The Meaning of Taya

The Meaning of Taya – Shin Buddhist form of Accomodation

At the 42nd London Eza

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During my one-month sojourn at Shogyoji Temple last autumn, I became aware on an even deeper level than before quite how much my master, Venerable Chimyo Takehara, and his followers were enjoying their life together at the temple. Indeed it truly felt as if there was some purifying power at work within the temple community that enabled everybody to develop and grow in mutual respect and love. Purification in this context does not mean excluding or negating impurities, however. In Buddhism, true purity lies beyond the dichotomy of ‘pure and impure’ and as such is only attained by becoming aware of the reality of the world just as it is, a world that includes both purity and impurity. With this purity of the enlightened mind people can respect and love others just as they are. Inspired by my personal experience of this sense of true purity, found in the community of Shogyoji Temple, I have decided to talk today about: The Meaning of ‘Taya’ – Shin Buddhist Form of Accommodation- .

As you know, a Buddhist community is called Samgha in Sanskrit. Usually the word Samgha refers to a Buddhist community comprising of monks (Sramanera & Bhiksu) and nuns (Sramaneri & bhiksuni). In a wider sense it can also mean a Buddhist society that includes not only ordained people but also lay followers. Various Buddhist schools have their own Samgha with unique forms based on their teachings. Taya is a typically Shin Buddhist form of accommodation, moulded in the Shin Buddhist Samgha tradition.

The Origin of the word Taya can be traced back to the time of Rennyo Shonin (1415-1499), the Restorer of Shin Buddhism in the medieval period. According to The Dictionary of Shin Buddhism (The Shinshu Jiten) taya is written in Japanese as meaning ‘many houses’ built within the temple or perhaps originally ‘houses built in other areas’ than the temple’s.

When Rennyo Shonin established a temple at Yoshizaki in the Hokuriku District as the centre of his mission, many people gathered there to listen to his sermons. Subsequently a lot of houses were built in the area to accommodate his followers who had come from various countries abroad. I would guess that these houses must originally have been built outside the temple. Later on, as the temple’s land was enlarged at the request of Rennyo Shonin’s followers, more and more houses were built inside the temple instead. A taya was run by a priest (bozu) and his wife (naiho) and they took care of visitors from far off countries. In one of The Letters by Rennyo, the first letter of Fascicle II, he says, “I have gathered that during the past seven days of Hoonko [the most important ceremony of the year in Shin Buddhism] almost all the wives (naiho) of the priests (bozu) in charge of taya and others as well have attained faith decisively. This is marvellous, and one could not hope for anything better. However, if you leave something as it stands and don’t pay attention to it, it will be gone, even if it is a matter of your own personal faith. It appears vital, therefore, that again and again we clear the channels of faith and let Amida’s dharma-water flow.” This short quotation suggests the main purpose of running a taya was to enable those who lived in it, not only priests and their wives but also visitors from outside, to attain faith and live their lives with pure faith.

In the case of Shogyoji Temple, it was Mrs Miyo Nonaka (later Dharma-Mother Ekai) who at the age of 32 first built a taya very close to the temple in 1932. She used the house for herself as well as for her friends to study Buddhism under the instruction of her master, the Venerable Daigyoin Reion Takehara. She opened the house to all those who wanted to stay there with her and seek the truth or Buddha-Dharma. The house was also used as a place where her friends could come to consult with her and discuss their personal problems from a Buddhist perspective. Following the fire at Shogyoji in 1946, both Venerable Reion Takehara and his wife moved to this taya and taught people living there for a period of six months.

After the end of the Second World War and particularly after the death of Ven. R. Takehara, a lot of taya houses were built one after another inside the temple under the leadership of Dharma-Mother Ekai. There were also a number of people who built their own houses in the temple vicinity so that they could take part in the daily services and be involved in the numerous activities that took place in the temple. Venerable Chimyo Takehara, our present master who took over the leadership from Ekai-sama, still continues to build taya houses in various forms, responding to the spiritual request of his followers who wish to live together either inside the temple or nearby. At the moment, over a hundred people, both young and old, are living together and helping one another at the temple today.

When Reverend Seongwon, a young Korean Zen monk and a knowledgeable scholar in the field of Buddhist philosophy, visited Shogyoji Temple at the beginning of January this year to participate in the Winter Training Assembly, he greatly admired the lively and energetic taya system operating at Shogyoji. What impressed him most was the way both priests and lay people were living together in taya houses and helping one another with any problems they might face, whether private or family related, in the light of the Buddha’s teaching. According to this young scholar who has a wide, international knowledge of Buddhism, this unity of priests and lay people living together in taya houses was something very special and unique, to be found only at Shogyoji temple. In the Shogyoji taya houses, both priests and lay people, men and women, young and old, live their lives happily, harmoniously fused into a perfect unity. There is no discrimination at all between them, because they are all nembutsu practicers of pure faith, which in the end is all that matters.

