In the rain today I walked to Bukkō-ji 佛光寺, an important temple in the centre of Kyoto for Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism. I am not a temple member, but this is the neighborhood temple. In a famously gridded city, its grounds are the local shortcut. Every day we walk diagonally through Bukko-ji to get destinations — and out of the muggy Kyoto heat — faster. This is where neighbours ring the bell for New Years. These gravelly temple grounds are where I taught my daughter to skip rope. To me, it is more than an historical destination.
Taking a break from work I pensively walked past azaleas and other flowers heavy with drops of rain. The temple grounds were empty except an attendant sweeping the wooden walkways. Sliding open a door I let myself into the darkened, humid halls. First, the main hall housing a statue of Shinran. Next, the Amida-dō, a golden display of the Pure Land. Kneeling and bowing three times, I recited the Homage to the Buddha and the Triple Gem. The rain gently pattered on the roofing tiles above, to my back the sound of sweeping outside, and to the front I am faced with the Amida Buddha himself, he who helped me exactly one year ago today: the day I sat beside my dying father.
One year ago today, across the world in the parched Okanagan Valley, I said goodbye. I still think about that experience often, recalling the crisp night sky adorned with twinkling stars as I stayed up with Dad in his ER room. While I have previously written that I was lucky, it does not mean it wasn’t traumatic. Before that afternoon of rapid decisions and lack of sleep, before sitting alone with him, hearing his drawn out breaths slowly, slowly, slowly give way to silence, before all that I thought I was strong enough to accompany someone to death’s door and see them off. I was wrong. I still feel very sorry. A year later I am not healed.
Yet somehow I made it through without breaking down. Chanting Amida’s name helped. So I wanted to come here, to this temple which I have been connected to for more than 20 years, to pay homage, give thanks, and reflect.
A year later I realize how big a presence my father was in my life, underscored by his lack of being here. I lived far away for so many years, so I had no idea how much support he was actually providing. The scars from that day were really just the beginning.
But as the sutta says:
What’s past is left behind;
the future has not arrived;
Today’s the day to keenly work—
who knows, tomorrow may bring death!
For there is no bargain to be struck
with Death and his mighty hordes.
So I light a candle and a stick of incense. And enjoy the flowers on my walk back to work.