Rev. Shimamura delivers his personal spiritual experience in the Great Sacred Hall, Tokyo.
Good morning, everyone.
I am Masatoshi Shimamura, currently assigned as director of Rissho Kosei-kai International of South Asia. In the regions of South and Southeast Asia, Rissho Kosei-kai has its Dharma centers in three countries: Thailand, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. In addition to those countries, there are also some chapters and hoza centers in India, Nepal, Singapore, and Cambodia, and I am in charge of disseminating the teachings in those countries.
I was born on September 6, 1963 as the first son of the Shimamura family that was running a furniture retail store at Edogawa Ward in Tokyo.
Although I did not have difficulty in accepting the faith thanks to my mother who was a pious devotee of the teaching, I did not participate at all in the activities of the Students’ Group of the Edogawa Dharma Center partly because I was busy with my club activities at school. Nevertheless, when my high school entrance examination was close at hand, an older member of the Student’s Group took the trouble to come to my house to give care and guidance to me. During our conversations, he cheered me up because I was nervous before the entrance examination. I was touched by his kindness so deeply that I started to take part in the activities of the Student’s Group after entering high school.
In the late 1970s, the Student’s Group of the Edogawa Dharma Center held an annual training program during summer vacation at the OmeRetreat Center in western Tokyo. I also joined the program. I was impressed with lectures by Dharma instructors of the Youth Department. Ialso participated in the hoza sessions, in which the fellow participants empathized with one another and shed tears of emotion together. In the course of these activities, I began to feel the joy of the faith little by little.
At the third grade in high school, I was moved by the Founder who dedicated himself to promoting world peace, traveling around the world on that mission. I aspired to become a person who was able to assist him by acquiring anEnglish-speaking ability. With that hope in mind, I enrolled in the Japan branch school of Temple University, in Tokyo. By taking classes in English, I acquired an American way of thinking, namely, you must be independent and clearly express ideas.
Very soon after I started studying in the university with great hope, however, the problem of debt came up. Sales at my parents’ furniturestore decreased due to the recession, and my parents were not able to repay their bank loan. The amount of loan was about three million Japanese yen, but it was unlikely that they would be able to pay it off only with the sales from the store. As the eldest son, I felt I shared the responsibility to repay the debt, so I made up my mind to quit the school and start to work. I went to meet the head of the Students’ Group, asking for guidance.
After listening carefully to my talk, he encouraged me by saying:
“Since you entered the university in order to fulfill the vow to make yourself a helpful person for the Founder, you must never quit the university. Instead, you should look for a part–time job that enables you to help your parents to repay the loan. And, you should also do your duty diligently for the Students’ Group, praying for the Buddha’s blessing, especially in these times whenyou are in difficulty. I understand that these things must be hard for you, but I am sure that they will definitely become a treasure of your life.”
The head of the Students’ Group was a junior high school teacher who had overcome financial difficulty and had graduated from university with an income from delivering newspapers. Precisely because it was the guidance from a person who had been through financial difficulty as a student, I accepted it seriously. Soon, I looked for a job that fit the condition that I could go to university, while doing my duty at the Dharma center and helpingmy parents repay the bank loan. And, I started to work at Yoshinoya, a fast food chain of gyudon(beef bowl) restaurants, from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m.four days a week.
Thanks to the Buddha’s arrangement, I was able to earn as much income as I had expected, and I was able to help my parents to repay the loan regularly and pay my school fees by myself. But, on the other hand, I felt chronic fatigue because of lack of sleep, which made it difficult for me to keep my concentration in class. Moreover, I felt major stress because my grades did not improve. As life continued in this way, before long, my mind became full of complaints.
I felt frustrated when I just saw my parents having meals together, and I was also driven by a violent impulse when I saw my father having a drink when I left my home for the part–time job. In those days, my fatigue and mental stress built up until they were about to reach the very limit, so I was always irritating and in a very bad temper.
The person who healed my mind was a senior member at the Edogawa Dharma Center. He accepted and embraced my complaints with all his heart. “I know that it is bad, but sometimes I feel like hitting my parents,” I said, as I tearfully revealed my feelings to him. He answered, “You are right. You can hit, but not your parents. Hit me, considering me as your parents.” His face was also full of tears.
Listening to his words, I was able to come to my senses. At first I started the job myself, wishing to help my parents (who had been suffering from repaying the loan) to feel at ease as much as possible. I became overly conscious ofmy own hardships, however, and blamed my parents, forgetting my original intention. What troubled me were this contradictory feelingswithin myself.
I was able to get myself together for a while after I received encouragement from the senior member. However, when I was very tired, I again fell into in a bad temper, and I got myself togetheragain thanks to the senior member’s encouragement. One day when I was emotionally unstable, I happened to see a documentary TV program that featured a story about child labor in Bangladesh.
