Life of Birth and Death
Shou-ji (birth and
death): this is one of those strange Buddhist terms that is a compound of two
polar opposites. It is like the strange expression "emptiness is form, and
form is emptiness." How can emptiness be form? How can form be emptiness?
Although we may be able to understand how life and birth are similar terms, how
can death be life? We view birth as the opposite of death, and death as the opposite
of life; yet, Buddhism puts the two terms together, despite the obvious contradiction,
to create a new word to describe the world we live in, the world of samsara, the
world of suffering.
To be perfectly honest, the reason why I began writing
this "article" is because I had nothing to write about. I have been
thinking about what to write for weeks now, and have been staring into this monitor
for so long now that my eyes are beginning to hurt. I have been at the Vista Buddhist
Temple (VBT) for only a year and already I am "dry." It is a terrible
feeling when you look inside and discover there is nothing there. This is especially
bad when I stop to consider all the different things the temple has done because
I am here as the "new minister."
During this first year at the VBT,
the temple has begun many different things. Dues have been doubled; the Dharma
School has been re-organized; we have a new suggestions box and a new membership
board in the lobby area; we have a new filing cabinet, a new clock radio, a new
bulletin board, a new white board, a new computer, and a new hanamatsuri/obon
file in the office; we have a wedding committee now; we have started a cook book
project; we have started the "get your artwork viewed" program; and
we have started a temple home page. Except perhaps the raise in dues, of all the
new things that have been started the one that gets the most attention is probably
the home page.
One of the assumed goals or benefits of the home page is "outreach."
With this new technology the temple is now able to reach the world and help introduce
Jodo Shinshu to the global community. When I began to think about this great new
"ability," I also began to notice the great contradiction. Here I am
sitting in front of a computer monitor and staring into its magnetic fields with
the potential to interact with the entire world. Despite or because of this huge
power, I have been made blind and deaf to all that is around me right here, right
now. I can touch the entire world now, and yet I have been unable or unwilling
to hear the spring singing just outside the office door. Instead of going out
and actually meeting people, I find that I sit all day in front of a box. This
is the great contradiction: I am able to reach out and touch the world, but in
the process may have forgotten how to touch my neighbor.
From this experience
I am better able to understand why people want to simply "chuck" it
all. Go back to one's roots. Dress the grunge thing. I can understand this because
every now and then I find myself wanting to simply "chuck" it all. What
I'm doing isn't really real. Or, is it? Should I simply give up everything that
this little box can give me? Nature versus the computer.
As human beings, however,
we also tend to fight the greater problem of birth (life) versus death. We tend
to fight death or anything that reminds us of death. Americans, for example, spend
millions of dollars on cosmetic surgery. Others fight birth. When we do, we tend
to see all the "negative" aspects of life and think of things like suicide.
We may also say things like "I can't live with this thing (or person)"
and in so doing try to negate the "birth" of that thing or person in
our lives. Another way of fighting birth is by not accepting things that are "new."
gives us the ability to see the life that is both birth and death. It also gives
us the tools to go beyond the trap, to go beyond the contradiction of birth and
death. Strange as it seems, it is because I have become aware of this contradiction
that I think I will end my "article" and go outside to the temple garden
area and touch, taste, smell, hear, see, and think about the bugs and the shrubs,
and the birds and the trees. The computer and nature, although they seem to be
complete polar opposites, are both a part of my life now. Because of Nembutsu,
I think I can appreciate both without becoming trapped by either.