Literally, Nirvana means, “to blow out.” This is the state where all human defilements and passions have been completely extinguished through certain practices and meditation based upon Right Wisdom. Those who had attained this state are called Buddhas. Gautama Siddhartha had attained this state and became a Buddha at 35. However, it is thought that it was only after he had passed away that he reached such a state of perfect tranquillity, because some residue of human defilement would have continued to be present as long as his physical body existed.
We were once again delighted to observe Nirvana Day with devoted Dharma friends on Sunday, 14 February. We gathered at the HBMA Hondo to commemorate the passing of Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
After the sutra chanting, we all offered incense. Then I shared a message about“Nirvana” to the children.We first made sure the literal meaning of “Nirvana” which is “to blow out”, then I introduced one questionnaire which was done by a Japanese company where they produce pencils and erasers. The questionnaire was about “What do you wish to erase the most in your life?”
They randomly picked 1,000 people to answer this questionnaire and there received many different answers.
The most popular answer was “I wish to erase embarrassing experience which I did.”
More than 100 people were writing about this answer throughout men and women. And actual embarrassing experiences were as follows;
“When I fall in sleep during the class and talked in my sleep, everyone roughed at me.”
“When I was chosen to do master of ceremony for an important occasion in front of all the school students, I found my fly was open.”
“When I was walking in the rain, I fall straight into manhole. Many people was came to see me, etc.”
Among men’s answers, the number 2 answer was to erase all of their debt, and number 3 was to erase evil politicians, etc.
For women, number 2 answer to erase was their acnes and blots, and number 3 was fat of their body. Number 1 answer for school kids was school results, and number 2 was exam to enter school, and number 3 was embarrassing experiences.
Other interesting answers were; “my life up until now”, “illness”, “age”, “heartbreak”, “promise of non-smoking”, “my husband’s arrangement for the golf”, etc.
If someone invent a special eraser which will erase everything, I believe the many people would buy it.
To blow off an actual fire is very easy but it is difficult to blow off human-being’s evil passion, unsatisfied mind, etc. Human beings cannot erase both their past and their heart and mind. But Amida Buddha knew it beforehand and prepared his vow to save all of us who are repeating false actions. Amida Buddha is accepting all of us as we are, just watching us equally, with no discriminations. So spontaneously we say “thank you” to Amida which is “Namo Amida Butsu”.
Then I shared my English message for the adult as follows,
February 15th, known to Buddhists as Nirvana Day or Nehan-e(涅槃会) in Japanese, is the day on which Sakyamuni Buddha passed away and entered Pari-Nirvana, so we commemorate Buddha’s passing observing a Nirvana Day service.
The Sanskrit word “Nirvana” literally means “a blowing out as of a flame” of extinction of worldly illusions and passions. Pari-Nirvana refers to complete extinction or to Sakyamuni Buddha’s passing away.
The attainment of Nirvana may be accomplished through following the Eightfold Path , for the formulation of which is attributed to the Buddha Himself. The Noble Eightfold Path is comprised of a Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Meditation. However, it is very difficult for most of us to apply the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path in our everyday lives, and even if we could it would be impossible for us to attain the state of Nirvana while we are alive.
In Jodo Shinshu teaching, we are taught that even though we can attain Nirvana, Enlightenment, Buddhahood, or whatever you may wish to call this state. We are unable to free ourselves from ignorance and the clinging and attaching to material things in life until we die, even though Nirvana is assured to us upon our awakening of Shinjin in the Other Power of Amida Buddha.
Sakyamuni Buddha passed away at Kusinagara, lying between the twin Pippara(Sala) trees with His head towards the north and His body facing the west. He continued preaching to his disciples until his final moment. To those who had gathered around Him, His words were a source of consolation and encouragement: He said ” Do not grieve. If I were to live in the world a whole kalpa, our association would still have to end. You cannot find any association which does not end… Therefore, you just know the world is all transient, and meeting certainly implies separation.”
One of the basic principles of Buddhism is the law of change: nothing is permanent. This forms the basis for the first of Four Noble Truths – the Truth of Suffering.
Why does suffering exist? Why do human beings suffer? It is primarily due to the fact that we have a definite attitude towards change. We do not want certain things to change. If we enjoy good health, we wish this condition to continue forever. When we earn fame, we wish to be able to enjoy this position until death. As long as things are going well, we want to maintain of the status quo and endeavor to keep things that we feel will benefit us. However, if conditions are not to our liking, we wish to change them, especially if we feel it will be beneficial to us.
Change, itself, is not the cause of suffering. It is the attitude that we carry within our minds and bring on suffering and sorrow. Therefore, the basic cause of suffering lies within ourselves. The cleaving of attachment to things, along with the illusion of self, give rise to all the evil desires and passions that cause mankind so much misery, discontent and unhappiness.
Coming to deep realization and understanding of our changing existence and cultivation of a healthy attitude towards this changing world and changing self will enable us to attain the state of Nirvana, that Sakyamuni Buddha did some 2,500 years ago.
The Buddha showed us with His own life as an example of what a blessing it can be to believe in the Dharma, that is, how to live in this illusory world filled with suffering and sorrow, and how to associate with our fellow men. In commemoration of Sakyamuni Buddha’s Pari-Nirvana, let us take the time to look and reflect into ourselves from the standpoint of our limited abilities and strive to make even a small step towards the Buddhist goal of attaining the perfect peace of Nirvana.
Then I shared a Japanese message talking about famous message from Sakyamuni Buddha quoting from the Lager Sutra, which was “Dokusho-Dokushi-Dokko-Dokurai (独生独死独去独来:Alone we are born and die, go and come.)”
Sakyamuni Buddha passed away a long time ago, but his teaching still live in the hearts and minds of Buddhists, and it continues to spread all over the world.
As a follower of Jodo Shinshu (the true essence of the Pure Land teachings), we always express our gratitude and respect to Sakyamuni Buddha to remind us that we share his noble teachings, and that we follow the way he laid down for us to walk.
Without Sakyamuni Buddha’s teaching, Buddhism would not be here with us today. We have to deeply appreciate His work, and spread His teachings. Shinran Shonin said that Sakyamuni Buddha is the manifestation of Amida Buddha on this earth. In the Shoshinge, Shonin wrote as follows:
“The reason for Tathagata (Sakyamuni Buddha)’s appearance in this world is solely to preach the ocean-like Original Vow of Amida. The ocean of multitudinous beings in the evil age with five defilements should believe in the Tathagata’s true words.”
Let us reflect upon Sakyamuni Buddha’s noble teachings, paying our tribute and following the way that he laid down for us.
Thank you very much to the following members who participated for the Nirvana Day Service and also shared delicious food: Ms Hiroko Okuda, Mr/Mrs Victor and Gill Davidson, Ms Rika Wong and her son, Kensuke & his friend Kota Okuda, Mr Norman Fung, Ms Emi Joannes and her lovely daughter Maya, and my family members, Yukimi, Yushin, Ami, Rin & Sho.
Thank you for your attendance.
Rev Shigenobu Watanabe