In the TV program, I saw a girl who looked to be ten years old carrying a cage containing bricks with her mother. The girl was not able to go to school or play with friends, and she only carried bricks every day in the cage. Yet, her face was beaming with a bright smile. “Why? Why doesn’t she forget smile in such a harsh situation?” I looked for an answer in earnest: “It is perhaps because she feels joy in helping her parents, before thinking about school or friends, and also because these people find satisfaction in encouraging with one another with others who are under similarcircumstances.”
Through watching her, I realized that, “My sufferings come from my obsession withhardships. I was not able to feel the joy in helping my parents. Indeed I could appreciate the words of encouragement by the senior member and othersonly for a short time, and I soon becameconcerned only with my own hardships. This is the very origin of my sufferings. I was making a big mistake to believe that I would live with sufferings for my entire life, though in fact my sufferings would only last until I graduate from university.”
When I realized this, I became convinced that I could overcome my suffering. I felt strongly that, “I am blessed, as I can help my parents. I am blessed, as I have the members of sangha who kindly encourage me. If I can build a strong mindset to find a source of gratitude even within a harsh condition, it will be a treasure throughoutmy life. Although the sufferings actually exist, they can last only for a short time until graduation. That is no big problem that makes me lose sight.
Relieved from the spiritual torment, I felt as if the emotions I had suppressed till then came forth with a burst. Then, I realized what was even more important. That is; What did my parents think about me when I was blaming them due to my own sufferings? When my mind opened to my parents, I remembered my mother cooking nutritious meals for me with her whole heart. I also remembered my father’s happy smile when I had a drink with him. There are no parents who do not care their children’s hardships. I was truly a stupid son who was not able to recognize the love of my parents. This stupid son was deluded enough to believe that he was performing filial piety for his parents, yet he gave no considerationto his parents, who were going through hardships much harsher than his. I was truly self-centered. I was really arrogant. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my parents, who have already passed away. I apologize my lack of filial love, and I also would like to express my gratitude for the profound love and kindness that my parents had lavished on me when they raised me and guided me.
Upon graduating from the university, I entered the Rissho Kosei-kai Seminary. Thanks to the Buddha’s arrangement, I was given the opportunity to study at a university in Thailand after graduating from the seminary. Since then, I have been doing my duty, treasuring my karmic connections with Asia.
In 2016, when Bodhgaya, one of the sacred places for Buddhists (where Shakyamuni attained enlightenment), was struck by an enormous flood, an area leader of the Bodhgaya Hoza sought shelter at another member’s house, because her house was damaged by the downpour. A girl of the member’s family always talked to her, joking around. The area leader was a bit annoyed and asked to the girl, “Why are you making jokes when I suffer?” The girl answered, “I would like to encourage you because you are now facing a difficult time.” Soon after that, the area leader reflected the conversation in front of other members, saying, “I was not able to recognize the kindness of other people because I had been totally caught with my own problems. I was so sorry.”
The mental state of the area leader atBodhgaya was exactly that of myself in the past. Because of the damage her house had suffered, she felt as if the flood had taken everything from her, and she took everything that had happened as the source of suffering. In fact, however, all of her family members were safe, and she had kind and warm friends of the sangha who received her to their house temporarily as a shelter. Indeed, the fact that her house was broken down caused her to suffer, but she did not face a life-threteningproblem. It was the house she built from scratch, so if she wants it, she may be able to build a new one. And, the most important of all, she was able to feel the warmth of the sangha and reflected the importance of “being liberated by others and liberating others” through her experience of the disaster. Listening to her reflections, I remembered the sufferings that I had experienced in the past. And, that made me deepen my awareness and consideration of others. Taking this opportunity, I would like to express my thanks to her.
Today, we have the honor of the presence of chair of the Rissho Kosei-kai Bodhgaya Dharma Center, the local subsidiary established at Bodhgaya. Thanks to the area leader’s and the chair’s diligence in dissemination, we are going to start the construction of Bodhgaya Hoza Center at a place which was donated by a local member.
Tomorrow, we will observe the eightiethanniversary of Rissho Kosei-kai’s founding. As the President taught us in the New Year’s message, I should repay my debt of gratitude to the unsparing dedication of the Founder, the Cofounder, as well as a number of leaders and members preceding us who built the cornerstone of our founding, and I hope I will dedicate myself to disseminating the teachings proactively and creatively. I also rededicate myself to spreadingthe sangha in South Asia, which is cheerful, kind,and warmhearted, further and further.
The Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni, Founder Niwano, President Niwano, thank you very much. Everyone, thank you so much.
The inauguration of the Bodhgaya Hoza in 2016.