Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ryo Imamura Interview
Narrator: Ryo Imamura
Interviewers: Stephen Fugita (primary), Erin Kimura (secondary)
Location: Olympia, Washington
Date: August 3, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-iryo-01-0035

<Begin Segment 35>

EK: Talking a little bit about success. One of our questions is kind of how... it seems that in some ways the idea of conventional success, and these kind of Buddhist beliefs and -- you know de-emphasizing the ego, seem to really kind of conflict. Is that, do you see them as conflicting? Or do you see the motivations for conventional success as differing because someone is Buddhist, as opposed to Christian or different religious background?

RI: Well I think if you look at all of our kind of successful icons in our society -- whether it's Madonna or Michael Jackson or people like that who are seen as having all the money, the success, the talents, whatever and flaunting rules and society... at the same time you're very well aware that they, they lack a spiritual awareness or depth. And then you look at people like Jesus, the Buddha, Shinran, the founder of JoudoShinshu, and what -- the Buddha abandoned his wife and kid, you know at the age of twenty-eight to go search for truth. And he never had a job after that. Never got paid a salary, and probably didn't have any buddies to go bowling with or whatever -- of course, they didn't do bowling back then -- but, yeah just to hang out with. And so he lived a very unproductive life in the normal sense. But in the spiritual sense, of course this was the ultimate. And the same with Jesus, dying at a very young age, and non-productive in the normal sense. And same with -- Shinran had seven children, but he moved to Kyoto later on and had very little contact with them, and had to disown his oldest son over some doctrinal difficulties, and great deal of suffering in the normal sense. And so -- but it's not a matter of choice. You don't say, "Well I'm going to chase the usual dreams, or I'm gonna go become a great savior or seer." It seems to be very much built into our karma, which comes from our past. We're kinda dealt a hand, I think in this life. And we try to do the best with that. It's kinda like playing poker. You get five cards, no, you have no determination over those five cards. And you may get three of a kind you draw from, or you may have nothing, and I might have a straight. But poker is very interesting in that we get to draw cards, and bluff, and play cleverly, so the person with the worst hand -- who's dealt the worst hand -- can be the most successful, either in conventional terms or more spiritual terms. But, so this is where I think we don't choose our cards, but we do have a certain amount of choice in how we play them. I was born into a temple lineage and so the cards I were dealt quite different than someone born into, say, someone in Detroit car -- automobile worker. And it doesn't mean one is better than the other. I'm just living out my karma in a sense and doing the best I can, and he is also. And for me to try to be him or him me would be very uncharacteristic, and we'd be certainly like fish out of water. So we, we as Americans we like to think of free will and we have all these choices, but I think it's quite limited in that way. But it's limitless also in how we can play those few cards. I like to play poker obviously [Laughs] That's why I went to, got my degree in math so I could play better poker.

SF: Yeah, I think you were mentioning one time you were going to Vegas and...

RI: Well, I shouldn't have put that on the video. [Laughs]

EK: So, so what would you say to, I guess like a young Buddhist who's starting out, who's living kind of in America which is capitalist, you know, has these certain ideals about what success is, I guess just in terms of reconciling that with kind of Buddhist beliefs and kind of learn -- you know, I guess looking internally for fulfillment in their lives?

RI: Well, I can't think of anything just offhand to say in terms of... see, even being born into Buddhism and having all this right in front of you can be blinding and terribly limiting also. Even my own children, when they ask me, "Well, friends are saying should I go to this born again Christian service. Dad, should I go?" And my thing, "If you wanna go, go. It's not gonna hurt you. If anything, it may make you appreciate more your past and what you have." And sure enough that always happens. They come back and I say, "How was it?" "Oh, it was a lot of fun. Lot of young people, great refreshments. We played songs and all that compared to the boring YBA group." And I say, "Well, do you wanna go there?" And they think, "Not really, because somehow I missed the sutra chanting," or something like that. It's, and I just say, "Okay, fine." So my only advice to my kids is, "Look, you have all these influences on you, all I ask for you to do is keep your eyes open and open mind. Primarily, just stay alive," I tell them, "Just stay alive," okay. If you just stay alive long enough you're gonna come in contact with all the wonderful diversity in life and you'll create your own mind from that. Otherwise I don't really want to direct them. I don't say, "Follow my path," all over the place. But I stayed alive long enough to enjoy some of the insights and fruits of it now. And sure, if my kids or anyone else's kids could enjoy the ride that I've had just by staying alive and keeping an open mind, that's, you know, more than I could ever wish for. So, besides that, I don't know. [Laughs]

SF: Well, that's a great point probably to stop.

EK Yeah to wrap up.

SF: Thank you very, very much.

RI: Yeah, thanks.

EK: Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

RI: Great questions. [Laughs]

SF: You've been very helpful to us.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.