There is always a light in the darkness and there is always hope for transformation and change.
Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! Hauoli Makahiki Hou! Welcome to the New Year! Thank you for attending our very first Shusho-e New Year’s Day Service. The transition from one year to another is a time of reflection, rededication, and celebration. During our New Year’s Eve Service last night we reflected upon the past year and the numerous causes and conditions which enabled us to live and to grow. And as is tradition we ring out the old year with Joya no Kane. This ringing of the temple bell is a symbolic release of our 108 bonno, or attachments and delusions which permeate our daily lives. It’s a wonderful way to prepare ourselves for the coming year.
So today on the first day of the New Year, we gather to celebrate the opportunities and possibilities in store for us on this journey of life that we are on. We also come to give thanks for the infinite wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha working in our lives. And we rededicate ourselves to learning, living, and sharing the Dharma together as ‘Ohana.
Many people feel that the New Year is a time for blessings to ensure good health, prosperity, or other good wishes for the coming year. It is only natural to wish for these things but are only positive outcomes in life ever guaranteed? Shakyamuni Buddha taught that all things in life are impermanent, that each of us and all things in the universe are subject to constant change. So good fortune and misfortune are simply part of our lives which will come and go. This is the important lesson of impermanence that we should understand, that both the good and the bad times in our lives will not remain forever. That there is always a light in the darkness and there is always hope for transformation and change.
This is the promise of the Dharma. The Buddha’s Teachings help us to understand and to manage life with greater kindness, compassion, and equanimity. In the Pure Land Path of Shinran, the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu, is a promise from Amida Buddha to embrace and never to abandon. The Nembutsu is the true blessing that we constantly receive every single day of 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.
The Nembutsu is truly the path of “no hindrance” as described in the Tannisho. According to Shinran:
Practicers of nembutsu walk the single path of no hindrance. Why is it so? The reason is that to the practicers of nembutsu who entrust themselves to the Vow, the gods of heaven and the gods of earth reverently bow, and to them, no evil spirits or no followers of other faiths can cause obstruction, and that no evil acts can bear karmic fruit in them, and no good acts can surpass the virtue of nembutsu.
As practicers of nembutsu, we are ordinary foolish beings who are embraced by Amida’s Primal Vow which is the promise of liberation and Buddhahood. Because our ultimate spiritual destiny is assured, we can live this present life with all of its ups and downs with greater confidence and courage each new day. This is the benefit of shinjin or the entrusting heart which is given to us by Amida Buddha.
The nembutsu is the ultimate blessing in our lives which allays our anxieties and uncertainties. According to the late Dr. Alfred Bloom:
Shinran, as did Shakyamuni Buddha, rejected superstitious belief and practices which traded on fear. Both Shinran and Shakyamuni Buddha regarded religion as a source of spiritual liberation and emancipation, rather than a way to control people through fear. For Shinran, religion was a power for living. He transformed the traditional Pure Land teaching, which focused on the afterlife, to a way of living positively and meaningfully in this world with oneself and with one’s companions in life and faith.
In Buddhism, every day is a new day to begin again. When we entrust in the Buddha and live the Dharma the spirit and blessings of the New Year are always with us each and every day.
As we journey through this year let us reflect on the words of Shinran from the Hymns of the Pure Land (Jodo Wasan):
When we say Namu Amida Butsu
Which surpasses all other virtues,
All our heavy evil karmas in the past, present and future,
Will without fail become light and small. (98)
When we say Namu Amida Butsu,
The four great heavenly gods all together
Always protect us night and day
And keep evil deeds away from us. (101)
When we say Namu Amida Butsu,
Kannon and Seishi
Together with other Bodhisattvas as countless as the sands of the Ganges or dust particles,
Accompany us just as our shadows do. (108)
May your journey in the New Year be illuminated by the light of great wisdom and compassion. Namo Amida Butsu.
 Toshikazu Arai, Grasped by the Buddha’s Vow: A Translation and Commentary on Tannisho (Berkeley, CA: Buddhist Churches of America Center for Buddhist Education, 2008), 47.  Alfred Bloom, Strategies for Modern Living: A Commentary with the Text of the Tannisho (Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1992), 79.  Arai, Grasped by the Buddha’s Vow: A Translation and Commentary on Tannisho, 49–50.