My Journey to India

My Journey to India
At the 49th London Eza

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At today’s meeting I would like to talk about my impressions of our journey to India and most particularly about the audience we had with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Basing myself on and supported by my master’s great prayer for world peace and spiritual exchange within diversity, I left for India on the 25th February and returned to London on 15th March. During my three-week stay I visited first a Tibetan settlement at Mundgod in Southern India and then travelled round visiting a number of Buddhist landmarks such as Buddha-gaya, Sarnath, Rajgir and Nalanda. Finally I took part in a truly wonderful audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Needless to say, meeting with the Dalai Lama was the highlight of our journey to India, suffusing the whole venture with the warmth of His Holiness’ loving kindness.

Arriving in Delhi in the early hours of 26th February, I had one day’s free time before my arrangement to meet up with two young friends from Japan, Rev. Keimei Takehara and Rev. Shomyo Hatae, at a hotel in New Delhi late that same evening. I made up my mind to search out an old friend of mine, Adwaita Garanayak, an Indian sculptor who in the past had come to Three Wheels everyday to help us in the work of constructing the Zen garden. The black granite sculpture you see in our front garden was made by him during his stay in the U.K. around eight years ago. For the last five years, however, I had completely lost contact with him. Although it was no simple matter to look for him in Delhi, a huge city of twelve million inhabitants, I actually succeeded in tracing him with only the information of his name and his possible occupation as a modern sculptor. I am afraid there is no time now to give you the details of my hunt for Adwaita that day. Suffice it to say that my reunion with Adwaita and his wife, Nivedita, was a deeply moving experience. I felt so relieved to be actually able to see him again. I had missed his presence every time I had talked about our work of making the Zen garden. I have discovered that Adwaita is now a great sculptor in modern India, currrently working for the Gandhi Museum on a project to carve Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March out of three giant blocks of marble.

On the 27th February Rev. K. Takehara and Rev. S. Hatae and I visited one of the Tibetan settlements in Southern India. We were warmly welcomed by two Tibetan monks, Jampa Rinpoche and Gala Rinpoche, and accompanied to several huge monasteries in the settlement, all modeled on Nalanda University, an ancient Buddhist monastic university. About 6,ooo Tibetan monks are studying Buddhism in these monasteries in Mungot. According to the Dalai Lama when we met him later, the monks’ way of studying Buddhism there is very similar to the ancient ways used in the old days at Nalanda University. For instance the monks still commit whole texts to memory in the traditional way.

Returning to Delhi we met Ling Rinpoche, a young Tibetan monk whose task it will one day be to educate the next Dalai Lama and who is studying for now at the Drepung Monastery, one of those monasteries we visited in Mundgod. Watching the lively and relaxed conversation between this Tibetan monk and my young friends from Japan gave me the feeling that something really special was taking place between our two traditions, Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Shin Buddhism. I believe that this spiritual exchange will lead not only to a deeper dimension of mutual understanding between us but also to further cooperation between our two traditions, each tradition helping the other on its own way to self-development.

A second group of Dharma friends from the temple in Japan joined the three of us in the first group in Delhi in the late evening of 4th March and we all went on a pilgrimage by air and bus to several Buddhist holy places. On this pilgrimage the most impressive sacred place was Buddhagaya, where Prince Gautama Siddhartha attained Enlightenment whilst seated under a Bodhi tree and where he enjoyed contemplating the interdependent relationship between himself and those around him, especially his parents. Doing service to the Buddha in the company of Dharma friends from Japan before the very spot where Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have been enlightened some 2500 years before, I felt very grateful to him for founding Buddhism, such a happy and peaceful way of living. In my heart I thanked everyone and everything that had led me to such a religion, one that truly deserves the description of a religion of peace. Buddhism teaches us how to attain inner peace, the only possible source of peace for the world we live in. When we did service on the summit of the hill known as “Vulture Peak” near Rajagriha, where the Buddha himself had once given his talks, I felt as if the leading voice of the young priest, together with the sound of our prayer for world peace, were echoing out across the world, way beyond the distant mountains. Although I have so many beautiful memories of the Buddhist holy places, I would like to omit them all now and move on to the subject of our audience with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

The last group from Japan including my master, Venerable Chimyo Takehara, joined us in Delhi on 9th of March. Early the next morning we headed to Dharamsala in Himarachal Pradesh in order to meet His Holiness. To say the least, our twelve hour trip to Dharamsala by train and then bus wasn’t easy or comfortable. Especially the eight hour bus journey up the steep and winding road towards the Himalayan foothills struck us as really quite dangerous! Sitting next to my master during this bus trip, I thought of the two letters he had addressed to the Dalai Lama and especially of two important points he had brought up.

