Minister’s December 2016 message
“The Buddha’s regard for each sentient being
with eyes of compassion is equal, as though
each one were his only child; hence I take
refuge in and worship the unsurpassed
mother of great compassion.”
Written by Genshin, teacher of Pure Land
The upcoming holiday is another one of my favorite times. I love the smell of a fresh cut tree, baking cookies, the kindness the holiday brings out in people, and the sharing of goodwill and cheer to others. Yet these qualities should be year round. I truly enjoy this time of year. It was always a tradition in our home to have a very large tree with lights and decorated with old and handmade ornaments. My mother especially liked silver tinsel on the tree.
My father being Issei (first generation from Japan) still believed that a home should always have bright colored decorations and a tree with lights on its branches, so every year there was a fully decorated tree. It seemed each year the tree got bigger and bigger and there were more and more dead needles to vacuum up. If one were to pass our house no one would believe it was a traditional Japanese Buddhist home. We observed this holiday as Americans and as Buddhists sharing our respect and honor of other religions and their beliefs.
The Christmas tree, which I now refer to as a “holiday tree,” has always held a soft spot in my heart. When I had my own home, I said I would never have a tree but I would decorate the house. Each year my brother would always surprise me with one. I would tell him no, but I would surrender. I always asked for a small one, but his idea of small was completely different from my idea. His small was actually a medium. Good thing I kept all the lights and decorations my parents used year after year. My brother heard and followed the teachings of my father and continued in his tradition.
As early as 200 AD, the tree was a custom found in Germany, ancient China, and other countries. It was a pagan symbol of the winter solstice and they referred it as the “World Tree” or “Tree of Life.” The pagans saw it as a rebirth, for the days grow longer again after the winter solstice. It was also a symbol of peace and joy.
During ancient times, the tree was decorated with edibles, such as apples, nuts, cookies, ribbon, wafers, and paper. The people would illuminate the tree with candles until electricity came into play. The tree was linked to harvest and success for the next year. In Ancient China, the use of garland and wreathes were used to symbolize eternal life.
As time passed, some people would refer to this tree as a “Yule tree.” The people would keep the trees outside and hang candles from its branches. They believed this tree represented the souls of departed loved ones who they remembered at the end of the year
Many beautiful traditions have affected our lives, but an important message to remember is of peace and joy. We have had to bear so much tragedy of hatred, anger, and uncertainty. We may not put up a tree, but we have Nembutsu in sharing our gratitude and this is our sharing of the holiday. We have much to be thankful for but sometimes we forget. Yet when we do put aside our ego, we offer our Namu Amida Butsu with compassion, peace, and joy.
May your holiday be bright and filled with peace and joy in Nembutsu.
Gassho Rev. Seijo Naomi Nakano