Report on the 154th London Eza
The September 2021 London Eza, incorporating as usual the ceremony of reconciliation between Great Britain and Japan, was held online due to the continuing pandemic. Around twenty-five people – including Rev. Miki Nakura of the New York Shin Buddhist Sangha and two other North American guests – chanted service together, listened to a talk by Reverend Kemmyo Sato and had a lively discussion afterward.
Reverend Sato’s talk was entitled On John’s First Talk at Shogyoji, prompted by the recent online publication of over one thousand five hundred of Professor John White’s poems, under the title of Done for the doing, as well as the forthcoming online publication of the twenty-eight talks John has delivered at Shogyoji Temple over the past twenty-eight years. It was the first time for many of those listening to become aware of the enormous amount that Prof. White has done for the temple. These contributions include his involvement in the founding of Three Wheels, the creation of the Zen garden, the establishment of the memorials to the pioneering Chōshū and Satsuma students and to Professor and Mrs Williamson who took care of them, the Japanese-British reconciliation movement, the construction of the Stupa of Namu-Amida-butsu at Brookwood cemetery, and numerous publications aimed at, in John’s words, “the further development of mutual understanding between British and Japanese.” Kemmyo-sensei expressed his deep personal thanks to John for all of his efforts and made clear that he wanted Dharma friends to understand the deep roots of his dear friend’s work. The Three Wheels community “should never allow ourselves to forget this fundamental ideal of mutual understanding underlying all his actions, so full of love and compassion.”
Reverend Sato pointed out that, following his original encounter with Venerable Chimyo Takehara and his followers, Professor White put aside his own career as a world-renowned scholar in the field of Western art history, and devoted the next twenty-eight years of his life to helping us create and develop Three Wheels in all manner of innovative ways. He also described how, when John’s address was first delivered, it was reported in Go’on, Shogyoji’s monthly magazine, that Professor White’s encounter with Venerable Chimyo Takehara, Head Priest of the temple, had looked like “two Buddhas thinking of one another”. Kemmyo-sensei said, “Professor White’s mind at that time must have already been mature enough to receive the truth of the Buddha-dharma.”
Revisiting Prof. White’s first talk, Sensei found himself “both shocked and amazed by its contents” because “what John had been speaking about or promising back then in that very early talk, [is now] fully realized in the form of the wonderful Sangha of Three Wheels with all its Dharma friends… All the benefits and gifts we receive nowadays from the Sangha, whether practical or spiritual, were actually foretold in that early talk and we can find the signs hidden in that talk given a full twenty- eight years ago.”
Kemmyo-sensei described how it was John’s poem: “You of pure faith, I who am certain of nothing, travel the one road,” that personally gave him the impetus to ‘entrust’ his life to his friend and fellow traveller. However, on revisiting Professor White’s original talk and discovering all that had been wonderfully achieved in the Sangha, Rev. Sato said that he now realised that John wasn’t simply an “exceedingly good friend” but “at the same time […] a manifestation in the form of a bodhisattva of the Ultimate Truth (Dharmakāya-in-itself) that is formless beyond words, inconceivable, incomprehensible and inexpressible.” Professor White’s quiet resolution in the above poem sounds, Kemmyo-sensei said, “like an expression of the Bodhisattva’s vow to benefit oneself as well as others or, put another way, to love others as oneself [… a vow that] has been most wonderfully fulfilled during the course of the last twenty-eight years.”
Rev. Sato also highlighted two specific points that he feels Professor White has elucidated very clearly for members of the sangha. Firstly, in his last Shogyoji talk, entitled Amida Buddha, Otherness and Transcendence, he emphasised the importance of ‘otherness’ which (as John put it) “simply says that whatever it is, or whatever kind or quality of thing it may be that comes into your mind, a Buddha differs from it, as it does from anything else you could ever conceive.” Sensei said,“it is quite amazing the way a Westerner’s sharp insight into the Buddha-dharma was able to dig, no gouge, out this crucial point.” Secondly, Rev. Sato highlighted John’s phrase “Done for the doing”. In the Buddhist context, Sensei said, “[this] stands for a bodhisattva’s pure act of doing for the doing in order to benefit the self and others simultaneously.” “All that was said in John’s original Shogyoji talk has been achieved miraculously,” Sensei said with tears of gratitude.