At the very beginning of his first letter my master had stated that in Shin Buddhism it was difficult to accept the idea of the individual’s rebirth in another life as the same individual. I had been worrying about how the Dalai Lama understood the rebirth of the individual self or the continuity of consciousness, until I came across his book, An Open Heart, in which he says, in the context of Emptiness, :

So, just what is the nature of this self we are so familiar with? Some Buddhist philosophers point to the collection of the parts of mind and body and consider the sum of them alone to be the self. Others hold that the continuum of our mental consciousness must be the self. There is also the belief that some separate mental faculty, a “mind basis of all,” is the self. All such notions are attempts to accommodate our innate belief in a core self, while acknowledging the untenability of the solidity and permanence we naturally ascribe to it.

I was very much relieved to see His Holiness was not attached to the idea of reincarnation or rebirth of the individual self in another life as the same individual. Although the actual physical road to Dharamsala was hardly smooth, I felt extremely happy, secure in the knowledge that His Holiness was absolutely free of any kind of preconception.

The only worry from which I could not free myself was whether I would be able to interpret properly between my master and His Holiness. I was somewhat dismayed, therefore, when we were informed that our audience with His Holiness was to take place the following day, one day earlier than had originally been planned, and that besides myself there would be no other interpreter.

The other important subject my master had mentioned in his second letter to His Holiness was the account of the dragon’s head cut from our temple bell. Venerable C. Takehara had wanted His Holiness to be acquainted in advance of our visit with this story that is symblising as it does Shogyoji’s prayer for peace. On arriving at the office at Dharamsala, I asked Mr Tenzin Tethong, Secretary to His Holiness, whether they had received my master’s letter. Immediately Mr Tethong, the Secretary, and Mr Taklha, the Deputy Secretary, replied in chorus, saying, “Ah yes, that story of the dragon’s head cut from the temple bell.”

Let me quote from my master’s letter:

In 1943, in the closing stages of the Second World War, the then Japanese government ordered all Buddhist temples to hand over their temple bells to the nation in order that they should be turned into weapons. A group of nationalists, wearing Japanese swords, arrived at Shogyoji Temple in order to carry out the government’s decree.
On learning of their arrival, Dharma-nun Ekai rushed out, without even pausing to put on her shoes, and risked her life to try and prevent them from carrying away the temple bell. Her master, Venerable Daigyoin, however, made the decision to accept the government’s order, because he valued her life as being beyond price. The temple bell was carried into the Buddha Hall so that the followers of the temple could perform a farewell service. After this it was carried away.
The Dharma-nun and her friends, however, secretly went off in pursuit of the bell, visiting one place after another, because they found it quite intolerable that the big bell, they had been tolling for so long and with such devotion, should be carried off and used for weapons without there being at least some last effort on their part.
Eventually Dharma-nun Ekai chanced to find that the temple bell was being stored in the sea at the site of the Saganoseki refinery, a hundred miles away from the temple. By sheer coincidence Mr Asano, the chief administrator of the site, turned out to be someone who practiced the nembutsu. Mr Asano immediately recognised the temple followers’ devotion to peace. In total secrecy he severed the top portion, known as the “dragon’s head,” from the main body of the bell and handed it to Dharma-nun Ekai and her friends. This dragon’s head is still preserved at the temple as the most important treasure of all, symbolising how our master, Venerable Daigyoin, continued to pray for peace in the dark days of the war.
Seeking to comprehend the real meaning of our master’s prayer for peace, I have been reading your autobiography and a number of your other books as well, Your Holiness being one who has so truly been praying for world peace. I have been much moved by all your books, devouring them one after another.

