Report on the 153rd London Eza

Even before we gathered online for the mid-summer Eza, Dharma friends were already talking with excited anticipation about Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato’s talk on ‘Shinran Shōnin’s Notion of Returning Ekō’. It may be that Rev. Kenshin Isshi’s own talk at the Shokai retreat this spring, titled, ‘Prince Shotoku and His Manifestations around Me’, gave Dharma friends an intuition that gensō ekō (returning virtue-transference) is the fundamental basis of the faith-movement of the Sangha.

               Kemmyo-sensei said that he wanted to speak about gensō ekō because, “there exists a group of Shin Buddhist scholars who are rather reluctant to discuss it. They assume that returning ekō is a gift we receive from Amida after our death,” Sensei wished to demonstrate that the ‘returning ekō’, was actually far from a “fanciful notion” but rather Shinran Shonin’s actual faith experience. As Kemmyo-sensei stated with great energy, “Shinran Shonin had to talk about gensō ekō because it was the reality he saw in front of him. He encountered his master Honen Shonin as a bodhisattva coming to save him.” 

Shin Buddhists are correctly taught that there is no virtue-transference from the side of the karmic self, but due to this they can sometimes fall into doubt about Shinran Shonin’s teaching on ‘love in the Path of Pure Land Buddhism’ as “quickly attaining Buddhahood by pronouncing the Nenbutsu”. Kemmyo-sensei addressed this problem in careful detail in his talk but, to summarise, he explained. “In this reality of Namu-Amida-butsu, in this unadorned sole recitation of the Nenbutsu, there is no bifurcation, no duality, no intellectual discrimination. Nor is there any distinction between subject and object, student and teacher, giver and receiver, speaker and audience, ōsō and gensō, after death or during life. They are all as one in the absolute reality of the working of Amida’s unconditional love, Namu-Amida-butsu, Namu-Amida-butsu.”

Following the talk there was an opportunity for people to ask questions and share their impressions. Mr Max Nilsson-Ladner expressed his thanks for Rev. Sato’s talk and spoke about the difficulty of seeing others as Bodhisattvas. This allowed Sensei to clarify, “Seeing others as Bodhisattvas is not a ‘duty’ of Shin Buddhists, but as Shinran Shonin describes, a fact of faith experience.”         

Mr Neil Chase said that he used to think of the Pure Land as a faraway place but now, through Dharma friends, he could find it shining vibrantly in this world and life. Responding to a similar remark from another Dharma friend, Sensei agreed with both comments but re-emphasised that in our daily lives we easily fall into the habit of intellectual division and discrimination. “Just say nembutsu, Namuamidabutsu”, he stressed once again. Mr Dave Zimmerman thanked Kemmyo-sensei for his talk and said that it was a good reminder that the nembutsu way is “not some merit-based game where you accumulate and call in rewards when you die.” “Virtue-transference happens in the moment that you say nembutsu,” he added.

              Rev. Kenshin Ishii, thanked Kemmyo-sensei, and said that while living at Shogyoji he never wondered about gensō ekō at all, as it seemed evident all around him. Coming to England, however, he didn’t have a mind of respect toward other people and just met them as ‘normal human beings’. One day though he heard English Dharma friends sincerely the pronouncing the nembutsu and he found himself in exactly the same spiritual ‘place’ as when he was with Dharma friends at Shogyoji. Rev. Ishii also talked about how the moment of attaining faith is like going through a spiritual funeral and being born into a new life, and noted that the traditional expression, “to go is easy and yet no one is born there,” indicates that those born in the Pure land immediately return to benefit all beings.

              Although the subject of Rev. Sato’s talk was profound and complex, the simple message to simply take refuge and pronounce the nembutsu came across very clearly and tenderly in Sensei’s peaceful and loving way of speaking to the gathered Dharma friends.

Namuamidabutsu. In gassho,

Andy B.