Following Rev. Sato’s talk, several of the trustees of the Three Wheels London Shogyoji Trust were invited to speak. Mr Montgomery said that he felt so lucky to know John, and that his friend was a person who would never stop being active until he is finally stopped by death. Prof. Nagase also expressed his gratitude for John’s friendship and example, saying how he deeply valued his attitude of always ‘doing for the doing’ and continual striving. Mrs Crellin spoke of how she had come to understand John more deeply over the years and feel gratitude for his contributions, while Mr Webb expressed how much he had learnt from John’s “careful determination”. Rev. Ishii also informed everyone that Andrew Webb has recently taken over from John as Honorary Secretary. He reported that John was very pleased to see that Andrew had understood and continued his way of record keeping, which aims to help people in the future understand not only what was decided in the past but also the context in which it was decided. “John’s foresight is not only for the next two to three years,” Rev. Ishii said, “but for fifty or a hundred years. It shows us his faith that people will keep the Three Wheels sangha spiritually active.”
Rev. Miki Nakura, of the New York Shin Buddhist Sangha, spoke of his recent stay at Three Wheels and shared his gratitude. He said that he was “so impressed to meet a real sangha, being led there by Amida Buddha”. He also said that reading Prof. Sato’s talk, and thinking about Prof. White’s way of living, he came to reflect on the importance of resolving “the great matter of the after-life” [rebirth].
Rev. Kenshin Isshi said that, while it was wonderful for us all to gratefully celebrate John’s great life and work, it was important to understand three deep aspects of Rev. Sato’s talk. Firstly, the importance of spiritual ‘Encounter’, as seen in the encounter between prof. White and Ven. Chimyo Takehara. Secondly, becoming aware of what has been done for us by others, as seen in Prof. White giving up his career and reputation to serve the truth that he had encountered at Shogyoji. Thirdly, to understand the nature of practice. On this last point, Kenshin-san described how one time he heard Rev. Sato answer the question, “What is Shin Buddhist practice?” Sensei had replied, “Nothing special… every moment is our practice”.
Rev. Ishii said that recently he received a phone call that Prof. White had suffered a fall while out at the shops. While Kenshin-san was searching for John his mind was so stressed and anxious. However when he found him at last, John said quietly, “Here you are Kenshin-san!” and at that moment Kenshin-san became peaceful. “John and Amida Buddha have been teaching me that I need to be peaceful and settled,” Rev. Ishii said, “I need to be ready to say goodbye to anyone, even though I feel sadness.” Kenshin-san added that he found this awakening, which is very hard to put into words, expressed beautifully in Prof. White’s poem:
In this small garden
Amida Buddha awaits
Building his Pure Land
Ms Judy Patterson, whose father died at the age of 100 last year, was moved to tears by hearing Rev. Ishii’s comments and thanked him saying, “It was very important to hear someone talk about [this] and I was so glad to hear you.” She also added that John’s last talk really helped her to understand what real encounter is between people, especially his words, “ignorance can open the door to discovery”.
Rev. Sato closed the meeting by reminding everyone of D. T. Suzuki’s words that the ultimate truth is “both in and beyond us”. Sensei said, “If you seek after Buddha outside you can’t get it. Sink within, introspect within and beyond at the same time – and then you will be at one with everything. That is why I don’t mind if John says he a Buddhist or not. He is a bodhisattva – a manifestation of the truth that is within us. I came to England thinking I was coming to ‘a land of no Buddha’ but I was wrong. Behind every human being is Buddha nature within and beyond us. Look at John and you will understand everything. The essence of what I want to say can be found in this poem from John’s original talk:
It will tell you all
that you need