Awakening to the Reality of Interdependent Origination

Report on the 162nd London Eza


On Sunday 26th February 2023 we were welcomed to Three Wheels for the 162nd London Eza. In contrast to the cold winter weather outside, the atmosphere in the Buddha-room was spiritually very warm and full of light with both new participants and old gathering to join in the opening service. The meeting following the service was chaired by Mr Andy B whose energy and enthusiasm, together with the careful planning and preparations made beforehand by Rev. Kemmyo Sato and Rev. Kenshin Ishii, helped create a truly memorable Eza.

We listened to a talk given by Rev. Kenshin Ishii entitled, Awakening to the Reality of Interdependent Origination. With deep introspection and insight into the core teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, Rev. Ishii reflected on the meaning of awakening to the selfless truth of Interdependent Origination and its deep connection to the teachings of Shin Buddhism.  During his talk, Rev. Ishii expressed his joy and gratitude at the important opportunities he was given in Sangha that allowed him to receive, “the beauty of oneness in Interdependent Origination”.

Rev. Ishii took as the starting point of his talk the life of Shakyamuni Buddha and began by recounting the story of The Four Sights. This story recounts how the Buddha was awakened to the reality of sufferings in the world of transmigration and the possibility of a way to be free from them. This the Buddha finally attained through his enlightenment and taught to his disciples as The Four Noble Truths. Included within the Four Noble Truths is the Noble Eightfold Path and its “right practices” which lead to Enlightenment, a world in which life and everything within it, was described by Shakyamuni Buddha as being, “Delightful”.

Rev. Ishii then illustrated to us the meaning of the word “right” in Buddhism, a term which provides the key to understanding how the Noble Eightfold Path is related to the Nenbutsu practice in Shin Buddhism. Due to the working of our blind passions our perspective and understanding is self-centred and not genuinely “right”. This means in life that, “We believe what we see is true and real, yet it is not”. For example, in the Three Wheels Zen Garden we only see the surface of the parts of  the rocks which are visible to us and we are blind to their true reality. The same is true of our own minds as what is most difficult to see is ourselves. Therefore, when we encounter a personal problem in life, our self-centredness and attachment to our limited viewpoint becomes even stronger. It is only when we are illuminated by an external factor, such as the words, actions or attitude of a teacher or Dharma-friend that we can realise that our own viewpoint and understanding is partial or wrong.

Rev. Ishii returned to the example of the Three Wheels Zen Garden to look at the meaning of Interdependent Origination. This is a primary teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha that is also central to our lives as Shin Buddhists. Not only, Rev. Ishii said, does the garden contain the thousands of various physical materials which it was constructed from, but also the great effort and love of those who worked for its creation and continue to work for its maintenance. Within that deep history the garden also embraces each of us who visit it. Therefore, to know the garden in its entirety, we also need to awaken to all the invisible things which are part of it. Rev. Ishii then shared some personal spiritual encounters in his own life and those of Dharma-friends which clearly showed that, “Interdependent Origination means a truth that everything exists by mutual help and support in harmony within diversity”. The external factor or encounter with another person which illuminates us, becomes entirely one with us because it fundamentally changes our way of thinking and behaving.  Encounter is, therefore, “Awakening in gratitude to the reality of Interdependent Origination.

Mr Andy B thanked Rev. Ishii for giving such a profound and concise talk which encompassed the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, Shinran Shonin and those he had received from his own teachers and Dharma-friends in the temple Sangha. Andy felt that the talk reflected Rev. Ishii’s more than 15 years within Three Wheels and was an expression of everything that he had done for us during that time. Mr Christopher D was reminded of how he once felt angry that his work colleagues kept questioning the way he had completed a project but later realised they were correct, and his way of thinking was wrong.  Christopher then felt annoyed and embarrassed with himself, both for making the initial mistake and also for not taking his colleague’s questions seriously. Rev. Ishii’s words that if we practice in a self-centred way it is no longer “right practice”, made Christopher realise that all of the emotions he felt at that time were driven by ego and a strong attachment to self.

