I would like to tell you a great story coming out of Houston. Jordon, an eight-year-old
boy was being bullied by an eleven-year old boy by the name Tamarion at school. The
bullying was a constant thing. When Jordon’s father, Aubrey Fontenot, discussed the
problem with his son’s teachers, he was assured that something would be done. Yet, as with
most things these days, little progress was made, and Jordon continued to be harassed by
Tamarion.
Finally, Aubrey was able to meet and speak with Tamarion’s mother. He learned that
the family had fallen on hard times, and that they were experiencing homelessness. Aubrey
asked Tamarion’s mother if he could speak with her son. As she approved, Aubrey sat
down with Tamarion. He found out that Tamarion was envious of his son. It turned out
that his son’s clean clothing was the source of his jealousy. Apparently, the other children
made fun of him saying that his shoes were cheap and his clothes, dirty.
Aubrey empathized with Tamarion, and understood the difficult situation placed upon
Tamarion, and decided not to scold the boy. Instead, Aubrey spoke with, and spent time
with him. Aubrey assured Tamarion that, “he’s a great person, and this doesn’t make him
bad.” He also told him that, “no matter what’s going on, you have to walk around with your
head up and chest up. This world is tough. You can’t let what people say or do bring your
self-confidence down.” Then, Aubrey then took Tamarion on a shopping spree, to buy him
a new pair of shoes and some clothes.
The result of Aubrey’s effort is that the two boys are now great friends. Although people
may criticize that a whole new wardrobe would help to soften things up, I do not think that
this was the main reason behind better relations. What Tamarion needed most was
understanding. Not being accepted by his peers is a painful experience for anyone, let alone
someone who is still eleven. Tamarion’s bullying cannot be condoned, but it is not always
helpful to only scold someone. It could very be that Tamarion had no idea how to deal with
his predicament. No one helped. Aubrey’s approach was not to reprimand the boy, but to
listen to him, empathize with his predicament, and offer some good advice. Giving
Tamarion a break was all he needed.
Aubrey’s approach is a textbook example of what I imagine the Buddha often tried to do.
The Buddha’s approach was always non-confrontational. He would begin by listening
intently to someone with an issue. This was not just because he wanted to understand the
situation so that he could offer a solution, but because oftentimes, just lending someone
your ear can become a solution in itself. Having someone, even just one person, who
understands your position is often the only medicine that can cure a certain problem. As
Jordon’s father had done, the Buddha took action by focusing on the cause of the problem,
and then offering some direction. In the case of Tamarion, Jordan’s father explained in
earnest that Tamarion was not a bad person, and that it was the people who teased him that
were wrong. He finished by advising him to be proud of who he was, and not let others
bother him. This was all that was needed.
(Eisei Ikenaga)


Has anyone heard of the Platypus Trophy? I did not know about it until I asked Sharon
Takahashi whether Oregon had something equivalent to the Paul Bunyan Trophy of
Michigan. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the Paul Bunyan Trophy. The Paul Bunyan
Trophy is the trophy that goes to the year’s winner of one of the longest running rivalries in
the U.S., that of the annual football game between the University of Michigan and Michigan
State University. This game happens sometime in October. This year, they will be meeting
on the 20 th .
For those who do not know what the Paul Bunyan Trophy is, let me give you a short
history of it. It is interesting that it was not always well received. First of all, Paul Bunyan
is the name of a fictional lumberjack who was supposed to be a giant. He was so big that
some people believe that the Grand Canyon was created by Paul Bunyan, by pulling his ax
through the soil. Anyway, people wanted to create a trophy which would be handed over to
the winner of the year’s rivalry football game between Michigan and Michigan State
Universities. Its image was that of Paul Bunyan because Michigan was a major lumber
producing state. Like Paul Bunyan, this trophy is imposing compared to others like it. It is
carved from wood and stands four feet tall, with a base that is five foot high.
Although the University of Michigan and Michigan State University football teams have
clashed since 1898, part of the reason why the Paul Bunyan Trophy was created was to
observe the induction of Michigan State University into the Big Ten Conference.
