The 158th London Eza Report

The 158th London Eza was held on Sunday the 26th June. Like most recent events at Three Wheels, attendees were able to join either in person in the Buddha Room, or online. As the Eza would include a translation of a recent talk from Goinge-sama, the Sangha had been looking forward to it with great interest. Sadly, the week prior to the Eza, Three Wheels lost a great Dharma friend and former resident of the temple, Ms. Mika Aoki. For this reason, the Eza also functioned as a Memorial Service for Ms. Aoki, and as such, was a chance for Dharma friends to express their feelings and memories towards her and her passing.

Goinge-sama’s talk was entitled “Excess Greed is the true Source of Manmade Disasters – Concerning the Russian Invasion of Ukraine”. As the title suggests, the talk was inspired by the shock, sadness and worry created by the situation of the war in Ukraine. He started off by explaining that in order to make some sense of the situation, he began reading through all of Rennyo Shonin’s letters, until he came across a section that began with “The source of wrongdoing is the ‘greedy mind’”, which he said “resonated through his whole being”.

He then went on to say that he was reminded of Prince Shotoku’s Seventeen Article Constitution. In April of 2021, we considered the words of Prince Shotoku as part of the theme of one of the Shokai retreats at Three Wheels so many of the Sangha were at least familiar with him. However, Goinge-sama went through the constitution carefully in his talk, in such a way to bring it into our everyday lives, and show how the constitution’s warnings about greed, and its leading to anger will lead us directly “into the hellish world of murder, thievery and adultery.” Of course, this shows us how it relates closely to the current situation in the Ukraine.

He went further to quote the 17th century Dutch philosopher Spinoza, saying that “There is only one thing that is visible without light. And that is light. Light does not need to be lightened. Light can manifest itself so naturally”. Goinge-sama said that this way of thinking represents the non-dualistic truth within which Buddhists live. In other words, Amida’s light always embraces both darkness and brightness. He said that the way for us humans to find truth is by turning more and more inwards into ourselves.

Goinge-sama concluded his inspiring talk by saying that this current time and situation is “an opportunity for us to return to Prince Shotoku’s ultimate basis of ‘harmony’” and to “work together to construct a world of oneness”.

Rev. Sato read out the English translation of a Dharma talk by Goinge-sama, head priest of Shogyoji Temple in Japan.

After the talk, Andrew Webb made an initial comment that there are two simple but extreme reactions to the Ukraine situation that naturally arise. The first is to take it to heart and become full of anger and resentment. The second is to ignore it so that you can carry on living life in ignorance. However, he said, he felt that this talk had given us a much healthier way forward rather than the two extremes.

Andy Barrett then spoke saying that he felt the talk was a clear expression of Venerable Takehara’s wish for peace. He said that this was the same wish for peace that played a large part in the creation of Three Wheels in London. He went further to say that if it wasn’t for the creation of Three Wheels, most people from the Sangha would not have had the opportunity to meet Ms. Aoki and therefore he could see a connection between the talk and the memorial service.

Sam Kelly spoke next, saying how grateful he was to have had the opportunity to hear Goinge-sama’s talk and how we are all consumed with a greedy mind which is nothing but covetousness. He also said it reminded him that humans have a tendency to put our faith in strong leaders but in reality we need to be very careful of such people.

Next, I expressed my gratitude to Three Wheels for allowing me the opportunity to hear such an important talk. I was very interested by the idea that by thinking slightly differently about the war in the Ukraine, we can see that it is caused by human greed. I was thinking in particular about a situation in my office recently where one of the senior managers at my company – an extremely rich man with more money than a single human could ever spend in a single lifetime – was getting angry about having to pay a bit more tax on an upcoming business deal. I was shocked that somebody in his position was still craving money so much more. However, as I was reminded of this, I heard Goinge-sama’s quote from Prince Shotoku:

“It is not that I am always wise and the other man is always ignorant.
We are all but ordinary human beings.
Who can judge whether something is good or bad?
Just as a ring has no end, we are all both wise and foolish.”

I felt that this was speaking to me directly, as I was judging my colleague as greedy in such a way as to imply that I am somehow better than that. But I have many different kinds of cravings, so I am no better than him. I felt that Prince Shotoku was warning me, through Goinge-sama’s talk, “Be careful not to assume that you are better than others because you are not.”. As it was said in the the talk itself, the words resonated in the inmost recesses of my heart and mind.

Next, Kaori Punwari spoke about how she felt that the talk had a deep connection with the theme of “Harmony In Diversity”, upon which Three Wheels was created. She said that she felt that the talk resonated in some way with the way that Mika-san expressed her beautiful energy in her artwork. Andrew agreed with this saying that it was a reminder that “Harmony in Diversity” is not just words but is also a very important teaching that we should all remember.

Kei Suzuki thanked Three Wheels for the talk, which she said she felt lucky to have been able to read in her native Japanese language before the Eza. She said that after hearing it, she was able to see that many acts in her life were driven by greed. Further to this, she realised that when her greed is becoming excessive, it causes problems to herself and all those around her, but also that she was aware that she finds that even small things in her life still arose from greed. Kei-san also said that before listening to the talk, she felt that war seemed almost unbelievable to her, but now she realises that it is in fact connected to such greed as she has in herself.

