August 4, 2019 Sermon
Recently, a French couple in their 40s was arrested for stealing forty kilograms or almost
ninety pounds of pristine sand from southern Sardinia, an Italian island known for
picturesque beaches. The couple told the police that they wanted it as a “souvenir”. They
had poured white sand from Chia into fourteen plastic bottles, and hid them in the trunk of their SUV. They were caught in the northern city of Porto Torres by police doing routine
checks on cars waiting to board a ferry to Toulon, France. The French couple were charged with theft under aggravated circumstance.
This story sounds as though it was fabricated, but it is as real as the possibility that the
French pair could end up doing between one to six years in prison. The residents of
Sardinia are taking this very seriously. In fact, there is a 2017 law that made trade in sand,
pebbles, and shells illegal and punishable with fines of up to €3,000 (U.S. $3,300). People
of Sardinia firmly believe that their sandy beaches are one of the main attractions of their
island. And, they are convinced that at least two factors are threatening the sand of the
islands. The first one is erosion that has been exacerbated by the increasing sea level
caused by climate change. The other reason is that the sands of the islands are so fine and pristine that there has been an increase in the theft of the sand by tourists. According to the police, theft of white sand and rocks from Sardinia is rather common. Sand thieves are often picked up at airports. There is a great demand for taking risks because there is an illegal and lucrative market for them on the internet. In the past twenty years, tens and tens of tons of sand are confiscated each year. And, the sand that is confiscated are all returned to their respective beaches.
To its residents, the shells and sand of Sardinia, once stolen and displaced, are treasures
that cannot be replaced. It disrupts the delicate environment and takes away from the
happiness of future generations. It is difficult for those who are not Sardinian to genuinely understand the gravity of the issue. However, to the beholder of sand as beautiful as that of Sardinia, its value is undeniably non-negotiable.
In similar fashion, the sutras of the Buddha were greatly revered because it was the word
of the Buddha, and for the deep wisdom that it contained. There is an expression about the Buddha’s sutra, such that it is, ichi ichi mon mon ze shin-butsu (一々文々 是真佛). ichi
ichi mon mon means, “each and every character.” ze shin-butsu means, “are truly living
Buddhas.” In Nichiren’s Horen-sho 『法蓮抄』, Nichiren writes that, “for us bonpu or
unenlightened ones, we are unable to see anything but the characters in the sutra.” That is, to the uninitiated, the sutra is no more than ink upon paper. However, Nichiren wanted to impress upon us that, to those who are genuinely enlightened, each Chinese character of the sutra is actually a living and active Buddha. Therefore, it is our posture, or our seriousness in approaching the Buddha’s teaching that will reveal the true nature and value of the teaching. So, in the same way that the people of Sardinia cherish each and every grain of sand on their beaches, we as Buddhists must treat even a character of the Buddha’s sutra as a precious manifestation of the Buddha. If we can truly appreciate the word of the Buddha, we will in time acquire its deep significance and real wealth.