Let me now give you a few illustrations of this harmony between priests and lay people. At Shogyoji Temple, it is not only priests but lay followers too, both men and women, who give the main talk at formal meetings. These talks are so touching because they are based on people’s own experience of solving problems in the process of realising the Buddha’s teaching. Furthermore, not only do lay followers go to priests to ask for help but priests too consult lay followers to help solve the problems they face in daily life. The best example of ‘no discrimination’ is the fact that a woman was the leader of the whole Samgha. After the death of Ven. R. Takehara, Ekai-sama, a laywoman until the end of her days, was for a long time the real leader of the temple and a number of priests, including myself, were brought up under her leadership. The present Buddha Hall, the Kasugayama Gagaku Music Hall and other taya buildings, houses and flats, were all constructed during her time. Although such a situation is very rare, it has actually happened at Shogyoji.

It was five years after the establishment in 1997 of the first of our Taya houses that I wrote the essay, The Meaning of Taya – A Shin Buddhist Form of Accommodation, as a way of explaining what it meant for us Shin Buddhist followers to live in a Taya house. At that time, however, I concentrated on the history of Taya and its original meaning and made no mention of our own Taya house at 43 Carbery Avenue. Subsequently we purchased another property and set up a second Taya house in 2009 at 57 Carbery Avenue,so that we could invite Dharma friends from far away to stay and enjoy with us the taste of the Buddha-dharma. Hence at this moment there are two Taya houses belonging to Three Wheels, Tenrin Taya and Gyosen Taya.

Taya is the Shin Buddhist form of accommodation in which people, priests as well as lay followers, live together with pure faith in the light of the Buddha’s teaching. It is simply a result of faith-movement. People solve their own problems by attaining faith and then, having attained faith, continue to live with pure faith, helping others to solve their problems. For those who have already attained faith, the act of helping others with their problems is no different from the act of dealing with their own problems, because they feel others’ problems are their own. In Buddhism, one particular person and other people or, if you like, you and I are “not one and yet not two (fuitsu-funi)” in greater oneness. The ultimate goal is to benefit oneself and others by achieving the highest spiritual development (Enlightenment) of each individual. To accomplish this faith-movement we need a place where we can be together to discuss, read and think. This is the function of the taya.

Then what is faith? I have been talking about the notion of faith as the reality of encounter – encounter accompanied by spiritual awakening. In Buddhism, faith is awakening, awakening of the mind as a result of its purification. When we talk about faith, we usually imagine that I am here and something holy, whether God or Buddha, is over there, and that I believe in the object though it is beyond my understanding. This interpretation of faith or belief in a holy object is dependent on the bifurcation of our minds into subject and object. I think that faith is originally the pure experience of awakening, or, if you like, of encounter. In Shin Buddhism, faith is said to have two essential aspects: 1) awakening to oneself or the reality of the individual and 2) awakening to the Dharma or Amida Buddha’s Great Compassion. If I use the word encounter, one sense is encounter with the self, the other, encounter with the Buddha. They are two aspects of the one reality – pure faith. This awakening of faith can also be called self-realisation of the Dharma through the individual.

In this context the word encounter refers to personal encounter between two or more people. For the time being, let’s take the example of an encounter between two people to make things easier. When we say one person encounters another, we mean two people meet each other at a certain place. In this respect the word conveys a sense of “coming together,” “joining” or “uniting.” Through encounter these two people somehow become united. Compared to the term “meeting”, however, the word “encounter” has a stronger sense of confrontation or opposition. According to my dictionary “encounter” is derived from the Latin word “incontra” meaning facing. Thus the word “encounter” has two opposing nuances, facing and uniting. I like the paradoxical character of the word.

In personal encounter, two people become united at a deeper level than before, through their confrontation or facing one another. Through confrontation both people become themselves. In other words, through encounter one discovers oneself in a deeper dimension by letting the other person be himself / herself just as he / she is. Ideally one might thus achieve complete self-development. The two people are two and one at the same time.

This is easy to say but difficult to practise, as there are many problems and obstacles that obstruct the process of our spiritual growth.

When one meets other people, one interprets them based on one’s past experience or karma, forming one’s own self-centred world. Many problems arise because we are not fully aware of this fact. With blind passion we become tenaciously attached to our self-centred world as we pursue our own selfish interests. This attachment creates the obstacles in our lives, making our world darker and narrower. Eventually it gives rise to enemies and wars. Indeed selfish attachment is the cause of both our crimes and our sins, and damages both ourselves and others.

First of all we have to become aware of our problems in daily life. Even after the attainment of faith or when living in the taya houses of the temple, this does not differ very much. We tend to believe that things are just as they feel to us and that our views are certain and right. The only difference is that those who have solved their problems once before know the way to finding a solution and repeatedly return to this path. Living in the taya houses, people both speak to and listen to others and really communicate by chatting together in daily conversation, in personal interviews, consultations and meetings. This is very important. Both the act of speaking and listening to others can conflict with or negate one’s own self-centred world and as such require courage, the courage to be willing to change. Enlightened by those who we encounter or reencounter, we become aware of ourselves – the miserable reality of our self-centred world. Other people operate as mirrors that illuminate us. When the ramparts and walls of the stronghold of our selfish consciousness collapse following this self-awakening, we open ourselves to the light that can now come in and fill our existence.

My first encounter with Ekai-sama was just like this. I found the resplendent world around me at the moment the nembutsu welled up with bitter repentance, breaking through the self-consciousness that I was attached to. At the same time I was overwhelmed by waves of great joy. I felt as if the whole world was transparent and full of light.

Encounter is an event between individuals. The Buddha with his Name and Light appears through personal encounter. The Buddha is the foundation of every individual. So, if your consciousness is mature and you encounter someone who is enlightened, the Buddha or Dharma will appear very naturally. Recently Mr Reitaro Oga said in his talk, “Previously I thought Amida Buddha was a noun. Whilst listening to Master (Venerable C. Takehara) talk about the working of light, I thought the Buddha was a verb [namely working, action or movement]. When I thought the Buddha was a verb, I met the reality of the Buddha. If I only worship the Buddha from this side, he is just an object of worship. Actually the Buddha has always been working on me ‘here and now.’ On coming upon this point I can’t stop working for the Samgha.” This reflects the main point made by the Chinese Master, Shan-tao (613-681) when commenting on Namu Amida Butsu: “Namu is to take refuge [in Amida Buddha] …. Amida Buddha is action.”

Through an encounter with someone who is enlightened, we meet the pure act, the reality of the Buddha. Whether you call it ‘act’ or ‘working,’ it is the working of the Buddha that comes out through the individual. The Buddha is working in everyone and everything. One who is enlightened is a person who is aware of it. One day when I was studying Buddhism under D. T. Suzuki, he did some calligraphy and asked me to give it to Ekai-sama. The calligraphy was muryoju (eternal life, the name of Amida Buddha). Looking at this piece of calligraphy in my room at Engakuji Temple, I thought I should go to D. T. Suzuki and ask about the meaning of the calligraphy. I asked him, “What is the meaning of muryoju?” His answer was very special. He said, “Look! A cat is moving around here in the room and daffodils are blooming over there in the garden. Everything is muryoju (eternal life), the working of muryoju.” D. T. Suzuki was living in such a lovely, splendid world, in which he saw that everything was the working of eternal life (Amida Buddha).

Mr Oga must have witnessed the working of eternal life in our Master’s daily activity. Amongst those who live together in the taya houses, the leader is our Master. He is responsible for everything that happens at the temple. Because many people live at the temple, all burdened with their own karma, it is another fact that problems arise every day. Our master shares and shoulders all these problems with his followers and is always the first to take refuge in the Buddha going beyond all entanglements. His actions, like Dharmakara Bodhisattva’s, are the very source of purification of the Samgha.

Taya is home, our home built on the land of purity. It is a gift from Amida Tathagata and a product of his Pure Prayer (Vow), so our home is called Tathagata’s House. Living in taya, Tathagata’s House, we feel most at home, peacefully harmonised with nature, friends and the Buddha.

I would like to finish rather shamelessly with a sort of poem that I wrote for the first time in my life, wanting to express what I am feeling and thinking at the moment.

Great Nature,
the very origin beyond form,
moves within
and touches us,
ignorant individuals,
and we are called and awakened to what we are.
The very origin, Buddha-body, expresses itself
in involving each one of us, individual beings,
and we rejoice immensely in awakening
and call the Buddha Name.
These are two sides of the same coin.

The only reality is the working of the Nembutsu,
the great living beyond all duality,
in praise of the Infinite Light
of Eternal Life.

The Nembutsu