In Memoriam, Rev. John Doami

I have worked alongside Rev. John Doami for all of my 31 years of ministry at OCBC. From the time that I was a brand-new, rookie minister, first day on the job, till this year until his passing, he has been a colleague and friend in the ministry. Over those years, he has had to listen to my sermons from day one. Looking back, I know I have given many ill-prepared and incoherent messages. I have also probably given a few that turned out well. Rev. Doami, from day one, never praised my good sermons, nor did he criticize my bad ones. I never wanted criticism for the bad ones, but in the beginning as a rookie, I was kind of waiting for at least a few words of praise for a talk that I thought went well. I never heard praise nor criticism. Rev. Doami just listened. Looking back on that, I realize that Rev. Doami taught me a more important lesson by not saying anything about my sermons, good or bad.

Over the years, I would notice that Rev. Doami would occasionally use in one of his English sermons, something that he had heard or learned in one of Rev. Hirata’s Japanese sermons. For those of you new to our Sangha, Rev. Hirata was the founding minister of OCBC, who served from day one for the next 40 years of his ministry. Rev. Hirata would give wonderful messages in Japanese. Rev. Doami would sometimes share those messages in his English messages. I began to realize that Rev. Doami was really listening to the messages of the other ministers. I would try to listen, but would find that my mind would wander to thoughts like, “What should I have for lunch today?” when one of the other ministers was speaking.

Over the years, I began to see that Rev. Doami was a real listener of the Dharma. Whenever we had guest speakers for seminars or BEC classes, he always attended. Whenever there were lectures for ministers at the district or BCA level, he always attended, even when he was working in his career as a librarian. After retiring from his work as a librarian, he continued to listen to the Dharma whenever the opportunity arose.

In June, we had our annual Southern District Ministers Fuken, and Rev. Doami and Koko-san both attended, although he had been battling two kinds of cancer. He was weak and obviously tired, but he listened to the lectures and participated in our meeting. I don’t know if I would have attended if I had a mere cold, much less two kinds of cancer. Right after that Fuken, Rev. and Mrs. Doami attended the Southern District conference, which he wrote about in his July article in the Korin.

Rev. Doami was a listener and also student of the Dharma. I don’t think he ever quit studying, reading, and reflecting on the teachings. He was very fond of the writings and poems of the Myokonin, the deeply spiritual followers of our Shin Buddhist tradition that were introduced to the world by the great D.T. Suzuki. Another poet he was very fond of was Issa, a famous haiku poet of Japan, and also a Shin Buddhist. One of the poems of Issa that Rev. Doami frequently quoted is the following poem:

The world of dew
Is the world of dew,
And yet, and
                                                      Kobayashi, Issa

The world of dew is a metaphor for this fleeting, transient world, the world of impermanence. The droplets of morning dew on a blade of grass or on the leaf of a flower, quickly evaporate as soon as the morning sun comes out. This is a favorite metaphor for Japanese poets to reflect the world of impermanence. Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are another metaphor for the world of impermanence as they bloom most beautifully, but for such a short period of time.

Issa, in this poem, is saying, “I understand that life is impermanent,” with the first two lines of “The world of dew is the world of dew.” However, in the third line, Issa is saying, “Although I understand this truth in my head, it is so hard to accept in my heart. It is so hard to face in life.”

Issa tragically lost all three of his children, each living less than two years of age. Following the loss of his children, he lost his beloved wife.

That is why Issa writes, “And yet, and yet.”

Issa’s poem was very meaningful for Rev. Doami, and he shared this poem on numerous occasions. Now he leaves this poem as a teaching for us to encounter, not only with words, but with the actual experience of his own life, and death. We too sadly say like Issa, “And yet, and yet.”

I have been most fortunate to serve as a minister with a colleague who was such a sincere student and listener of the Dharma. That is the lesson that he leaves with me, and perhaps with you as well. I am taught to study, listen, and reflect on the teachings, to the very end of my life, like Rev. John Doami.

Rev. Marvin Harada