The Dharma is transmitted through people : Report on the 142nd London Eza

Mrs Hiroko Sato (1944 – 2018), Dharma mother of the Three Wheels sangha and wife to Rev. Prof. Kemmyo Taira Sato, Director of Three Wheels, died very peacefully at 5.40am on Saturday 8th December after a sudden and brief period of illness. That evening many Dharma friends gathered at the temple for the largest ‘Eza eve’ meeting we have ever seen, and came together again the following day for the 142nd London Eza, which was held as per schedule according to her last wishes.


The Eza eve meeting was inevitably characterised by raw, inchoate emotion but was held together by the quiet dignity of Mrs Sato’s family who listened appreciatively to Dharma friends sharing memories and impressions of Hiroko-sama. Many of the warm, and sometimes funny stories, focused on her role as ‘door keeper’ and ‘temple mother’ of Three Wheels and numerous people spoke of her smile which always made them feel welcome and at home. Mr Duxbury described how, when he and some other Dharma friends went to Japan on pilgrimage in October, Hiroko-san came to see them off. “Despite the fact that she must have been feeling both unwell and worried, she still smiled and waved us off on our journey. It was a display of total selflessness.” Similarly another Dharma friend said:


“Hiroko-san always greeted me with a big smile… She made one very much part of the Three Wheels family. She taught me a lot, often during our conversations in the kitchen over a drink of tea. She had deep insight and empathy. I feel that the dharma was transmitted to me not only by her words but also by her presence and actions. Hiroko-san was a strong woman, but gentle and compassionate.”


At the close of the Eza eve meeting Hiroko-san’s children Yukiko-san and Emmyo-san spoke of how happy they were to spend time with their mother in her final days and how peaceful she was. Finally, Reverend Sato spoke briefly but warmly to express his gratitude for everyone’s words which he is keeping close to his heart.


Mrs Sanae Ishii, residents, and visiting Dharma friends worked hard on Saturday morning to prepare for the London Eza. By 1pm the temple was clean and beautiful and the Shrine room full to capacity with Dharma friends and guests of the Buddha. Rev. Ishii spoke briefly to explain that the service would not only be a time of mourning but more importantly an opportunity to express our love and gratitude to Hiroko-sama for what she has done for us. The service then followed, during which everyone present took turns to offer incense in front of the Buddha-shrine.


The original intention for the 142nd London Eza was for the Dharma friends who went on pilgrimage to Japan to report on their trip and this plan was honoured in accordance with Hiroko-san’s wishes. Mr Andrew Webb explained that the main focus of the pilgrimage was the important ceremony at Shogyoji to mark the enshrinement of the Ikko Sanzon Butsu image in the new Taking-Refuge Round Hall. The meaning of the Ikko Sanzon Butsu is explained in Ven. Chimyo Takehara’s article in a recent Three Wheels Newsletter:


“Why this Buddha image is known as the hidden Buddha would appear to be because of Prince Shōtoku’s conviction that only the Buddha of Dharma-body, being completely formless, could be called the true Buddha, not the Response-body or the Transformation-body. One who sees the Buddha working out of the truth of formlessness can be called a person of Mahayana spirituality.”


Mr Webb said that it was Hiroko-san’s deep wish that the pilgrimage participants encounter Ven. Takehara’s intention in holding the ceremony. Mr Webb said that when Dharma friends arrived at Shogyoji at night, tired from their journey, they found that Ven. Takehara (Goinge-sama) and many Shogyoji followers were waiting to greet them in front of the new shrine, which had been specially illuminated for the occasion. “Our whole experience [of the pilgrimage] was contained in the welcome we received from Goinge-sama and the words he gave to us on the meaning of the Ikko Sanzon Butsu.” Listening to Mr Webb it was easy to see that the welcome Hiroko-san always extended to visitors to Three Wheels is an extension of the ‘Great Welcome of the Buddha’ which Goinge-sama teaches us is always reverberating throughout the world. Rev. Ishii also spoke of how the ‘hidden’ or formless dimension of the Ikko Sanzon Butsu can teach us to see how Hiroko-san is still working for us all as the foundation of Three Wheels.


The other members of the pilgrimage journey then shared their own impressions of various activities such as a calligraphy lesson, moving visits to the memorial to Dharma mother Ekai-in and to Hiroshima, to the D.T. Suzuki Museum and sites associated with Rennyo-shonin. They also spoke of the incredible hospitality and embrace that they received from Dharma friends wherever they went; in Fukuoka, Kyoto, Osaka and beyond. Mrs Tina Slevin said, “The whole Shogyoji stay was very special, as I felt integrated and part of the community”, Ms Liz Barr described her “tears of joy”, Mrs Kaori Punwani said, “I realised that Shogyoji is created by people’s pure offering”, and Ms Kei Suzuki told us, “I felt I was able to experience the big illuminating circle that Three Wheels is part of and that broadened my perception of what ‘sangha’ is”. Especially movingly, Mr Christopher Duxbury said:


“I learnt about the power and emotion of saying the Nembutsu with so many other people. The first time we said Nembutsu in the Buddha hall, as part of the amazing Ikkosanzonbutsu ceremony, I was deeply moved. I spent the rest of the journey excited to have the opportunity to say the Nembutsu with others at the different temples, and even after returning to London, I can still feel much more emotion even when saying the Nembutsu alone in my daily practice. It is as if during that first day in the Buddha hall of Shogyoji, a flame was lit inside me, and happily, it still continues to burn.”


Concluding that part of the Eza, Mr Chris Dodd read out a letter of thanks which he had recently sent to Ven. Chimyo Takehara. The following is an extract:


“When we came back we were all in such high spirits, but then as you know a few days after our return to London, we found out the terrible news about Hiroko san’s deteriorating health… A few days have now passed, and even though I am still terribly upset, I am now beginning to have an even stronger sense of gratitude for what Hiroko San has done for me, and is still always doing for me. Because of my blindness I could not see Amida Buddha’s compassion embracing me, but when I think of Hiroko San, it is easy to see it working through her.


When we were at Shogyoji you told us that Buddhism can only be transmitted through people and to be honest I didn’t really understand. But through coming to know Hiroko San I think I do now. I think that she has taught me more than anybody.


When I saw her in hospital she told me that we would meet again in the Pure Land and I believe her. Now I really do have incentive to want to be born there. Even though it is such a sad time, thank you so much for everything I receive from Shogyoji and Three Wheels.”


Following these reports there was a small amount of time to hear people’s impressions. Hiroko-san’s children Rev. Emmyo Sato and Mrs Yukiko Kinugawa described how they had met their mother in a new way during their time at Three Wheels and Emmyo-san said that it had led him to understand the terms ‘All-Buddhas’ and the ‘omnipresence of the Tathagata’ in a new dimension.


Mr Duncan Kennedy quoted a poem by the Buddhist nun Rengetsu to describe his feelings about Hiroko-sama’s life and practice:


If you want to

Extend the Light

Of the Dharma,

Let it first illumine

Your own heart.


Finally, Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato spoke to express his thanks to everyone and he announced, with deep gratitude, that Ven. Chimyo Takehara has given Mrs Hiroko Sato the very special, posthumous Dharma Name ‘Disciple of Shakyamuni, Good Nun, Wonderful Seed’ (釈 妙種 善尼).


Hiroko-san was and is beloved and honoured by a great many people and I apologise that this report is wholly inadequate and subjective. I grateful to those who have helped me in writing it.


In gassho, Andy Barritt


10th December 2018