“Don’t fuss. Don’t worry. Just do what needs to be done. Simply.”; Report on the 137th London Eza
Report on the 137th London Eza
Sunday 25th February 2018
The atmosphere of the February Eza was one of delicate but affecting contrasts, like the bitter-sweetness of a persimmon. Outside the temple, a biting Siberian wind blew through the bare trees and over the rocks in the garden, while indoors, the temple was bathed in an intense and transfiguring winter light. Equally sad tidings of the illnesses and frailty of various friends and relatives were tempered by the warmth and joy of mutual encounter.
Despite Professor John White’s modest suggestion that his talks tend to correlate to low attendance, the temple was in fact packed with Dharma friends, as well as five or six newcomers, all eagerly looking forward to listening to his presentation on ‘Buddhism, Paradox and Reality’. Later we would learn, from Rev. Sato, that John had only recently been gravely ill. This awareness also added to the poignancy of the day and certainly cast John’s words in a new light; the delivery of his talk as much an expression of his life-will as any philosophical lecture.
Most people reading this report will have had the opportunity to hear or read Professor White’s talk, either at Three Wheels or Shogyoji, and so appreciate that its breadth and profundity defy summarisation. It ranged over Mahāyāna philosophy and Western scientific insight with an ease and lightness of touch which concealed the enormous effort at self-education and personal exploration John has made at such a late stage of his life; entirely setting aside his own considerable life achievements to embrace a ‘beginner’s mind’.
Perhaps the key to the essence of Professor White’s talk, however, can be found in the following lines where he said, “we tend to see interdependent origination as something external, and ourselves as simply the outcome of it, whereas in fact it is constantly at work, not only outside, but within us.” Just as in his talk last year, John highlighted the way in which we are never simply impartial, external observers. The genuine search for truth, both spiritual and scientific, is always one that acknowledges embodiment and the unavoidability of personal involvement and responsibility.
Other important aspects of John’s talk are perhaps best deduced from the comments made by various members of the audience. Mr Andrew Webb, who ably chaired the meeting as usual, remarked on Professor White’s three-level hermeneutic for reading the Buddhist scriptures, and said it would be very helpful to him in the future. Equally, Mrs Hiroko Sato gave amusement as well deep insight with her comment that she had always found John’s talks difficult to understand in the past but this time she found his message ‘very simple’; “He is saying to me please wake up and see what I am.” She added that, through his talk, she could feel how there is a warmth at the bottom of life and death.
Reverend Sato also echoed the theme of simplicity, emphasising Professor White’s words, “I just do it.” He also pointed out all the work John has done, and continues to do, for the Shogyoji and Three Wheels sangha. Kemmyo-sensei added, “Now I do feel John’s working for others emerging from Level I, the formless truth of Dharma-kaya. For me John is a manifestation of the Buddha.” On this note members of the community, including trustees such as Dr. Stephen Montgomery, moved on to sharing their impressions about Professor White. Dr. Montgomery also thanked Hiroko-san for the care she had given when he was sick in Japan, noting that she has been taking care of John is a similar manner.
The Eza concluded with Rev. Ishii asking John to sit down and rest, not for the first time, and John refusing. To accompanying laughter, Rev. Ishii said, “Kemmyo-san called John ‘a man of paradox’, but I call him ‘a man of stubbornness’!” Rev. Ishii continued however, “But, I would like to change the meaning of this ‘stubbornness’. When John was ill he wouldn’t see any doctor expect for his personal physician, even if it meant risking his own life while he waited. At first, I thought this was foolish and stubborn but then I heard John trying to say something to me through his terrible coughing. Listening carefully, I heard him say, ‘You should only trust someone you have met. It’s ridiculous to trust someone just because they have a title.” Rev. Ishii said that he felt these words were John’s personal advice and expression of love to him, and that they reminded him of Shinran-shonin’s way of following his master Honen-shonin. As Shinran-shonin said, “I simply take to heart the words of my dear teacher, Honen, “Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida,” and entrust myself to the Primal Vow. Besides this, there is nothing else.” Rev. Ishii found that Professor White was completely unattached to his own life and at the same time completely true to his way of living. What better expression of John’s talk on the theme of ‘Buddhism, Paradox and Reality’!
Although Professor White has been giving talks and participating in the Shogyoji samgha for decades, he has always eschewed the label of ‘Buddhist’. This, Rev. Ishii noted, has helped teach him and many others in the community that there is a great difference between Buddhism as a system of belief and Buddhism as a practice or spiritual medicine. From this encounter with John, who Rev. Ishii has come to see as a spiritual grandfather, emerged the following words which may make a fitting conclusion to this report:
“Don’t fuss. Don’t worry. Just do what needs to be done. Simply.”
In gassho, Andy B.
26th February 2018