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Dharma Talk – February 2023


The Toronto Buddhist Church held the Ho’onko service in January. This annual memorial service for our founder is said to be the most important service for Jodo Shinshu Buddhist members. Ho’onko literally means “Dharma gathering for acknowledging obligation” to honor our founding master.

Rennyo Shonin, the 8th head minister of our tradition, urged everyone to reflect deeply on Shinran Shonin’s virtues and hard work at the Ho’onko service to express our gratitude to him.

Prior to the Nembutsu teaching, it was understood that people must perform good practice with a sincere mind so that their effort or karma would lead them towards birth in the Pure Land.

Shinran Shonin was originally a monk oftheTendai Buddhist sect on Mt. Hiei. He studied a lot from various Buddhist books and practised very strict Buddhist training and meditations. However, no matter how much he studied and practised, he was unable to find the path of enlightenment that would bring him liberation. He left Mt. Hiei to seek the Buddha’s path of further enlightenment when he was 29 years old.

When he left Mt. Hiei, he met Honen Shonin, who would become one of the seven great Pure Land
masters. Through his teachings, Shinran Shonin encountered the other-centred-power of Amida Buddha. Shinran Shonin was awakened to listening to the Nembutsu path as the most precious Buddhist path in the Pure Land Buddhism.

Honen and he spread the Nembutsu teaching in Kyoto. However, when Shinran Shonin was 35 years old, he was exiled due to religious oppression. He had to move to Echigo, which is around Niigata Prefecture, in northern Japan today. Winters in Echigo are harsh and snowfall can exceed snowfall in Canada. Even under such severe conditions, he didn’t limit the Nembutsu teaching to his own personal use, but instead continued to spread Amida’s great wisdom and compassion to many people in Echigo.

Because of this, the teachings of the Buddha, which used to be focused on the nobility, were spread to the farmers and fishers who were suffering from the hardships of life at that time. Many people encountered the activities of Amida Buddha and they started to follow the Nembutsu path with
Shinran Shonin.

I would like to share an old story about Shinran Shonin, after lifting of his exile, returning to Kyoto city in Western Japan, from the Kanto area in the East.

In the later years of Shinran’s life, there was a dedicated Nembutsu follower named Kakushinbo in the
Kanto area. At that time, very few people could write and read a language. Therefore, the only way to learn about the Nembutsu teaching was to actually listen to the teachings from Shinran.

Kakushinbo, who had listened to Shinran’s words, wished to meet and recite the Nembutsu with
Shinran again. And he decided to travel from Kanto to Kyoto, with other Nembutsu followers. However,
during the trip, he became ill. His friends urged with him to return home. But he was determined to push himself to go to Kyoto city to see Shinran. A few weeks later, he finally arrived in Kyoto and met Shinran Shonin. When Shinran saw that Kakushinbo was exhausted mentally and physically from his long journey, he asked him why he didn’t return to Kanto. Kakushinbo said, “If I am cured of my illness, I will be cured even if I return home, but if I die of illness, I will die even if I return home. I came to Kyoto because I wanted to recite Nembutsu and die by your side.”

A few days later, Kakushinbo’s illness became serious, and his last day finally came. Shinran Shonin heard about his critical condition and went to see him. When Shinran visited his room, Kakushinbo was not able to breathe well. But he recited “Namandabutsu, Namandamutsu …”

Seeing this, Shinran Shonin asked, “What kind of thoughts do you have in mind when you are reciting the Nembutsu in the last moments of your life?’ Kakushinbo said “I was afraid of death before encountering Amida Buddha, because I believed that I couldn’t perform any good practice or karma, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to go the Pure Land. However, after I met you, I understood that Amida Buddha accompanies me all the time and accepts me into the Pure Land just as I am. I feel great joy in
encountering the Nembutsu path in my life. Therefore, I cannot stop reciting the Nembutsu in gratitude to Amida’s benevolence.”

When Shinran Shonin heard this, he was moved that he cried, and he recited Nembutsu with him. I believe that Shinran Shonin was a man who cared more about the hearts of ordinary people than anyone else and confirmed the path of liberation for them. He didn’t hold a high position or act as a religious nobleman when he was alive. Rather, he was exiled and moved from Echigo to Kanto and then to Kyoto. It can be said that he lived as a nameless Buddhist Nembutsu follower.

I think Shinran Shonin did Gassho and recited the Nembutsu with other members, not as the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, but as one of the Nembutsu followers. For this reason, it can be said that he confirmed the Buddhist path for the common people throughout his entire life.

Most of us are not born famous or become elite people who will be featured in the newspapers. However, even if your life is not newsworthy, it is an invaluable life that will never be repeated.

This is why we hope to die with Gassho, expressing that even though we have experienced many hardships and sadnesses, this life has been a life of gratitude.

I believe that we would like to close our lives by saying that we have heard what we needed to hear, and that we have been allowed to encounter what we needed to encounter. That is the Nembutsu. We usually do Gassho to Amida Buddha, but during the Ho’onko service we placed our palms together with Amida Buddha to Shinran Shonin to show our respect and gratitude to him, because he let us encounter Amida Buddha’s benevolence.

In Gassho

Rev. Yoshimich OUCHI