Sermon from the January 2018 issue of “Konkokyo-ho: Ametsuchi”

Let’s Train Ourselves Spiritually

So That We Can Give Something Good to People

By Rev. Michiharu Tsukamoto
Konko Church of Kurumi


(From the January 2018 issue)

What Is the Meaning of “Work?”

One day, I heard a door bell ring. It was the door bell of the residential building for my family and myself that stood right next to our Konko Church.  I answered the door for the visitor who had just rung the bell.  There I saw a lady in her early fifties.  She was dressed in a uniform of a well-known life insurance company.  Without even asking why she had come, I automatically judged that she wanted me or my family to join her company’s insurance.  I flatly said to her, “We are already under another company’s insurance, so your invitation is not necessary for us at this time, thank you.”  Then she briefly introduced herself and asked me, “May I come into the church and worship?”  Her words were far beyond my expectations, and I found them a bit strange.  Yet I replied, “Oh, yes, please come in,” and invited the lady to enter the church through the church’s entrance. It seemed to be her first time ever visiting a Konko church. The lady, who called herself Ms. N, was totally at a loss of what to do, and all she did was stand in the far back of the worship area.  I sat at the Mediation Seat and called to her, inviting the perplexed Ms. N to come over to me.  I spoke to her, “Welcome to our church, Ms. N.  Do you have any problems you would like to share with me?”  Ms. N immediately responded, “Yes, I do,” and said, “I cannot meet the monthly quota my company imposes on me.  If I remain unable to meet it, I will have to endure a huge loss of my salary.  If I still continue to fail to meet my quota, I may have to quit my job.  How can I succeed in having people join my company’s insurance?”  Ms. N bravely shared her troubles with me in this way.

I then asked her to detail the history of her career.  Ms. N told me that she was a fourth-year sales lady of her insurance company. She told me she had successfully met her monthly quota until she ran into serious difficulties.  Ms. N bravely revealed that even during her occupational success, the way she managed was destined to be short-lived; Ms. N in fact asked her parents, siblings and relatives to join her company’s insurance and they kindly cooperated with her request.

Ms. N said to me, “Now I have nobody to depend upon.  I cannot ask anybody else from my family tree to join my company’s insurance.”  Generally speaking, 80 to 90 % of sales ladies of life insurance firms leave their companies within three to five years of working.  They have no other choice but to do so, and I assume that most of these women follow exactly the same or a very similar path which Ms. N had been following. 

I gave Ms. N a question, “Why do you work as a salesperson of a life insurance company?” Then she replied at once, “To live, to have a better life.” I spoke to her, “You told me that you weren’t able to get insurance contracts from the people you meet and talk to.  But do you intend to take people’s hard-earned money to let only yourself have a better life?  What would you think if you were in a position where you are asked to sign your name on the contract paper of an insurance company?”  I finished with a pair of other questions. She silently listened to me. 

I then continued, “If you want to get money from people, it is quite natural that they will try to protect their money. Trying to take something good from people in your job will not bring you any professional success. Why not?  It is because working is not to take something good from people, but to give something good to them. The verb ‘to work’ is called ‘hataraku’ in Japanese, and this word can be interpreted as a combination of two words, ‘hata’ and ‘raku.’

‘Hata’ is someone or something that is around you and ‘raku’ is burden-free and comfortable.  In this sense, when you work, you are supposed to work hard, give something good and positive to people around you and make them feel comfortable.  If you work in order to make only yourself comfortable, you are not truly working, or “hataraku-ing”.  What you are doing is simply “jiraku-ing” or making only yourself comfortable.  And I am sure that this is not really what you want to do in your career.  You speak to people you visit and recommend them to have a contract with your company’s insurance so that those people who join your company’s insurance will be able to lead worry-free, comfortable lives in the first place.  I’m sure you will understand.  If so, from now on, I’d like you to pray to Kami (Japanese for Deity) before visiting someone, and think, ‘Please allow me to do something that will be useful for this person and their family.  Please allow me to give something good to them.’  If you pray to Kami before working in this way, Kami will always do a wondrous working for you.” 

I further added for her, “The Founder of the Konko Faith teaches us, ‘Do as much as you can for others, and have a heart that cannot help wanting to give.  Don’t be concerned with only yourself.’  He also imparts, ‘Put yourself last, and pray to help others first.  Then Kami-sama will take good care of you.’  Just as these teachings kindly explain, Kami will definitely work and help you, as long as you try to improve the way you live even if a little.”

Since then, Ms. N was able to meet her quota every single month without exceptions, and she was able to do so until her retirement. At times, she had a month in which she had to be extremely patient until she finally earned a contract with one of the people she visited. Under such a circumstance, Ms. N visited our church, asked for and received Sacred Mediation, through which she worked hard to remind herself of the most important thing in her job and to follow Kami’s hopes for her. As a result, she was always able to receive wondrous arrangements from Kami. 


Not Grieving Over What Is Missing

I’d like to talk about another woman from now.  She is a lady in her mid forties and her family name is S.  When Ms. S walked into our church, she had a very scary expression on her face, like a demon.  I asked Ms. S, “What is bothering you, ma’am?”  Then words began to pour from Ms. S’s lips as though a dam inside her had broken. She talked about complaints regarding her husband.

I understood the feelings of Ms. S; her husband is addicted to gambling and owes millions of yen to several loan-shark companies. Because of the mountain of loans, this gentleman needed to repay his debt by one hundred thousand yen per month. But, Ms. S’s husband earns only a little over two hundred thousand yen per month. Normally, this does not work out over a long period of  time; anybody will soon see a dead-end. Yet Ms. S’s husband still would not give up gambling. Because of this habit, Ms. S’s spouse didn’t come home til 10 o’clock at night, and that was considered “early”. And when he came home “late,” he came home at midnight or even later. Due to this issue, Ms. S and her husband had a big argument almost every single night. 

“And we have been like this for many years,” she remarked. The lady sitting right in front of me at the Mediation Place of our church almost cried out, “Please stop my husband’s gambling habit right away!” The facial expression of Ms. S remained quite stern, and she still looked like a demon in rage. 

Because of her fierce expression and fury, I couldn’t help but feel a chill down my spine. Yet I silently prayed to our Parent Deity about her troubles. After the silent prayer, I spoke to the her; “If you really want to stop your husband’s gambling habit right away, you will probably need him to become gravely sick and get hospitalized. Or you may need your husband to die. Which option would you like to take?” Then Ms. S immediately responded, “I don’t want to take any of those options.” “I see,” I said, and I continued, “Ah, you know, you seem angry with your husband by looking at his faults only. You ‘assemble’ all the shortcomings your spouse has and make yourself frustrated very much. Allow me to ask you a question. Doesn’t your husband have anything positive in him?” 

Then Ms. S flatly replied, “No, he doesn’t. He has nothing virtuous in him.” With an intention to help the lady look at her husband more positively, I asked her, “Your husband goes to work every day, doesn’t he?” Then Ms. S said, “Yes, he does, but it is nothing to admire him for. Everybody works.” I then gave her a couple of questions.  “But you don’t want your husband to get hospitalized now, do you?  If so, your husband being healthy enough to go to work every day is a good thing for you, isn’t it?”  Ms. S didn’t really look convinced and just replied, “Well, yeah, maybe you are right, but…”

I knew I should continue: “Yes, it is true what your husband has been doing is not worth any praise. But I imagine, if I were your husband, I would not be so motivated to go home either, because I’d know that my wife with an expression of such fury like a demon will be waiting for me in our home every evening. Your husband is likely feeling like this, and I don’t know if I can necessarily blame him for it. To me, you are giving bad and negative things only to your husband by being angry with him and blaming him, while you are demand he give you good and positive things. If we could receive good things from someone by giving that person bad things such as frustrations and complaints, there would be no such things as suffering in this world. Do you think someone will do you good when you do him bad?  I don’t think so. I guess you can agree with me on this.  If so, why don’t you start to give yourself spiritual training in which you try to give your husband good things by working with him positively? You can start this training today. I want to ask you to leave your negative feelings and complaints about your husband here at the church’s Mediation Place and bring something good to your home. And I want you to grow that good thing in your home.”

Ms. S then accepted my words of advice faithfully and she began to come over to our church every day. In the beginning, Ms. S often saw negative feelings and positive feelings colliding with one another in her heart. As time went by, however, she gradually ceased to look like a demon; she now smiled much more often than before. At the same time, the husband of Ms. S was able to get himself out of the swamp of the gambling addiction before Ms. S even took notice of it. And the gentleman was also able to finish paying back all of his loans. 

