Report on 28th Shokai Retreat and 155th London Eza incorporating the annual Hoonko Otorikoshi Ceremony.
Over the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd of October Three Wheels held it’s bi annual Shokai Retreat, followed by the annual Hoonko Otorikoshi Ceremony. This was the first time since before the Coronavirus pandemic that it had been possible to hold meetings in person, although many activities had continued on line during the whole of the pandemic. So it was such a happy time for everyone who could make it in person and so nice to meet old and new Dharma friends after such a long time. Some members who for various reasons had been away from Three Wheels for even longer, were especially happy to be back, and very warmly expressed their joy.
Others, who mainly for reasons of distance, were not able to join in person, could join through a Zoom link. Even Rev. Kemmyo Sato, head priest of Three Wheels, who at that time was staying at our parent temple Shogyoji, was still able to join and teach and guide us from there. With the large screen, which had recently been very kindly donated by a Dharma friend, and with Rev. Kenshin Ishii’s technical skills, it was as if the on line participants were joining in person as well.
In preparation for the Shokai we had been attending a series of Zadan meetings to discuss and learn more about the subject of this retreat.
“ The Pure Land, This World, and Hell “
We were all aided in this by reading D.T. Suzuki’s wonderful article on the subject, which allowed us to understand much more clearly. During the course of these meetings, everyone was able to learn from each other, and to start to form their own personal understanding of the theme of the Shokai.
On the morning of the 2nd of October everyone gathered in the Buddha room and the Shokai Retreat began with a service to set the scene and concentrate everyone’s minds. This was followed by a Vow of Sincere Practice given by Mr Christopher Duxbury, which created the perfect atmosphere for the entire retreat.
He started by saying that how during the Coronavirus pandemic, he had been aware of how much he was being supported by the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and how Three Wheels had been an island of safety for him. He spoke of how Rev. Ishii had taught him that in its simplest sense, Shin Buddhist practice could be described as Thank you and Sorry, but said that on reflection he realised that he had been much more focused on the former rather than the latter. In his vow he said that as well as saying the Nembutsu with gratitude and sincerity, he would also like to say the Nembutsu with humility and less self pride.
Afterwards, and for the rest of the day, the time was devoted to listening to all the sangha members reflections as to what they had absorbed and learnt over the previous few weeks on “ The Pure Land, this World, and Hell”
It was wonderful and amazing to hear everyone’s reflections and it really did seem that through everyone, Amida’s light from the Pure Land was able to shine in the Buddha room. Everyone’s words contained so much obvious thought and each member could teach the Sangha as a whole so much with their insight and understanding. Everyone’s reflections on the Shokai theme came from slightly different angles which was really helpful and just went to underline the importance of Sangha. Perhaps most impressive was that the contributions given by newer members, some who were attending their first Shokai, were every bit as wonderful as those of more long standing members, and definitely so much could be learnt from them. There definitely was a very warm and inclusive atmosphere during the meetings, with everyone absolutely accepting everyone else just as they were, which was wonderful and very heart warming.
After everyone had finished, Rev. Kenshin Ishii then commented on how pure and sincere everyone’s impressions had been. He talked about the importance of encounter, the importance of listening carefully to others, and the importance of trying to understand their heart and mind. He also reminded us, that through our reflections, we should always try to be mindful of everything that has been done for us, and of the so many people helping us.
Rev. Kemmyo Sato then talked about how happy he was after listening to a Dharma friend say that being at the Shokai he felt like he was on Vulture Peak, being guided by teachers and Dharma friends. From hearing one Sangha members beautiful reflections, he said that all individuals have their own special light, no matter who they are, but it is our self-centred ness and ignorance that prevents us from seeing clearly. He said this light is always shining but because of our blind passions we cannot see it. It is within us and yet beyond us and we are able to meet this light by turning within. He said the Nembutsu itself was the Other Power gift of this light, and that we should entrust ourselves to Amida by pronouncing the Nembutsu. He said that Three Wheels itself was the working of the Pure Land and we as the Sangha should keep moving forwards towards it.
