Shaku Zen Dou-The Shakyan, “Good Guide”
Funeral Dharma Talk for Jenny Setsuko Nishimura

“Amida Buddha surrounds all human beings, and indeed all forms of life, with infinite love and compassion. Particularly does he send forth loving thoughts to those in suffering and sorrow, to those in doubt and ignorance, to those who are striving to attain truth and to those whose feet are standing close to that great change we call death. He sends to all oceans of wisdom and compassion.”

Jenny Setsuko Nishimura was steeped in the truth of this quote.

She lived it and passed it on selflessly to others. Even with her passing into nirvana, the truth of this saying continues to resonate in our hearts. This is because of her life of selfless service---all 99 years of it. I know she would like to have celebrated her 100th birthday in June of 2009. But we may continue to celebrate her life as the karmic forces of love and service do not fade away. In that way we are to be reminded that she will never be separated from us.

Others, today, will later share with us many reflections on her life. I would like to share now just a few of my own experiences with her:

As you know, I visited her on many occasions at the Tuxedo Elder Care facility. However, I discovered that there were several of our members who visited her every week, regularly. Further, I discovered that one of her relatives brought Jenny from BC where she was all alone in an elder care facility in that province. Then I will never forget the time that our Dharma School students visited her for a service and a party.

All of this gave me an insight into the heart of our wonderful community. It is one of quiet unassuming caring that needs no accolades, no pats on the back. It just gets done whether anyone is aware of it or not. But then how could one respond otherwise to the life of this special person, Shaku Zen Dou?

Jenny (left) and husband (3rd from left) (courtesy Naomi Miyai)

While serving as the wife of our first minister, Rev. Hideo Nishimura, she taught 100’s of Dharma Students. She started a Japanese language school. Also there was flower arranging and the art of Japanese tea. Jenny was also part of the movement to get Japanese stage productions in our own temple. We saw clips of the plays on our stage during the celebration of our 60th anniversary, if you remember. Then, too, there were the Japanese films she hosted in her home, this very otera, where she and her husband and two cats lived together.

The Nishimura’s also drove around Winnipeg every Holiday Season in December to be sure that all the kids in the Dharma School would have a present on that special day. She told me that she and her husband never had children of their own. Every child that happened to come through the door of the temple was immediately adopted as one of her many Dharma off-springs. In that sense, most of the people in the temple are her off-spring in a special way.

Of importance to her, too, were the two cats who lived in the temple with her and her husband. They guarded the temple and kept Jenny company, while her husband worked full time in a box factory. The two cats were cremated and their ashes placed on her personal altar. The two thus shared in her daily devotions. When she transferred from BC to Manitoba, she requested that the small urns be buried on the grounds of her temple-home. This we did about 6 years ago during our pet day celebrations. So in some way, the two cats still guard the temple.

In the days when most women did not work outside the home, Mrs. Nishimura welcomed women who frequented the temple. There was an active coming and going at the temple every day. She was so welcoming that the ambience still characterizes the temple atmosphere.

Those were the days in the history of the temple when it was the centre of the community. The community built the temple, their beloved otera, with their own hands, literally. Many would plan their vacations so they could spend them working at the temple. Some of the men worked out of town during the week, but journeyed to Winnipeg late Friday evening, then left again very early Monday morning to return to work many km outside Winnipeg. The elders of our temple today regard this time in our history as the Golden Era of the temple.

The Nishimuras' hospitality even extended beyond Winnipeg. I received an e-mail from Kuni Ikuta in Vancouver, who had to train as a jeweller for four months here in Winnipeg. This was many years ago, 1965. Jenny found a place for him to live, fed him every day and generally looked after his needs during those months. She did this in an uncomplicated spirit of naturalness, called in our teachings jinen. There were many similar examples of this jinen in her service to our community. She did practice the truth of the old saying, “In serving each other, we are saved.”

It seems to me that people were not only dedicated to their culture and the Buddha Dharma of the nembutsu, which they surely were, but they were also trying, in some way, to match the energy of the whole Nishimura family, all four of them. I say all four because after all we would not want to ignore the work of the two cats on behalf of the temple, now would we? So, the community made an effort to respond in a typical Buddhist fashion, trying to give back in balance to what been so freely given in the first place.

So Mrs. Nishimura was indeed a true zenshishiki in the Japanese or, kalyanamitra in the Buddha’s language. That is to say, “—good teacher friend-a good guide”, as her name Shaku Zen Dou implies.

I would like to close by reading one of Shinran’s Wasan:

“When a person realizes the mind of non-discrimination, that is the attainment called, “regarding each being as one’s own only child.”

This is nothing other than Buddha Nature. We will all awaken to it when we reach the "Land of Peace.”
Reflecting on this Wasan will aid us in comprehending what this life means to our community—that was the life of Jenny Setsuko Nishimura, now Shaku Zen Dou.


In Gassho

Sensei Ulrich

January 25, 2009