Fall Ohigan 2009

Each of these bodhisattvas, following the virtues of the Mahasattva Samantabhadra, is endowed with the immeasurable practices and vows of the Bodhisattva Path, and firmly dwells in all the meritorious deeds. He freely travels in all the ten quarters and employs skillful means of emancipation. He enters the treasury of the Dharma of the Buddhas, and reaches the Other Shore.
Immeasurable Life Sutra

Today marks the opening of the Fall Ohigan season in Japanese Buddhism. In secular Japanese culture, this is also known as shūbun no hi (秋分の日), which is a time to visit family, pay respects to the ancestors and so on. In the past, I’ve talked about Ohigan a few times in a Buddhist context, so I won’t revisit that subject again.

For this fall ohigan, I thought I would quote from Rev. Tagawa’s book, Living Yogacara, as something to reflect on. In the opening page of the book he quotes a poem by a famous Chinese poet named Tao Yuanming (陶淵明) called “Drinking Wine”:

I built my hut amid the throng of men,
But there is no din of carriages and horses.
You ask me how this can be?
When the heart is remote, the earth stands aloof.
Plucking chrysanthemums by the eastern hedge,
I see afar the southern hills;
The mountain air is fine at sunset;
Flying birds return home in flocks.
In this return lies the real meaning;
I want to explain it, but I lose the words.
(trans. Charles A. Muller)

Then Rev. Tagawa of the Hossō sect, and original author of this book writes:

I was in my second year of high school when I was first introduced to this Chinese poem. Since that time, I have continued to re-read it from time to time, and whenever I do, a proverb comes to mind, which goes: “The great recluse hides himself in the city markets; the minor recluse hides in the deep mountains.” Our teacher, Mr. U., also taught us this proverb for the purpose of drawing out the meaning of the poem. I remember having been somewhat puzzled by its meaning at the time, but later on, after entering into the world of Buddhism, its meaning became increasingly clear.

He then goes on to explain:

While it is indeed the case that anyone who is practicing meditation in a Buddha-hall is seeking enlightenment as some sort of distant goal, the fact is that the temples, practice centers, and the Buddhist path do not exist for any purpose other than for us to fully understand ourselves exactly as we are here and now. Where we are now, as shown in Tao Yuanming’s poem—the hut in the midst of the world of people—is precisely our practice center, and so it doesn’t do us any good to try to escape from it. We should think about the Buddha-path and the meditation hall in the way of the great recluse who “withdraws to the city streets.” This is the main reason this poem resonates with me, and thus I continue to re-read it.

Ohigan is about crossing this “shore” of frustration, delusion and suffering to the “other shore” of awakening, peace of mind, and kindness, through the attainment of the Six Perfections. There is nothing physical to cross over, no threshold that you can measure progress with, and no title or badge to show off to your friends.

Instead, it’s something each person must work out in their own mind, lifetime after lifetime, with each small step helping you cross to the other “shore” that much further. This is not something to be achieved in weekend meditation retreats, or overpriced seminars. Instead it is something you strive toward, no matter how great or small the effort, everyday of your life to the very end and beyond.

Let us all follow in the same path. Expect nothing less of yourself for you have everything to gain. :)

Namo Shakyamuni Buddha

P.S. This week, in light of Ohigan, I’ll be doing a lot of Buddhist-themed posts. Hope you enjoy!

Be the first to like this post.

Leave a Reply

WordPress.com Logo
Twitter picture

You are commenting using your
Twitter account. (Log Out)

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your
Facebook account. (Log Out)

Connecting to %s