“Happy New Year” is a greeting we are all familiar with. We all seem to know not only how, but when to say these words. It may not seem a big enough deal to write about, but I am constantly amazed at what we as a society are able to do sometimes. Society, for example, helps us to maintain our culture. Our culture informs much of what we do. For example, we know to say, “Happy New Year!” What we do defines much of who we are. Being who we are, in turn, helps to create the society we all participate in. A lot is going on even in something as simple as a New Year’s greeting.
How does a society decide what to keep as part of its culture? How does this knowledge get passed on? Although I am not prepared to answer my own question, part of the process that makes all this possible is what we have come to call, “tradition.” Tradition is a very important part of institutions, and in particular religious institutions like our Venice Hongwanji. We preserve these traditions because it helps connect us to our past. This definition of tradition, however, is looking at tradition in only one direction. Tradition is also a part of the path to a shared future. Because tradition honors the past and gives us a direction towards the future it also helps us to understand how important “today” is.
It is a today that asks us, “What is worth protecting?” and “What is worth passing on?” It is also, hopefully, a today that helps us to see what it is that we have received and a today that reminds us of our responsibility to pass it forward. Helping us to understand, realize and appreciate the importance and rarity of this moment we call today is the reason why our temple works so hard to share the Nembutsu.
One of the final passages quoted by Shinran Shonin in his Kyogyoshinsho is:
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.
(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 291)
In ending the Kyogyoshinsho and passing on the Nembutsu teaching, we are being asked to begin living our lives with the Nembutsu.
Rev. John Iwohara