“The Three Wheels are the one wheel and the Great Wheel turns.”
Report on the 29th Shokai and 157th London Eza, 22nd-24th April 2022
The 29th Shokai retreat was held over a cool but bright weekend toward the end of April 2022. It was attended by eighteen people (two online), including three people who were attending their first in-person Shokai: Max, Pedro, and Shane. We were happy to be able to gather together after such a long time and a lively chorus of conversation could be heard throughout the temple as the Sangha welcomed the arrival of a spiritual springtime into their hearts.
The retreat began on the Friday evening with the traditional Vow of Sincere practice, which was given by Mr Max Nilsson-Ladner. Max lives in Shanghai but is staying in the U.K. until the summer, and has been helping Rev. Sato with his translation work. Max said in his Vow, “Kenshin-san’s invitation for me to give the vow of sincere practice was like a Bodhisattva from the Pure Land shaking me awake and reminding me of the preciousness of this opportunity to practice with sincerity. […] In line with the truth of impermanence […] I vow to treat it with sincere reverence, as if it was the only Shokai I could ever attend.”
Following Max’s impression, Reverend Kemmyo Sato gave his Talk of Welcome. He shared three Buddhist teachings. The first was the ‘Teaching of the Seven Buddhas’: “Reject evil. Do good. Purify your mind.” The second was the teaching of Prince Shotoku: “The origin of doing good lie sin taking refuge.” The third was the ethos of D. T. Suzuki, based on a comment of Thomas Paine: “Doing good is my religion. The world is my home.” Kemmyo-sensei said that all of these teachings reflect the ‘pure act’ of the Buddha for us. The meaning of ‘pure act’ can be understood by the late Prof. White’s words, “Just do for the doing.” Sensei said that ‘pure act’ is another way of expressing the Buddha’s Compassion, while ‘awareness’ corresponds to the Buddha’s Wisdom.
Sensei told us that even though ‘doing for the doing’ is very hard because of our blind passions, we should just become aware of our karmic situation and say sorry for it while taking refuge in the ‘invisible Other’. “Other”, he said, “means ‘beyond my consciousness’, ‘beyond thought’”. In that momentary instant of taking refuge, the mind is pure.
Following the welcome service to the Buddha, and the evening meal, we held the first zadan meeting.
Mr Martin Lau said that he is often self-critical and that makes it hard for him to accept gifts or appreciation from others. However from the pre-Shokai meetings and a conversation with Rev. Ishii, he has come to realise that the main thing is for him to just focus on realising what he has been given and then naturally he will respond, even if he doesn’t always realise he is doing so.
Mr Amit Khanna said that from his pre-Shokai group discussions he realised that he never had a heart open to graciously receiving. He said, “My critical mind is always suspicious of other intentions and what they want from me. From coming to Three Wheels this outer shell is gradually eroding.”
Andy Barritt said that when he was reflecting on the Sixth Spiritual Offering, of ‘giving someone a seat’, he remembered how Prof. John White would always sit on the floor at Three Wheels meetings and that every time Kenshin-san would always offer him a chair, which he would unfailingly decline. Andy used to think, “Kenshin-san, you know he doesn’t want a chair – why don’t you remember his preference?” Looking again at those scenes from the perspective of the teaching in the Seven Spiritual Offerings, Andy realised that every time Kenshin-san offered Prof. White a seat he also gave him all the other offerings of gentle eye, kind countenance, sincere heart and so on. When John reached the end of his life, because of the continuity of Kenshin-san’s respect and love, he felt completely confident and assured that he could put his whole life and being entirely into Kenshin-san and Sanae-san’s care. The relationship between Prof. White (who helped found this Sangha) and the Ishii family (who now help lead and care for it) became something so profound and beautiful. Recognising this, Andy said he could really feel a vast difference between Rev. Ishii’s way of practicing the Seven Spiritual Offerings and his own shallow and narrow attitude.
Ms. Liz Barr and Mrs. Tina Slevin could not attend Shokai or the Eza as they both have sons who are very sick. Nonetheless both sent messages to the sangha and Tina also baked a cake, despite her stressful situation, which everyone received as a beautiful expression of her love and support for Dharma friends during their retreat.
