Report on the 17th Shokai Retreat and 126th London Eza

This was our first attempt to hold the Shokai retreat immediately prior to the London Eza. At the end of the Shokai, we hoped to share the atmosphere of our retreat with the participants of the London Eza.
As spiritual preparation for Shokai themed “My Joy in Listening to the Buddha-Dharma”, we composed our own letters to Rennyo-Shonin or Amida Buddha. This also formed part of a project entitled “Dear Rennyo-sama“, set by the headquarters of the Higashi Honganji-ha tradition, in celebration of the upcoming 600th anniversary of the birth of Rennyo Shonin.
During the Shokai each of us was given the opportunity to share our letter with the Sangha. Those listening to the letters of their Dharma-friends’ encountered each other and deepened their understanding of the dharma teachings in their own way. Rev. Sato guided us with his comments on each letter.
Andrew read out his letter, which brought many friends to tears. His letter included his deep awareness of his pride; the loneliness that lay within him; his struggle with the sense of distance between himself and Amida Buddha; his realization that he looks towards Buddha outwardly – as an object far away from him; and his realization of attaining inner peace through taking refuge in Amida Buddha was the same as his late father’s greatest wish, which was to find inner peace.
Rev Akemi Ishida, who joined the retreat for the first time all the way from New York, expressed her joy at joining the retreat at Three Wheels. Her enthusiasm was eye opening to observe as one who seeks the truth and to learn and absorb from any opportunity possible. After hearing Andrew’s letter, she apologised for what she wrote in her letter. She asked for more guidance and teaching from Rev Sato and Rev Ishii. Throughout the session, she was told she could visit and stay at Three Wheels at any time.
Mathew responded, saying having heard Andrew’s letter he realised that his own writing sounds beautiful but is a fake and not real. Andrew and Mathew then both confirmed that they were both hesitant to open their minds. The next night, Mathew composed his own letter and shared that with us. His intimate personal letter, with repentance, was like observing one who finally comes out of his small box; truly mind blowing for all of us; it was the voice of a Shin Buddhist. This letter was the evidence of the working of Amida Buddha, not one’s own work. Mathew was so grateful saying that he could not have written this without his Dharma-friends’ help.
Throughout the session, there were many questions, and teachings that will stay in everyone’s minds. Rev Sato taught that ‘love yourself and love others’ contradicts if we are self-centered, but this is the same thing if we are freed from self-attachment; that Buddha’s unconditional love appears through other people around you; and doing good originates from taking refuge with repentance in Amida Buddha.
At the London Eza, Rev Kenshin H Ishii read his own letter to Rennyo Shonin as the main Eza talk. He went through his own history all the way from his birth to his present situation. He highlighted as significant spiritual movements the time he became a Shin Buddhist priest and how he stayed with his family at Three Wheels in London. He quoted one Rennyo letter on the “Fivefold Meaning”: firstly, the maturity of Karmic good; secondly the encountering of a good teacher; thirdly, awakening to Amida’s light; fourthly, attaining faith; fifthly, pronouncing the Myogo (Name of Amida). Rev Ishii expressed how grateful he was to have felt the fivefold meaning through his religious experiences.
There were many questions raised and impressions given by participants of the Eza. Through the preparation of our letters, we were able to reveal our inner selves during the Shokai Retreat. Having the Shokai prior to and then leading into the Eza, enabled us to gain settled minds so that we could listen to our Dharma-friends, and feel more open about sharing our feeling at the Eza. This Shokai and London Eza are the truth of the working of Amida Buddha.
Kaori P.