Mindfulness: Remembering the teachings

Mindfulness has become very popular as a practical means to gaining focus, being more productive, and happier in life. Even schools are now teaching mindfulness to help students focus on their school work and studies. There is one aspect of mindfulness that I think has been neglected in its presentation thus far, and that is the aspect of “remembering the teachings.”

In the movie, “Finding Nemo,” the fish named Dory (with the voice of Ellen Degeneres), has a “short term memory problem.”
As I get older, I find that my short term memory is starting to go as well. Have you ever gone into a room and then stop and think, “What was I looking for here again?” We have all done that.

Sometimes Gail will send me to the store to get a few things. She will mention the two or three things she wants me to get. Sometimes she says, “Should I write it down for you?” I respond, “Naw, I got it.”

I go to the store, start looking around, and when I come home, I haven’t gotten a single thing that she wanted me to get. Part of that problem was that I was not mindful and attentive when she told me the few things she wanted the first time. I also didn’t remember them and thus forgot to buy them.

We listen to the teachings, learn the teachings, but quite often we “forget the teachings.” We might consider that we understand the teaching of “impermanence,” but when our first-born grows up and heads off for college for the first time, we are devastated. We cannot accept the “change,” although we thought we understood the teaching of impermanence.

Have you ever had this conversation with your spouse, in which you are mildly arguing about something, and you say, “You never used to be this way!” Well, guess what. Your spouse has changed, and you yourself have also changed. We “forget” the teaching of impermanence.
When we listen and receive the teachings in our life, then we do not “forget” the teachings. The teachings and our life are one and the same thing.

I remember when our Rev. Akio Miyaji’s father, Professor Kakue Miyaji, was in his latter weeks of his life, he had lost a lot of his short term memory. Rev. Miyaji would go to visit has father and ask him what he had for lunch. His father couldn’t remember what he had for lunch.

In his dying days, Rev. Miyaji told me an amazing story about his father. His father was dying, and was in a semi-conscious state. He was not able to have a conversation, but he was mumbling something. He was saying something. When Rev. Miyaji got close to his father to hear what he was saying, he was astounded that his father was reciting passages from Buddhist texts, like the Tannisho. He was reciting them perfectly, word for word, but in a semi-conscious state. On other occasions, he could hear his father giving a Buddhist lecture or Dharma talk, also in a semi-conscious state.

Someone who has received the teachings such that they are integrated into their life, like Professor Miyaji, doesn’t have to “remember” passages from sutras or texts. They just flow from his being, like talking in one’s sleep.

The question or challenge is then, “How do we become like that? How can we become a person such that the teachings are one with our life?”

I think that we listen to the Dharma at every opportunity that we are given. We read books. We discuss the Dharma with friends and other Sangha members. We chew on it in our own life. We reflect on it in our everyday life. We experience it in our own life. And through it all, it begins to sink in. Or rather, we find ourselves immersed in it.

Rev. Marvin Harada