Doing the Impossible

The Great Task of a Shinran Follower

“You are still young and your point of view is similar to that of the readers.” Takamori- sensei said this to me after having called me to a meeting in February of last year, when I had just become a member of the Publicity Bureau. He wrote the following words on a whiteboard in front of us in big letters: “There is a great ship. I will reveal how to be taken aboard this great ship through the words of Master Shinran.” Takamori-sensei started to write a book, Naze Ikiru 2, the follow-up to the original Japanese You Were Born for a Reason, saying that this would be his last great task.

The common understanding amongst people of the Shin Buddhist sect is that “all people have already been taken aboard the ship of Amida’s great compassion, so everyone will go to the Pure Land after death and become a buddha.” In his book, Takamori- sensei set this misunderstanding straight and used the words of Master Shinran to show us the path we must take until we are brought aboard the ship of Amida’s great compassion.

Moreover, he made the book easy even for general readers to understand, although it has profound contents that even experts on True Pure Land Buddhist doctrines would agree with. It was truly difficult to write a book that is easy to understand while containing difficult contents. Even other true masters across the generations couldn’t make it happen – but Takamori-sensei took on this impossible task.

We had more than ten meetings each month about the book. Takamori- sensei thoroughly put himself in the readers’ shoes. He asked us, “Is there any part that’s difficult to understand? How is the order of sentences?” and he revised the draft many times. He said, “Adding and deleting lines is similar to laying and destroying building blocks.”

The meeting would start in the morning, and sometimes it would go on for five hours, with hardly any breaks, with lunch simply eaten while the meeting continued.

Takamori-sensei would make amendments to the book on his PC within that day according to what was agreed upon during the meetings. The printer was spewing out pages like a machine gun while revisions were being made to the book. Ten thousand pieces of copier paper were used for printing in a month. He wrote so quickly that it was all I could do to keep up with him. As he was writing this book that will be read for thousands of years to come, he also never failed to give lectures here in the 2,000-Tatami-Mat Hall every month, or to give webinars and give Q&A sessions at inauguration ceremonies all over Japan.

After coming back from somewhere far away, he would go into his study immediately. Even though he said that it would be impossible to work on both preaching and writing side by side, he persisted with his writing, saying, “Every day is a battle with words.”

Takamori-sensei even told me that his eyes would grow so hazy during the course of the day that by the evening he couldn’t see any more, because he was straining his eyes.

Despite this, he said that he was going to finish it within that year and didn’t even rest for a day. I thought many times because of this that I would want to give him my own eyes, arms and legs if it was possible.

I was in charge of making handouts for the meetings. Whenever Takamori- sensei said, “Let us have a meeting tomorrow too!” I would be up until midnight preparing over 100 pages of handouts. When it came to the final stage, I got so busy that I couldn’t remember when I’d gone to bed and when I’d got up. Takamori- sensei would say, “I will check it word by word by myself,” right up until just before the deadline. He checked not only the main texts but also more than five hundred notes in the margins.

I sensed that Takamori- sensei was trying to change the severely distorted teachings of True Pure Land Buddhism back into the correct teachings of Master Shinran and Master Rennyo with this book. I felt his amazing drive very strongly. Takamori-sensei said, “Master Shinran wrote in a letter from his final years, ‘ I cannot see things around me. I’ve forgotten everything.’ That was Master Shinran saying this! I really understand what he was talking about.”

Finally, Naze Ikiru 2 was published last December. During the celebration for the book, Takamori-sensei said, “I’ve pushed myself to my limit. I don’t think I will ever regain the same physical strength I had before.” I couldn’t help but shed tears over his solitary struggle. Now we have been granted the supreme treasures of Naze Ikiru, You Were Born For a Reason, and Naze Ikiru 2.

The radio program of Naze Ikiru is broadcasted across Japan once a week, and in a single day, we receive more than 150 postcards from listeners saying how joyful they are to listen to it. All humanity is suffering without knowing ‘why we live’, and we Shinran Followers have the great task of conveying the rock-solid existence of the ship of Amida’s great compassion with these people.

I swear on my life to share the truth with these people. “Let us die only after having accomplished our great task. Our youth, full of zeal, will never come back again.”

Shota Okayasu, Buddhist Teacher in the Publicity Bureau

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #44 | 2014, Doing the Impossible

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