Monday, May 20, 2013

The Gambaru Guy: Fred Yoshitomo Sasaki 1932-2013

[Note: I didn’t want to use my blog to publish my Dharma talks, given at weekly or special services or events, but because I’ve been busy and will be busy (I’ve got to work on that paper for the conference I’m going to in Vancouver) I’m posting this talk from the memorial service I recently conducted at our temple.]


Today we are gathered together to honor and celebrate the life of Fred Yoshitomo Sasaki and we express our condolences to his family and the relatives and dear friends who knew him over many years. On behalf of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, I would like to express our gratitude towards Mr. Sasaki for his generous support.

In the Buddhist tradition, a person receives what is called a Dharma Name, or Homyo, either during a confirmation ceremony or for most people, upon their death. The Dharma Name signifies that the person is a follower of the Buddhist teachings, the Dharma, and the name also reflects the person’s spiritual quality.

Since I did not know Mr. Sasaki personally, I tried to get a sense of who he was from his son Fred John. He told me, as many of you already know, that Mr. Sasaki liked to shout “Ganbaru!” [Also romanized as “Gambaru”] That word is translated in many ways, such as “Hang in there” or “Keep going strong.” Literally, it is a verb with two parts – the first part “Gan” means “to stay firm” and the second part “Baru” comes from the verb “Haru” which means “to stretch.” In other words, “Ganbaru” means to stay firm and keep extending that strength, such as when you’re battling obstacles or running a race.


When Mr. Sasaki’s son mentioned in one of the ‘zines he did with his father that there is a picture of someone stretching out their body so vigorously that his dentures pop out, that hilarious image made me want to put the word for “stretch” in Mr. Sasaki’s Dharma Name. So I came up with the Dharma Name “Zen-cho” which means “good stretch.” The Chinese character “Zen” part meaning “good” could be read in Japanese as “Yoshi” as in Mr. Sasaki’s middle name, Yoshitomo. The Chinese character “Cho” is the same as the “baru” in “Ganbaru” – it’s an ideograph showing an archery bow on the left side and the symbol for “extension, length” on the right side. “Cho” or “haru” is to stretch as in setting the string of an archery bow for shooting an arrow.

“Good stretch” might sound a little whimsical for a Dharma Name, but I feel it expresses the Buddhist teaching of appreciating what we have received from others. In our case, it is Mr. Sasaki who has stretched out – extended – goodness to us. And this stretching out will continue even though he is no longer with us in his physical form. Especially for his son and grandson, Mr. Sasaki acted as that bow from which he wanted them to fly out from as arrows, going as high and far as they want to in life.

In hearing the nembutsu, Namu Amida Butsu, we can hear Mr. Sasaki saying, “Ganbaru!” The Namu part is telling us to reflect and realize we are not living just for our self and by our self and the Amida Butsu part expresses the awakening to our interconnection with all the life around us. Let us “Ganbaru” – stay firm and stretch out in our seeking the truth, in our transcending of our petty superficial selves. Even if some of you are not religious or interested in Buddhism, I hope the inspiration from Mr. Sasaki gives you a little glimpse of what the Buddha is teaching us – to stretch out of our self-centered little worlds and extend our appreciation of others, to discover in the unfolding of each moment of life the fresh, creative energy and richness of experience.