Now that we’ve set our clocks back to standard time, we live in darkness for a little longer each day. The sun shines less intensely and our own natural rhythms seem to slow just as the holiday season is upon us. Does the thought energize you, or do you feel you need a boost to power through? For many, the stresses brought on by this time of year can be draining. It’s useful to be aware of our changing spirits and also to realize that there are power sources at hand all the time if we care to connect.
Just as we only see stars at night though they’re always there in the sky, in a similar way, the compassion of life flows in and around us constantly but it might be more evident when our inner atmosphere is dark and gloomy. At times like this, even the briefest encounter can affect us in a big way for better or for worse. On one hand, it’s easy and perhaps even normal to allow ourselves simply to be caught up in the drama of our mind stories. When this happens we become trapped in a closed circuit we could call “Me, me, me.” This circuit depletes our energy quickly, especially when we act out on feelings of grasping, anger, aversion, and self-cherishing. Not only is it counter-productive for ourselves, but it also sucks the life force out of others we touch. Scary thought, but there are dysfunctional sparks flying all over our world as people blow their fuses because they aren’t paying attention.
Happily, glimmers of energy-giving light and warmth co-exist with us, too. No matter how brief, their effect is powerful, constructive and dynamic. Recently, I was waiting my turn in the optometrist’s office when such a moment occurred. It was a bare bones operation with two receptionists crammed into a tiny space along with a half-dozen seats filled with patients. A steady stream of people came through the door with one question or another. There were plenty of opportunities for things to get contentious, but the receptionists were not merely polite, they were so genuinely cheerful and kind that everyone in the room was smiling. It actually felt pleasant and relaxing to be there.
Moods can be contagious whether positive or negative, and they pack a lot of force. In a negative sense, they can be like bombs that detonate with huge explosions and cause bleak destruction. But positive encounters, even momentary casual ones, refresh like nothing else. A kind smile, an empathetic word, a well-placed expression of levity is a gift that can instantly turn another person’s darkness into light. It works even better if it’s a sincere exchange between beings—realizing our connection with others is enlightening and it frees us from the vicious circle of self. Then the power boost is lasting, and it reverberates out to still others and continues to spread.
It’s the holiday season! Thanksgiving: May we be grateful for the gift of life that we receive from all life, not only in tangible ways, but just as importantly through what is not always seen. Bodhi Day, when Shakyamuni Buddha awakened to Truth-Reality: Let us follow the dharma path, realizing that all life is interdependent and ever-changing. It is only in harmony and conjunction with “other” that we can flourish. And, understanding that there will be times of frustration, dis-ease, unsatisfactoriness and struggle, may we turn toward the light rather than succumbing to the dark. Christmas: Okay, let’s say it. In a socio-cultural sense, if not the religious, let’s celebrate the positive aspects of the tradition: May we exemplify the spirit of peace and oneness by doing our best to be kind, generous, and respectful to all beings. Remembering Buddhist dana, selfless giving, let us share what we can to celebrate our humanity. New Year: Looking back on 2017, may we realize how much we have received, especially in non-material ways, and at the same time, reflect on problems and difficulties we may have caused others (not only to people, but to the environment and other living beings). May our gratitude and mindfulness grow day by day. Ho-onko: Let us remember Shinran Shonin, who died on January 16, 1263, but lived his life sharing our Nembutsu teaching not only through words, but through his own example. Just as we are, imperfect though we are, we receive the infinite light of wisdom and immeasurable compassion of life. Upon reflection, may we be filled with gratitude and joy. Here is one of the verses Shinran wrote about the light of Amida:
The radiance of enlightenment, in its brilliance, transcends all limits;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of the Light of Purity.”
Once illuminated by this light,
We are freed of karmic defilements and attain emancipation.
[Hymns of the Pure Land #9, CWS, p. 326]
I bow my head in thanking you for another wonderful year together at SFVHBT. Along with my husband, Rev. Fumiaki Usuki, we wish you and yours peace, joy, and good health in the coming year.
Rev. Patricia Usuki