Liz said, “After the first pre-Shokai meeting, my son was in hospital with kidney stones so my life was upside down. During this time I felt very close to the Dharma as it was the only way my mind would settle. I realised how much I needed Amida’s Compassionate Light when I was feeling so lost and afraid […] during this difficult time I received gifts from complete strangers, this happened when two people in different situations just smiled at me in a really open and kind way. This really lifted my spirits and I realised how something small like a smile could have such a big impact on another person’s state of mind.”
Tina wrote to us, “During the discussions pre-Shokai, we touched on the expression of body language being another form of communication. For me this is quite close to my heart, as my older son is non-verbal and therefore the expression of body language really is his only form of communicating. Just seeing how he reacts and behaves can give clues, as to what is on his mind and the most important thing is paying attention to this.”
On the Saturday morning, after a peaceful meditation period led by Mr. Dave Zimmerman and service to the Buddha, there was a second zadan meeting. At this meeting Mr. Andrew Webb spoke about his encounter with a person at the local council who was involved with helping find his youngest son a place at a special school. The process was very difficult and frustrating from Andrew’s side and he felt a lot of negative emotions. However one day he found out that the case worker who was responsible for the arrangements had been working really hard to solve the problems, going above and beyond his duties. Thanks to this person Andrew’s son was given a permanent place at the school. Andrew wrote to the officer to express his thanks and when the man replied he told Andrew that he had a son with similar special requirements and that he could really sympathise with Andrew and his family. Andrew felt very sorry for only thinking about his own situation and not about the other person and how much they were supporting him or what their own situation might be.
Andrew also told us how when he overslept recently, when he should have been helping with family matters, he got up and apologised to his wife. However she replied, “You had a good rest. So don’t say sorry, just say thank you.” Through her comment he realised that his apology had been a kind of self-centred protection. Kemmyo-sensei appreciated Andrew’s comment and said, “Sorry has a moral dimension and a religious dimension. In the religious way ‘sorry’ comes from awareness.”
Mr. Sean S. spoke about his experience of reading the Sutra on the Seven Spiritual Offerings from the perspective of someone with autism. He said it is difficult or impossible for some people with autism to know if they are giving or receiving the gentle eye and kind countenance. However he said that he could really understand the ‘giving of the heart’ and that his time working in the Peace Corps in Oman showed him the importance of hospitality.
Andrew told Sean about how he had met a lady with autism recently at his son’s school. He said she was always such a kind, friendly, bright person who he looked forward to meeting. The lady told Andrew, “Whenever I see your son he is always smiling. However because I have autism I don’t smile.” Andrew said that even though this lady said she couldn’t smile, he had never noticed it because she always conveyed her loving kindness in many other ways.
Ms. Kei Suzuki spoke about how, during a phone call, her mother used a strange made-up word which made her laugh. When she teased her Mum about it, her mother replied, “I made up the word to make you laugh. I always want to hear you being happy.” This made Kei-san realise how much her mother is always thinking about her.
On the Sunday afternoon, following the closing ceremony of Shokai, the 157th London Eza was held on the afternoon of 24th April 2022. Reverend Kenshin Ishii shared his own reflections on the theme of the preceding retreat in a talk entitled, “On the perfection of dānā”. His talk was too rich to summarise adequately here, however a few notable points follow…
Rev. Ishii said that, “even our lives and bodies are gifts from our parents, so everything in our lives are gifts for each of us. [As such] I feel that the English word “giving” as a translation of dānā cannot be always applied because it tends to make me arrogant in assuming that I am a giver. […] it is better for us to say “I share” rather than “I give” because what you are presenting is not just your possession.”
Through considering and deepening this thought, Rev. Ishii said that he came to understand why Shinran Shonin, the founder of Shin Buddhism said, “I, Shinran, have no disciples, because, when I expound the Tathāgata’s Dharma to sentient beings in the ten directions, I am simply acting as an envoy of the Tathāgata.” He said that we can clearly see that Shinran Shonin did not seek to give his own teaching but only shared his joy of
entrusting himself to Amida Tathāgata and his great satisfaction of being saved by the Tathāgata. Rev. Ishii said, “I cannot help feeling Shinran Shonin’s genuine sincerity towards the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, as a Nenbutsu practitioner, one of the sentient beings, to be saved.”
