“The more I’m aware of my ignorance, the more I feel the light of Amida.”Report on the 30th Shokai, Three Wheels, October 2022

The 30th Shokai retreat was attended by around fourteen Dharma friends, a smaller number than usual, reflecting a more general decline in attendance at events not only at Three Wheels but also more widely across other communities in society. The legacy of the spiritual and psychological impacts of two years of pandemic social restrictions is something that the Sangha will need to reckon with, through constructive dialogue, in the months and years ahead. Nonetheless, the smaller gathering allowed friends plenty of opportunity to re-encounter one another in an ever-deeper dimension. Namuamidabutsu.

At the opening ceremony of the retreat Mr Pedro Santiago, a Dharma friend originally from Brazil who has been attending Three Wheels for one year, gave the traditional Vow of Sincere Practice on behalf of all the retreatants. Thinking about his arrival in London and meeting with Three Wheels and its Sangha, he remembered a quote from the late Ōtani-ha reverend Ricardo Mário Gonçalves:

“I have always [experienced] Buddhism as the ‘hit the road’ religion, the journey religion. [But] as time passes, we discover that more than an external journey, there is an internal journey (the ‘inner trip’) during which you search for yourself.”

Pedro said, “this external and internal trip is much better when we have good friends by our side. Let us vow never to take the Sangha for granted, never to think of ourselves as an island, never to forget the truth of interdependence.” This Vow had a big impact on Dharma friends, one of whom expressed repentance for taking the Sangha for granted and treating it as a ‘right’ rather than a gift. Namuamidabutsu.

As usual, prior to Shokai we held a number of online zadan meetings in order to start to reflect on the retreat theme, which this time was Shinjin (Faith).

Mr. Andrew Webb spoke of how when he entered the precincts of Shogyoji temple recently, being greeted by Dharma friends, it naturally “lifted the hard burden of suffering” he had been carrying within himself. This reminded him of “how, in the past, Professor John White had travelled to Shogyoji literally at the very risk of his life … [with a] pure will to establish and maintain this unbroken continuity of spiritual exchange with Shogyoji to the very end of his life.”

Also reflecting on Dharma friends who have passed away in recent times, Mr. Andy Barritt spoke about the process of grieving about Ms. Mika Aoki’s death, and how Rev. Ishii helped him notice the problem of his attachment.  Andy said, “I was focusing on the illusory contents of my own blind passions. Once Kenshin-san helped me see my attachment, the dark void of Mika-san’s absence suddenly appeared as a bright fullness.” He added that this experience reminded him of Kemmyo-sensei’s words about the death of his master D. T. Suzuki:

“through this event of the great change called ‘Death’, the working of eternity that Sensei embodied was clearly demonstrated in the midst of our everyday life, that very working that arises of itself and gathers in and purifies all that comes into contact with it.”

Mr. Christopher Duxbury described an automatic revolving door at his office that turns by itself when you enter it, but sticks closed if you try to touch or push against it. The difference between being able to go through the door or not depends on knowing how it works and trusting in it. “I feel I am often pushing too hard on the door that leads to Shinjin with my own self power”, he said, “and if I could just let go and really entrust myself, it might open itself. But still, I push the door.”  

Ms. Tina Crellin also shared a very clear metaphor, saying, “When gardening I noticed a caterpillar. A caterpillar when going into their cocoon has [absolute] faith. I acknowledge that sometimes the caterpillar may be eaten or may not survive, but they still go into the cocoon with certainty that they will come out and when they do eventually come out then they are a magnificent butterfly. The lesson that we should take from the caterpillar to butterfly example is that we should have faith in what we do.”

Unfortunately, there is not space to quote all of the Dharma friends here. However, to conclude this summary of the zadan impressions, Sam quoted Kemmyo-sensei, who was in the same pre-Shokai group as him, as saying:

“taking refuge in the ‘invisible other’ means ‘beyond my consciousness’, beyond thought. In that momentary instant of taking refuge, the mind is pure. If you think faith is something you can grasp, it is not. It is something you experience, a gift of Amida. Our every moment of living is important to become aware of our actual reality; our blind passions.”

