By Rev. Hideaki Nishihori
Do you have anxieties? How about Buddhist ministers? Do you think they live without worries? Well, I have many anxieties. Sometimes I think I am a coward.
I guess no one in this world can avoid anxiety. Everyone has anxieties and fears, especially when life unexpectedly changes or seems beyond our control. That’s why I think people generally don’t want to make any big changes in their daily lives. We usually want a life that’s stable.
Of course, we like some changes, and we easily can tolerate small changes that we anticipate. If they are acceptable to us, we can enjoy change.
I am the kind of person who doesn’t like change. I like stability. I don’t want any big changes because I worry too much. My very nature would seem to contradict me coming to Hawaii from Japan. Living in Hawaii is a big change for me.
I needed to be very decisive when I took a minister’s test to come to Hawaii. When I was informed there was an opening, I became very excited! I thought, “Oh, I can go to Hawaii!”
But after passing the test, I started to become nervous. I underwent three months of training to become an “overseas” minister. During the training, I was troubled by many thoughts filling my heads. “What if my airplane crashes?” “Are my English skills good enough?” “Can I really make myself understood in English?” “I don’t even have enough experience giving Dharma talks in Japan. Will I be okay?” “Will I be able to think of a Dharma talk every Sunday?” “Will I get along with temple members?” My worries were countless.
I tried to escape these negative thoughts by distracting myself with other activities, such as playing guitar and composing songs.
But the harder I tried, the more anxiety I felt. Even if I played the guitar, I wasn’t able to escape my worries. Then I realized this was a pattern throughout my life whenever I felt anxiety or fear. I always wanted to change myself. I always wanted to escape from my anxieties. Those were my feelings over the years. Meanwhile, I was becoming depressed.
Then I remembered what the Buddhist teachings tell us. Anxiety is part of myself. People try to remove anxieties from their thoughts. We want to get rid of anxiety or fear. In general, we think it is a positive thing not to feel anxiety or fear. It would be wonderful if we could eliminate worries from our heads. But can we do that so easily?
Reflecting back on my life, I realize I tried hard to change myself to become strong. I pretended to be nice to others. I wanted people to regard me as a friendly and good person.
Looking back at those days, I can see why I suffered so much. I realize now that by working hard to change myself, I increased my suffering by ignoring my true heart.
What I learned from Shin Buddhism is that I am already good enough just being myself. I didn’t have to change. I might be afraid of something, I might have fears and anxieties, but now I know that having such worries isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Amida Buddha tells us we don’t have to change ourselves. We are good enough as we are. We don’t have to be good person in that sense. We don’t have to get rid of our seemingly bad condition. Anxiety is a part of ourselves. If we try to remove it, we suffer.
We usually think it is good to remove bad things from our body but is it really good for us? Sickness is part of us. We cannot avoid becoming sick in life. Everyone gets sick and will die someday. Removing sickness or removing death is not the teaching of Buddha. We live with suffering. We live with sickness and death.
Of course, I don’t like to get sick. I don’t want to die. But sickness is a part of me. Death is a part of me. The more we hate sickness and death, the more we suffer.
Because I suffered so much, I finally began listening to the Dharma. We really don’t know if what we’re feeling now is good or bad. Our spiritual forebear Shinran Shonin said he didn’t know what is good or bad. It is the truth. Amida Buddha tells us to realize this truth. This is hard for us to understand because we cannot see truth as it is. Buddhism tells us why we are ignorant and why we are the focus of Amida Buddha’s salvation.
Liberation is truly knowing our helplessness.
Rev. Nishihori is a minister at Kaneohe Higashi Hongwanji.