santa Barbara once a month.  I always think that the weather and sky are wonderful in Santa Barbara. I enjoy the clear sky and warm sunlight. I can conduct a service comfortably because members clean the church every month.  I am thankful to all of them. 

There is a service to celebrate Shinran Shonin’s birth in May. It is said that Shinran Shonin’s birthday is May 21, 1173. When he was alive, the world was a world in upheaval. There were all kinds of disasters such as war, crop failure, earthquake, gale, great fire, and famine.  Hojo-Ki(方丈記) of Kamono Chomei(鴨長明), a monk who lived in this era, stated that he was able to count more than 42,000 dead bodies on the east side of Kyoto during a two month period. It is said that people were not able to pass on the road because of the dead bodies. Shinran Shonin was born and spent his childhood in this era. He probably saw that terrible situation. I assume he might have been trying to find a peace in Buddhism.

At that time, only persons of high status were allowed to study Buddhism. Since Shinran Shonin was from Fujiwara (藤原), a noble family, he was able to be ordained as a Tendai school monk at the age of nine.  He continued studying Buddhism for 20 years at Mount Hiei.

The Tendai school is famous for “Sennichi Kaihougyou(千日回峰行)”. This is an ascetic practice for practitioners who want to attain enlightenment. Practitioners must visit many spiritual places during a 1000-day period, walking about 25,000 miles (Almost the circumference of the Earth).

I can imagine Shinran Shonin’s training was very hard as well.  But he could not find a peaceful mind through ascetic training. Then he heard about Honen Shonin(法然聖人) who used to study at Mount Hiei.

Honen Shonin, 40 years older than Shinran Shonin, was called “Chie no Hounennbo(智慧の法然坊)”.  It means Honen of wisdom. In short, he was a kind of genius because he remembered all the Sutras by heart. He renounced his status of a great Tendai monk, and came down from Mount Hiei. He was propagating the Pure Land way to lay persons, recommending that they recite the Nembutsu. Shinran Shonin became interested in this teaching. At first he hesitated, but he then decided to visit Honen Shonin for 100 days and ask questions. Shinran Shonin was very moved by Honen Shonin’s teachings, so he became determined to be his disciple. Like Honen, Shonin came down from Mount Hiei, renounced his status as a Tendai monk and devoted his life to the Pure Land Way.

A that time, the Tendai school and other traditional schools had the blessings of the Court, so renouncing his status as a Tendai monk meant becoming like a mendicant. In spite of this, he rejoiced in Honen’s teachings and propagated the way to recite the Nembutsu to every day people. Shinran Shonin expressed his feelings in “Tannisho(歎異抄) that; 

“As for me, I simply accept and entrust myself to what my revered teacher told me,

 “Just say the Nembutsu and be saved by Amida”; nothing else is involved.” 

Since then, Shinran Shonin spent his life among lay people reciting Namo Amida Butsu.

We can listen to Shinran Shonin’s teachings now, more than 800 years after his birth, thanks to those who protected the teachings and temples. It is a wonderful thing.

There is a special service to celebrate Shinran Shonin’s birthday called “Goutan-E” in May. Please come to the temple.

                                                                                                   Namu Amida Butsu

April 2014

Hana Matsuri

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 This is my first spring season in California.  Santa Barbara’s weather is great and I enjoy driving to the church with a view of the beautiful ocean from Oxnard to Santa Barbara.

Speaking of spring, as a Buddhist, we think of Hana Matsuri during this time.  In Japan, we celebrate Buddha’s birthday on April 8th by pouring sweet tea on the small Buddha statue.  This custom comes from the legendary story that sweet rain fell because everyone in the world celebrated the birth of Buddha.  I remember I used to go to the temple with my mother and pour sweet tea on the statue when I was small.  Afterwards I could eat some snacks.   I didn’t know much about Buddhist teachings at that time but I liked going to the temple because all the temple members were nice and I got to eat all the delicious foods there.

I wasn’t that close to the temple while I was in my teens and 20s.  I felt that   gods and Buddhas were just fairy tales and had nothing to do with me.  But, in my 30s, I had an opportunity to study Jodo Shinshu Buddhism and realized the nobility of true wisdom that Buddhism teaches.  For example, in Shoshinge, Shinran Shonin explains that Amida Buddha, for whom we put our hands together, is “just like sunshine”.  We usually receive limitless benefits from sunshine.  We can not live without it.  But how much do we appreciate it?  Don’t we take the benefits that we get to live, for granted, and instead, count what we don’t have, and keep complaining?  Because of the wisdom of Buddhist teachings, I realized that it doesn’t matter what I “don’t have” but that I “have” endless support and countless benefits, so I get to live.  After all, by turning my point of view 180 degrees, my life with complaints changed to a life of joy in realizing how much my life is fulfilled by a lot of things.  I feel this is the great thing about Buddhism...that this wisdom changes suffering to joy.  Even though human suffering will be never-ending, Buddha’s wisdom is always watching over us and lets us realize what the important things are, while trying to take away the suffering.  We thank Shakyamuni Buddha for his birth and sharing his teachings, even 2,500 years after he was born.  

We are thankful to receive Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching through celebrating his birth, and have a great and healthy day everyday.

Namo Amida Butsu

March 2014

Nirvana Day and Ohigan

Rev. Masanori Watanabe

 It's been three months since I was assigned as the minister of Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara.  I've been doing fine because of all of your help.  I appreciate the temple and temple members for giving me the opportunity to connect through the Buddha Dharma.

 February 15th is the day Sakyamuni Buddha passed away.  Before his passing, he went to a place called Kusinagara and lay down between two trees. He told his students, “Make yourself a light. Rely upon yourself. Make my teachings your light.  Rely upon Buddha Dharma”.  He was telling all the people in the world that he is with you through Buddha Dharma even after his passing.

 It's been about 2,500 years since his passing. I feel that the problems that people are facing nowadays are still the same or even more complicated.  Like Sakyamuni Buddha said, I think now is the time we need to follow the teaching of Buddha.

 March is the season of the spring equinox. In Japan, we see people visiting their cemetery during this season. I had lived in Hiroshima for a long time and used to see the gravestone that's written “倶会一処 (Kue Issho)“.  This is the phrase from the Sutra on Amida Buddha and means “We will meet again in the Pure Land.”  This is a message from the deceased saying “We will be apart for a while but we will definitely meet again. I will always be watching over you as Buddha”. 

It is so fortunate that I get to live peacefully through the teachings of Buddha with the feeling of appreciation for Sakyamuni Buddha, Amida Buddha, and all the people who became Buddha who are watching over us every day.

 Namu Amida Butsu