“Shakyamuni’s teaching becomes entirely clear in the Sangha.” ; Report on the 144th London Eza

On the occasion of the April 2019 London Eza, which was also Shinran Shonin’s monthly memorial day, Rev. Kenshin Ishii gave a talk on the theme of ‘Meeting Amida’s Buddha’s Light in the Sangha’. As his starting point, Rev. Ishii reminded us of Shakyamuni’s last words to the Sangha, “Hold yourself as a light (自灯明), Hold the Dharma as a light (法灯明)”. For many years this advice had confronted Rev. Ishii with a challenging spiritual question, “can we entrust ourselves to each of us who are full of blind passions?” However one day, some years ago, he found that Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching had started to naturally become clearer to him during his day-to-day life in Sangha. He realised that “When we hear this teaching, “Hold yourself as a light”, we should consider the meaning of the word “yourself” in this context. I mean that we need to be aware of ourselves. I need to really consider who I am. How am I living? How do I exist now? What or who made me possible to be? I need to discover the whole of my existence otherwise I will misunderstand the word “yourself” in the teaching of Shakyamuni.”

Rev. Ishii went on to explain what he meant by sharing his impressions of listening to the young Japanese students who recently attended the 17th Spring School at Three Wheels. After sharing various comments made by the students he observed that, “[These] students purely listened to each other as if they had no ego at all. I felt that their spiritual attitude in listening was amazing. In Shin Buddhism our practice is listening. Listening in our tradition means listening physically by your ears and listening spiritually by your heart. I think the latter meaning is related the teaching of Shakyamuni “Hold yourself as light”.” Rev. Ishii also spoke of his experience of hearing an introspective comment made by Rev. Ogawa at Shogyoji temple. Rev. Ishii noticed that his Dharma friend’s karmic problems “were illumined because he looked into himself and had pure joy of being illumined rather that becoming unhappy with the realisation of his ignorance. Thanks to his joy, I, too, came to realise what listening actually means in Shin Buddhism.”

In concluding his talk Rev. Ishii reminded us of Rev. Sato’s advice at the October 2018 Shokai, “Even if you find yourself heavily burdened with your karmic problems, please do not feel down because it is the evidence of Amida’s working that you become aware of your karmic problems. Just say ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thank you’.” Reflecting on these words, Rev. Ishii said, “let’s listen to the above teaching by our hearts and digest it within us, encouraged by each other and brought up together with their purity, humility and sincerity in Sangha. When we find ourselves being selfish, let us pronounce Nenbutsu of repentance. When we find ourselves being loved and supported, let us pronounce Nenbutsu of gratitude. When I am mindful of myself, the Shakyamuni’s teaching; “Hold yourself as light, Hold Dharma as light” becomes entirely clear in Sangha.”

After Rev. Ishii’s talk Mr Andrew Webb chaired a short period for impressions, questions and discussion. He expressed his thanks to Rev. Ishii saying, “You always give very vivid, relatable and practical illustrations to help us understand the teachings. He also referred to a video record of the 17th Spring School that we had watched together, commenting that “seeing the joy on the faces of the Spring School participants refreshed us all and showed us how to look into ourselves.”

Attending the Eza, on only her second visit to Three Wheels, was Ruth — who had been encouraged to visit the temple by her son who is member of the Shin Buddhist sangha in Australia. Ruth asked the heartfelt question, “Can the word Sangha be said to include those who are not Buddhists?” Rev. Ishii said that the Sangha is not a place of certain beliefs but that it exists when there are people to receive Dharma, the truth of life. Kemmyo-sensei added that Sangha is “founded by / or on the deepest truth of life… Sangha consists of people who embody this formless truth. Through encounter through individuals we feel the working of the Buddha. Fundamentally the foundation of Sangha is very peaceful, gentle and quiet.” Rev. Ishii thanked Ruth for coming to the temple and told her that her son’s request for her to visit temple was an expression of his wish to repay his gratitude to her.

Reflecting on Ruth’s question, Prof. John White said that it was very important and he reminded us that part of the reason Three Wheels exists was because Ven. Chimyo Takehara felt that Shogyoji could easily become too inward looking. “It is important that Three Wheels doesn’t do the same,” John warned. “The creation of every wonderful thing has a dark side” and the human tendency to exclude others is a danger that requires vigilant resistance.

With gassho,

Andy Barritt