Watercolor illustration of clouds
The eight-spoked wheel of Dharma, with a graphic representation of a lotus at its center.

Taking What Is Left

Her Holiness Shinso Ito

April 25, 2022

An illustration of five rows of green leaf-like shapes, on a light pink field, each with an irregular white blob, punctuated with a bean-like dot.

I would like to share with you some of my early memories of celebrating Boys’ Day1 on May 5 with my brother Shindoin at a time when we had yet to begin holding the service in gratitude for the Shinnyo spiritual faculty.

My mother Tomoji cherished the seasonal events that have traditionally been observed in Japan and always made sure that we experienced them, which I believe has truly enriched our lives. The Boys’ Day display put up at our home included a miniature samurai helmet and armor, a Zhong Kui2 doll, and a ruddy-cheeked Kintaro3 doll shouldering an ax and riding on a bear.

We also made kashiwamochi rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves as special sweet treats traditionally served on this occasion. Tomoji was always the one to call out to us kids and staff members, which in those days numbered only a dozen or so, to get started with the job, helping her cook the sweet bean paste, roll it into small balls, and flatten out the rice flour dough to cover the bean paste filling. Since I had just started elementary school, this flattening and wrapping of the dough around the bean paste center was rather difficult for me. Oftentimes I ended up making awkwardly shaped rice cakes or poking a hole in the stretched-out dough from where the bean paste would show through.

But Tomoji never told me I needed to do a better job. Instead she would say, “Well done! What fun to see the rice cakes in all these different shapes and sizes!”

But Tomoji never told me I needed to do a better job. Instead she would say, “Well done! What fun to see the rice cakes in all these different shapes and sizes!” Then she would pick the best-looking one to offer to the buddhas, and take the second best to Master Shinjo. She made sure that the staff members got good ones as well, leaving us to take the remainder, which were often misshapen with bean paste sticking out through the uneven dough. Just as the spiritual words indicate, “Give the good to others, and take what is left for yourself,” Tomoji always contentedly took the most oddly shaped rice cakes.

A blue rectangular plate with three white blobs arranged evenly and wrapped in green leaf-like shapes.

In these happy moments, Master Tomoji taught us both how we could give joy to others and the most important lesson in our lives: to honor the buddha realm by humbly expressing the qualities of buddhahood (lovingkindness and compassion) every day, at all times. She taught by example, demonstrating these qualities through the way she lived her life. We could see how sincerely she dedicated herself to honoring her Buddhist master, also her husband, which taught us to honor him in the same way, respectfully, as both our Buddhist master and father. She taught us to cast aside our egos and give the best we could offer to as many people as possible. To “take what is left” is to walk the Buddhist path; I would like you to know that this is the most meritorious of acts in which we can engage.

1. (Jpn. Tango no Sekku); celebrated on May 5 as Boys’ Day until 1948, when the government declared this day to be a national holiday known as “Children’s Day” to celebrate the happiness of all children, both boys and girls. It continues to be a popular holiday tradition observed throughout the country. All items on the display (including samurai helmets, armor, and legendary folklore heroes) are symbols of strong, healthy boyhood.

2. Zhong Kui (Jpn. Shoki) is a figure in Chinese mythology who is traditionally regarded as a vanquisher of ghosts and evil beings. He was said to have the power to command 80,000 demons.

3. Kintaro is a hero from Japanese folklore renowned for his strength as a boy.

View more stories