On Saturday we received a wonderful Dharma talk from Rev. Kenshin Ishii entitled, ‘Awakening to Faith’ in which he covered various topics such as: the meaning of Hoonko Otorikoshi, how to become free from our blind passions, ‘spiritual birth’, interdependent origination, and solving our karmic problems in daily life. It is impossible to summarise his talk here but two parts that really impressed Dharma friends were his comments:

“The reason [people] do not feel that they need help by Amida […is] that they are not aware of the cause of their sufferings. [They] feel that their sufferings are caused by others and circumstances… Let us remind ourselves that the fundamental purpose of listening to the Dharma is to become free form the restrictions of our blind passions, the cause of all sufferings.”

“What D.T. Suzuki and Kemmyo-san teach is the importance of awakening to the reality of life. To have such awakening, we ordinary people need someone who can open our eyes. If I am respectful and careful towards others, we will awaken to the fact that they are entirely beyond our consciousness. Such an encounter gives us an enormous effect and awakes us from our self-centred delusion to the wonderful reality of life. This is the moment of true encounter or attaining Other Power faith.”

Kenshin-san also clearly clarified the meaning of ‘retrogression’, which has been a topic on Dharma friends minds during our study of Kemmyo-sensei’s translation of Shinran Shonin’s letters. Kenshin-san and Kemmyo-sensei told us that while there is no retrogression within Amida’s given-mind of awakening, which is received in the one –thought moment of faith-entrusting, nonetheless we are still afflicted by the waves of anger and greed up to the end of our lives.  However Kenshin-san reassured us, saying:

“When we awaken to this sad fact and accept it as our karma under the light of Amida and repent for it, we re-feel the warmth of Amida’s embracement here and now. For me, what Other-power faith means is to become able to say sincerely, humbly and respectfully “I am sorry”, “Thank you” and “Yes, please”, right now through awakening to  myself and Amida’s love and compassion without any reservation and excuse. The sincerity, humility and respect are all gifts given by Amida.”

Thanking Rev.Ishii for his talk on behalf of the Sangha, Mr. Andy Barritt said that we often hear the teaching of “Thank you and Sorry” in our community but the addition of the word “Yes, please” by Kenshin-san clear makes clear the connection of repentance to the ‘Great Living’ (daigyo) of nenbutsu. As Kemmyo-sensei says, “The devotee’s way of living after attaining faith is a manifestation of Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Eternal Life, through his own individual life… the pronouncing of the nenbutsu as an expression of gratitude to Amida Buddha…”

On Saturday evening, the sangha had a chanting lesson led by Rev. Ishii in which we practiced chanting the Kada verse that would be used at the Otorokoshi ceremony the following day.  Through this practice we learnt more about the meaning of ‘harmonising with Dharma friends’, ‘not leaving others behind’, and also ‘expressing gratitude with our whole-being’.

At the final Zadan meeting of the retreat on Sunday morning, Mr. Christopher Duxbury summarised several important points which he had digested during our shared time of introspection, saying:

“Chris Dodd said something seemingly very simple but that gave me real pause for thought. He said “faith is connected with selflessness”. For me this was perfectly complemented by a DT Suzuki quote that Sam Kelly spoke about, “Instead of Amida getting in our life or our being, our being is carried away by Amida.” I believe this was expanded on yet further when Kei Suzuki said “The more I’m aware of my ignorance, the more I feel the light of Amida.”.

Mr Andrew Webb added that he had been very impressed by a line from Kenshin-san’s talk, “It is always said in Shogyoji that we should not be satisfied today with the previous attainment of faith.” He said that without routinely listening to the Dharma he would not be able to become aware of the gap that can appear between himself and the truth, or of his attachments and blind passions. Echoing Andrew’s words, Mr Sam Kelly offered gratitude on behalf of all the Dharma friends, saying:

“I would like to express deep gratitude to Goinge -sama and all Japanese Dharma friends for their wonderful support of the Three Wheels temple and our 30th Shokai retreat. Also, to Kemmyo-Sensei, Kenshin-san and Sanae-san for their teaching and support on this wonderful spiritual journey… I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to attend this Shokai and take some more steps on the Pure Land path with Dharma friends.”


In gassho, Andy

27th October 2022