Sunday, September 20, 2009

Faith-Related Conversation

Today, I had a conversation that has affected me deeply. I was asked how I viewed a certain controversial topic as a Buddhist. The response I gave was not one that the person was expecting and he wanted to argue with me. There was a very clear tone of disgust in this man's voice as he tried to interpret my words into something that was easier for him to discredit. Sparing you the details, I'll just say that it was a frustrating conversation, and I felt the need to defend myself. But, I didn't want to argue at all with this person and I ended the conversation as quickly as I could while still being polite.

I think that this feeling that I felt tonight, and in fact still feel right now, is going to be something I have to learn to live with. It's too obvious to say something to the effect of, "I'm a Buddhist living in a Christian society so I need to learn to deal with people who don't understand my faith." I don't think that is the case. Most of my Christian friends find my faith interesting, not disgusting. I think the real meat of the matter is that the Dharma can be hard to hear sometimes. The Dharma is some hard-hitting, no bullshit truth! The Dharma doesn't cater to your feelings, and it doesn't try to sugar coat anything. It lays it all out there, and you can take it or leave it.

Fact #1) Life can suck sometimes, and it sucks for everyone, not just you.

Fact #2) The reason why life sucks is probably because of you, not the other guy.

Honestly, that's one of the things I love about Buddhism is that it's shooting me straight! I think anyone who fully adopts those two facts from above, would also be fully adopting the first two noble truths, and be a better Buddhist for it. So my point is: The Dharma can be hard to hear sometimes.

So because the Dharma talks a straight talk, I think it can be hard to explain some of the harsher concepts to someone who might not be so familiar with them. If someone came to me and asked "Why am I suffering?", it would be improper of me to say, "Well, you must have done something wrong! Stop doing it, whatever it is." The remedy to that person's suffering might ACTUALLY BE that very answer... but that is not at all what that person needs to hear, and they probably will not accept it.

I guess what I'm trying to say, as my frustrated rambling thoughts are pouring onto the keyboard, is that ultimately, the reason why the conversation I had went badly was because I chose my words poorly. I was trying to talk about a very sensitive topic, and I probably should have chosen my words a bit more carefully. THIS is a skill I will need to develop!

In Gassho,


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ringing the Bell

Tuesday, at temple, Reverend Kevin taught me how to ring the temple bell, or the Kansho Bell. Back in the day, they would ring the temple bell a certain way to tell the village that the temple was about to start service. They would also ring the bell another way to signal a fire alarm, but I didn't learn that one. Anyway, these days, the temple bell is rung more as a tradition to start service each week.

This first picture is our Kansho Bell. It's about 2 feet tall and made of really thick metal. It produces a very loud thick sound, almost like a gong, without the splashy sound.

<---- This is a picture of our GIANT bell outside the Temple. I've only heard this one rung on special occasions like Patriot's Day and New Years Day.

I've heard the regular Kansho bell every time I've attended, and could probably have guessed correctly how the rhythm was supposed to go... but actually performing that task myself was a lot harder than it sounded! The way you do it is you ring the bell 7 times, slowly, at a medium volume. Then you ring it really fast and really soft, but get louder and slower, then back down again. Then you hit it 5 times... do the crescendo/decrescendo one more time, then hit it 3 times. Sounds simple right? Believe me... it's not.

Reverend Kevin wanted me to ring the bell for church next Sunday... but it's such a big responsibility, I think I'm going to hold off and get some more practice in. When I go to Japan for my Tokudo Ordination, this aspect is going to be a really big deal, so I want to make sure I get it right. Anyway, that's it for now!

In Gassho,


Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Hakujin Perspective - Rough Draft

Here is the rough draft for my first issue of "The Hakujin Perspective". It may change a little, but tell me what you think! Remember, to subscribe to HOZO, please email

The Hakujin Perspective

Shin Buddhism from a Non-Japanese point-of-view

By: Hank Sims

In this issue of HOZO, we are going to start a new column. The Hakujin Perspective is going to be a down-to-earth, bare-bones, no nonsense view of this religion that we share, but with one interesting twist: written by a White-Boy.

The first time that I came to temple, I was going there to just “check it out” and see what Buddhism was all about. As you can imagine, I noticed right away that everyone was Japanese. At this point in my life, I really didn’t know anyone who was Japanese despite living in Hawaii for a couple years already. The entirety of my exposure to Japanese culture, language, and customs came from Hollywood. In other words, Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid I, II, and III was just about it (Thanks, Pat!).

That being my situation, my experience with Buddhism here in Hawaii has been an exciting adventure. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve been “immersed” in Japanese culture. I attend most Sundays and try to speak with the Reverend regularly. But considering my experience with the Japanese culture, I guess that I could say it has been an “absorption”.

I’ve heard of a method for teaching children to swim that is both dangerous, but effective. I’m sure you’ve heard of it as well. Essentially, you take the child out in a boat and when you get far enough out that they can’t touch the bottom or hold on to anything for safety, you throw them in the water. Of course, the kid is panic stricken… arms flailing wildly… gasping for breath. The adult, having already made the decision to teach this way, just watches with patience from the boat. This might seem very harsh (I thank goodness no one taught ME to swim this way) but I’ve only ever heard of one result of this method: The child learns to swim in about 90 seconds. Imagine, though, if you used the same method in water that the child could stand up in. Would it have the same effect? If the child could simply standup to avoid drowning, I think he probably would, and the lesson would be lost.

I think that for me, and probably a lot of Hakujin (Haole) boys like me, attending service or coming to temple for the first time is a lot like learning to swim in that shallow water. Everything is very foreign and very different. The people that you meet are very nice and welcoming, of course, but the things that you see and the way people talk are very “strange”. While we’re drowning in this new culture, we have the option to stand up at any point, in other words, say thank you very much and walk away. I’m not suggesting that any time you see a new member at your church you lock them up and keep them there… afterall, they’ll learn to swim, right? Instead, I’m suggesting that the option to standup, or leave and not come back, is a very easy one. And who isn’t a bit skittish in a strange environment?

In Gassho,


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New Assignments

A lot happened today with my training. First off, I went to see my AMU Counselor. It turns out I'm closer to my BA then I thought I was... which is always good news. I've decided to major in Asian Studies. It seems like it will work for both my military and religious career.

Next, I went to see Rev Kevin regarding my Tokudo training. He gave me A TON of stuff to work on. The first thing I have to do is start reading Monshu Ohtani's book "The Buddha's Wish For The World". For those that don't know, Monshu Koshin Ohtani is the highest religious leader in the Jodo Shinshu faith. He is also visiting Hawaii this week, so everyone is really excited. For more on the Monshu's book, check the links side-column. So, other than reading the book, I also have to start studying my Hiragana, which is like Japanese phonetics.

I'm also going to start contributing to our temple's quarterly publication "HOZO". I've been helping with the editing for some time now, but now I'm going to start contributing on a regular basis. I'm going to write a column in the newsletter about how a white person might view some of the overtly Japanese aspects of our religion. I'm thinking of calling the column, "The Hakujin Perspective", which I'm told means: "The White-boy Perspective"... or something to that affect. I think it's pretty much awesome!

Anyway, my plate is magically full, so I'm going to get started on all of that. Wish me luck!