Report on the 32nd Shokai Retreat, Oct 2023
I wish to express our deep gratitude to you and all within the Shogyoji Sangha for making this Shokai possible and for all the support that we are given here at Three Wheels.
The subject of the 32nd Shokai was “Other Power”. For the pre-retreat online zadan group meetings, we were asked to read Chapter 8 of Great Living, Kemmyo-san’s English translation of the Tannisho, including his commentary. In one group, this lead to a lively discussion regarding whether we are more aware of Other Power working in our lives at times of hardship or when things appear to be going well. Some Dharma friends agreed that it is easy to rely on Other Power when we are suffering, but then as things start to go well, our Kharma starts to become more active and we behave in more selfish ways.
The retreat was opened on the Friday evening by a Vow of Sincere Practice given by Mrs. Kaori P. She gave two events that had recently happened to her that shifted her perspective. Firstly, she had found that although she had been blaming external conditions when she had trouble hearing what people had said, in fact she was recently diagnosed with a hearing problem so it was her problem and not the fault of others. She described this as highlighting how ignorant she had been. Secondly, she found that in considering Other Power relating to a recent visit to her husband’s family in India, she realised how much she was being supported by others there. She described herself, based on a description in Chapter 8 of Great Living, as like a kitten being carried by the mother cat, who represents Other Power. Kaori-san’s opening vow set out a perfect introspective atmosphere for the rest of the retreat.
Kemmyo-san next gave an opening address where he discussed Prof. White’s final talk on the subject of Other Power, which he referred to as Otherness which is other than any concept that we can imagine. Kemmyo-san went on that this Otherness is non-other than the Buddha, which Shinran-shonin said manifests around us, in teachers, the Sangha, family, friends, nature, etc. He went on to say that our purpose is to become aware of this Other Power manifesting, which we can do by looking inside ourselves to see the working of both others and ourselves clearly.
In the first of the Zadan meetings, Mr Sam K. talked about how it was in fact “scary to give up self power and rely on Other Power” but how he knows that “Other Power is always there, it does not come and go”.
Ms. Liz B. said that it is only Other Power that can lead us to inner peace. She talked about how recently she had been spending a lot of her time looking after her father, who is recovering from eye surgery so is having trouble seeing. She described how he “put complete trust in me to help him recover”, but that in fact she was benefiting from this time as much as him because she was enjoying spending so much time with him. Mr Christopher D. who was recently in a similar position with his mother said he had had exactly the same experience. He added that in his case, he was getting frustrated by his mother, who suffers from severe osteoarthritis, sometimes saying strange things such as offering to ask for someone to help him changing bedding, which is a simple task for him. When considering Other Power, he realised that his mother had forgotten that these jobs are simple for most people, and that her words came from her love for him and her desire to protect him from suffering.
In the same meeting, Mr Andy B. talked about how he had recently started in a new job and he has experienced some worry over whether or not he will be capable of doing the job, but also has a feeling of pride that he has always been able in the past to rise to any challenges at work. He then remembered Kemmyo-san’s words “I don’t have ignorance, I am ignorance”. Based on this, he has resolved to try as hard as possible to listen to his new colleagues as openly as possible. Other Dharma friends related to very similar experiences in their working lives, with one saying she was sudden;y aware of how much “good people help her at work”.
Mr Chris D. talked about how he is becoming aware that his only way to overcome his many blind passions is by taking refuge, quoting how we should “Always try to do the best, but then leave the rest to Amida Buddha.”
Mr Pedro S. talked about how in preparing for the Shokai, he had realised how there are times when people do things for him, but he doesn’t express gratitude, such as a recent occasion when his partner made food for him, but all he could do was think about the mess that the kitchen was in. Kemmyo-san replied to this that “by taking refuge, we can become aware of negative things, which turns evil into good under Other Power’s working”.
Ms. Eloisa, who is a relatively new but enthusiastic member of the Sangha talked about how she was realising that Other Power is “everything, anything and nothing at the same time”, expressing her feeling of how all is interconnected as well as the Emptiness of all. She said that she has begun to realised that “the more I know, the more I know I know nothing”.
Several Dharma friends gave examples of recent experiences when they had felt exhausted and worn down by trying to use their self power to solve their problems, which naturally led them to leave things to Other Power. In the words of Mr. Dave Z., “this felt like a great weight had been lifted”. Mr William ? described how he “felt relief which calmed him down” when remembering Other Power.
Ms. Kei S. later talked about how in preparing for this Shokai, she found that she had been taking her own life and health for granted, which in turn leads to her taking other people’s lives for granted. This led to a discussion of how we all often view the lives of others only through the lens of our own life.
Mr. Andrew W. talked about how he remembered a discussion many years ago comparing Other Power to how an aeroplane carries us to our destination in life. He said that this Summer, his family had received a lot of help in travelling to Japan, such that he felt that he had been carried there by Other Power.
Rev. Ishii gave a wonderful talk entitled “Touched by the Light of Amida” where he talked in detail about four key reasons for why he often loses sight of his salvation through the working of Other Power. These are
We are not yet awakened to the reality of impermanence
We are not yet awakened to our own ignorance
We are not yet awakened to Amida’s Love and Compassion
We are still attached to our self-power
Amongst other things, he talked about a recent experience where he had translated from Japanese into English some words about Amida’s light as “touching the light” but someone had corrected this to “Touched by the light” which “illumined my state of mind that was unconsciously attached to my self-power”. Prof. Shimoda, who was visiting from Japan and had joined the Shokai, said that in Kenshin-san paying respect to this correction, it was a manifestation of Other Power in daily life.
He concluded his talk by summarizing with a poem, bringing together Saichi’s idea that “All around is Other Power” as well as Ven. Takehara’s stressing the importance of humility and respect. Kemmyo-san responded that from the talk, he could see that “there is a living experience working in his mind, and that is the real experience of Other Power”. Many Dharma friends expressed how practical they had found the talk and how it had managed to express difficult concepts in a very simple and approachable way.
In his final impression of the retreat, Mr Andrew W. said that he had been deeply struck by some words from Kenshin-san during the retreat that “we should be careful to practice Buddhism in our lives and at our homes and not just at the temple”. This had made him realise that he had been seeing his home life as a hindrance to his practice and had been behaving as such. When he realised this, he had immediately phoned his wife to apologise for behaving in this way. This was a wonderful example of how the Shokai had been changing our way of seeing how our attachment to self power had been causing problems in for those around us.
In the final zadan meeting, a number participants expressed how they had realised the importance of seeing Other Power working even in the simple things in our everyday lives and not just at serious or profound times, such as when we visit the Temple. It was agreed that it is easy to become more aware when quiet, but much more challenging to maintain awareness as we go about our daily lives. We should remember, in Prof. White’s words to “do for the doing”.
Kemmyo-san concluded that the Sangha is now “mature and in good condition” and that each impression was “in touch with the ultimate truth”. It seemed perfect that Prof. Shimoda joined this particular Shokai as when he was last at Three Wheels in 2019, his talk helped many Dharma friends greatly in understanding how Other Power works in our lives.
Overall, the Shokai was a peaceful one where everyone was openly sharing ideas and listening intently to what others had to say. Somebody mentioned that the group of participants is very similar, if not identical, to the previous Shokai, where we discussed Non-attachment. As the two topics are so closely related, it seemed there was a wonderful continuity between the two retreats.