Mr Sean S recalled his visit last year to Auschwitz. This was an event which opened his eyes to the most extreme human suffering, something he previously only understood indirectly from historical accounts of what happened there. Mr Stephen G who was attending the London Eza for the first time related his experience of cleaning the Zen Garden the day before. When he first looked at the Zen Garden it looked spotless and not in any need of cleaning. However, when he looked closely at the places which were initially hidden from his sight. he found lots of petals which needed to be carefully removed.

Rev. Kemmyo Sato felt that through listening to Rev. Ishii’s talk he was witnessing the birth of a Bodhisattva. The entire content of Rev. Ishii’s talk was one with his living experience of true faith, a oneness that expresses the truth of Interdependent Origination. After listening to the reading of the Ofumi at today’s service, Rev. Sato realised that the faith which had been transmitted to him, had been successfully passed on to the next generation without any obstruction. This transmission was further confirmed through Rev. Ishii’s talk, an event in Sangha which brought to mind a pivotal encounter between Dharma-mother Ekai and Ven. Chimyo Takehara when he became her spiritual successor. At that moment Dharma-mother Ekai felt she was embraced by the parental love of the Buddha and realised her most important work had been accomplished.

We were next very happy to hear the impressions given by Miss Hitoe Ishii and Miss Aya Watanabe who are both 20 years old and long-term residents of Three Wheels. They both undertook Introspection Sessions at Shogyoji Temple last year and recounted with deep and warm emotion what they had been awakened to during this very special time.

Hitoe-san’s starting point was the many questions she had in her mind about what direction she should take in life following her graduation from university. During her introspection she discovered that although her life was embraced by the boundless love of her parents, through her own doubt she kept many worries that beset her mind hidden from them. On awakening to this, Hitoe-san felt all the dark clouds in her mind suddenly disappear and she was living beneath a light filled sky.

On hearing of Hitoe-san’s experience, Aya-san was strongly motivated to undertake an Introspection Session so she could discover what was hidden in life from herself.  This led her to discover the most important reason for her coming to the UK to study and live at Three Wheels. which was not to attain academic success to but to pronounce the Nenbutsu together with Dharma-friends at Three Wheels. This, Aya realised, was her parents and grandparents real wish for her.

Rev. Yuichi Kuniyoshi then gave his self-introduction to the Eza. Yuichi-san is a young priest from Shogyoji Temple who has been studying English and American literature at university in Tokyo. At Shogyoji, Yuichi-san was able to hear lots of reports from Three Wheels Dharma-friends that expressed their joy and gratitude at being able to practice Buddhism here. This gave rise to a serious question in his mind as he wondered what it was that motivated western people, who weren’t brought up in Shin Buddhist families and had no previous connection to the Buddha-Dharma, to want to practice it so seriously. This led Yuichi-san to ask to come and stay for a short period at Three Wheels so that he could encounter how Buddhist faith is practiced here. Yuichi-san expressed his gratitude for the encounters he had been having at Three Wheels and all the valuable spiritual training he had been receiving from Rev. Sato and Rev. Ishii, which had changed his way of thinking.

Finally, we were very happy to welcome two new participants to the London Eza who were part of the UCL Student Buddhist Group. The previous day the Student’s Group had visited Three Wheels and very much enjoyed the talks they received from Rev. Sato and Rev. Ishii about the history of Three Wheels and the Zen Garden. This made them want to come back and join in the London Eza so they could experience a Sangha activity for themselves.

This London Eza appeared as a precious jewel in the history of Three Wheels which was illuminated with the truth of Interdependent Origination through the talk given by Rev. Ishii. As this truth is impossible for me to awaken to through my own limited understanding, I saw how much I need everyone’s help in Sangha to realise my ignorance and attachment. This is something hidden to myself but plainly visible to others through my actions. The impressions given by Yuichi-san, Hitoe-san and Aya-san also taught me that faith is not something to be taken for granted but requires sincere dedication to seeking the truth of life through listening to the Buddha-Dharma within the Sangha. I am deeply grateful to have been given such a special opportunity at the London Eza to receive the boundless love and compassion of Amida Buddha which shone through everyone’s words and actions.

With Gassho

Andrew Webb