THE HEART OF KANJI: Life and death as one

Seishi Ichinyo. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

Seishi Ichinyo. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

生 (sei) means “life.” The bottom represents the soil and the top indicates a new plant, which comes out from the soil. 死 (shi) means “death.” The top and left side lines indicate a bone, and the right indicates a person upside down in the ground. 一 (ichi) means “one.” 如 (nyo) means “same.” The left side is a woman who is sitting and the right side is a mouth. Together, as a woman speaks, she can express how she feels or believes in both her heart and mind.

For most of us, life and death are opposites. However, the Japanese saying “seishi ichinyo” means “life and death are oneness.”

There is an old Japanese story about a shogun/king and minister who are having a conversation about the afterlife. The shogun begins by saying, “Many religions talk about the existence of a heaven and a hell, however, no one has ever returned from the afterlife to prove that they actually exist. Therefore, I believe that we can never know the truth and that heaven and hell might not even exist in this world.” The minister then replied, “Yes, heaven and hell exist and can be found everywhere you go.”

Curious about the minister’s response, the shogun demanded proof. The minister agreed and stood up and slapped the shogun hard in the face. Red with rage, the shogun took out his katana (sword) and said, “No one has ever dared hit me like that!” The minister calmly sat back down and said, “Yes, now you are in hell.” Realizing what had just happened, the shogun was speechless. He then saw that heaven and hell are not simply for the deceased, but exist in everyday life.

After that experience, the shogun tried his best to maintain a calm and open mind/heart under any circumstance.

The Konko founder once said, “The light the sun shines upon us is a divine blessing. The rain that falls is a divine blessing as well. All humans are allowed to live among divine blessings. People are born among divine blessings, live among divine blessings and die among divine blessings.” Our founder appreciated both life and death equally. He treated both as blessings from Kami (God).

When I was in the Konko seminary school in Okayama, Japan, I became very ill and did not recover for more than six months. During that time, I feared the very thought of death and dying. There were many questions for which I had no answer. What comes after death? Will I end up in heaven, hell or utopia? I put forward a wholehearted effort to find these answers and to overcome my fear of the unknown. However, I could not bear this burden alone. I sought the advice of the fourth Konko head minister, the Rev. Kagamitaro Konko.

I offered my questions and a short prayer, and after a short period of silence, he turned to me and said, “When you travel long distances, we might worry about having a safe trip, but when you travel a short distance, we do not worry because it is not a big deal. However, we should treat both the same; both far and close are the same. ‘Seishi ichinyo’ life and death are oneness.”

I was shocked by these words. I had always thought that near and far, tall and short, rich and poor, and especially life and death were very different. This helped me to understand how they are the same — each a divine blessing.

Similarly, we are all one — one another — equal in the eyes of Kami, and each a part of the vast and endless universe. At that moment of self awareness, I felt one with the universe — like a child in the warm embrace of their parent. I said to myself now I can die anytime; yet now I can also live peacefully.

Rev. Masato Kawahatsu is a minister at the Konko Church of San Francisco and Konko Center of South San Francisco, who teaches shodo (Japanese calligraphy). He can be reached at konkosf2@sbcglobal.net or (415) 517-5563. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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