I recently had the privilege of accompanying fifteen BCA youth to Japan for the biennial Young Buddhist International Cultural Study Exchange (YBICSE) program. First stop: Kyoto, where we stayed at the sprawling campus of Nishi Hongwanji, our head temple. On the first morning, the group met counterparts from Hawaii, Canada and Brazil. In no time, they mixed amicably together as they engaged in a variety of activities.
Some had been to Japan before, but regard¬less, the opportunities to experience something new were limitless. Though I had lived and worked at this very place and was happy to return after a long hia¬tus, it was even more refreshing to see it through the eyes of our charges, whose curiosity and enthusiasm was contagious. It was inspiring that some of them chose to attend the six a.m. morning services, doing their best to sit seiza, Japanese style, on the tatami for such a long time. After the services, they asked questions and wanted to know what the dharma mes¬sages were about. I felt that they had open minds and hearts about everything, taking nothing for granted. Some even noted a warm sense of familiar-ity that surprised them.
During the first week, they were billeted out in twos and threes to the temple homes of ministers in the area where they experienced daily life, local touring, and best of all, according to those I polled, wonderful home-cooking that included dishes they had never tried before.
The trip also involved a cultural exchange with students at the Hongwanji-affiliated Heian High School; a foray to Hiroshima to pay respects at the Betsuin and the Peace Park and museum; as well as a final few days in Tokyo. Everywhere we went, it was such a joy to witness the positive air of adventure, curiosity, and discovery that the group exuded. It made me want to share all that I could with them, feeling honoured that causes and conditions had brought me to walk this tiny part of the path in their company. Just as their experiences will inform them as they go forward in their lives, all that they are, including their sincere and uplifting perspectives, have indelibly touched me too.
One never knows where their paths may lead, for we all move in the flow of great life. Some may eventually be brought to become lay leaders or even ministers. For everyone, regardless of our ages, life events and opportunities will arise that are beyond imagining. The question is, will we choose to be open to new encounters and experiences without allowing the cynical, know-it-all mind of preconceived ideas and habit to blind us? Will we receive the joy of discovering the infinite inputs to our ever-changing selves, or will we be stuck in the dull morass of “same old, same old”? Shunryu Suzuki famously wrote, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
Though we cannot control the trajectory of our lives exactly as we may wish, we can certainly choose our perspectives. My wish for all, not only for myself, is that at our last breath, we will be able to rejoice in a life well-lived, having engaged open-heartedly with things just as they are, and realizing that we are one with this beautiful world, just as we are. How comforting it would be to experience the Namo Amida Butsu of deep and sincere gratitude arising from immeasurable life.
Rev. Patricia Usuki