On entering the audience room with a radiant smile, His Holiness said to us, “Please sit down, sit down.” After an exchange of greetings the audience started in a very open and informal atmosphere, the warmth of our reception completely dispelling all my worries. Whilst interpreting between His Holiness and my master the words of His Holiness quite moved me to tears. He said to us, “It warms me very much to see you all in such a wonderful atmosphere. We are all students of one teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha. I am very happy to welcome such an excellent spiritual leader and his followers. What is important is for all of us from our various traditions to cooperate and send the Budddha’s message of Wisdom and Compassion to the world. The ultimate solution of the present serious problem is for Compassion to come about in such countries as Iraq and North Korea. All we can do is just pray for it.” This is a summarized version but as he spoke these final words, His Holiness the Dalai Lama really appeared to me as an embodiment of the Great Compassion. I will never forget that wonderful moment when I actually saw a living Buddha. The day we had the audience was the first day of the seven days’ prayer for world peace by His Holiness and his Tibetan monks at Dharamsala.

My master said, “I feel very happy to be able to see Your Holiness in such difficult times. My late masters who also prayed for world peace throughout their lives, Venerable Daigyoin and Dharma-nun Ekai, must be very pleased to see our meeting with Your Holiness.” His Holiness bowed his head low in agreement.

Venerable Takehara also said to His Holiness, “Listening to you talking about peace I find myself recalling your words, ‘Each individual’s attainment of inner peace leads to world peace’.”

Of all the great spiritual contributions His Holiness has made to the world, this, I think, is one of the two greatest. Inner peace is the source of world peace. Without attaining inner peace our peace movement will only be accompanied by further fighting. It is absurd in Buddhism for us to speak about world peace without first attaining inner peace in our relationship with those around us. His Holiness has always been emphasising this point. Incidentally his other major spiritual contribution is, I believe, the way he has clarified the fundamental principle that every human being desires happiness – a great proposition usually hidden behind the truth that life is suffering. Without insight into the nature of true happiness, we will never really feel life is suffering. In Buddhism the essence of happiness lies in the extinction of selfish attachment.

When Venerable C. Takehara handed a donation from his followers to His Holiness, His Holiness suggested that it might be used to help his young monks study modern science, saying, “I have been making a number of young monks study science. The program started three years ago. Whilst the monks have become extremely interested in science, their teachers, whom we invited over from America, have also been very surprised to see how excellent is the monks’ grasp of the subject. Scientists and monks have had a very good influence on one another.”

Another big topic of conversation was a possible international conference between Buddhists and modern scientists. With great enthusiasm His Holiness expressed the hope that such a conference could be held at a Buddhist temple in one of the East Asian countries. I hope such dialogues between Buddhists and scientists will have a good effect on both sides in the future.

Towards the end of the audience a beautiful image of Shakyamuni Buddha was handed to my master by His Holiness and smaller images of the same Buddha were given to all the other participants.

My master was also delighted to receive two photographs, both signed by His Holiness, one of His Holiness himself and the other of the dragon-head cut from our temple bell. As symbols of world peace my master said the temple would treasure them for ever.

To conclude this talk I would like to emphasise yet again the extreme importance of spiritual exchange both for mutual understanding as well as self-development. There are a lot of things that we can learn from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and from his Samgha and at the same time I have every confidence that there are a number of things that they can learn from their contact with us and our Shin Buddhist Samgha. I am now aware that the taya form of accommodation is an unique feature of Shin Buddhism, and especially of Shogyoji Temple today, and that the harmonious unity between priests and lay people to be found in such taya houses in daily life could well be a blueprint not only for other Buddhist groups but also for other religious communities as well. At Shogyoji Temple they have just celebrated the inauguration of a new taya house, Seiwa Taya.

As you can see, despite the difficult times we are living in, the journey to India undertaken by my master, Ven. Chimyo Takehara, and myself together with twenty-one Dharma friends has been a deeply spiritual and uplifting experience, a fitting conclusion to the long months of planning and at the same time a new beginning. I am full of hope that our two traditions will benefit and enrich one another and as an indication of this I am deeply honoured to say that I have received permission from the Tibetan office to translate His Holiness’ work An Open Heart into Japanese.

Thank you very much for your attention.