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Our Pledge, Our Values: Sharing Aloha

Living our values daily is the antidote to the moral crisis our country is facing and is the way to transform our troubled world.

During the spring equinox, we celebrate Ohigan. This transition from one season to another is a time for reflection and reminds us of the values which ground our lives. Ohigan translates as “the other shore” and is a spiritual metaphor for crossing from the shore of greed, anger, and ignorance to the other shore of enlightenment. During Ohigan we reflect on the bodhisattva path and the six activities of generosity, discipline, patience, energy, meditation, and insight. The practice of these paramitas is said to be transformative because they allow us to transcend the narrow perspective of our ego-self. Articulating our Buddhist values in clear everyday language is essential to sharing the Dharma. Living our values daily is the antidote to the moral crisis our country is facing and is the way to transform our troubled world.

In our Dharma gatherings since the start of the year, we have been reciting a new reading that was written by Gomonshu Kojun Ohtani called Our Pledge. Just like the Golden Chain and the Shinshu Pledge, this reading summarizes our values as Shin Buddhists and is a reminder of our way of living. Our Pledge is aspirational and affirms our commitment to living these values in response to the Buddha’s benevolence. It helps to articulate how we can live in gratitude.

Gomonshu asked each of our districts to translate his words into a form relevant and appropriate to our communities. A committee of our local ministers got together and worked hard to create the “Hawaii Version” that we are using today.

Last month, I began introducing the meaning of Our Pledge and covered the first two verses which articulate how we can live with aloha. The final two verses remind us how we should share aloha with others.

The third verse of Our Pledge says:

Moving forward from self-centeredness,

I will share a life of joy and sorrow with others.

Just like the Buddha, whose caring heart always embraces us.

The Buddha taught us that all our problems come from our self-centeredness when we think that only oneself is important. This is the delusion of ignorance when we think that “Me” is the only thing that matters. The Dharma teaches us that “Me” should really become “We”. The idea of “Self” is important in American culture. However, focusing only on oneself leads to disharmony and suffering. We discover our true selves only when we realize the truth of interdependence.

There are many examples of self-centeredness in our society. Many of our business and political leaders perpetuate the myth of the “self-made” individual. This is the corrosive and destructive American myth which says that everything that I am is because of me alone…separate from everyone and everything. The Dharma teaches us that this is a lie. This is delusion and ignorance in its most basic form.

What is true and real is understanding that “We” are in this life together. Our founder Shinran, taught that we are ondobo ondogyo or “fellow travelers”. This is why in my aspiration each week I remind us of this way of viewing our lives together as one Sangha, one family.

The Dharma teaches us to broaden our perspective and to identify with and to try to understand another person’s situation. We are unable to perfectly understand another person’s perspective because we are not the same. However, we can try to empathize and think of others guided by the truth of interdependence and Buddha’s boundless compassion which has no distinction between self and others. Because we are fellow travelers, we share in the fullness of life together. Just like how the Buddha is with us throughout our lives. Namo Amida Butsu holds us in both our joys and our sorrows and transforms our ignorance into wisdom, our greed into generosity, and our anger into love. Namo Amida Butsu can help us meet life’s challenges with greater courage, comfort, and peace. Temple is a place for our whole lives. The Buddha is always with us, the Dharma is always guiding us, and the Sangha is always there to support us.

The final verse of Our Pledge says:

Realizing that I live because of others,

I will strive to live life to the fullest with an attitude of gratitude.

Just like the Buddha, who promises to embrace us all.

It is important for us to realize that we cannot live without the support of others and the Buddha’s limitless compassion. When things go as we wish, life is sweet, and we tend to take things for granted. When things don’t go as we plan, and life is bitter, we tend to dwell in despair. It is important to know that we are all connected and there is always somebody and something behind our accomplishments and all our life experiences. The definition of gratitude in Buddhism is to know what has been done for us. This is expressed in the Japanese phrase of okagesamade.

Our Shin Buddhist way of life is a life of awareness and gratitude. When we realize that we are living thanks to the support and help of others, we should try to respond to this generosity. The idea of I am what I am because of you will guide us to appreciate a life supported by others. All our actions should arise from gratitude in response to the Buddha’s benevolence.

Understanding okagesamade is the foundation for sharing aloha with others. Reflect on the verses of Our Pledge and see how they can inspire deep reflection and grateful action in response to the Buddha’s boundless compassion. This is how to truly live the teachings. Namo Amida Butsu.


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