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Lions Roar : May 2019
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha. All of a sudden, my eyes welled up. It was the last line of the Heart Sutra, words that brought me back to listening to Grandma sing in our room. I was struck by how these words connected me to her, my culture, and my Buddhist upbringing. Grandma’s practice was not scholarly, nor was there meditation sitting on a cush- ion. It was a Buddhism of ritual, of going to temples, praying, visiting the family grave, and chanting. Grandma learned the Heart Sutra through pilgrimages to many temples, including regular visits to Mount Koya, where our family grave is. Her walk to the main temple was slip- pery with ice and snow, and she would tie dried straw around her shoes to avoid falling. Nothing stopped her from going. Grandma recited the sutra she learned there every morning and evening. She breathed and inserted breaks where it made no sense, as the sutra is recited in an antiquated form of Chinese poems, so she AT 6 A.M., A SINGLE RING of the shrine bell would wake me up. In this bedroom we shared, Grandma would breathe in, a very determined, deliberate breath, and I would hear: “Bussetsu ma-ka-han-nya-ha-ra - mi-ta-shingyo...” As she sang the Heart Sutra in Japanese in a weird, monotone voice, I would slowly get out of my warm futon—not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I loved this ritual with my Grandma, just the two of us in the morning, her voice dedicated to these words. “...fu-zo -fu-ghenze-ko- / ku-chu-mu- shikimu- / ju-so-gyo-shiki / mu-ghen-ni- ji-bi-de-shin/ i-...” To me, this whole sutra was a riddle. I never knew what words she was actually singing. This is what I heard it as: ... wind elephant, wind, tax-cut child / mid-air dream, color blind / baking soda, line-style / no-limit, ni-ji-bi-de- [mysteri- ous word], new / frown ... When Grandma was finished singing, we’d go to the shinto shrine in our kitchen and pray for a good day ahead. This was my daily routine until I was about six years old. Years later, I was in a yoga class in Canada and the teacher played a Buddhist- inspired song that ended in the words: WEEKEND WISDOM Grandma’s Riddle MEGUMI YOSHIDA on how words that seemingly have no meaning can mean so much. memorized sounds without know- ing what the words meant. This was her practice and her way of life. But “not knowing” is what the Heart Sutra is all about. In The Heart Sutra Will Change You For- ever, Karl Brunnhölzl says, “When we read it, it sounds nuts, but that is actually where the wisdom part comes in. What the Heart Sutra (like all Prajnaparamita Sutras) does is to cut through, deconstruct, and demolish all our usual conceptual frameworks, all our rigid ideas, all our belief systems, all our reference points.” Grandma’s determination demon- strated her bodhisattva nature. As Pema Chödrön describes in Bodhichitta: The Excellence of Awakened Heart, “Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening unconditional and relative bodhichitta are called bodhisattvas or warriors—not warriors who kill and harm but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. These are men and women who are willing to train in the middle of the fire.” I am grateful for the mysterious riddle Grandma left with me. It led me to Lion’s Roar and the teachings we embrace in our content, especially those from Thich Nhat Hanh—listening to him reminds me of the gentle, yet determined voice of Grandma. I am especially fond of his article A New Look at the Heart Sutra, from Thich Nhat Hanh and Norman Fischer. So, for me, for you, and for Grandma, let’s sing together: Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha! ♦ COURTESYOFTHEAUTHOR Weekend Wisdom features favorite selections from the Lion’s Roar Weekend Reader. Every Friday, the Reader explores important themes and highlights related articles from our archives that you can enjoy over the weekend. Go to lionsroar.com/newsletters to sign up and read the full articles referenced in this essay. MEGUMI YOSHIDA is the art director of Lion’s Roar. Grandma, Megumi (age seven), and her sister, Litsko LION’S ROAR | MAY 2019 25 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE