Christopher Kakuyo Sensei
In his commentary of the Tan Butsu Ge or the Song of the Buddha; a section from the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra, Gyomay Sensei writes,
“ Ku Yo, of offering is a very important virtue in the Buddha’s Way…Ku Yo is done in relation to someone who is more worthy than oneself…to do Ku Yo is one way of expressing profound gratitude and nourishment for the very source of our gratitude…it is an honor to do Ku Yo.”
For those who come from a more secular background or as someone who struggles with Post -Religious Stress Disorder, it is curious that this idea of making offerings to all the Buddhas is something that would bring me back to Buddhism, after being away for a while. I have no idea of why this is what brought me back. looking at my history one would think that this would be something that would drive me away instead of drawing me nearer. Recently I was re-reading the Shorter Pure Land Sutra about how one of the practices in the Pure Land being was to make offerings to countless Buddhas of other Buddha lands. In Sukhavati, it rains Mandarava blossoms all the time and those flowers are gathered up and then offered to countless Buddhas across the universe. Along with other meditative or bodhisattva practices, there is also the practice of Ku Yo. I love that fact that the offering to the Buddhas is not something that is rare but something that is constantly unfolding. I like to think of the flowers as a representation of the compassion and practice of those living in the Pure Land; the flowers raining from the sky represent the fruit of practice and awakening. As Mark Healsmith has written, “The flower is a wonderful exemplar of the uniqueness yet interconnectedness of all life “ and makes the offering of them an expression of the interconnectedness of all life and “profound gratitude, for the very source of our gratitude.”
The other reason why Ku Yo resonates with me is it is something that I have been contemplating. I have been thinking about Ku Yo in the frame of the “Way of Gratitude” and some of the barriers that impede our cultivation of it. I have been thinking about the role of humility and gratitude and how humility is one of its prerequisites. I think at times we struggle with gratitude because we struggle with humility. As I have been thinking about this and asking others, I found that for many of us we struggle with humility because we have not really experienced it, only its unhealthy sibling; Shame. In humility we are open, we are ready to learn, we show both sides of the leaf. With shame, we close our self off from the outside world and bury our leaf in the darkest hole. In this state of mind when we see someone with boundless compassion or great practice we do not see it as something we can learn from but they become a source of further comparison and a deepening shame of our failures. That which could give us hope and insight to our Buddha Nature only becomes a testament of our failures. Gratitude gets choked off in the darkness. Humility, on the other hand, opens us up to awe and the acceptance of our limitation, it frees us to “keep going” without the burden of judgment and shame.
As Goymay writes, Ku Yo practice is being done in relation to someone or something that is more worthy than oneself. More worthy than me? A part of us does not like such a statement. Here is where many of us live in a paradox. In our shame, we feel unworthy and yet we bristle at the idea of someone being more worthy than us? Why is this idea so challenging for some of us? Maybe it is because we have inherited the karma of “rugged individualism” and a misplaced meaning of “equality”? In opening services at our Sangha, we recite lines from the opening they use at Plum Village Sangha in France. One of the lines says, “may we be free from the “equality complex””, to remind ourselves that there are things greater than ourselves, like the three refuges for example; the Dharma, The Sangha, and the Buddha. I am grateful that there are things in this world greater than me! I feel a sympathetic joy and gratitude to those I make offerings to. I think that Ku Yo is the fruit of “sincerely seeking the true life” (46) There is no Ku Yo without “true life” and no true life without “Ku Yo”, they “co-arise”. Offerings to the Buddha inspire us to become Buddhas, they come from the heart, there is no ego in it.” (46) all the time realizing that who bows and who is bowed to are the same.
I have a great appreciation for the more psychological and secular forms of Buddhism and they have been companions with me on my journey. At the same time, I appreciate the idea of something greater than my small ego-self, a point of reference that elicits awe, a devotional expression within samsaric dualism, that works dynamically through poetry, metaphor, and experience to dissolve all dualisms into the great ocean of compassion. So many teachers in so many places. It is up to me to hear them.
Christopher Kakuyo Sensei is a Lay Minister with Bright Dawn Way of Oneness Sangha. For information about Bright Dawn and the Lay Ministry program please visit our website.