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​​​An Appreciation of Life (Eitaikyo)

by Rev. John Iwohara

Passages on the Land of Happiness States:

I have collected true words to aid others in their practice for attaining birth, in order that the process be made continuous, without end and without interruption, by which those who have been born first guide those who come later, and those who are born later join those who were born before.  This is so that the boundless ocean of birth-and-death be exhausted. [Chapter on Transformed Buddha-Bodies and Lands Translation from "Collected Works of Shinran"].

I am quoting this particular passage for at least two reasons.  The first is because I have been asked to write about the meaning of "Eitaikyo" and the second because I wanted to help introduce some of the words found in the "Collected Works of Shinran."  Hopefully, by now, everyone has a copy of this collection.  Hopefully, too, the shrink wrap has been taken off, and the books of this two volume set do more than just sit on the shelf.  Although I say this, despite my role as a Jodo Shinshu priest I have to admit that the first book I reach for on the bookshelf is not always the "Collected Works of Shinran".  When I sometimes reach for another book and look at the Collected Works, I often smile to myself and think things like, "These two books sure are impressive."  Sometimes, when I look at the two books I also think, "Boy, I must be pretty smart having these books" and claim the knowledge found within the books as my own through association. Although the Collected Works are probably on my bookshelf more than they should be, I am not too embarrassed by this because you can learn a lot just by treating something with care and dignity.  Hopefully my kids will look at these books not as the "books not to read," but as the "books that contain a marvelous teaching that should be treated with utmost respect and care."

Despite all these qualifications, I do, nevertheless, pick up the Collected Works and start reading every now and then.  The words that I quoted at the beginning of the essay, for example, can be found on pate 291 in the concluding section of the Kyogyoshinsho.  The Kyogyoshinsho is the work that Shinran Shonin wrote for all of us who are seeking meaning and understanding in our lives.  Although the Kyogyoshinsho can give us insight into a life of meaning and understanding, it is not an easy test.  Because of this, the Kyogyoshinsho is very intimidating.  On the other hand, however, it is also a text filled with new discoveries for its reader.  I don't claim to know anything about the Kyogyoshinsho except that every time I open it, I am always challenged by it, and I am always rewarded by it.  It is a work that deserves to be treated with utmost respect and care.

I hope that everybody agrees with me that the Kyogyoshinsho and all the other writings found in the "Collected Works of Shinran" are worthy of our respect and care.  If we can agree to this, then I also hope that we can also discover the meaning of the Eitaikyo service, or a service held in the memory of those who helped to assure that even somebody like me could have the opportunity to meet with works such as the Kyogyoshinsho, and a service that allows me to see how I am a participant in the unfolding of the Nembutsu:  "Those who have been born first guide those who come later, and those who are born later join those who were born before.  This is so that the boundless ocean of birth-and-death be exhausted".

Like the Kyogyoshinsho, we cannot always know everything about the lives of those around us but we can, nevertheless, gain a deeper insight into life just by learning how to appreciate life with respect and dignity.  In learning how to do this, treating life with respect and dignity, we discover that those lives that help to make our past are not lives that died, but are lives that continue to share with us by helping to create the conditions by which we are able to meet with the Nembutsu.  In this assurance, our lives become one of constant discovery and one where we do not need to fear the inevitability of our own death.

This Dharma Message was reprinted from Dharma Talks of the Four Seasons No. 2, which is available for purchase from Hongwanji Place.  Rev. Iwohara is the resident minister at Gardena Buddhist Church.

Dharma Message- November 2017