Report on the 21st Shokai Retreat and the 138th London Eza
On the evening of Friday 20th April, during a spell of unseasonably warm weather, seventeen participants gathered for the commencement of the 21st Shokai Retreat, including one participant who was attending for the first time.After receiving a customary warm welcome, we were all able to comfortably relax into an atmosphere of friendship and harmony, which allowed everyone to calmly and happily start to focus on the retreat.
The subject of this Shokai Retreat was “What have I learnt about the teaching of selflessness”, and in preparation we had been asked to think about this, and to write down a little of our thoughts and understanding. During Rev. Kemmyo Sato’s introductory talk, we were introduced to the subject of selflessness. Rev. Sato taught us that the way of ridding oneself of all attachment, and becoming selfless, even for just an instant, was by entrusting oneself completely and taking refuge in Amida Buddha.
After Rev. Sato’s talk Mrs Liz B gave a vow of sincere practice. During her vow she very honestly and bravely said that when she was younger she had made mistakes in her life, and yet although they had not agreed with her, her parents even at that time had always supported her and shown her selfless love. She expressed her profound gratitude to them for all they had done to always help her.
After supper a Zadankai meeting was held in which we continued discussing the subject of selflessness. One Dharma friend, who unfortunately couldn’t be with us, in a letter, talked about his parents who work selflessly in their community trying to help people with problems, and of the time when he had asked Bomori – sama, while he was staying at Shogyoji temple, if she had any hobbies. Her reply was ” Helping others is my hobby “.
The following morning it was time to share some of our own personal thoughts on our understanding of selflessness. Many participants talked about the selfless love and kindness that they had received, especially from their parents and other family members, but also from less obvious sources. Everybody did seem to be aware of how difficult it is to be selfless when you can only see things from a skewed, self centred point of view, but we were told that it is Amida’s light that is enabling us to see our own blind passions. Some of the participants did say that the concept of ” No self ” was very hard to grasp. The advice given was to repeatedly keep returning to the Buddha Dharma and to take refuge in Amida.
When we had finished giving our own personal thoughts, Rev. Kenshin Ishii then gave a presentation on the latest Dharma activities at our parent temple, Shogyoji. He started by talking about the construction of the new Ash House and how it will contain the Taking Refuge Round Shrine, and the Buddha image that will be enshrined within. He then proceeded, with lovely pictures, to tell the story of the entire history of the Ikko Sanzon Butsu, from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, all the way up to the present day. It was fascinating to follow the journey of Buddhism from India through China and Korea to Japan, and then to follow the history of the Ikko Sanzon Butsu as the ” Hidden Buddha ” at Zenkoji and Takada, right up until today, when it will be enshrined in the Taking Refuge Round Shrine.
It was a lovely story and a real sense of purity, and true selflessness, did seem to emanate from everyone involved with the journey of the Ikko Sanzon Butsu. Even though it is only minuscule, to have some kind of connection, through Three Wheels and Shogyoji, with the whole history of Buddhism, is very special and humbling. We are very lucky to have Three Wheels here in the U.K., and this presentation really did help us to feel connected with what is happening at Shogyoji.
When Rev. Ishii had finished, he told us of an example of when he himself had experienced selflessness. It was a time when he was much younger and he had had an encounter with his own master Goinge sama, Head Priest at Shogyoji, who had asked him to become a Priest himself. Rev. Ishii said that at that very moment, he felt as though all his selfishness and attachments disappeared, and that he felt completely embraced by Goige sama’ compassion towards him. Without even thinking he said yes to the question asked of him.
In the afternoon we spent some time outside, still in the fine weather, doing some gardening work. In keeping with the theme of the retreat, everyone worked together selflessly and in harmony, and as a result much work was accomplished.
After a short break we returned to the Buddha room for a chanting lesson, given by Rev. Kenshin Ishii. We were given much help with the basics and also shown correct etiquette and how to behave in the Buddha room. The most important thing that we learnt in the lesson was that the main purpose of the service is to show our gratitude to Amida Buddha. At the end of the class our chanting ability had certainly improved.
After supper we had some time when we could reflect and think about our impressions so far.
On Sunday morning, after meditation and morning service, it was time for everyone to give their brief impressions. Everyone had had a really productive and enjoyable time, and one common theme that did keep coming up was that we were starting to look inwards to be aware of our selfish and self centred thoughts. Mrs Jeni E, who was attending her first Shokai, but has practised with another Buddhist sangha, was especially impressed by the whole atmosphere of warmth and kindness that she had experienced, and how she felt so comfortable in such a sociable and friendly environment. Mr Christopher D, who was attending his second Shokai Retreat, said that since starting to attend meetings at Three Wheels, he felt that if his life was like a jigsaw puzzle, he was now being given some missing pieces which he was able to put into place. It was also not forgotten how we had been looked after and fed delicious food selflessly also throughout the entire retreat. Everyone left the closing ceremony in high spirits with a much better understanding on the subject of selflessness and full of energy and enthusiasm to welcome visitors to the Eza.
After a light lunch it was time to quickly get ready and prepare for the 138th London Eza which followed on from the Shokai Retreat. The retreat participants were able to bring their joy along with them and welcome the guests to the Eza. Due to having received much help and guidance during the chanting lesson earlier, the opening service was able to be conducted with a sense of confidence and gratitude by the Eza participants.
After the service Rev. Kenshin Ishii once again gave his presentation on the ” Ikko Sanzon Butsu ” for the benefit of the Eza participants, but it was equally enjoyable for those who had already seen it, enabling them to further understand the history and importance of the Buddha image. Rev. Ishii’s presentation served as a perfect introduction to the next section of the Eza, which was the reading out of an article by Ven. Chimyo Takehara, Head Priest of Shogyoji Temple, on the same important subject and titled. ” On The Taking-Refuge Round Shrine and The Buddha-Image That Consists of the Three Honoured Ones within One Single Aura of Light”.
After hearing Ven. Takehara’s article, we here in the U.K. are much more able to understand the significance of what is currently happening at Shogyoji, and of the importance of the upcoming ceremony which will be held there this November. It also reminded us once again of the connection between Shogyoji and Three Wheels, and how much we owe everyone there for the very fact that we are able to listen to the Buddha Dharma here in London.
Following on from this, Rev. Kemmyo Sato was able to answer any questions, and to further explain the significance of the Buddha Image. As we had been reminded throughout the whole weekend, the way to receive the gift of selflessness was by taking refuge in the Buddha. In fact the strong message emanating from this thoroughly beneficial and enjoyable weekend did seem to be ” Take refuge in the Buddha “.