Spring Memorial Sermon 2020 : March 8, 2020

Good afternoon, everyone! Thank you very much for attending the 2020 annual Spring Memorial Service of the Konko Church of Chicago. I hope you are all in good health & in excellent spirits.

The Konko Faith has an annual Memorial service twice a year, in spring & in autumn. They always bring me to think of our mortality & the next world. Death will come to every human being. No one can escape it. The more clearly we understand our fate, the more we cannot help but contemplate what is most important in our life, and during our limited lifetime how we might live a more meaningful life.

My parent minister, Rev. Soichiro Otsubo lived an admirable life with Kami. Here are two quotes from him. They are his last words left for us: "It is through Kami's blessings and due to this Faith that I will be able to enter into the next world with such gratitude & delight." "There are no other words I might leave for the world than Wa-Ga Kokoro (the peaceful, joyful heart). I have been seeking Wa-Ga Kokoro in myself throughout my whole life. At every moment of each & every day I seek Wa-Ga Kokoro; and continuously pray I'll seek Wa-Ga Kokoro in the next world."

During his lifetime he had achieved such a bles-sed heart. He had done all this just by doing his best to accept everything that happened as Kami's Sacred Doing and in this way had deepened his heart.

Recently I have encountered the deaths of some who were close to us. Last year, Mrs. Yoshiko Yoshihara passed away at age 89 on Dec. 17. She was a member of the Midwest Buddhist Temple, but for a long time loved to join us for our Grand Ceremonies twice a year. She always brought an offering of red bean rice. Her smile made our ceremonies more meaningful & enjoyable. At her funeral service I found out she thought of herself as not only a member of Midwest Buddhist Temple, but also a member of KC Chicago. This surprised me, but it made me so grateful.

On February 17, Mrs. Mariko Hosokawa passed away at age 72. I went to see her at the hospital that afternoon with two ladies. I had heard she might have had the respiratory machine removed, so I wondered if we would be able to see her alive. Even though it was removed an hour before we had arrived, she was breathing on her own when we saw her. Even as a believer of another religion, she always tried to join us for Grand Ceremonies and would take videos & photos. How sincere & generous she was! That is how KC Chicago has been able to keep records of almost every grand ceremony. They are all precious treasures for us. No matter how much I try to thank her, it is never enough. How fortunate I was able to see her alive at the hospital! Her three children were beside her. Two of them had flown in from Korea. When I expressed my sincere appreciation into her ear, to my surprise, her eyes opened. I believe she noticed me & heard my words of appreciation. When I returned back to our church, I received the e-mail that announced she had passed away peacefully.

As all of you know, Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash Sunday, Jan. 26th in Calabasas, California, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. He was one of the most famous professional basketball players and was only 41 years old.

And recently the outbreak of Coronavirus! It is spreading rapidly throughout the world. We cannot help but feel death is near at hand at any time for every one of us. Our life is such that we could be alive today, and may not exist tomorrow. Even though we are apt to think we can have life on our own, the reality is Kami allows us to have life. We should feel totally protected by Kami. In order for us to feel protected, we should leave everything up to Kami unconditionally and respect with gratitude each & every happening in our life as Kami's Sacred Doing.

Concerning the Coronavirus, the power of it is tremendous. Various events have been canceled, schools have been closed for a while, and people all over the world are trembling with fear. The Coronavirus shock the world. If we humans can change it to Wagakokoro virus as our Founder changed Konjin, the most fearful deity in those days to Tenchi Kane No Kami, the most benevolent deity through his deepening faith, Wagakokoro will be able to spread all over the world.

Let us imagine Wagakokoro covers each Coronavirus. It will be done by not scaring it but respecting it with modesty & in awe. Right now the world is human-centered. All things are done by people's own power. Kami wishes to change it to the kami-centered world. When we, humans realize this through Coronavirus, do our best to respect everything that happens as Kami's sacred doing and then Coronavirus disappears, what will be left is Wagakokoro.

We don't need to go right & left due to fear of Coronavirus. Now is the time. Let us devote ourselves to deepening our unbreakable peaceful & joyful hearts to manifest the Way how to be blessed fully with a single heart of peace & joy. We should pray that such Kami's Wish be fulfilled and that the virus stops spreading as soon as possible. Through this memorial service, let us pray for the eternal peace & happiness of the Mitama spirits of those victims of the Coronavirus, along with the many newly departed souls of the world. May Kami's wish be helped to fulfillment and may our faith realize more of the Divine Heart.

Now let us turn our attention to how we might come to welcome our own death and understand what is most important in our lives. Our founder lived a fulfilling life together with Kami. He entered the next world at the age of 70 on the very day Kami had indicated beforehand. It was Oct. 10, 1883 and 19 days before his passing he received the following final words from Kami: "For the sake of all people and to save those who give ME requests, I shall sacrifice you. This is for the eternal dignity of Konko Daijin's divine virtue." And in Japanese: " 人民のため大願の氏子助けるため、 身代わりに神がさする。金光大神ひれいのため 。 "

I think this revelation is somehow very difficult to understand, especially the wording, "身代わりに神がさする" or "I shall sacrifice you." But it shows us just what a great life our Founder had lived always being one with Kami. Let's try to understand this revelation a little more clearly. I'll try my best using what I learned from the writings of Rev. Mikio Seto, the former director of the Konkokyo Research Institute.

Here the Japanese word "身代わり" is translated as "sacrifice." However, that is quite different from a Christian point-of-view. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, he said, "Lord, Lord, why have you forsaken me?" And then, after accepting his fate, offers up his spirit saying, "Only within Your Heart," and then dies. So God sacrificed his beloved child, Jesus, for the sake of the human race, which according to Christianity, is proof of Divine Love.

As for our Founder, his lifelong wish was to help people. Therefore, he was glad to die for the sake of people, which also upheld "the eternal dignity of his divine virtue." Rev. Seto thinks the Founder accepted death positively, in the sense that he really would save people after dying. Our founder has said, "Without becoming a kami while alive, how can you become a kami after death?" This not only points to the importance of how to live life in this world, but also implies that it is not enough just to live life on earth without becoming a kami after death.

Life & death for the Founder had a quality of oneness. They were not separate, but a single unit. While living, our Founder not only lived life day to day, but also lived as if to die day to day. Even after dying he was doing the same work to help people in their difficulties as he had done while living on earth.

Closer to home, through the divine virtue of my sister's beloved husband, Mitsuaki Sensei, I have come to understand more clearly the Japanese phrase, "身代わり." Mitsuaki Sensei during his final two years became a divine person (ikigami) by training his faith precisely before passing into the next world on June 8, 2018 at age 68.

Our founder taught us: "After Konko Daijin's physical form is gone; Konko Daijin will go wherever asked." These are words which cannot be declared by a human founder, but only through the conviction of a divine person (ikigami). Similarly, Mitsuaki Sensei is now going wherever he is asked, anywhere in the world.

So in the final words Kami gave to our Founder: "For the sake of all people and to save those who give ME requests, I shall sacrifice you. This is for the eternal dignity of Konko Daijin's divine virtue."

We can clarify the Japanese word, 身代わり (migawari). Instead of "I shall sacrifice you," it could also be understood as "changing your status." So Mitsuaki Sensei changed himself from this world to the next world & Kami released his spirit beyond space-time limitations. Therefore he can go wherever asked since his physical form is gone. This is absolutely the eternal dignity of Konko Daijin's divine virtue. Our Founder entered the next world to save human beings. It was so thoughtful of him. He wanted to help people, and felt so glad to do it. Let us all practice faith to live our life with the same spirit as our Founder's that could not help but save humans & the world.

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