Report on the 31st Shokai Retreat, 28th – 30th April 2023, ‘Non-attachment’ 

Dear Goinge-sama,

Please accept our deep gratitude to you, and all Shogyoji Dharma friends, for facilitating and supporting the 31st Three Wheels Shokai, which had the theme of ‘Non-attachment’.

During the pre-retreat zadan meetings, participants agreed that while there are endless attachments that it is possible to identify, realising non-attachment is much more difficult. As Mr Dave Z. said, “[non-attachment] cannot be experienced by the ego.” Another Dharma friend also noted that, “Although we say, ‘attachment’ and ‘non-attachment’, these aren’t a pair. Attachment is a duality that includes desire and aversion, but Non-attachment is completely beyond any oppositions.”

Faced with such a daunting theme, we were fortunate to receive a wonderful Vow of Sincere practice from Mr Andrew W. who spoke about his recent experience of having to inform his mother that she would not be able to return to her home, due to needing specialist health care. Very much struggling with how to give his mother the sad news, Andrew consulted with Rev. Ishii .who replied to him with deep spiritual confidence, “Don’t worry your mother will understand everything”.

When Andrew visited his mother, she began to tell him how much she was looking forward to coming home. However when she looked into his eyes, she suddenly stopped what she was saying and said, “I know I can’t come home, can I?” Then when Andrew expressed his apologies, kneeling on the floor beside her bed, his mother immediately told him not to worry about anything, that everything would be completely fine for her. Andrew told us that, at that moment, his mother “went beyond all attachment to her existence” and showed him such unconditional love. It made him understand “without any doubt why Amida Buddha is called our Great Parent”.

Illumined by this inconceivable encounter between Andrew and his mother Joyce, the Shokai began to flow very naturally and peacefully.

At the first retreat zadan meeting Ms. Kei Suzuki shared her memory of a time when one of her close friends was ill. Through speaking to Dharma friends she realised her anxiety about his surgery was causing suffering not only for herself but for him too. After being freed of her attachment and self-power attitude, she noticed her friend immediately became relieved. 

Through listening to Kei-san, another Dharma friend realised that he had been creating a similar burden for his wife, who has a serious health condition. After realising his selfish attitude he immediately rang his wife and apologised to her. Then when Kei-san heard about this, she also had a reflection about her behaviour toward her mother, and in turn had the courage to ring up her mother and say sorry. In this way, the other-power activity of ‘self-benefiting and benefiting other’ began to work naturally during the course of the retreat. This culminated in a Dharma friend publically expressing his repentance and gratitude to another member of the Sangha, with whom he had had a misunderstanding. In this way, through such wonderful events, we gradually discovered the purifying activity of Amida Tathagata, and confirmed the words of Mr Andrew W. that “non-attachment is a gift”.

One Dharma friend said that they felt that suffering when someone dies was natural. However another person asked them, “When Hiroko-san died, would she have wanted you to experience suffering?” They replied, “No.” Listening to this exchange, Rev. Ishii said, “The time of mourning should be an opportunity for reflection or meditation. Then our tears of attachment will turn into tears of gratitude.”

Mr Christopher D. shared how Kemmyo-sensei had cautioned him that, he had a tendency to be attached to having a “consistent practice”. Another Dharma friend sympathised, saying that he is attached to creating a quiet space for practice, and has been seeing those who support them as obstacles rather than helpers.

On the Saturday, Rev. Ishii gave a talk entitled Non-attachment: Repentance and Gratitude. He taught us that our blind passions are the source of the phenomenon of attachment, not the external factors and objects we usually seek to blame. To make this clearer he addressed two questions, (1) “What happens when we become attached to something/someone?” and (2) “How can we practise Dharma together with our blind passions?”

Based on looking into his own experience of attachment and being freed form attachment, Kenshin-san shared two sayings by Shinran Shonin and Ekai-sama respectively:

“In darkness my blind passions are spread out just like dust.
To love those who follow me but hate those who differ from me is like high
peaks and mountain ridges.” (Shinran Shonin)

“When I tell you something you like, you bow and thank me. When you
don’t like what I say, your face changes into something dreadful, like a
demon, and you oppose me.” (Ekai-sama)

This self-centred movement of our hearts and minds leads to endless suffering, as we compound new karmic causes in our self-centred efforts to attempt to alter our circumstances.

