New Year’s Greetings from the Bishop

Rejoicing in this peaceful day, I bow before the Buddha in gratitude
(Translation of verse from Raisan-ka, Praise of Amida)

Bishop Ikuta with Sarana participants at the Manitoba Buddhist Temple

The beginning of the new year is traditionally a time for us to send out greetings to our family and friends, wishing them a “Happy New Year”. Yet at times, it seems to be getting harder and harder to wish someone a “Happy” New Year when we see all the turmoil and suffering going on throughout the world.

Just yesterday alone, I saw a news report on the firing of the long range rocket by North Korea, which they claim for the purpose of sending a satellite into orbit. The Western Nations are condemning this act as they feel it is only a front for the testing of long range missiles, heightening tensions being felt amongst the neighbouring countries.

In an unrelated story, I saw a news report on the debris created by the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan in 2011. The report stated that from the beginning of 2013, the west coast of USA and Canada will be overcome by a deluge of debris which has travelled across the Pacific Ocean to reach North America. Estimates for the amount of debris expected range from anywhere between 14 million tons up to possibly as much as 25 million tons of debris. In fact, there has never been any recorded data of so much floating debris being produced in such a short span that the scientists are even in the dark as to what effect it will have on our coastlines. The best case scenario is that the vast majority of the debris will have filtered out to the bottom of the sea, where it will be broken down over time with minimal effects both financially as well as ecologically. In the worst case scenario, scientists are fearing that the vast amount of plastic material that was washed away be the tsunami will eventually enter our food change causing serious damages to not only wildlife, but to our own health as well.

These are only a couple of random news items which I happened to catch yesterday. Aside from this, there is still ongoing unrest in the Middle East, there is ongoing tension between Japan and China over territorial claims, and the list of worrisome news items seem to go on and on.

In such a world of chaos and uncertainty, it is important for us to try to find peace in the New Year. Reflecting on this, I’d like to share with you a story of how I spent my New Year’s when I was still a student studying in Japan. It was one of the first years I was in Japan; I spent the New Years at my mother’s home temple in Kyoto. On New Year’s Eve, the family has a tradition beginning with a service at the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve. First, we gathered in the main Hondo of the temple and held a service before the shrine of Amida Buddha. Then, the whole family moved to the family Buddhist Altar room where a short service was held in front of their own personal shrine.

At the end of the service we sang together one verse from a Gatha (Buddhist Song). Having not heard this particular song growing up in Canada, I had no idea where it came from, or what it was about. Subsequently, I found out the song is titled “Raisan-ka”, which is translated as “Song of Praise (to Amida)” and the particular verse that my mother’s family sang is the third verse of the song, written by Lady Kinuko Ohtani, the mother to Zen Mon Sama, Kosho Ohtani. “Raisan-ka” has become one of my personal favourite Gathas as it always reminds me of the New Year’s service at my mother’s home temple. More importantly, this simple verse reminds us how we, as Jodo Shinshu followers can lead our life daily. Rather than thinking about the course of a whole year, it is important to be mindful of the moment, understanding peace comes about when we realize that no matter what is happening in our lives, we are within the Great Compassion of the Oneness of the Universe which is defined by Amida Buddha. What a wonderful year it would be if we were all were able to do as Lady Ohtani stated, “Rejoicing in this peaceful day, I bow before the Buddha in gratitude”.

As we usher in the year 2013, may I thank you for sharing the Nembutsu path during the past year and may you have a meaningful year embraced in the power of Namu Amida Butsu.

In Gassho,
Grant Ikuta, Bishop
Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada