Thoughts on Non-attachment – A Report on the 163rd London Eza –

Immediately following the closing service of the 31st Shokai Retreat, the participants worked together with the residents of Three Wheels to prepare the temple for welcoming the guests to the 163rd London Eza. Soon the chairs of the Buddha-room were all filled and we joined together in the service of chanting sutras in gratitude to the Buddha.

Rev. Kemmyo Sato delivered a talk to us entitled Thoughts on Non-attachment in which he reflected in detail on the words of some “wise individuals” who had attained that ideal of Buddhist spirituality and offered us his own advice on the meaning of this profound notion which is fundamental to all schools of Buddhism.

First in Rev. Sato’s mind was the words of his dear friend the late Prof. John White who revered non-attachment, alongside encounter and doing for the doing, as one of the three ideals of life given to us by Buddhism that we should always strive towards to help us live our lives in the best way possible.

Rev. Sato then discussed the close relationship of non-attachment to the fundamental teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha on the universal nature of impermanence. Everything in this world is in a constant state of flux and always in the process of becoming, or changing, whether it be towards creation or annihilation. When we see someone or something, our minds immediately become attached to the sense perception we receive. We then believe that fleeting and limited image is sure and certain and what we understand of it through our intellect is the truth of its being. However, what we see and understand is only a tiny fraction of that object or person and what we feel and comprehend is no more than an illusion. This was something Prof. John White attained a very deep awareness of and explored many times in his talks and poetry.

This attachment, based on ignorance, is the root cause of the suffering which the Buddha taught besets every living being. The most imperative thing, Rev. Sato impressed upon us, is to become aware of this craving attachment buried deep in our consciousness. This awareness will surely lead us to non-attachment through the awakening of Other-power faith and entrusting ourselves to the Buddha. Due to the tenacious nature of our attachment, we find it impossible to realise the Mahayana Buddhist ideal of loving ourselves and loving others at the same time and instead we harm both ourselves and others. What is most important therefore, Rev. Sato told us, is to love others just as they are. In his talk entitled On Non-attachment, Prof. John White expressed his understanding of this point as, “If we are not at peace with ourselves we will not, however we try, be at peace with others”.

Rev. Sato next talked about the life of the Restorer of Shogyoji Temple, the Venerable Reion Takehara (Daigyoin-sama). When he was at a crossroads in his life, not knowing which direction to take, he encountered a Zen monk who gave him a teaching on non-attachment that was so profound he believed it to be almost impossible to put into practice although he could recognise the teaching was true. However, on awakening faith to the unconditional love of Amida Buddha which embraces all and abandons none, Venerable Reion Takehara attained such a, “resplendent world of non-duality”. The very origin of Three Wheels, Rev. Sato explained, lies in Venerable Reion Takehara’s awakening of faith and we are now also able to participate in this wonderful teaching.

In the next half of his talk, Rev. Sato introduced to us to a writing which has been a continuing influence on his understanding of non-attachment, the awareness of impermanence and the awakening of Other-power faith, for over 60 years of his life. This is the Hōjōki, or An Essay in My Three-meter-square Hut, by Kamo no Chōmei and Rev. Sato presented us for the first time with his new translation of the opening and closing paragraphs which movingly record Kamo no Chōmei’s peaceful awareness of these essential Buddhist teachings summarised in his sentence, “The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is not to be attached to anything”.

In the final paragraph of the Hōjōki, Kamo no Chōmei looks deeply into his mind and finds that, despite having retired from worldly life and living a religious life in a small humble dwelling, his mind is still “drenched in impurity”. Having come to such a strong sense of self-awareness the Nenbutsu then arose very naturally from the depths of his being.

The concluding sentence of the Hōjōki reads,

Just borrowing my tongue, there emerged Amida Buddha without being called, saying his Name a few times, which has ended everything.