University of Michigan athletic director and former head coach Fritz Crisler was not fond of
Michigan State’s inclusion into the Big Ten, and so he proclaimed that he would refuse its
acceptance if Michigan won.
As it turned out, Michigan State won 14-6 in 1953. The trophy was displayed proudly in
Jenison Fieldhouse. This venue, by the way, is famous for being the home of the 1978-79
NCAA champion basketball team, which included Earvin “Magic” Johnson. It is
interesting what happened the next year when Michigan beat Michigan State 33-7. In
keeping with what Michigan’s Fritz Crisler had proclaimed, the trophy was left unclaimed
for half an hour after the conclusion of the game. It was later claimed, but left
disrespectfully in an equipment closet of the Michigan Stadium locker room. Furthermore,
despite winning in 1954 and 1955, Michigan did not engrave their scores onto the trophy.
When a 12-12 tie occurred in 1958, the favored Spartans were so embarrassed that they
refused the trophy. But since Wolverines wanted no part of the trophy, Michigan State
relented and held on to the trophy. Such were the beginnings of the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
However, today, after years of having the trophy go back and forth, it has become a coveted
trophy prized by both teams. There was neither truth or trial to which both sides were privy.
It was just a matter of piling years of continued diligence in the observance of the yearly
game that somehow shed the trophy’s undesirable overtones. Almost mysteriously, the
trophy is revered and embraced today.
Now, let us get back to Oregon. When I asked Sharon Takahashi whether Oregon had
something similar to the Paul Bunyan Trophy, she promptly had her sports research staff doa thorough check on this issue. Truthfully, I never expected a response from her. But, I
will never underestimate Sharon again. She came back to tell me that there is something
called the Platypus Trophy. I could not believe it. Oregon and Oregon State play each
other every year in what is referred to as the “Civil War”, but I had never heard of the
Platypus Trophy. I think that hardly anyone knows this. The platypus was chosen because
this animal has features of both Oregon’s and Oregon State’s mascot, a duck and a beaver
respectively. Interestingly, this trophy comes with a story that rivals that of Michigan’s
Paul Bunyan trophy. The Platypus Trophy was awarded to the winning schools for three
years, from 1959 to 1961. However, it was mysteriously lost for more than forty years
thereafter. Apparently, the trophy was stolen following the 1961 game. It would not be
rediscovered until 2005. It was found in a closet at the University of Oregon’s McArthur
Court, the home of the Oregon Duck’s basketball team. In 2007, someone proposed that the
trophy be the annual game’s unofficial prize.
Despite being rediscovered, its once coveted status has not been restored. It is currently
awarded to the alumni association of the winning school. Why has this happened? Could it
be that the Platypus Trophy is nowhere near the size of the Paul Bunyan Trophy? It is
probably only a foot and a half in length and no more than a foot high. But, the size of a
trophy really should not determine its worth. The FIFA World Cup Trophy is less than a
foot and three inches tall. It weighs less than thirteen and a half pounds. The NFL’s Vince
Lombardi Trophy stands at only 22 inches and weighs seven pounds.
The worth of something varies by how much each person places their trust or passion on
it. The Paul Bunyan Trophy was once shunned and abhorred; yet, as both Michigan and
Michigan State kept playing each other through the years with the trophy standing in the
stadium, people began to grasp its value. As this practice has not been followed with the
Platypus Trophy, it has lost its meaning and sheen. Our faith in the Buddha and his
teachings are no different from this. One’s faith grows in relation to how much effort or
practice s/he puts into it. Like the Platypus Trophy, faith can easily be lost if there is no
effort to maintain its worth. In time, it loses its luster. One’s faith does not grow simply by
contemplating about it. Faith is nurtured through our daily effort in practicing Buddha’s
teachings. And, in turn, when one has faith, the practice of Buddha’s teachings become
unclouded and effortless, motivating us again to further grow in our faith.