Rev. Ishii also told us about a recent encounter he had with Max Nilsson-Ladner, as his own experience, which helped him understand Prof. John White’s poem, The Meaning and Purpose of Three Wheels. He said that when he asked Max to give the Vow of Sincere Practice for the retreat, Max sincerely accepted the opportunity and expressed his deepest gratitude for the opportunity to look into himself. When Rev. Ishii heard this response, he felt great joy. Through this experience he remembered John’s poem. “When Max’s sincerity allowed him to be grateful for receiving the opportunity, then I immediately became a receiver of his gratitude. Through our dialogue, out of the diversity of him and me, unity and harmony were immediately born. It was absolutely a spiritual encounter for me with Max in one turning wheel of the Three Wheels (giver, receiver and gift). This experience made me realise what “pure” means in this poem. This purity is nothing but “sincerity in gratitude”. I came to understand that what John wanted to “share” with all of us by composing this poem was based on what he had learnt and experienced through his spiritual encounter with Venerable Takehara and Dharma friends in the Shogyoji sangha in Japan.”
Following Rev. Kenshin Ishii’s talk, Mr Andrew Webb chaired a discussion among theDharma friends who were present.
Mr. Neil Chase, joining the meeting online from the U.S.A., said that he often worries whether he is doing a good job as a father. However Rev. Ishii showed him that, “I am just giving what I received” and he said that this “released me from some of my anxieties as a parent.” He added that this sense of relief gives him a space for faith to develop, as he realised that he needs to just let go of his own ideas about what he should do and simply share what he has received.
Mr. Christopher Duxbury said that listening to the talk he remembered an occasion when he went to stay with his mother for a week. While he was staying he tried to help her by doing everything. Whenever she said, “At least let me help with one thing”, he refused. Hearing Kenshin-san’s words, he realised that his mother wanted to express her parental love to him but he accidentally he took away her opportunity because of his self-oriented way of trying to do something good.
Mr Andy Barritt spoke about how Kenshin-san had asked Mr Pedro S. to clean the Chouzubachi (water basin) before the Eza. Andy saw that Pedro worked really hard, even removing and cleaning every individual stone from underneath the basin, and also missing the first part of the lunch break to complete his work. Andy said that even though it was Pedro’s first Shokai his attitude was much better than Andy’s own attitude to practice.
Pedro replied that at home his parents also had a water basin at their house and he had simply copied the way they washed it. He felt that he should show the same respect to the temple as his parents showed to the home where he was brought up.
Kenshin-san said, if you take responsibility for even one small thing at the temple – like washing the water basin – then the temple will become your own home.
Mrs. Sanae Ishii then stated what she felt by listening to the Dharma talk.
In the story of the Nirvana painting, Shakyamuni Buddha’s mother released medicine from the Pure Land, but the medicine did not reach Shakyamuni Buddha. Listening the words by Kenshin-san, “Let us not just look at what we receive, but let us receive the love and compassion which lies behind gifts”, I came to remember a scene from when I visited the Three Wheels for the first time. It was when I was 23 years old and I stayed here for three weeks with two Dharma friends from Japan. Their parents sent a letter of thanks by facsimile to Kemyo-san and Hiroko-san. At the time, my parents did not have a close relationship with Kemmei and Hiroko, and I had unpleasant feelings. At that time, Kemmyo-san and Hiroko-san told me, “I think your parents feel the same as the parents of your friends. I was reminded of this scene and realised that I had been brought up by many such wonderful people who have been teaching me the parental love.
To conclude the meeting Reverend Sato expressed his thanks to Rev. Ishii for his talk. He said, “Your wonderful talk covered everything from Early Buddhism to Mahayana and Shin Buddhism. Listening to it I felt a great sense of relief and peace. As you know, Prof. John White, through his encounter with Goinge-sama, started to work for Three Wheels and promised to walk the one road with us all. He put all his energies into it and gave up his own career. He was an embodiment of Goinge-sama’s prayer for world peace. After twenty years had passed John remembered a comment from Rev. Kojun that it will take 30 years to make a temple in the U.K. John remarked to me, “Taira, Three Wheels has started working as a temple.” At that time I disagreed with my him, however now I am happy to agree that the Three Wheels have indeed started working here. Everybody is happily involved in this Three Wheels Dharma movement. John and Hiroko-san would be extremely happy to hear Kenshin-san’s talk and to see how he is being supported by Sanae-san and their two very sincere children. The Three Wheels are turning as One Great Wheel.”
In gassho, Andy B.
25th April 2022