By Rev. Ken Kawawata

The Turtle
Long ago, I was tormented by my dreadfully short legs. I suffered because I had to carry my cumbersome heavy shell. No matter how many years I lived, I could find no appreciation of life.
But now, many many years later, after hearing the Dharma, I realized that it was the shortness of my legs that enabled me to walk forward steadily, surely…. Never wandering from my destination.
My hard shell protected me from all kinds of dangers I encountered, giving me the opportunity to live as long as I have.
How grateful I am,
Namu Amida Butsu

When Rev. Mishima, one of West Covina Buddhist Temple’s previous ministers, moved to Australia, he left this poem for us. This turtle poem talks about how Buddha’s teaching can transform us. When the turtle encountered the Buddha Dharma, his entire view of himself changed and he started to live in a new world.

Normally, when we have problems, we think the cause of the problems are outside us, because our eyes are always only looking outward. We think our eyes were not made for seeing inward. However, Buddha’s teaching gives us the eyes to see inward.

That is why the turtle initially just complained about his short legs and heavy shell. But then he realized he had four short legs and that, because of their very shortness, he never fell and never lost his way. He also realized that his heavy shell protected him from his enemies, and from the heat. With this realization, his view changed. He became an appreciative turtle.

Actually, when he accepted his nature as it was, his shortcomings turned into assets. From this point, he changed and started a new life. This is the transformation brought by the dharma.

Like the turtle, we always view our shortcomings as problems exterior to ourselves and fail to appreciate what we really are. However, Shinran said that when we encounter the dharma—the light of compassion and wisdom—these delusions of ours melt like ice and turn to pure water. With this transformation, we become one with the water of the “ocean,” that world of oneness, the world of Amida’s infinite compassion.

Thus, just as rusted iron turns to gold, when we realize our own ignorance, our ignorance turns to wisdom and, like a stone that turns into a diamond, we start to shine.

When we complain about our life, we are only seeing the negative side of things. But if we realize our life is not always smooth and happy and that it will contain both good and bad, we can live in peace with both aspects, good and bad, convenient or inconvenient, throughout our life.

When we encounter the dharma, the teaching of truth, our life will change. We will be transformed and appreciate our life as it is. Our life will become creative and dynamic and start to shine.

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