The 161st London Eza Report

In the chilly afternoon of December 11th, about 30 people gathered – online and in person – in the Buddha room of Three Wheels for the 161st London Eza. As this is the last Eza of the year, it incorporated two aspects. The first was a short religious ceremony, while the second was a relaxed end of year party.  The Eza was opened with soulfully chanting the Shoshinge and Wasan together, and a beautiful reading of Rennyo Shonin’s Ofumi in Japanese and English by Reverend Ishii and Chris D. respectively.

After the servicer, Mr. Andrew W. gave a talk entitled ‘My Year in Sangha’. The talk was Andrew’s thoughtful and introspective reflection on Andrew’s experiences in the Three Wheels and Shogyoji Sangha over the past year. Although Andrew wrote the talk to express only his own feelings and experiences, it seems as though it encapsulated the major events in the collective life of the Sangha over the past year as well as the personal experience of many in the Sangha. Running through the entirety of Andrew’s talk was a recurring point about his feeling that he often forgets the teachings that he receives in the Sangha. In expressing this, I feel Andrew was putting into words my own experience and perhaps that of others in the Sangha.

Andrew’s summary of the year began with his reflections about the precious opportunity he had to travel to Japan with his family to participate in the Summer Training Assembly at Shogyoji Temple. Andrew reflected on the circumstances over the past three years that have made travel within London, let alone intercontinental travel, difficult. These include his personal family circumstances, as well as global events like the COVID-19 crisis and the conflict in Ukraine. Andrew’s reflection helped to remind us of the impermanent and unreliable nature of this Samsaric world, and how this makes every opportunity to listen to the Dharma something precious not to be passed over lightly.

Andrew shared with us how his various apprehensions about travelling to Shogyoji could all be interpreted as manifestations of an attitude of doubt towards those around him. Although these doubts lifted for him once he arrived at Shogyoji, Andrew recounted a teaching with regard to doubt that he received from the Venerable Chimyo Takehara. This teaching was “the importance in daily life of putting all these [doubting] thoughts aside and single mindedly taking refuge in Amida Buddha”. Even within Andrew’s spiritually rich talk, this teaching struck me with its profundity. In our unstable and unreliable world, our faith in Amida Buddha gives us an unshakeable foundation upon which we can really stand.

Andrew told us how a small group of English speaking Dharma friends formed at Shogyoji’s Summer Training Assembly to welcome him. He gave us the wonderful news that this group had begun translation of a textbook by the Dharma Lord, His Eminence Koken Otani, into English at the Winter Training Assembly. It is very exciting that English speaking Dharma friends will be able to receive His Eminence’s teachings in future, and we all feel gratitude towards these Japanese Dharma friends for their efforts.

Andrew went on to summarize the major events in the collective life of the Sangha since his return from Japan, and how he experienced their spiritual import. These included the 30th Shokai retreat on the theme of Faith in Shin Buddhism, the first memorial of Prof. John White and the fourth memorial of Mrs. Hiroko Sato, both pioneers of the Three Wheels Sangha.

Andrew also discussed Reverend Sato’s ongoing translation of Shinran Shonin’s letters, which lead to Andrew extemporizing on Reverend Sato’s translation of the Japanese word hakarai. While previous translations have rendered hakarai as calculation or contrivance, Reverend Sato has opted for the more neutral term “arrangement”. This expresses better the symmetry between our own deluded self-power arrangements and the Other-Power arrangement of Amida Buddha. Andrew related this to his own anxieties prior to his pilgrimage to Japan. His talk about his attempts to force the world to conform to his wishes rather than letting go and entrusting to Amida Sama resonated deeply with me, as if it was advice directed from Andrew directly to myself.

After Andrew’s talk there followed a series of comments from Dharma friends. The atmosphere produced by their comments showed that I was not alone in resonating deeply with Andrew’s talk. Almost all the Dharma friends who spoke expressed their desire to travel to Shogyoji Temple in the next year. Mr. Andy B. talked about how his own spiritual experience has always been enhanced and elevated by his two-decade long friendship with Andrew. Mr. Neil, a Dharma friend joining online from America, expressed understand and compassion for Andrew’s difficult family situation as he himself has similar difficulties. Ms. Kay S., who will visit Shogyoji Temple soon, talked about how she felt that she took her ability to visit Shogyoji Temple for granted. Mr. Watanabe, joining online from Japan despite suffering from COVID, talked about how Andrew allowed him to reconnect with the Sangha in the UK, despite Mr. Watanabe’s not having been in the UK in 25 years.

After the comments in response to Andrew’s talk, the religious portion of the afternoon meeting was closed with announcements from Reverend Ishii and a moving reflection from Reverend Sato. Reverend Sato talked about how, while scholarly work was important, it must always come second to faith and that he felt that he had not been placing faith first of late.

After the close of the religious meeting, the end of year party was held. This was particularly significant, as it is the first end of year party that Three Wheels has been able to hold in three years, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This included musical performances from Ms. Aya (playing the cello) and Dr. Chris D. (playing the guitar) of Chrismas songs, as well as a performance of an Okinawan folk song with Mrs. Yoko D. providing vocals. Members of the students group raised funds for the repair of Three Wheels by selling cupcakes they had previously prepared.

In conclusion, this last Eza for the year was spiritually fulfilling. I am personally thankful for the opportunity to write this report, as it allowed me to re-read Andrew’s talk, and really dwell on what he had to say. His discussion of focusing on doubting all those around us when we should simply be trusting Amida, and our constant attempts to arrange everything around us when really much is out of our hands resonated with me personally.

11 December 2022

Max N.