Encounter with Otherness

A Report on the 167th London Eza 03rd December 2023

Despite freezing weather in the UK for the past week, a number of Dharma friends gathered at Three Wheels to participate in the 167th London Eza, which included a memorial service for the late Mrs Hiroko Sato, who together with Rev. Kemmyo Sato and Prof. John White founded our Three Wheels Temple Sangha in London, and the annual end of year thanksgiving celebration.

For this Eza, following the theme of previous years, Mr Andy Barritt, who has been an integral part of the Three Wheels Sangha for many years, was invited to give a talk on his past year of practicing Buddhism and participating in Dharma activities at Three Wheels entitled, On Being Illumined in the Midst of Adversity, Through Encounter with Otherness. In this deeply insightful talk, which was full of gratitude for the spiritual awareness he had been given through his encounter with “otherness”, Andy described in moving detail the encounters and life situations he had received as a gift from Amida Buddha over the past year which had illumined his entire being.

Andy’s talk covered two main themes; the difficulties he and many others around him have been facing amidst the myriad challenges of old age, sickness, death and impermanence” and “how to integrate the Dharma teaching we receive from our teachers with our day-to-day lives”. Using the vivid examples of words he had received from friends, family, work colleagues, Dharma friends and teachers, which continued to resonate through his heart and mind, Andy’s talk revealed how these two themes are “intimately connected” as he expressed his gratitude for all of the encounters he had been given and repentance for his own inner “darkness” which he was able to become aware of through receiving such a “limitless illumination” from others.

Andy’s talk led to a wonderful dialogue between Dharma friends both in the Buddha-room and joining online from different parts of the world as they reflected on the themes of Andy’s talk within their own lives and experiences, especially in regard to how our encounter with the reality of impermanence leads us to struggle with own karmic problems such as anger, frustration and selfishness.

Mr Sam Kelly told us how through a conversation with Andy at the last Shokai retreat, Sam realised he had been harbouring a lack of respect towards a very close family who had making decisions which Sam wished were different. Through this encounter with Andy, Sam felt his lack of respect transform into gratitude through the awareness he had been given. Mr Chris Dodd felt on listening to Andy’s talk that the cause of the anger he had regularly experiencing in daily life was his own “self-grasping” and that entrusting to Other-power was to take refuge and let things “be as they are” without wishing they were different. Andy replied by emphasising how important it is to realise how our awareness of our blind passions is given through the light of Amida Buddha which at the heart of Nenbutsu practice.

We next heard from Rhea who was attending online with some of her family. Rhea had been invited to attend the Eza by Rev. Kenshin Ishii who had recently conducted a funeral service for her son. Although she was in the midst of her own sadness and despair at the loss of her son, Rhea expressed her deepest joy and happiness for everything she had received both at the Eza and the funeral service. She felt her own “tears of grieving turn into tears of gratitude” through her encounter with Rev. Ishii and Three Wheels which taught her how her son’s life was a gift to her from the Buddha.

We then heard from a student of UCL, Evie, who was attending the London Eza for the very first time. Evie was very moved to hear how everyone expressed their feelings in the Buddha-room with such honesty and trust in the Sangha. Yesterday, Evie attended the gardening work practice at Three Wheels and was asked to help clean the Zen garden. She realised on doing this that it is not always easy to distinguish between what is a weed to be removed and what naturally should be growing in the garden. This led her to appreciate the garden in a new dimension and to become mindful of what is to be kept and what is to be discarded. Prof. Nick Tyler expressed his gratitude for Andy’s talk which allowed him to think about how his own attitude when interacting with his students at the University he teaches at. As a result he felt his role is not to impart knowledge to his students but to allow them to discover knowledge by themselves.

Concluding the Eza we finally heard from Rev. Kenshin Ishii who described Andy’s talk as containing many words of wisdom written in response to receiving words of wisdom and Dharma from Dharma friends. Listening to Prof Tyler’s impression on Andy’s talk, Rev. Ishii was reminded how lack of respect comes from our own arrogance rather than being caused by the attitude of others. Shinran Shonin the founder of Shin Buddhism, and Ven. Chimyo Takehara the head priest of Shogyoji would never say that “I am your master” and never see themselves in the role of a teacher of others and respect everyone equally. Following their example, we should always see ourselves as students, as a disciple of the Buddha, and humbly listen to his teaching. Ven. Takehara always teaches us that to have a question is a very important thing in our lives. Trying to understand “selflessness’, the truth of Buddhism, with our minds just reinforces our own arrogance. Therefore, what we need is not intellectual understanding but to truly experience the teaching of Buddhism in our day to day lives. Having the question in our minds ‘how can we learn?’ is to become a disciple of the Buddha and we can then learn from all our experiences in life.

To close this report, I would like to express my own gratitude to Mr Andy Barritt for so carefully digesting the fruits of a whole year of spiritual practice both within the Sangha at Three Wheels and in his family and work life. Through his talk I felt the gap between the world I experience through Sangha and my life outside of this, a division I make with though my own self-centred perspective, naturally close through Andy’s own expression of joy at becoming aware of what makes awareness possible, the illumination of Otherness through encounter with others which I am always given even when I believe I am in complete darkness. Although Rev. Sato could not be at this Eza due to this annual stay at Shogyoji, he was very much present together with Hiroko-san and Prof White who are always supporting Three Wheels.

Andrew Webb