Participating in in the great flow of Mahayana Buddhism

A report on the 26th Shokai retreat and 2020 Hoonko Otorikoshi ceremony

Happily, the 26th Shokai retreat was able to go ahead this month in an online format, despite the ongoing pandemic, through the kindness, great effort and adaptability of the residents of Three Wheels and Dharma friends. Special thanks to Mr Christopher Duxbury whose suggestion that we hold a series of weekly zadankai in the run-up to Shokai greatly contributed to the spiritual success of the retreat. As Ms Liz Barr described, the zadan meetings were a time of meditation which allowed all of the participants to come to the retreat “[with greater] awareness of ourselves and others, and [of] the importance of practice to keep our minds sincere.”

              During Shokai, Reverend Kemmyo Sato read out the preface to his new book, written by his master Venerable Chimyo Takehara. In the preface, with great foresight, Goinge-sama, spoke of the traditional rainy season retreat held while Śākyamuni Buddha was alive:“For the three months of the rainy season when epidemics could and did take hold and spread, Śākyamuni’s disciples […] avoided going out and remained in one place in deep meditation. […] Anātman, or a completely “self-less attitude”, was what would have been fostered during this retreat [… leading to] an awareness of the absolute equality of all living beings with no exception.” Through Goinge-sama’s profound words, it became clear that this 26th Shokai was our very own precious ‘rainy retreat’ opportunity. Dharma friends were also extremely impressed to hear of the ongoing spiritual encounter of Miss Rina Punwani, a young member of Three Wheels who originally grow up in the taya, with Goinge-sama’s teachings on selflessness and interdependence.

              The theme for the 26th Shokai was ‘Shinran Shonin and Me’, because it coincided with the Hoonko Otorikoshi ceremony expressing our gratitude to Shinran Shonin. Having the opportunity to reflect on this theme many Dharma friends came to feel a much closer relationship to Shinran Shonin. For example, Mr Martin Lau said, “there’s a lineage coming down from Shinran through to Three Wheels so I’m engaging in that lineage even though I don’t know much about Shinran himself […] and it gives me pause to consider that all of existence is connected.” Kemmyo-sensei echoed this point in his talk, saying, “Our pronouncing Nenbutsu here in this Sangha means participating in in the great flow of Mahayana Buddhism.” Many people talked about their encounter with Shinran Shonin’s breath-taking sincerity and honesty, and Mr Chris Dodd perceptively noted that, “I guess Shinran Shonin really knew himself, which meant he really knew others also”.

              Such self-honesty, as displayed by the Shonin, was evident in the questions of some Dharma friends during Reverend Sato’s talk. A very sincere question from Ms Kei Suzuki, about two different ways she felt when saying nembutsu, gave rise to a free and spontaneous teaching from Kemmyo-sensei in which he said, “Nenbutsu is cosmic. Nenbutsu is everything. Your karma is not small – it is always invading its surroundings. Yes, our karmic evil is big, but Namuamidabutsu is far beyond that – it is everything. Just go back to nenbutsu with repentance and gratitude.”

              Inevitably, there were far too many wonderful moments during Shokai to recount in this brief report but it seems important to remark upon the fact that there were a mother and son, Ruth and Max Nilsson Ladner, among the participants – whose relationship was very inspiring to everyone. Ruth spoke of coming to the realisation that her motherly love is conditional and described how Max led her onto the Buddhist path. Ruth’s honesty also gave Reverend Ishii the opportunity to describe the importance of parents and children becoming spiritually independent of each other (as a kind of second birth-process) and then going forward on the Dharma path together as fellow practicers and good friends.

The Coronavirus outbreak is currently spreading more widely again. However, despite the short autumn days and our anxieties around the current restrictions on our lives, Dharma friends were greatly encouraged by Kemmyo-sensei’s words that, “[the] awakening of faith allows us to abide in ‘anjin’ or peaceful awareness. It is absolutely peaceful – [there is] nothing to fear – because we are now clearly aware of ourselves, the reality of our karmic existence, and simultaneously aware of the unconditional love that embraces us all without exception.” Listening to these fear-dispelling words, it was possible to appreciate Goinge-sama’s comment that,“The expression “my good friend” [from the Larger Sutra of Etneral Life] must have been a kindly message from the Tathāgata that Shinran Shōnin wanted to convey with confidence to his friends from the Nenbutsu Sangha […] with whom he had been sharing the sufferings of life, both personal and communal…”. This ‘kindly message’ is ‘Namuamidabutsu’, as Kemmyo-sensei clarified, “Nenbutsu is Amida Buddha’s call to us all, “Come to me just as you are”, and at the same time our response to him, “I take refuge in Amida Buddha”, immediately entrusting ourselves to the Buddha. In other words, it is the great working of the Dharma-kaya, the gushing out of the unconditional love of the formless truth beyond understanding.”

The Shokai retreat weekend concluded with the annual Hoonko Otorikoshi ceremony held online. Although it was unusual to hold the ceremony of gratitude to Master Shinran ceremony in this way, the circumstances allowed various new guests to join the meeting such as Mr Andy Barritt’s work colleague and line manager Mrs Christine Gratton who said that she felt a very powerful meditative atmosphere while joining the ceremony through Zoom.

To conclude this rather lengthy report I would like to share some words of Mr Dave Zimmerman from his zadankai impression.  Dave’s life has had many challenges in recent times, even before the Coronoavirus outbreak, and as such I was amazed and encouraged to hear his beautiful, personal summary of the nembutsu way:

“no matter where you are in your life, you can access the wisdom of Amida Buddha to transform your mind and your experience of the world. [Shinran Shonin’s writings] writings reminded me that in this deeply personal journey to experience the fundamental nature of existence, I will encounter illusions that stem from attachments to the physical world as well as to my ego. To be able to recognise those illusions and disperse them through the nembutsu is a liberating feeling. When it happens, I feel gratitude for what has been done for me by Shinran Shonen through Amida’s light.”

In gassho, expressing deep gratitude on behalf of all members of Three Wheels to Goinge-sama, Bomori-sama and all the fellow–practicers at Shogyoji temple for supporting us on our journey along the white path of faith. Namauamidabutsu.

              Andy B.

19th October 2020