Bonds to Buddhism in Manila

After Ho’on’ko in Toyama, I went to Manila in the Philippines. Inspired by a new member from that country, and my many encounters with the people over the years, I was motivated to visit there in search of someone with a deep bond to Buddhism.

What could I expect from a mostly catholic country? I wasn’t sure. But something drew me to the Philippine people throughout my life, and now I felt something draw me to their country. Apprehensive? Yeah, I was a little. I had three weeks to do “market research” as I called it, so I had no time to waste, and I pushed the thoughts of “what if” to the back of my mind.

Fortunately I had the help of Daren Arroyo for the first week I was there. We handed out flyers and posted flyers in public places. This was new territory and we didn’t know what to expect in terms of a response. But to our surprise very soon we began getting text messages: “I want to know about the purpose of life. Please teach me.”

Such messages were not uncommon over the course of the next few weeks. A woman texted me after seeing a flyer I had posted to a pole. The flyer posed the questions: “Do you know why you are living? Do you know the purpose of life?” She texted saying she wanted to know more about the information on the flyer. Can we please come to her? Without delay we hailed a taxi and went to the beauty salon where she worked.

We started talking and explaining about the words on the flyer. But even though she was paying attention I could see that she wanted to talk as well. And soon enough she did, and then a flood of tears came out, as we listened to her and her sorrows. “I don’t know what I am living for. Happiness is so temporary. You have it one day, and the next day it is gone. It is here today and gone tomorrow. Why is it like this?” We listened and we spoke and she heard about the life of Śākyamuni Buddha and his dissatisfaction with the temporary pleasures of life in the castle, and his attainment of enlightenment. She asked with curiosity how we can study the entire 7,000 sutras. When she heard that we don’t have to because of Master Shinran, a smile came to her face, and she said, “we have to be thankful for Master Shinran then.” Both Daren and myself responded with beaming smiles and the word “yes!”

Another person came to a meeting after getting a flyer that was handed to him a few hours earlier at a train station. He was so moved by the flyer that he invited two of his friends to come to the first meeting as well. He was shocked to hear about the reality of life and began telling his friends about what he was hearing. He would tell them that if we live without knowing the purpose of life, we are living in order to die. He told one friend who was an atheist, “you are an atheist, but do you know why you are living?” He said his friend was in shock that he had not thought about such a thing before. At the second meeting he brought another friend. Three people attended meetings because of him. “This teaching is so deep,” he said. “I get goose bumps running down my arm thinking about this,” he said in amazement after reading about the true self in the book You Were Born for A Reason.

While handing out flyers in a mall one day, we met someone who said he was interested in Buddhism and we talked for a while. We promised to keep in touch via Facebook. Later when I searched him on Facebook I found that he went by a different name there. I saw something familiar in that name. “Yes, I remember.” He and I had chatted months ago on Facebook about Buddhism. And yet I could meet him in his city!! What were the chances of running into each other by random accident in this huge city? In fact, as I have learned, there is no randomness. Everything is cause and effect, and one’s bond to Amida.

Just like the weather in the Philippines, the people are warm. Motivated by their genial disposition, I wanted to blend into the culture as much as I could. I ate the local food, and traveled on the public transport, the Jeepneys (a small bus with two long benches) whenever possible. I noticed that the people live in the moment. Most of the people who got the flyer called immediately and wanted to attend immediately or the earliest meeting. A local person told me that people have a habit of spending all they have, not thinking about tomorrow. I found myself becoming like this too, not spending all I have, but living for the now rather than for later. There is a feeling in the Philippines, an impulse, call it what you like, that you want to do what you can right now. This is very Buddhist in fact. There is only now. “Do all you can today, for there is no tomorrow.” I feel I was living by this motto during my time there.

I look forward to returning to the Philippines again one day to continue my search for people with deep bonds to Buddhism.

Frank Costelloe, Los Angeles

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #47 | 2015, Bonds to Buddhism in Manila

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