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EDITORIAL FOR PLN 23 JANUARY 2015
REV DAICHI GARY ROBINSON

 

I must confess that following the successful conclusion of the significant 17th biennial European Shin Buddhist Conference held here in my hometown of Southampton last year, my spirits began to dip and when what began in September as 'a well-deserved rest' extended into October the brightest light on my horizon to focus on was 117th London Eza - Hôonkô-Otorikoshi at Three Wheels on 5th October 2014. I am so glad I attended! The subject matter of Rev Sato's talk ("Cleaning out the Channels of Faith") proved to be 'just what the doctor ordered' to snap me out of my lethargy. I have included a portion of Rev Sato's talk on page 4 in this issue of PLN.

The next event in my Dharma Diary at the end of last year was the Hôonkô Fest at the Hongwanji Jodo Shinshu Temple, Eko House in Dusseldorf, Germany. You may remember that I reported on the same event here in PLN this time last year and asked the rhetorical question "was it worth it?" The answer then was 'yes' so this year I didn't think twice about making the trip and concentrated upon solving the issues of how I might achieve this rather than why.

For the last few years Hoonko has become a fixture in my annual spiritual activities calendar and as a result of my experiences I do now believe that all Buddhist, including us here in the UK and Europe, should do all we can to gather together somewhere at least once a year if only to demonstrate a communal gratitude for the Nembutsu and Amida's vow that just the saying of Namu Amida Butsu guarantees our birth in His Pure Land.

Hoonko is a time in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism when we observe the memorial of our founder, Shinran Shonin. Depending on whether the old Japanese lunar calendar is used, or the western Gregorian calendar, typically this holiday is observed either around November 28th (as in the Higashi Honganji) or early January from the 9th to the 16th (as in the Nishi Honganji) respectively. The observance began after Shinran's daughter, Kakushinni carried on administration of Shinran's mausoleum, as did her descendants, who ultimately became the Monshu of Nishi Hongwanji Jodo Shinshu.

In the word hoonko; 'hoon' means "return of gratitude" and 'ko' means "to clarify the meaning of" or "gathering". This is why I said earlier that we Shin Buddhist in the UK and Europe should seize upon the opportunity to observe Hôonkô and actually "gather" together to fulfill our vows of taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma - and the Sangha. The Buddha and the Dharma are eternal and unchanging - but the Sangha is organic and whether it lives or dies is in our own hands because we are the Sangha. Furthermore, the only requirement for membership of this band of brothers and sisters is that we become ready and willing to listen to our teachers … and each other.

One of the most significant achievements of last year's ESC17 held here in the UK was that it encouraged and enabled the face to face meeting of a number of individuals who till then had only met with each other in spirit and here in the pages of this journal. While there is therefore no doubt that this journal exists to serve a purpose it will never be able to replace the depth of encounter that comes about when those with common beliefs (and doubts!) come together with the intention of LISTENING … to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

The biennial European Shin Conferences do by definition occur only once every other year so we have to wait till September 2016 for the next to take place, in Antwerp, Belgium. Given this, we here are at Chomon House are working on a plan for 2016 that can involve us all in a line by line study of Shinran Shonin's Shoshinge and, in the process, become competent in chanting it ourselves when we meet here at Chomon House for the first SBFUK Hoonko Otorikoshi in November 2015. Details of this meeting and an associated 'distance learning' program which I am in the process of discussing with Rev Sato of Three Wheels will be published in the next issue (#24 April 2015) of this journal.

To end this editorial which has taken the form of diary detailing my activities following the 17th ESC I return to the subject of Three Wheels and mention the Shokai Retreat that I attended there, Fri 21st through to Sun 23rd November.

Shokai is a form of spiritual training which was instigated at Shogyoji (the Mother Temple of Three Wheels) by the late Head Priest, Reverend Master Reion Takehara (Daigyonin-sama).

During the war it was commonplace for people evacuate or escape from the city to the countryside; an action known as 'Sokai'. Daigyonin-sama took this secular term and altered it to give a positive conception of confronting rather than running away from life. The two characters in the term 'Shokai' mean respectively 'letting flow' (sho) and 'opening' (kai) and thus describe a period of spiritual practice designed to allow the waters of faith to flow freely both in individual and inter-personal dimensions. As Rennyo Shonin exhorts us in the Ofumi (1.16, On Sarae No Sho): "Constantly dredge out the Channel of Faith and let the water of Amida's Dharma flow freely". This sentence refers back to the title of the talk given by Rev Sato for the 117th London Eza - Otorikoshi at Three Wheels on 5th October 2014. In his welcoming message to attendees of the Shokai retreat held 21st - 23rd Nov 2014, Reverend Sato said:

"Another year has nearly gone by and as we gather together for this retreat it is an important time for us to understand and cherish each other as individuals, and through sincere reflection in the light of Amida to 'create enlightened energy' to self-benefit and benefit others in the new year ahead."


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