(Eisei Ikenaga)

July 8, 2018 Sermon

Just a few days ago, on July 6, 2018, Asahara Shoko, the leader of Aum Shinrikyo, was
executed along with six others of his membership. Asahara created and led a cult that
carried out the deadly mass murder in Japan twenty-three years ago in 1995. He was tried
and sentenced to death in 2006, but there were twelve other co-conspirators whose trials
needed to be heard. So, the execution was delayed, probably in case they needed his
testimony.
Asahara founded Aum Shinrikyo in 1984. He quickly attracted thousands of disciples,
telling them of impending apocalypse. Japan would be engulfed in the flames of nuclear
war, he said. Although many of Aum’s disciples were highly educated scientists, they were
all easily manipulated by Asahara to commit horrible acts. On Asahara’s order, they
synthesized VX nerve agents, and manufacturing automatic rifles, for example.
The killings actually began in November of 1989, when Tsutsumi Sakamoto along with
his wife and child were silenced to protect the organization. Sakamoto was an attorney who
had been working on a class action suit against the cult. Cult members entered Sakamoto’s
apartment and injected him and his family with potassium chloride as they slept. Aum was
behind other crimes such as the Matsumoto Sarin Incident which occurred in Matsumoto of
Nagano Prefecture, on June 27, 1994. Eight were killed and over five hundred were
hospitalized. The motivation behind the Matsumoto Sarin Attack was originally to kill the
judges who were presiding over court cases investigating charges of fraud against the Aum
Shinrikyo. Of all of their crimes, none was more reprehensible than the March 20, 1995
incident in which cult members conspired and released sarin gas in five subway carriages
full of passengers commuting during Tokyo’s rush hour. Thirteen people were killed, and
5,500 were injured.
How did all this happen? It began when a sister of Kariya Kiyoshi escaped the cult.
Kariya Kiyoshi was kidnapped and brought to Aum’s headquarters in Kamikuishiki near
Mt. Fuji. He was injected with sodium thiopental to force him to reveal where his sister
was. Kariya, an elderly man, fell into a coma and died. The cult leaders microwaved his
body, and scattered his ashes. Many suspected Aum’s involvement because Kariya had left
a note that read, “If I disappear, I was abducted by Aum Shinrikyo.” Finding leads,
however, was difficult and its investigation stalled. Later, a Yomiuri Shimbun article broke
that traces of Sarin had been detected in Kamikuishiki’s soil. Asahara and his core group
panicked when they found out that they were in the crosshairs of the police. Cult members
poured most of the chemical stockpile into streams. Other chemicals were buried or burned.
And, equipment related to their manufacture were moved to other Aum properties. Parts for
their AK-47 rifles were thrown into dams. Finally, records were destroyed. Anything that
would raise suspicions about the organization’s clandestine activities were either
dismantled, moved, or demolished.
Then, on the day that the police were going to raid them, the 1995 Kobe Earthquake
struck, killing more than 6,000 people. This effectively distracted the attention of the
police. Asahara convinced many in his group that the earthquake was a sure sign that the
end of the world was near. To divert the attention of the police, Asahara and his men
decided to release sarin gas within the cabins of five trains that would converge upon
Kasumigaseki, the station nearest to Tokyo’s police headquarters. The effects of sarin
exposure is immediate and devastating. People bled from their noses and mouths while
vomiting. Sarin also affects the nervous system, so commuters staggered, and many were
unable to escape.
In two days, the police raided all of Aum’s properties. What they discovered was
horrifying. They found over fifty emaciated people detained in steel containers. And in the
basement of the buildings, there were blackened barrels where the bodies of murdered
dissident members were disposed.
How could something like this happen? Whenever you have unbridled power and wrong
information, something like this can easily occur. I am very concerned of many new
religions like Aum Shinrikyo because they purport something divine when there is not.
Asahara was supposed to have gained his spiritual powers upon the Himalayas. Apparently,
he could levitate himself. When the cameras entered the Aum properties, their believers
could be found jumping up and down while cross-legged, trying to levitate. Another
problem is that Asahara stole many Buddhist teachings and repackaged them to serve his
ends.
