Teachers and Teachings

by Rev. Marvin Harada.

Just recently I received the sad news that Professor Takamaro Shigaraki, the Sensei I studied under in Japan, passed away. I will be forever indebted to Sensei for what I learned from him. He had a dynamic spirit of the Nembutsu. His lectures penetrated to the core of my being. He had a creative, free spirit, who did not let the boundaries of tradition hold back his deep desire to bring out what he felt was the essence of Shin Buddhism.

I first met Sensei some 35 years ago. I was a student at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. Sensei and his wife came to IBS on sort of a sabbatical, and he gave lectures to us at IBS. Unfortunately, at that time I didn’t speak or understand Japanese, and Sensei didn’t speak English. His lectures were translated, and although I didn’t know much about Buddhism or Jodo Shinshu, I knew that I was meeting a most important teacher that I definitely wanted to learn more from. In many ways he inspired me to really want to study in Japan, to be able to understand lectures in Japanese, and to be able to read the texts. After finishing IBS, and after studying for nearly a year with Rev. Gyomay Kubose, I went to Japan to study further. I first attended a Hongwanji school called Chu-butsu, and then enrolled at Ryukoku University, where Sensei taught and later became president of the University. I studied at Ryukoku for three years, and took every class of Sensei’s that I could, repeating his Outline of Shin Buddhism three times. I never tired of listening to him. I couldn’t believe the depth and breadth of his study and understanding. Listening to his lectures was more like listening to a Dharma talk than it was a lecture. There was always some part of his lecture that would hit right into your gut. I have used so many of the wonderful stories that I heard in his lectures in my own messages and articles.

After completing three years at Ryukoku and five years of study in Japan, it was time for me to return to the U.S. Gail and I left from the Osaka airport, and all of our closest friends were there to say goodbye, mostly the other BCA ministerial students who were still finishing their studies. To my amazement, Sensei came to the airport to see us off. Despite his tremendously busy schedule, he came to say goodbye. Tears poured from eyes. I could not speak even a word, to say thank you, to say goodbye. I just grasped his hand and bowed from the bottom of my heart.

I don’t know what kind of minister I truly am. I really don’t know much about Buddhism or Jodo Shinshu, but I do know that whatever it is that I know, whatever it is that I am able to do in my work as a minister, is all because of the teachers and teachings in my life. There has been very little, not even a fraction of what I have “conjured up” or “created” on my own. It has all been because of teachers and teachings. In my life, Shigaraki Sensei has been one of those most significant teachers who brought the teachings to my heart and mind.

It never ceases to amaze me how such a teacher of the Dharma reaches the hearts of so many. In my work as the Co-Director of the Center for Buddhist Education, I help to coordinate and put on the seminars for minister’s assistants. There is a minister’s assistant in Central Cal, a Mr. Yuki Mori, who was raised in Japan and his native language is Japanese. He once asked me what good books there were to read in Japanese on Jodo Shinshu. Right away I loaned him a couple of my books by Shigaraki Sensei. He was so moved by them, and read them over and over again. He came down from Central Cal and was able to hear Sensei’s lectures at the LA Betsuin a little over a year ago. We had a MAP seminar last week and Mori-san was there. I told him the sad news that Sensei had passed away. Immediately, tears welled up in his eyes and in a choked voice he offered his sympathies to me. Together, we shed tears and I expressed to him how we can continue to learn from Sensei through his many books. Mori-san only met Sensei once, but that was enough for him to connect with him very deeply.

There must be countless people who feel like Mori-san and I do about Sensei’s passing. However, I have absolutely no doubt that Sensei’s teachings will continue far on into the future. My dear colleague in the ministry, Rev. David Matsumoto, who studied at Ryukoku and through Sensei has become a tremendous scholar of Shin Buddhism, has translated and will continue to translate Sensei’s books into English. I hope to publish translations of Sensei’s books in the future as well. Sensei would write books faster than I could read them. I have much to study and work on yet. There is still a wealth of teaching to receive from Sensei, even though his physical life has come to an end.

Shinran Shonin, in his Shoshinge, composes a song or poem of 120 lines, in which he praises the teachers and teachings in his life. I can understand Shinran Shonin’s feeling. There is very little, if nothing that I can come to understand or realize on my own. It is all because of the teachers and teachings in my life. Now, to a great teacher and his teachings, I bow my head, in deepest reverence, in deepest gratitude.

Namuamidabutsu,

Rev. Marvin Harada