The uniqueness of Rev. Sato’s translation is that it clearly renders into English Kamo no Chōmei’s pure Other-power faith in Amida Buddha about which Rev. Sato said, “There is only the great working of Nenbutsu, in which there is no distinction between subject and object as they have merged into oneness, into non-duality”. Rev. Sato then recalled how deeply his late master Dharma-mother Ekai must have understood this passage in the light of Other-power faith, remembering how she loudly pronounced the Nenbutsu during a reading of these lines in the Buddha-hall at Shogyoji.

In the final part of his talk Rev. Sato quoted extracts from his new translation of Shinran Shōnin’s writing The Virtues of Amida Tathāgata’s Name which has never before been translated into English. In this writing Shinran Shōnin describes how Dharmakara Bodhisattva, Amida Buddha when he was a Bodhisattva, created various lights in order to save us sentient beings from the sufferings caused by our blind passions. Shinran Shōnin writes of this with such confidence that we are left, Rev. Sato said, with the feeling that he is living very closely to Dharmakara Bodhisattva. This gave Rev. Sato the impression that. “This Dharmâkara must have been his master, Hōnen Shōnin, still speaking constantly to him”. Rev. Sato then concluded his talk by expressing his gratitude to Ven. Chimyo Takehara, Dharma-mother Ekai and Ven. Reion Takehara who are each an embodiment of the living Dharmakara and always telling him, “I have done everything. Come to me just as you are!”

Inviting comments from the participants, Mr Andy B who was chairing the Eza, said that within Rev. Sato talk we can discern three individuals awakening to the truth of non-attachment namely Ven. Reion Takehara who began the faith-movement that Three Wheels is a part of, Kamo no Chōmei whose writing had so profoundly moved Rev. Sato throughout his life and that of Rev. Sato himself who gave up his academic career to be a priest at Shogyoji temple.

Mr Pedro S. then asked Rev. Sato how it can be possible for us to know when we have finally attained faith in Amida Buddha. Rev. Sato answered that when you are relieved of your deepest despair it then becomes very clear to us, as it was to Ven. Reion Takehara. Amida Buddha, Rev. Sato continued, is always with us, but to be become awakened to this fact is a very special event in our lives. Rev. Sato then recounted to us how his family came to be connected with Shogyoji temple through the faith experiences of his brother and father. This led Rev. Sato to ask for an Introspection Session at Shogyoji in which he too finally became awakened to the unconditional love of Amida Buddha and pronounced the Nenbutsu in gratitude for this and with repentance for his own state of mind.

Rev. Kenshin Ishii expressed his gratitude to Rev. Sato for giving such a wonderful talk on the meaning of non-attachment. What he had learnt from the theme of non-attachment is that each of us is attached to our experiences. When we look back at our past we can see how much we have been attached to the objects of our experiences. However, our desire for these objects can easily turn into hatred if they do not accord with what we want them to be. This attachment is based on ignorance according to Buddhist teaching. This ignorance though, does not mean lack of knowledge, it is an ignorance of the truth of life that we receive through the Buddha-Dharma. Rev. Sato’s talk, he concluded, guides us together into a bright future.

Robert, a new attendee to the London Eza, introduced himself to us. He has been attending the meditation group at Three Wheels and had been appreciating the simplicity, honesty and friendliness of the Sangha. Robert said that he was really struck by the beautiful teaching he had received today from Rev. Sato’s talk which made him think that the necessary element in our awakening is to become aware of suffering in our lives.

Through sharing with us his own personal struggles in life and the suffering they caused both himself and others, Rev. Sato clearly showed to us the true meaning of non-attachment and how we can awaken to this through becoming aware of our own tenacious attachment to self and entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha. The examples Rev. Sato shared with us in his talk revealed how Amida Buddha’s pure light and unconditional love, unattached to any object, is always shining on us through the teachings we receive and the lives of our teachers and Dharma-friends. Through his new translation of passages from the Hōjōki, I strongly felt that Rev. Sato, through his own faith-experience and strong wish to transmit this to us, is the only person able to render into the English language Kamo no Chōmei’s awakening to the Other-power of Amida Buddha that emerged through his lips when he pronounced the Nenbutsu. Thank you very much indeed for such a special London Eza.

Andrew Webb