by Kosho Yukawa - Tacoma Buddhist Temple
Since the popular novel-documentary "Roots" was published, many have become interested in tracing their own roots. Those who are in the minority ethnic groups, especially, are tracing their roots to learn about their cultural heritage.
Although the practice of tracing one's roots seems to be a new and modern trend, Buddhism has always taught it as one of the important practices. However, instead of the term "roots", the more familiar term "cause" has been used in Buddhism.
There are many causes established in the past in order for us to exist today. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of causes: direct causes and indirect causes. Direct causes are physical and material things, such as food, clothing, a home etc. Indirect causes, which are more important, are also known as unseen blessings. These are things we often cannot see with our naked eyes. Living plants, are constantly producing oxygen for us to breathe and exist. Farmers work hard to produce the vegetables we consume. Children feel the love and compassion of their parents. The present generation is benefiting from the various endeavors of past generations. Certainly there are countless numbers of things which can be classified as unseen blessings. And these are the ones that we take for granted every day, for we cannot see and feel them directly.
Therefore, when we trace the causes of our own existence, we come to the realization that there are innumerable indirect causes from which we are benefiting. It is said that the iceberg floats on the ocean with only one-seventh of it showing above the surface. The major portion -six-sevenths of it - is immersed in the ocean. That is, in order, for a small portion of the iceberg to be above water level, a major portion has to support it under water. Our life too, is like an iceberg. The direct causes for our existence are like the tip of the iceberg, and the unseen or indirect causes for our existence are like the hidden part of the iceberg. Because we cannot see the part immersed in the ocean, we are not aware of it and take it for granted. It is meaningful to realize that the major portion of our existence is dependent upon the indirect and unseen blessings which we are receiving. Hence, an ignorant captain of a ship in the North Sea will only see the part of the iceberg above the ocean, ignorant of the huge portion underneath. As he maneuvers his ship, he will surely get into trouble. However, when a wise sea captain sees the iceberg, he will immediately recognize the huge portion hidden from his view and maneuver his ship accordingly. To realize the causes for our existence is to realize not only the part shown above the ocean, but also the major portion hidden underneath to support the part above. Hence, to trace our "roots" Buddhistically, means to truly realize and appreciate the virtues of the unseen efforts of many, past and present.
When we reflect upon the lives of the issei, we come to understand the tremendous pioneer spirit they had in overcoming many obstacles, hardships and hostilities. They dedicated themselves throughout their lives to establish a strong foundation, both spiritually and physically, for the nisei, sansei, yonsei...who will reap the benefits. However, how often do we really think about their contribution towards the welfare of our lives today? Not only did they give us a firm foundation for our livelihood, they also gave us the Nembutsu teaching. Although many of the Issei have departed from among us, we continue to receive the unseen blessings of their dedication and spirit of Nembutsu.
In Buddhism, the word enlightenment is used quite often. However, this term seems to give us the connotation of something unnatainable. But if we were to understand enlightenment in terms of Awareness or Awakening, it would seem more realistic. That is, Awareness or Awakening, as in Shakyamuni Buddha's Enlightenment or discovering the Truth, means to see and feel the things we did not see before, due to our blindness and self-centeredness. Therefore, as we truly and sincerely open our inner eyes to see and feel the various causes, direct and indirect, which we did not see and feel before, we are becoming aware of the unseen blessings that are abundantly surrounding us. In this awareness, we will take things less for granted and be able to truly put our hands together in Gassho and extend our gratitude with Nembutsu in our heart. Let us become sincerely aware of the many past and present blessings which are constantly surrounding us and make each day an expression of gratitude. Such is a Nembutsu way of life.