Chris Dodd started his impression by thanking Kemmyo-sana for all the hard work he had put into translating it. He said that the talk reminded him of the importance of harmony, and how we are all interconnected, but that we always forget this as we live our day to day lives. He followed this up by commenting on how much he was impressed with another of Prince Shotokus quotes in the talk that “if you encounter a wise man, your mind, too, will naturally be enriched”. He said that he felt that this described the Sangha for him, where he is able to receive the Dharma and that although lots of bad things are happening in the world, Buddhism is the foundation of goodness which he experiences at Three Wheels. He went on to say that the Buddha’s light is always there, but only through being able to listen to talks such as this one is he able to become aware of the light.

David Alder, who joined the call online despite currently suffering from covid said he greatly enjoyed the talk and had found it inspiring in his practice. He said that he has recently been immersing himself in reading the Ofumi, just as Goinge-sama described doing in the talk, so he was especially motivated by the talk.

After sharing our impressions of the talk, Kenshin-san gave a short presentation of some of Ms. Aoki’s beautiful artwork as well as some memories of knowing her. He started off by sharing a beautiful poem of hers. After this he talked about how it is difficult for us to be satisfied and content when we are blind to the gifts that we have already received from those around us. However, when Mika visisted Three Wheels many years ago and listened to the Sutra on “the importance of that which was done for us by our parents”, she realised that she had received a lot and this gave her a great joy that she hoped to share through her artwork. He went on to say that her spirituality had been quiet and not something that she talked about loudly and openly, but that she sincerely practised what she had learned throughout her life at Three Wheels and she described the light and life that she received through her artwork. Her artistic medium was glasswork and Kenshin-san shared with us many examples of her stunning work. It was clear to see the Buddha’s light shining through her wonderful creations.

Of course, many Dharma friends spoke about Ms Aoki. Andy Barrett spoke about how shocked and upset he was at Mika’s passing and to say that he felt that there was always a wonderful spaciousness to her artwork and how there was always light penetrating her work. He described her as someone who was always positive and told a story about how she once responded to criticism that her work captures nature beautifully except it doesn’t capture the “brutal” side that also is present in nature. Her reply was that her work isn’t just about creating a representation of nature, but is about “creating a space for meditation”.

Sam Kelly described her as both a special artist and a special person. Kaori Punwari talked about her shock and how she was still very upset at hearing of Mika-san’s passing. She then spoke about how she had got to know her very well from the time that they lived together at Three Wheels. She described her artwork as being very beautiful and expressing the deep energy that is often hidden from plain sight. Kei Suzuki said that she was also shocked and saddened when she heard the news, having been good friends with Mika-san. However, she said Kenshin-san’s words that he is sure that Mika-san is wishing us to go forward and celebrate her amazing life helped her and made her thankful for all that Mika did for her. Chris Dodd described Mika-san as a wonderful gentle person and said that her passing was a sad loss. However, he said that in some way, knowing Mika-san, Hiroko-san and Prof. White are already in the Pure Land makes him less fearful of his own death.

Kenshin-san concluded by saying that he was inspired in remembering Ms. Aoki’s joy at experiencing the Dharma in her life. He said that she would certainly now be with Hiroko-san and Prof. White in the Pure Land. He encouraged us to remember that Three Wheels was created from the joy of the practice by these people and that those of us that are here now must remember that joy and try to go forward with that in our spirit just as the founders of Three Wheels did. He said that maybe in that way, we may help to inspire others in their practice.

Mika Aoki gave one of her glass arts Prof. John White on his 90 years birthday.

Kemmyo-san spoke next, telling a story about Mika-san. He said that when she first asked to live at Three Wheels, Hiroko-san had replied that it is not easy to live there as you have to undertake Buddhist practice as part of being a resident. Apparently, she replied “In that case, I definitely want to come to live there”. He said that she was certainly awakened to the invaluable value of life.

Next, he encouraged us all to read the text of the talk many times over slowly and carefully as it is easy to digest, and told us that we should endeavour to find ourselves in the words of the talk. He said that we will find treasure in the lines. He reminded us that the Ukraine war isn’t just a problem far away from us but is related directly to us. He said that if we reflect on our problems carefully, we will be led to the fact that we are greedy, angry and ignorant and that if we realise this in the light of the Buddha’s teaching, we become both humble and grateful. He reminded us that every life is precious and important. He concluded by saying that if we take refuge, our mind is softened and we become one with others and that there is incredible pleasure in this.

Overall, this Eza was inspiring on many levels and for me was a potent and timely reminder of how ignorant I am to my own greed. I was reminded that I need to be careful not to point fingers at others and accuse them of bad things when I am full of my own greed, anger and ignorance which causes suffering to both myself and those around me. Goinge-sama’s talk is a treasure that, following Kemmyo-san’s advice, I intend to read carefully many times over.

Sadly, I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know Mika-san as she was no longer a resident of Three Wheels when I joined the Sangha. However, after hearing others speak of her, and after seeing her beautiful artwork, I feel that I was able to get a sense of what a special and inspiring person she was. Together with Goinge-sama’s words, she is like a spiritual beacon, lighting our way and encouraging us to go forward together in the Sangha in the light of the Buddha.

Christopher Duxbury