After the meetings had finished there was a real sense of peace and happiness, and there was plenty of time to chat and digest everything we had received, and then start thinking about preparing for the following days Hoonko Otorikoshi Ceremony.
Whilst the weather on Saturday 2nd October had been very dull, with almost constant rain, on the Sunday the skies started to clear and by late morning a beautiful cloudless blue sky was shining warm autumn sun. Many more guests arrived for the Eza and again those who could attend in person seemed so happy to be back at Three Wheels. Joining on line was once again Rev. Kemmyo Sato from Japan, plus guests from Hong Kong, America, and northern Scotland, amongst many others.
The Hoonko Otorikoshi Ceremony is the most important occasion in the year for Shin Buddhists. It is the time to come and express our gratitude to Shinran Shonin for everything that he has done for us. As such, the Buddha Shrine and room were looking especially beautiful for this occasion. Everyone behaved most respectfully throughout the service and the chanting, led by Rev. Kenshin Ishii, was also especially beautiful.
After the service Rev. Ishii gave a talk, with the same title as the Shokai theme.
“The Pure Land, this World, and Hell”
Before he started we had one minutes silence in remembrance, and to express our condolences to all those who had passed away from COVID-19, and to their family and friends.
Then he very warmly welcomed everyone back to Three Wheels, who could now come in person to the Eza, as well as joining on line.
This talk was Rev. Ishii’s own personal impressions on this subject, and here is a very brief summary.
Through his reflections he knew that Shakyamuni Buddha had said something like “ life is Suffering “, but he came to realise that Shakyamuni Buddha also said something positive about this world. Something like “ life is Beautiful “. Rev. Ishii, with the help of a Dharma friend at Shogyoji temple, the world renowned Buddhist scholar Professor Shimoda, had learned that Shakyamuni Buddha had said.
“ All conditioned things are unsatisfactory “, when one sees this with insight-wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purity.
But the Buddha had also said.
“ Ananda, Vesdi is delightful, the Udena shrine is delightful, the Gotamaka shrine is delightful, the Sattambaka shrine is delightful, the Bahuputta shrine is delightful, the Capala shrine is delightful.
Then he further explained. The reason why Samskara is understood as “suffering “ is because Samskara is the word to describe the egoistic world of ignorant beings who do not doubt that they are right.
On the other hand what is described as “delightful “ is the world of Buddha and the world of selflessness.
Rev. Ishii felt that these two interpretations of this world were connected with Shinran Shonin’s teaching that we are saved through Faith alone. He quoted from the Kyogyoshinsho.
“Deep mind is deep faith. It has two aspects. One is to be deeply and decidedly awakened to the fact that you are a foolish being of karmic evil caught in birth and death, ever sinking and ever wandering in transmigration from innumerable kalpas in the past, with never a condition that would lead to emancipation. The second is to be deeply and decidedly awakened to the fact that Amida Buddha’s Forty eight Vows grasp all sentient beings, and that allowing yourself to be carried by the power of the Vow without any doubt or apprehension, you will attain birth “.
Rev. Ishii then went on to give recent examples of how, through introspection, some Dharma friends had been illuminated by Amida’s light and were able to encounter themselves. He said that Amida’s formless truth is omnipresent and appears as his light through others. It is the reason why Rev. Sato teaches that every moment is our practice for Shin Buddhists. It is not easy for us, ignorant beings, to see the light because our eye curtain is usually closed. However, through listening to one another carefully, humbly and sincerely, we become aware of ourselves heavily burdened with our own karmic problems and at the same time of Amida’s unconditional love that embraces all of us entirely with no discrimination.