A Small Difference Can Make a World of Difference

Let me share an anecdote of Buddhism with you. This story is called “A Sightseeing Tour of Paradise and Hell.” A long, long time ago, a tour to paradise and hell was available according to this anecdote. The participants of this tour discussed which destination of the two they wanted to visit first. After the discussion, they decided to visit paradise first. 

When the tour participants arrived at paradise, people living in paradise were at a big round table for their meal. In the middle of the table, there was a large plate on which a mountain of various cooked foods was being served. The foods looked wonderfully delicious. People at the dinner table were healthily plump, and cheerful. Just as the participants of the tour had imagined, paradise was a place of peace and joy.

After the sightseeing tour of paradise, the participants came back to “this world.” They decided to visit hell as well. When the people of the tour arrived at hell, they saw a very similar scenery; people dwelling in hell were sitting at a big round table for their meal.  In the middle of that big table, there was a large plate on which a mountain of various cooked foods was served, and it was exactly what the tour participants had seen in paradise. To a great contrast, however, people at the dinner table in hell looked totally different from those the people of the tour had witnessed up in paradise; people at hell’s table were skinny and thin, their eyes glittered and they looked as if they would soon attack one another.  It exactly looked like a painting of scene in hell which you would see in an art museum. 

This Buddhism anecdote shows us that there are no differences of the size and shape of the dinner table and the way those delicious foods are served between paradise and hell. Yet people in paradise and people in hell are totally different from one another.  “Why?” is the point of this story. Here, I need to explain the difference between this world and the “next world” after our physical deaths. There is only one difference between them; “the length of a pair of chopsticks” one uses for meals. A pair of chopsticks used in the “next world” (whether it is paradise or hell) is about two meters long and people in paradise and those in hell must eat using that fairly long chopsticks. 

People in hell use the extremely long chopsticks to take the foods on that large dish and try to put the cuisines into their own mouths. They, however, simply cannot do so because of the extreme length of the chopsticks. They say, “If you try to eat a food but cannot do so, you will get furious and your heart will be as hot as a flame.”  And the flames in those people’s hearts burn out the wonderful feast on the dining table in a second. Because of this, people in hell cannot eat any of the delicious foods and they are hungry forever. And hunger makes those people thin and skinny, and it makes their hearts edgy on a constant basis. 

People in paradise, on the other hand, have a better strategy to enjoy their meals than those in hell: Using the extremely long chopsticks, people in paradise help each other by putting the foods into the mouths of those sitting right in front of them. They are happy and grateful for one another. Because of this, people in paradise, they are all plump and can smile all the time. The difference between the act of people in hell and that of those in paradise may be subtle, but there is in fact a world of difference between these two groups of people. 

The two ladies I have just introduced to you in this article must have suffered very much because they only thought of receiving good things from people, not really thinking of giving good things to them. The Founder of the Konko Faith teaches us, “Divine blessings are like the water in a washtub. If you push the tub away, the water will come towards you.  And if you pull it towards you, the water will go the other way.” (GI: Shimamura Hachitaro, 25)  He also imparts, “To be human is to save others.” (GI: Yamamoto Sadajiro, 65)  These teachings, I believe, refer to this very thing. 

The Konko Faith Organization has been implementing a faith movement, “Let us Live a Mutually Fulfilled Life with Kami” for the last several years. This is the seventh year since we began to put this movement into practice in our daily (faith) lives. The more attentively I observe our modern society, the more seriously I consider that putting the fourth line of this movement, “Let us pray for, help and guide one another, with a compassionate heart of Kami,” into concrete actions is important. I strongly believe that implementing this fourth line will surely invigorate the Konko Faith even more than ever; and we, as the practitioners of this faith, can make great strides to realizing the hopes of our Parent Deity, world peace, and the salvation of all humanity. 

If I am allowed to add this, I would like to state that it will be totally meaningless if we only know this thing and recognize its importance. A proverb says, “Even a three-year-old child often knows something important, and an elderly person with grey hair finds it pretty difficult to put it into practice.” This maxim shows us a pitfall into which we can put ourselves soon and easily, but we shouldn’t let ourselves do so. With a refreshed mind, I sincerely pray that we will continue to work hard to carry out this faith movement and it will hopefully help to open the ‘Way of Kami and People’ for the sake of world peace and benefit for all of humanity. 

                                                                         (THE END)


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