Kenshin-san said that it is essential for each of us to confront ourselves in order to overcome such discomfort or sufferings, because otherwise we can easily cause great harm both to ourselves and others. Despite what we may think, even murder and suicide are not uncommon, and each of us has the risk to bring about such tragic events. Therefore, even though it is extremely difficult, we need to look into ourselves and become aware that we all have the same cause within our minds, self-attachment.

Considering how we can practise Dharma together with our blind passions, Kenshin-san asked us, “By the way, why do we try to defend or justify ourselves? Is this necessary in our Buddhist practice?”  He told us that, no, we don’t need to defend ourselves in front of

the Buddha and our Dharma friends, because Amida Buddha, in his infinite compassion, is attempting to save us. Others are not our enemies or opponents, but rather helpers and supporters. What we should do is to be humble and sincere, admitting and accepting that all one’s suffering is the result of one’s own karma.

Rev. Ishii explained that Dharma is the medicine given by the Buddha; anger and greed are symptoms of our spiritual illness of self-attachment; and the nenbutsu sangha is a hospital for patients who have become aware of their own spiritual disease and wish to be cured. What is special about this ‘hospital’ is that everyone who works in the Nenbutsu Sangha was once a patient who was helped by others. This is why Venerable Takehara, the head priest of Shogyoji, recently said, “Please pay respect to the mind and attitude of Dharma friends rather than just Buddha.” As Kenshin-san explained, “the most important practice for us in Sangha is to learn how to receive and digest Nenbutsu through the attitude of devout Dharma friends.”

Rev. Ishii summed up by saying that, “Our arrangements are the result of expectations based on our self-attachment […] we should not be attached to our own way or idea of doing something, and we should not expect it to produce a result we like. Even if the outcome differs from what we desire, we should leave it alone because everything is becoming what it will be in naturalness […] Although we still have blind passions, we become freed from our self-attachment by Other-power during the one thought moment of repentance and gratitude in nembutsu.”

Mr Andrew W. thanked Rev. Ishii for his wonderful and comprehensive talk, saying, “I could see my whole life reflected so clearly in the talk. When I received advice and I became so hard and then become angry trying to protect myself”. “Many religions”, he added, “seem to focus on offer us some special teaching or practice to follow, but we’ve already been given everything now by Amida Buddha”.

Ms. Eloisa ‒–, asked what to do when you have a tendency to follow advice simply in order to please another person, and she said that in her case she feels although anger comes from feelings of shame (in the sense of being humiliated).

To the first point, Rev. Ishii said, “When you find a good teacher who is a Buddha, other people around you will appear as Buddhas. Then you will feel that saying yes to others is not blind faith.” Another Dharma friend added that, “if you can’t accept someone’s advice straight away, don’t reject it completely but just keep it and return to it from time to time; letting it be a source of self-reflection.”  

To the second question, Rev. Ishii said, “If someone puts you down, just try and remember how much love you have had from many people rather than focusing on just one person or a small number of people.” Mrs Chris D. added that the myokonin Doshu was treated very badly by some other people but, because he found himself to be entirely embraced in Amida’s compassion, he had no self of his own to be affected by what they said and did, and so he did not get angry or upset.

At the closing meeting of the 31st Shokai, Mr Pedro S. said, “Would it be possible that I can one day love unconditionally…? Buddhist teachings usually say that it is possible indeed, but that seems reserved for the wise people following the Path of the Sages, not a wretched being full of blind passions like me. While thinking of this, I can not help but remember the words of Shinran Shōnin saying that the vow of Amida Buddha was made for “me” and “me only””.

Mrs Tina C. said that she still could not understand non-attachment very well. However, she also mentioned her feelings that her son, who has complex disabilities, ‘does not belong to me” and said that she wanted him to become emotionally independent so that he won’t suffer when she dies. Hearing these comments Rev. Ishii replied, “the reason that you can’t intellectually see the meaning of non-attachment is that you are already living close to it.”

Although the retreat was smaller than in recent times (attended by 11 non-resident participants), while listening to such Dharma friends I found the words “limitless assembly of Mahāsattvas’ naturally appear in my mind.

Namuamidabutsu. Namuamidabutsu.

Please forgive the narrowness and partiality of this report.

In gassho, respectfully,


3rd May 2023