Rev. Ishii then went on to share an encounter he had had with his Dharma friend Andy while he was writing his talk. He had explained to Andy how his talk was going, and Andy said how it naturally reminded him of the famous story of Bennen. At that very instant Rev. Ishii was illuminated by the light of Amida and able to see himself clearly, and at the same time see Amida’s compassion through his good Dharma Friend.
He then told the story of Bennen, who had been a Yamabushi and at one point had wanted to Kill Shinran Shonin, but on encountering him his mind had completely changed from one of anger and hatred, to one of regret and shame. At that point he took refuge in Amida Buddha and became a disciple of Shinran Shonin.
To conclude his talk Rev. Ishii reminded us of the importance of the Hoonko Otorikoshi Ceremony, and it being a special time for all Shin Buddhists to express their deepest gratitude to Shinran Shonin for all that he has done for us.
He finished by quoting some verses from The Shoshinge by Shinran Shonin into which the essence of the Shin Buddhist teaching is condensed.
“He (Nagarjuna) taught that, at the very moment we become mindful of Amida’s Original Vow,
We immediately enter the stage of the definitely assured,
And that, simply by always pronouncing the Name of the Tathagata,
We should respond with gratitude for all that has been done through his Great Compassionate Vow of Universal Deliverance.”
Rev. Kenshin Ishii’s wonderful talk was clearly given from the heart, and as usual he was able to convey the sometimes difficult teachings in such a clear and down to earth way. His whole talk was very uplifting, creating a really positive and optimistic atmosphere.
One guest commented that it seemed that having a self centred, discriminating mind could be likened to hell, while through having a selfless mind, you could see Amida’s light and a glimpse of the Pure Land. Another said that from the talk she liked to think that “ life is Beautiful “ and that by coming to Three Wheels she was able to do so. Several guests commented on the importance of Sangha, the importance of encounter within the Sangha. One guest said he had learnt about the importance of listening to others carefully, and how through discussions you can see things differently. Another guest, who belongs to a different Buddhist school, said how impressed he was with Three Wheels Sangha, and to how much importance it was given within the Three Jewels. Another said how he was able to see Amida’s light shining through the Sangha.
Following this Rev. Kemmyo Sato, joining on line from Japan, spoke to everyone. He said how wonderful he thought Rev. Kenshin Ishii’s talk had been and how he would especially like to mention Kenshin san’s re encounter with Andy in which the subject of his talk became truly a matter of his own experience. As Andy had recounted, Kenshin san had come to realise, “ I am Bennen “ before joyfully pronouncing the Nembutsu. Kemmyo Sensei said that his master D.T. Suzuki, whose writings we studied during Shokai, was just like this. He was in one respect an intellectual person and philosopher but at the same time he always expressed whatever he had to say through his own practical spiritual experience. Kemmyo Sensei said that this is the way all the Priests of Shogyoji seek to follow when preparing a talk. Rev. Sato further said that Shin Buddhism is a religion of awareness and a religion of gratitude. He said if we look into ourselves with quiet introspection we will become aware of our karmic reality, then at such a point we cannot but feel grateful for all that has been done for us. Gratitude is not a duty or responsibility in Shin Buddhism, but is something completely natural and spontaneous. He said that Kenshin san’s decision to quote the passage in Shoshinge about Master Nagarjuna was very important.
After Rev. Sato’s words it was time to inform everyone of recent news and upcoming events and to finish the meeting, and then enjoy a delicious buffet with time to socialise and reflect.
Thank you very much to Rev. Kemmyo Sato, Rev. Kenshin Ishii, and to all the Sangha members for making it such a special meeting and Shokai.
Thank you very much to Sanae san and everyone else who helped provide the wonderful hospitality and food throughout the entire weekend, always with smiling faces.
Thank you very much to Venerable Chimyo Takehara and everyone at Shogyoji, without which Three Wheels would not and could not exist. Thank you for your continued support and guidance which makes it possible for us to be able to see Amida’s light here in the U.K.
And at this time, especially thank you to Shinran Shonin, through whom we are all able to hear the truth of the Buddha.