A Tribute to Rev. Haruyoshi Kusada

by Rev. Marvin Harada.

I have just received word that Rev. Haruyoshi Kusada, our former director and teacher at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, passed away in Japan. Rev. Kusada lived to the long and full life of 93 years of age.

Rev. Kusada is one of the teachers of my life that I have had the utmost regard for. He was the first teacher to show me with his own way of living, the Shin Buddhist life of humility. Rev. Kusada was one of the most humble persons that I have ever known.

I first met Rev. Kusada many years ago when I was a college student and attended the summer session of IBS. At that time, they had month long summer session, and we stayed in a dormitory at the UC Berkeley campus, and attended lectures at IBS every day, and had field trips on some afternoons and weekends.

When I drove down to IBS for this summer session, I arrived the day before. I looked for the school. I drove by it five times at least. I was looking for a school, but found out that IBS was just a large house that was converted into a school. When I finally found it, I went inside to let the “school” know that I had arrived. The first person to greet me was Rev. Kusada. He was busy in the kitchen. When I asked what he was doing in the kitchen, he said that he was baking cookies. I thought it kind of strange that the director of IBS was baking cookies. The next day, after the opening service, we all enjoyed homemade cookies, the ones that Kusada Sensei had baked the night before.

Rev. Kusada virtually single handedly ran IBS. He led the chanting for the services, he made arrangements for the speakers, he arranged for our field trips, he taught classes and gave lectures, and did everything. He was truly a jack of all trades. Our English expression is, “jack of all trades, but master of none.” Rev. Kusada was different. He was an accomplished master in many fields. He was a learned Buddhist minister, and had studied the long and difficult Kegon sutra. He was an accomplished chanter, and his chanting to me is still the most beautiful chanting that I have heard any Jodo Shinshu minister do. He was a black belt in Aikido and on one occasion asked me to help him with a demonstration. He threw me around like a sack of flour.  He was a master of tea ceremony, and often gave demonstrations in tea. He dabbled in photography, and even had his own dark room and developed his own photographs.

In the years that I attended IBS, I was able to see that Rev. Kusada was able to touch and connect with whomever he encountered. Although he was from Japan and didn’t speak fluent English, it did not deter him from connecting with people on a heart to heart level. Young and old alike, everyone who passed through the doors of IBS were inspired by Rev. Kusada. They were inspired by his humility.

In Shin Buddhism, a person of the Nembutsu becomes a humble person. What is a humble person? A humble person is someone who awakens to their arrogance, to their ego centeredness. That is what makes them humble. You cannot “strive” to become a humble person. Imagine if you worked and strived to become a humble person. You might get to a point where you said to yourself, “Wow, I think I have finally achieved it! I think I am a humble person. I think I will tell someone about it. Hey, everyone, I have been working and working at it, and now I have become the most humble person in the world!” You can see the absurdity of this kind of statement. A person who declares to the world that they are humble, is exactly the opposite, they are really arrogant. A humble person would never say that they are humble.

Rev. Kusada was the epitome of humility. He always respected and looked up to all others. He regarded all others above himself.

When Rev. Kusada retired, a bunch of his former students at IBS held a little party to honor him. At the end of that party, Sensei got up to give a little thank you. It was one of the most eloquent and moving thank you speeches I have ever heard in my life. Sensei said to us, “I want to thank all of you. I want to thank all of you, for making my work as a minister so meaningful, and such a joy for so many years.” Sensei said it with such humble sincerity, that there was not a dry eye among any of us.

Here, we were trying to honor Sensei, but like always, he made us feel like the ones who were honored. He was his humble self, elevating all the rest of us. That’s what a humble person does. That is what Rev. Kusada did for all who knew him in his life. That is how he connected with so many people throughout his life, and how he was such a memorable person to all. Rarely do we meet a person of such humility. Rarely do we meet such a person of the Nembutsu.

I feel most fortunate that I was able to attend IBS and to meet such a humble and dynamic person as Rev. Kusada. A humble person is not a weak, passive person. A humble person is actually a very dynamic person, able to move and flow in this world unhindered by anything. Now in death, Sensei becomes one with the truth of the Nembutsu, flowing and moving in this world, to lead all beings to enlightenment.

Namuamidabutsu,

Rev. Marvin Harada