Reflecting on My Mom’s Public Appearance and Private Thoughts

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My beloved mother passed away earlier this year on May 20.  She was 77 years old.  I cannot thank you enough for your thoughtful gestures and heartfelt words of support during my deep sorrow after her loss.  I am very grateful for your kind words of encouragement and generous Okoden.  Your kindness makes me realize that my spiritual home is the heart of our Sangha, guided by the Nembutsu.  I am so grateful to have such wonderful Dharma friends here in the U.S.

Wonderful Mom

The past few years, my mother had been enduring problems with her liver, requiring surgery several times.  She didn’t want to make me and my family worry, so she always put on a brave face for us with her natural brightness.  She needed a walker to get around.  It must have been stressful and difficult for her, but she was a strong person who never complained.

However, I know she was really disappointed that my family and I were not able to go to Japan during our summer break last year because of the COVID pandemic.  I could tell whenever we talked over the phone that she was bothered by this terrible situation when she said, “I really miss you.”

Over time, she had become terribly weak and on Mother’s Day was taken to the hospital by ambulance.  Then 11 days after her hospitalization, she passed away peacefully.  Although we were able to attend her funeral online and I could see her face on the monitor, I had difficulty accepting her death.  I still cannot help but feel that my mother is still alive.  I think that only when we are able to go to Japan sometime next year will I realize that she is really gone.  That is when I will be able to confirm with my own eyes that my mother is no longer there.

Fond Memories

I have hundreds of fond memories of the times that I have shared with her since my birth.  Among these, I still remember vividly what she said to me when I first left home for the U.S. as a Kaikyoshi minister.

My mom often said to me, “Don’t cause others trouble.”  And when receiving a notice from the Hongwanji of my assignment to the BCA, my mother rejoiced in that news and at the same time, she tried to influence my attitude about joining the BCA.  She said things like, “I won’t allow you to give up and come back to Japan even if you’re not able to get accustomed to the life and culture there.  There are so many people who made it possible for you to go to live abroad to serve the BCA; and many members of the temple you’re assigned to who have worked hard to welcome you and make it possible to live there comfortably.  You should never forget these facts.  So even if you face difficulties there, you must carry out your duties to meet the members’ expectations.  Just do your best.”  This is how my mother showed me the right way to meet the challenges of my new life in the U.S.

On the day I was to leave, my parents took me to the airport to see me off.  But the moment we parted at the security gate, tears formed in my mother’s eyes.  She squeezed my hand and said, “If you have a hard time in America, come back to us any time.”

Just a few minutes earlier she had said, “You cannot come back to Japan!”  But at the very moment we were parting, she said, “You can come back anytime!”  Her words were contradictory, but because of them, I was able to witness both her outward appearance, but also sense her private thoughts.  That day, I was very grateful for these words expressing her love and sincerity.  Even now, the more I think about it, the more tearful I become.

My Mother’s Heart 

As a mother sending her child off to new endeavors, her outward expression and words – “Cannot come back to Japan!” – were meant to show me how important it was to carry out the duties of a Kaikyoshi Minister no matter what might happen.  But her private thoughts – “You can come back anytime” – were to assure me that I always have a home I can return to.  With these words, I sensed the deep sincerity of my mother’s heart.

Parents sometime need to put on a stern public face to point their child in the right direction.  But because they are parents, their private thoughts confirm they will never abandon their child no matter what might happen.  At the time, I understood that both of these feelings were my mother’s true intention.  Her deep love for me embraced me gently and gave me strength to meet the challenges of propagating the Dharma so far from home.

Use Right Wisdom to Find the Right Path 

In this way, parents are very similar to the working of Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion.  Because we are frequently blinded by passion, Amida’s wisdom is a precious light, which brightly illumines the path we should take.  When our thinking is clouded or blocked, we may lose sight of or choose the wrong path.  That is why sometimes we need the severe precepts based on the right wisdom so that we can find the right path.  Also, as Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, we should always remember a proviso described in Amida Buddha’s 18th Vow.  He declares that those who commit the five grave offenses and slander the Buddha Dharma will be rejected from his workings.  From the perspective of Jodo Shinshu tradition, we regard this proviso as Amida Buddha’s public appearance.  It makes us realize that as a Buddha who guides all beings, Amida Buddha must sometimes be strict with fools.

And “Even if you stray down the way of enlightenment, I will never abandon you,” such an unconditional vow towards all beings is Amida Buddha’s great compassion or his private thought. Because Amida Buddha established the Primal Vow based on seeing through the true nature of foolish beings, his sacred vow always embraces all beings without exception whatever might happen.

Without exception, we are all selfish beings.  In order to get our own way, we can easily cause others trouble.  So in order to lead such foolish beings to enlightenment, Amida Buddha shines the light of wisdom so that it plainly lights the path (public appearance) and shines the warmth of compassion that embraces all beings as they are regardless of what might happen (private thought).  Being guided and supported by Amida Buddha’s great workings, we are able to live our lives with strength, gratitude, and peace of mind.

Sensei’s Mom and Dad

True Appreciation for Mom

I truly appreciate why my mother was so concerned about me leaving home for the U.S. and I understand why her public appearance and private thoughts at the airport overlapped with Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion.  Her thoughts are still vivid in my mind as great motivation in my life.

Sensei with Mom and Dad at luncheon held at Hotel Urban Port in Obama City

In Gassho,

Rev. Yushi Mukojima