When there is a charismatic personality leading an organization, whether is religious,
institutional, or governmental, one must be wary. There is nothing wrong with charisma by
itself. It only turns ugly when people are fed wrong information. Nichiren Shonin wrote in
his Dannotsu-bo Go-henji that, “All phenomena which occurs in the world are not in
contradiction with the teaching”. In other words, the Buddha’s teaching is a reflection of
nature and our world as it is. Any teaching must be an explanation of the workings of our
world. In other words, the teaching is truth itself. If and when one bends the teaching to fit
his or her own agenda, that is when you have the beginning of a cult. Asahara borrowed
many concepts of Buddhism to bolster and give his own teaching an air of loftiness, but he
completely modified or twisted its interpretation to his advantage. In most cases, I think
that Asahara’s changes to the Buddha’s teaching extracted the element of truth from them.
The teachings were no longer in correspondence with life as it is or should be.
(Eisei Ikenaga)

August 5, 2018 Sermon

Tasha Kahele, a native Hawaiian living in Alaska opened a restaurant named “Aloha
Poke Stop” in April 2018. By May, she was forced to rename it Lei’s Poke Stop, investing
thousands of dollars to redo her store sign, reprinting menus, and remarketing her brand.
What happened was that she had received a letter from a Chicago-based chain demanding
that she change her restaurant’s name, to cease and desist in the use of the words, “poke”
and “aloha poke”. The restaurant in Chicago is called “Aloha Poke Company”, and is
owned and operated by non-Hawaiians. Kahele was devastated, but she could not risk
fighting a larger establishment and incur legal fees which she knew that she could not
afford.
Although Kahele was clearly hurt financially, she felt even further violated spiritually:
“I know some people are like, ‘[Aloha] is just a generic word, everyone says it. . . . But not
to our people, it’s not. Aloha encompasses everything. . . . We live aloha, we give it, we
share it. It’s not to be restricted and I think that’s why it’s so triggering to people and it’s so
offensive and it’s so hurtful. It’s hurtful– for our family it’s hurtful.”
Poke is the name of a Hawaiian dish whose main ingredients are raw “ahi” (tuna) cured
with rock salt, soy sauce, green onion, sesame, garlic, limu (type of edible algae). Poke
literally means to be “cubed”. Poke is called such because the fish are cut into cubes.
Although poke may seem to be a simple dish, it is one which rests at the core of Hawaiian
culture.
There are many Hawaiians who feel that they were robbed of their kingdom and culture
by colonization. And, these days, they are forced to endure the commercialization of their
tradition. As anyone who has lived in Hawaii knows, the words “poke” and “aloha” are
native Hawaiian words that have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years, much
longer than any restaurant in Chicago that is trying to capitalize on a culture that they know
very little about. How genuine can the taste of their poke be if the chefs who prepare them
know almost nothing about what “aloha” means, or what its significance bears to the people
of Hawaii? Creating a satisfying meal for someone is an expression of love. Preparing
poke requires one to fully embrace Hawaiian culture. Yet, what the owners of the Chicago
restaurant chain seek is to monopolize on something that cannot be owned by any one
person or company. Hawaiian culture developed over many years by many people
conscientious of its significance, and should now be respected as such, to exist for the
benefit of all who truly embrace its spirit. It should not be hoarded by a few or culturally
appropriated.
To monopolize the use of traditional words such as poke and aloha against an indigenous
culture from whence these words originated wreaks of fabrication and bullying. I would be
genuinely embarrassed of making money off of another’s culture, and add insult to injury by
suing them for partaking in what should rightly be their prerogative.Ironically, the owners of
the Chicago chain do not seem to realize that they are
compromising the base to which they owe their own success. We as Buddhists must always
be reminded that we do not live on our own. Our existence and continued prosperity are
dependent upon our mutual existence and success. In Japanese, we say, ikasarete-iru,
meaning that “we are allowed to exist”. This actually originates from the Buddhist concept
of dependent association.
