Have you all seen the cherry blossoms since entering August?

This is a question that was posed by a Sensei who spoke at a morning service of Tsukiji Hongwanji the other day. My own answer is no. I have never cared about cherry blossoms except in spring because I thought the season for cherry blossoms was spring.

I wondered why he asked such a strange question.

He told us about his own experience.

One summer day, when the Sensei was walking outside his temple, he saw an old man looking at a cherry blossom tree with his arm behind his back. That man used to be the principal of the elementary school his daughter attended.

Of course, the cherry blossoms were not in bloom at that time, and the tree was covered with lush green leaves. Suddenly wondering what this man was looking at, Sensei asked the man what he was looking at, and he replied as a matter of course, “I am looking at the cherry blossoms.” Then, when asked “which part” of the cherry blossoms he was looking at this time. He replied again, “I’m just looking at the cherry blossoms.”

The man went on to tell the Sensei, “Cherry blossoms are getting ready for that summer season, when it gets hotter this time of year. The leaves they put on in this way will all fall off later. After that, they start preparing for winter. Cherry trees live hard all year round. When do YOU see cherry blossoms?”

Sensei replied, “I see them in spring when the beautiful flowers are in full bloom.”

“That’s nice. But you know, cherry blossoms are cherry blossoms all year round.  It is always a great time to see them,” the man said to the Sensei.

I was so moved by hearing the conversation with the Sensei and the man. I went out and tried to look at the cherry tree in front of our Betsuin. Then I noticed how they are living their lives to the fullest even in the heat of the summer with their lush young leaves. It was a great chance encounter that reminded me that each of us and any other lives too, are living each moment to the fullest.

Do you know when the cherry blossoms we see begin to bud? I had never thought about it, but I was told that the buds, though small and tough, appear during the cold months of January through February.

I had thought that there are times when cherry blossoms are at their best and times when they are not at their best. In Buddhism, this way of looking at things is called “discrimination,” where we believe that there are times when things are worth seeing and times when they are not worth seeing. It is also called “wrong view” because it is a way of looking at things that is far from the way they really are. In this world, we do look at things or say things with discrimination. But in Buddhism, this discrimination is not used in a positive sense. In its positive sense, it is “non-discriminatory.”  Buddhism teaches the importance of a way of looking at things that goes beyond such a way of looking at things like is it meaningful or meaningless, valuable or valueless, accepted by people or not accepted? It is not only that this view is taken of cherry blossoms. This way of looking at things with our prejudgment can apply to other people’s lives and also to oneself.  These secluded views force us to question oneself about one’s existence or quality such as “ Am I worthy of being here now? Am I worthy of living?” When that way of looking at things comes toward me, I hurt myself. The Buddha is the one who has the gaze of non-discrimination, which is the great wisdom to see the things as they are.  In Buddhism, we try to live our lives while leaving oneself to this wisdom of the Buddha. It is a teaching to allow oneself to become aware that we live our lives within that gaze. It is not only toward cherry blossoms. The Buddha’s non-discriminatory gaze sees all things as living in the moment, which is irreplaceable. If we can all listen to the fact that we are alive within that gaze, a warm heart will spread in each of our minds, and it will guide us to accept each other as we are.