Minister’s Message: October 2011

Our Common Humanity

By Rinban Don Castro

This morning, I participated in the Seattle Keiro Garden Groundbreaking Ceremony.  Nikkei Concerns CEO Jeffrey Hattori did an excellent job coordinating the ceremony and acting as M.C.  The event began with a Shinto ceremony followed by “blessings” by Rev. Derek Nakano, Senior Pastor at Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church on behalf of the Japanese Christian community and by me on behalf of the Japanese Buddhist community.  The garden is going to be very beautiful as well as functional, since it is located just outside the rehab facility as a safe and secure place to walk with cane or walker or be pushed in a wheelchair.

Beginning the Groundbreaking Ceremony with a Shinto ceremony made me think about the relationship of Shinto and Buddhism in Japan.  Prince Shotoku, known as the “Father of Japanese Buddhism,” was opposed by Shinto forces when he promoted Buddhism in the 6th century.  Buddhism flourished, however, and over the centuries some of the most devout adherents of Buddhism were some of the emperors and empresses of Japan.  Shinto was absorbed and transformed by some of the Buddhist sects and very much eclipsed by Buddhism, although Jodo Shinshu completely disassociated itself from Shinto influence.

While initially a fertility cult, Shinto was transformed over the centuries through its encounter with Confucianism and Buddhism.  With the return of the Emperor to power after the fall of the Shogunate in the late 19th century, a new  nationalistic interpretation of Shinto called “State Shinto” emerged and Emperor Meiji declared that Shinto should have absorbed Buddhism rather that the opposite.  He tried to destroy Buddhism and, at one point, declared that all Buddhist temples should be shut down.  State Shinto ended with Japan’s surrender at the end of WW II.

Today, the Shinto religion seems to have generally returned to its concern with invoking spirits of protection and good fortune; although there is still a vibrant strain of Shinto nationalism in Japan.  Certain Buddhist sects, too, engage in invoking protection and good fortune, but Jodo Shinshu does not do so directly.  Protection and good fortune are side benefits of enlightenment not goals in themselves.

My “blessing” at Keiro was to invoke the spirit of enlightenment, “May the spirits of all the enlightened ones dwell in this garden.  We joyfully scatter flower petals of welcome.”

I thought back twenty five years to the initial groundbreaking ceremony for Keiro that Rinban Ouchi, Rev. Nakagaki and I participated in.  I thought about all the warm and inspiring events, residents, volunteers and staff who have left their legacy to us; the late Jim Komura, for instance, who was so active with Keiro and our Betsuin when I first arrived in Seattle in 1986, and  the late Nobue Shimizu who just last week recited the Nembutsu with me at Keiro only two days before she died.  “May their spirits, the enlightened spirits of all the selfless Keiro contributors and the spirits of all the Enlightened Ones in the ten directions welcome you to the new Keiro garden.  This is the spirit of Buddhism and the enlightened spirit of our common humanity.