Living in Southern California, it is almost impossible to live without driving a car. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that I spend a lot of time inside a car and driving. Because of the many miles I have been driving over the years, every now and then I can’t help but to think about how wonderful driving is. I say wonderful because driving also means having to experience things like rush hour traffic, people cutting you off, getting lost, and a whole list of other assorted adventures, including getting you to your destination in hours instead of days.
How is all this possible?
I began to ask myself this question when I noticed how “orderly” driving really is. I began to notice these things on my way home one night. The headlights of the car lighted up the road ahead of me, and I realized that what we call “driving” is getting into a moving vehicle and following painted lines on the pavement. When we do this, we are somehow allowed to get to where we want to go. Simply incredible!
How did all this happen?
I suppose we can begin with the invention of the wheel. After this, I’m sure that people began to apply this new technology to all sorts of applications. Imagine how wonderful the wheel was. People no longer had to carry things. All they had to do now was push things. Even now, in our modern world of electronic convenience, we still use the wheel to help us make our daily lives easier and more care free. Remember when they first began to put wheels on suit cases? From this simple beginning someone came up with the idea of domesticating animals to pull these wheel bearing devices instead of having a human being pulling or pushing these things. Travel and transportation was greatly facilitated by this new idea.
Of course, using animals had its limitations. Animals did not always follow the directions of their drivers and animals could be frightened. Because of these limitations, someone came up with the idea of having horseless carriages. The idea of the car was born. Improvement after improvement was added to the automobile. Lights to allow the driver to drive at night, horns to warn pedestrians and other vehicles, wind shields, wipers for the windshields, turn indicator lights, internal combustion engines, bucket seats, power steering, standardized configuration so that things like steering wheels are all on the same side of the car regardless of what car you might be driving, places to put your cups down, locking doors, alarm systems, remote keyless entry systems, automatic transmissions, cruise control, seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes, navigators, and the list continues to grow.
Other ideas and technologies grew with the car to make driving more convenient. We have things like the “club,” “diamond” lanes for car pools, new fuel mixtures, signal lights, street names, free ways that are connected, inter-connected and that go every which way, road signs, maps that have drawings that correspond with the road signs allowing you to figure out which way to go, gasoline stations, rules and laws for driving, drivers’ licenses, paved roads, and even the painted lines. All these different things, all this human history just because someone somewhere came up with the idea of a three dimensional circle, the cylindrical thing we call a wheel. It is very difficult to imagine all this sometimes. Perhaps that is why it is so easy for us to take driving for granted.
Although it is sometimes difficult for us to fathom how much was involved in the development of the car, and motorized transportation, it is still possible for us to chart its development. However, it does seem that we tend not to bother ourselves with these “trivial” matters, and because of that it also becomes easy for us to take these things for granted. On the other hand, however, a whole world can open up to us when we stop to consider just how marvelous painted lines on a paved road really are.
If failing to consider all that is involved in the mechanical contrivance we call driving is easy, then it is even easier for us to fail to consider all that is involved in what we call life. Fortunately, just like noticing painted lines on a paved road can open up a new world for us, hearing Namo Amida Butsu — the fulfillment of the vow made by the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light (Amida Buddha) — opens us up to the universe we call life. When we do, we are allowed to discover why Jodo Shinshu Buddhists equate life with compassion: my life is supported and nurtured by countless lives, and is constantly being embraced by the infinite life we know as Namo Amida Butsu.
As a final comment, it is sometimes sad to see how we often fail to consider the importance of our own lives as we continue to run down the hill we call technological advancement. My observation of painted lines on paved roads, for example, is in marked contrast to what the 12th century Matsuwakamaru (Shinran Shonin) was able to see. In a poem attributed to him when he was nine years old, he writes:
The vain cherry blossom that believes there is a tomorrow; Will not the storm gale in the middle of the night?
Shinran Shonin was able to observe certain truths by looking at the trees. I, on the other hand, look at asphalt pavement. It is a world where mechanical and electronic things are easier for us to see and comprehend than the lives which surround and support us. Although our lives are definitely more convenient than the lives lived in the 12th century, it is also a life that we have given a dollar value to. I suppose this is part of living in the 20th and 21st centuries. In this automated, cement poured world we have created for ourselves it is comforting to know that we can still hear and say the same Namo Amida Butsu—the calling voice of Amida Buddha that reminds us about the sacredness of all life—the life that Shinran Shonin was able to hear and express through the Nembutsu those many centuries ago.
Rev. John Iwohara