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Ohigan. The Autumnal Equinox. Equal hours of daylight and darkness. This is a time of year that I like, because it is usually neither too hot nor too cold; in other words, just right. We do not have to turn on our nonexistent air conditioner, just our fans.
Because the weather at Ohigan time is supposed to be especially conducive to studying, and Ohigan refers to paramita, as in Prajna paramita or highest wisdom, it is a time when we are exhorted to study the Buddha's teachings even more than usual. If you do not feel like studying the Buddha's teachings, it may be that you have forgotten that to study the teachings is to study yourself. And is there anything more important?
Hogan (the O is honorific) literally means "other shore" and it refers to the world as it is seen through the eyes of someone who is enlightened. If we completely understand the true essence of Buddhism, then it can be said that we completely understand the true essence of our self. It is not necessary to "know" all of the teachings of Buddhism- an impossibility, in any case- in order to understand its true essence. It is not necessary to "know" everything about myself- again, an impossibility- in order to understand my true essence. In a word, that essence is emptiness, but that is a virtually meaningless word; therefore, in Jodo Shinshu, it is taught that I am of the essence of evil, one who suffers and causes suffering in others, because I cannot truly realize (make real) emptiness in my life. We can know and, even understand the meaning of emptiness, but we cannot- I cannot- live in the reality of emptiness. Yet, because of its very nature (emptiness, too, is empty), I cannot help but live in the reality of emptiness. This is the meaning of Issa's cry, "and yet, and yet."
When we come to this realization, Amida, through Namo Amida Butsu, causes us to know that we will, without doubt, realize that true reality and become one with Amida. That situation is called being born in the Pure Land.
Reprinted from Dharma Talks of the Four Seasons No. 2, which is available in our Online Store. The late Rev. Doami was a long time resident minister at Orange County Buddhist Church