THE HEART OF KANJI: How a small bird can become your teacher


Watakushi no sensei wa kotori. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

Watakushi no sensei wa kotori. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

私 (Watakushi) means “I, myself.” The left side of this word represents a rice plant and the right side represents arms. As one character, it shows a person holding lots of rice with both their arms.

先 (Sen, saki) means “before or after.” The top of this word indicates a person’s foot and the portion below indicates legs.

生 (Sei) means “life, live.” The top lines represent a sprout and the section below represents soil.

小 (Ko, sho) means “small.” This word represents three small things.

鳥 (Tori) means “bird.” This character represents the shape of a bird.

I would like to tell you the story of a Buddhist nun, Yone Oishi, who lost both her arms at a young age. Her stepfather murdered five of her family members and cut off Oishi’s arms. Nevertheless, she survived the brutal attack. She suffered a lot in her young life, and many people made fun of her disability. One day, when she was staying at a ryokan (inn), she noticed two small birds in a cage. They were both singing and eating joyfully. Oishi realized that these birds did not have arms either, but they managed without any difficulty. She thought that perhaps she could find a creative way to excel at life despite not having arms. She began to learn how to write and draw by putting a pen in her mouth. She also flipped the pages of books with her chin or tongue so she could read on her own.

Her focus, determination and passion for learning allowed her to create beautiful calligraphy and paintings.

When she found out that her stepfather was going to be executed, she decided to pray for him and send him positive energy and her forgiveness, rather than feelings of hate and anger. She was able to pray for his spiritual peace because she realized that even though her stepfather had caused much harm, Buddha had allowed her to live and share her story with others. If this incident hadn’t happened, she would not have been tested so much in her lifetime and she might not have become as kind or grateful.

She often said, “My greatest masters were those two small birds.”

There is an old Japanese saying, “If you want to accomplish your biggest life goal, first you must search for three years to find the perfect master.”

Before you even begin your training to accomplish the goal yourself, you must spend time finding the right teacher or master to help you to discover your potential.

If you were to study shodo (calligraphy) alone, you might struggle, but with the help of a skilled teacher, you can learn and experience things that you may have otherwise overlooked.

Likewise, we are much more successful in life by remembering that Kami/God is a great teacher and mentor for any hardships we need to overcome or wishes we hope to fulfill.

I have had many teachers in my lifetime — my parents, the Konko founder, many other spiritual leaders and many unconventional teachers as well.

Like Oishi, I have found that animals are great teachers as well. Many of you know I talk about my dog Remy or Arigatou-kun a lot because he shows me how to be a kinder living creature. He is small in size, but has unconditional love and gratitude.

Even though I have lived a long life, I am still learning new things everyday from all the different types of teachers and masters around me. I know that if you search for it, you can continue to learn and grow from everyone around you as well.

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 or (415) 517-5563. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

One response to “THE HEART OF KANJI: How a small bird can become your teacher”

  1. Krishna Rajan Avatar
    Krishna Rajan

    Amazing piece of Philosophy for our Daily Life !
    With Appreciation!

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