‘Let’s go forward together’ – a report on the 139th London Eza

The London Eza of 17th June 2018 saw Mr Andrew Webb, a trustee and member of Three Wheels for almost two decades, give a talk entitled, “Just Say Something” – My Life in Sangha. It is impossible to summarise his far-reaching and inspiring words in this report, and interested friends are encouraged to request a manuscript of the full presentation from Three Wheels. The following remarks may, however, provide some glimpses of the atmosphere and content of this landmark meeting in the history of the sangha.

A major strand of Mr Webb’s talk focused on his encounter with Rev. Kemmyo Sato, who first impressed him with the ‘firm’ words, “For Shinran Shonin, his master Honen Shonin was a representative of ‘all Buddhas’. When Shinran Shonin heard his master pronouncing the Nenbutsu, Namu Amida Butsu, he immediately entrusted himself to Amida Buddha”. Throughout Mr Webb’s talk he spoke of the great many times where the words of his teacher gave him direction and light at moments when he was lost or unsure how to go forward. More than this, Mr Webb spoke not only of finding a ‘way’ but also of how the boundaries of his world grew wider and broader as he participated in the Dharma movement. Having never travelled further east than the Essex coast he found himself going all the way to Japan to encounter the Buddha-dharma in a deeper dimension. Having had “very little contact with people outside of my immediate family and workplace” he now found himself “transplanted into a much larger world even whilst still sitting within the four walls of this room.”

The most significant boundary that Mr Webb found shifting was that of the self. As he put it,  “Attending the London Eza soon challenged my own sense of selfhood and my tenacious resistance to opening it to others.” Whenever Rev. Sato asked him to speak he was very reluctant and felt a desire to withdraw from the situation. Then Rev.Sato shared with him the words of Rennyo-Shonin, “It is through lack of faith that a person is reluctant to speak out at Buddhist meetings. Such a person feels he should say something he has already carefully worked out and thought about.” Through this advice Mr Webb said that his attitude began to change and, as he learnt to share his mind with others, he discovered in a deeper dimension the Shin Buddhist teaching that other Dharma followers are Bodhisattvas to us: helping us to see ourselves as we really are. As Mr Webb said elsewhere in his talk however, the thing that ultimately kept him going forward was, “Hearing the deep sincerity of Rev. Sato’s voice” to which he, “could only say yes.” In this way, we as the listening audience at this London Eza, could witness how the faith of master and disciple is one faith in Amida’s great compassion.

Following the talk various Dharma friends shared their impressions. Mr Barritt noted how his best friend and Dharma brother Mr Webb had said that his encounter with Rev. Sato and the Shin Buddhist teaching “permanently altered the course of his life”. This fact, Mr Barritt said, is so inspiring because usually it is normal for us to try to resist and avoid change. To accept the transformative power of the Dharma and allow it to flow throughout the whole landscape of one’s life is an extraordinary thing. Mr Barritt noted how much Mr Webb does on behalf of the sangha, in so many ways, and that his strength to do this comes from his faith and his openness to grow and change in the light of Dharma.

Many other people expressed their gratitude to Mr Webb including his work colleague Mr Pat —, who said, “Andrew is a source of strength when one is weak, a source of guidance when you need to find a path. His colleagues often discuss how he is so at ease with himself and we know that this comes from his faith.” Rev. Ishii expressed his appreciation for these words and noted that it shows that Mr Webb’s faith is not a matter confined to special ‘religious moments’ but demonstrates the dharma permeating his whole daily life. Mrs Kaori Punwani added that Mr Webb is a person who always says to his teacher Rev. Sato, “If you wish it, I will do it.” The activity of the Three Wheels Dharma movement would be so hard to maintain without all that he does, she added.

Mr Dodd, a resident Dharma friend of Three Wheels, thanked Mr Webb for his talk and said, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, as you have always been guiding me and supporting me. The words that you received from Rev. Takehara, “You are welcome,” really sum it up for me.” A lady of dual Burmese-British heritage also spoke to express how moved she was to hear of Mr Webb’s continued appreciation and gratitude for his Christian upbringing and his father’s Christian faith.  Rev. Ishii and Mrs Hiroko Sato both echoed this sentiment saying that, although they never had a chance to meet Mr Webb’s father, they felt they met him through his son’s grateful remembrance.

Several new visitors, of various nationalities, also spoke to say how they had been impressed and encouraged by Mr Webb’s words. One man said, “It is impossible to practice on our own. There is something inside we can’t take care of by ourselves.” A Christian attendee of the meditation class also spoke and said, “I don’t feel comfortable to pray in Japanese or join in with Buddhist ritual but I will definitely come back here because I can see something beyond form, something behind it all.”

The meeting concluded with Rev. Sato, Mr Webb’s Dharma teacher and close friend, sharing his own impressions. “I was so impressed by Andrew’s closing paragraph where he said, “the love of Amida Buddha is constantly, eternally mindful of me. All of the Dharma activities I have been given the opportunity to participate in at Three Wheels are, at their very source, a gift to make me aware of this fact.” Yes, he is right, the Tathagata is always with us. A young member of our sangha Miss Rina Punwani recently translated the term ‘nyoraijoju’ as ‘omnipresence’. We can’t see the Buddha but as we go through our lives, experiencing both sadness and joy, we can always become aware of this omnipresent love and compassion through ‘all Buddhas’ – our teachers and Dharma friends. Rev. Chimyo Takehara’s “You are welcome”, which is the foundation of this sangha, is a call from the Other Shore. Let’s go forward together.”

Namuamidabutsu, in gassho,

Andy B

19th June 2018