The Mundane World is the World of Enlightenment
Have you ever thought about how much work goes on unseen, behind the scenes, to make our temple function?

When we are sitting in our chairs during Sunday service, we often take things for granted. The chairs we sit on are one example. Someone placed them in rows and someone sewed the seat covers to make them more comfortable. The lights are on and the heater is running. All of this is the result of others giving money to pay the bills, or the direct result of physical labor. Then there are the monthly cleaning crews who keep our temple sparkling. They make the temple a pleasant place to visit.

The same could be said of the floors, the bathrooms and the materials for the service. Then too there is the shrine that needs dusting, the service materials that need to be put out, as well as the incense and candles. Special services require more preparation. In the last few days three men put in new lighting in our hondo. This took many hours of effort. Everyone will enjoy the improvements made possible by a few hardworking dedicated individuals. There is so much going on that we are unaware of.

All of this makes hearing the Dharma possible. It also makes possible living the Nembutsu life. Many visitors come to temple wanting arcane spiritual truths. They want to sit at the feet of a master and feel they are learning supernatural knowledge that makes them achieve a higher state of consciousness. For these people the physical labor and the donations are regarded as unspiritual intrusions. In most religions there is a conflict between those who aspire to higher states of blessedness and those who do the physical labor, or have to deal with the monetary realities of temple life. This can lead to a kind of class structure within churches. This is often true, no matter what religion we are discussing. In our type of Buddhism, however, the devotion shown in helping paying the bills and keeping the temple clean are not demeaning tasks. They are the very expression of gratitude for the fact that the activities of others make our lives possible.

When we are sitting in a warm, clean well lighted place, we should feel gratitude to those who did this for us. Everything in our temples was paid for or worked for by dedicated Buddhist lay-folk. That includes such mundane things from toilet paper to the beautiful shrine. Everything exists as the product of dedication, and giving in the form of physical labor. We celebrate this fact with gratitude and the determination to have these gifts continue. This means our own participation in the work that makes the temple environment possible. Our funerals are an example of this involvement. A large funeral takes about 100 hours of work. Everyone helps out so that this is accomplished in three or four days. Other major events, like the Gomonshu’s visit, require even more organization and effort. Physical labor and Dana are important parts of the Buddhist life. They are present in almost every monastery and sangha. Through them we discover the true meaning of Dharma in action, motivating the sangha life and its activities.

Amida Buddha is often perceived as working quietly behind the scenes for our spiritual benefit. In some shrines the Amida statue is presented as a little hidden to make this point. Amida comes to us unasked and unsought, out of his compassion for our human condition.

In the Nembutsu there is the Bodhi of Equality, everybody is equal in the light of Amida’s embrace. There is no essential conflict between the spiritual life and the activities of everyday, mundane affairs. It is en-heartening to see good attendance at the services, but remember the work before and after the service. It is these activities behind the scenes that make the community possible, so join us in both. It is the wonderful life of gratitude, the life of the Nembutsu Dharma.

Sensei Ulrich
March 21, 2006