Our existence depends upon the grace of the spirits, the land, and its people. We are
allowed to survive and prosper because of the safety net to which we are a part. When an
individual or entity thinks and acts primarily to protect or advance oneself and only oneself,
it does so at the expense of hurting others, which in turn, amounts to hurting oneself. It
should not surprise anyone that those who veer from this invariably fall prey to the very
attack which they so dread. Ignoring or disrespecting those around you surely has
consequences that go beyond the reach of any legal action. Although Kahele who was
directly affected by the unnecessary legal action taken by the Chicago chain has not lifted a
finger, the court of the people is not so forgiving. Just take some time to examine the Yelp
page for Aloha Poke Company in Chicago.
(Eisei Ikenaga)

Has anyone seen the suit that LeBron James wore to the first game of the NBA Finals
this year? He wore an interesting Thom Browne suit whose pants were but a pair of shorts.
Not being a fashion consultant, “avant-garde” is about all that I can comment on LeBron’s
fashion. As odd as his style was, what was more surprising was that the whole ensemble
apparently cost more than $46,000. It was fashion that only LeBron could wear, in terms of
both style and affordability. But, high fashion is about setting trends, is it not?
I just got back from Japan where there is a company that is serious about jeans. Has
anyone heard or read about Momotaro Jeans? These are custom made jeans made in the
Kojima region of Okayama Prefecture of Japan. Momotaro Jeans, established in 2005,
produces possibly the highest quality, and the longest lasting raw denim on the market.
Why would anyone want to make denim by hand in this day and age? There is a great
difference according to aficionados of denim. The cloth generally lasts longer. Another
advantage only becomes apparent after wearing the jeans for some period of time.
Handmade jeans like that made by Momotaro age better, such that the colors of the denim
fade away in a more appealing way. The denim used at Momotaro Jeans is made
meticulously by hand by artisans on looms that can only produce five centimeters of cloth
per hour. This is what makes them so expensive. As a result, a pair of Momotaro jeans can
cost upwards of U.S. $2000.
I think that everyone has at least a pair of jeans tucked away at home somewhere. Think
about that pair. What is the worth of a pair of jeans to you? Well, I can only speak for
myself. I have quite a few pairs that I have used over the years. Basically, all my jeans
have holes in them. I really do not care for the distressed look; and I have a difficult time
understanding why anyone would pay top dollar for designer jeans that are already torn for
you. If anyone wears them as long as I do, holes would develop in them whether you like it
or not.
Sharon Takahasahi recently gave me a pair of jeans that her son used to wear. It caught
the eye of Commander Ron Iwasaki when I wore it to clean up at Rose City Cemetery. Ron
must have a keen eye for fashion, I thought, because he instantly understood that the pair
that I was wearing was one by True Religion. “That’s a fancy pair of jeans that you’re
wearing,” he commented. I am sure that he was referring to how the pair were premium
jeans, which made him wonder how I got a hold of them. I explained that it was a pair that
Sharon had given to me. This seemed to satisfy his curiosity. Anyway, I really like the
True Religion jeans, not just because they are comfortable or because it is a designer brand.
I like it because it reminds me of Sharon’s generous offering.
Each pair of jeans that I own has sentimental value for me. And, this sentimental value
is not affected by how expensive or durable they are. Neither do I hate them after holes
develop in them. They are important to me because there is a story to each pair. Why do I
bring this up? People often ask me why we offer prayers to our ancestors. I can easily
shutter it away by saying that it is a tradition. However, I think that we offer prayers to our
loved ones because we have strong memories about our relationship with them. And, each
relationship is personal and unique for each person. Even in the case of siblings, each
sibling has a separate experience with an elder who has passed away. Each’s experience
really cannot be duplicated. It is original, and it does not matter what the experience was.
They are all cherished memories. Factors other than the substance of what grew out of a
mutual interaction have nothing to do with one’s remembrance. In the same way that each
pair of jeans grows upon you, one’s unique relation to a loved is what makes a certain
offering of prayer special. (Eisei Ikenaga)