Monday, December 5, 2011

Morning Service

In Japan, the Hongwanji Temple does a service every morning at 6am (6:30am during the winter0. It is generally a format that was prescribed by the 8th monshu - Rennyo.
You begin in the Amida-do (Amida Hall) for a chanting of "Sanbutsuge" then everyone walks into the Goei-do (Founder's Hall) for a chanting of "Shoshinge" then a reading from the Gobunsho (Letters of Rennyo). Usually there is a Dharma Talk.

During our recent visit to Kyoto in October, we were able to attend to this service for four mornings. We barely made the end of this service at Tsukji Hongwanji - our walk through the fish market didn't allow us to make it in time.

The Amida-do
The central image in the altar is Amida Buddha.

The walk to the Goei-do from the Amida-do in the corridor connecting the two halls. (One carries one own shoes in a bag, unless you want to return to the first hall when the services end.

On the 16th of every month - the format changes slightly with the Go-Monshu doing a special ritual to honor his ancestor, Shinran, on the anniversary day of his death.

The central image in the Goei-do (Founder's Hall) is the seated image of Shinran.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Memorial Service for Shinran, founder of Jodoshinshu

Memorial services are held regularly to bring families and friends together for a Dharma talk. It is less of an "ancestral worship" that most people, even Japanese think, in the Jodoshinshu Buddhism tradition. The increments increase until it reaches 50 years, and then for someone like Shinran, every 50 years thereafter.

This year it is the 750th year after Shinran's passing that began the process of establishing the Hongwanji as a major Buddhist temple in Japan. And a very special service takes place at the Hongwanji for a whole year, to accommodate visitors from all over Japan and around the world.

We were fortunate to be able to attend one of the services in October.

But before the group came to the Hongwanji for this service, four of us woke up early to attend the daily morning service at 6 am. Not necessarily heeding any advice, we left at 5:30am to get there in time to stand outside the Amida-do (the Amida Hall), because there was no room inside one of the two temples where the morning service begins. Because of the 750th Memorial service, there are a lot of people coming to this service. So we waited outside, and then when it was ready to travel to the Goei-do (Founder's Hall - also where the Shinran memorial services were to be held), we were practically first in line.

The Goei-do.

It amazes us that people know what to do at the morning service, although this is common practice at all Hongwanji temples in Japan. We thought we will try again the next morning but leave earlier. We found out that the gates to Hongwanji opens at 5:30am.

So we walked back to the hotel for breakfast and then returned at 8:30 with our group. We met the International Center staff who helped us to our seats (chairs were put into the Goei-do and the front of the hall was extended so to accommodate nearly 4,000 chairs! And because you have to take your shoes off to enter the temple, the Hongwanji gave everyone attending a bag that included a shoe bag so that each person can carry his or her own shoes. For this service, we did not have to move between the two halls.

The Amida-do was renovated in time for this occasion, and it was beautifully done - with new gold-leafing and lacquer.

We were given receivers to heat commentary and translation by Rev. Sekiya. He and the rest of the International staff took us to our seats - which happened to be in the front!

The Go-Monshu (the head of the Hongwanji) led the service for Shinran alongside his son, the Shin-Monshu, who is likely to be leading the service in 50 years with his own son, who was just born this year. We were familiar with the basic format as we had been "practicing" at home. There were so many participants, including the traditional and modern musicians.

It was a beautiful and meaningful service to behold.

Afterwards, we took a tour of the Hongwanji which includes buildings that are part of the World Cultural Heritage - facilities that were brought to Hongwanji by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the benefactor of the Hongwanji in Kyoto at the end of the 17th C. One of which this gate, known as the Karamon, and for its colors and depictions of the mythical beast known as the "kirin."

After a vegetarian lunch in a temporary facility across the street, it started to rain.

We went across the street to see artifacts in the Hongwanji collection of Buddha and Shinran in the newly-built Ryukoku Museum.

Then a walk through the "teramachi" where there were stores catering to pilgrims and a special hall set up by the Hongwanji before returning to our hotel that evening.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Arriving in Japan

In October, a group of us - numbering 12 - went to Japan to attend one of the services held for the 750th Memorial for Shinran Shonin at Honzan (Nishi Hongwanji) in Kyoto - the main temple for our sect.

The first stop is Tokyo. Tokyo is a good place to start for those who have not been to Japan before as it is the most accessible if you do not speak Japanese. Most of the signs are written in Romaji if not in English, many retailers have some knowledge of English, and the facilities are more international, if you know what I mean.

Our first stop after a good night's rest at Shinagawa Prince Hotel is a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market. After navigating one train and one subway, we managed to arrive at one end of the fish market and walked through to the other side. Los Angeles is the home of many wholesale markets but none come close to amount of food that is sold at the Tsukiji Fish Market and the outer markets.

Even though it was early in the morning, we skipped the hotel breakfast to have fresh sushi at one of the restaurants just outside of the market. Not only was that fun, but since the fish is amazingly fresh, it was quite delicious and quite an experience after arriving in Japan.

Also in Tsukiji, we stopped at Tsukiji Hongwanji with its Indian architect. The main hondo was not open as it was being cleaned for a special ho-on-ko service, we got to the kodo (little chapel) in time before the morning service ended.

Before we boarded the Nozomi Shinkansen, we had a chance to visit the Ghibli Museum just outside of Tokyo in Mitaka. Here on display is the work and brilliance of Hayao Miyasaki. The purpose of visiting here is to capture a sense of Japan that is harder to find. Miyasaki is fond of telling stories and especially those stories that evoke the folktales of Japan. These are the folktales that were abound when Shinran entered his exile on the Sea of Japan.

Then we made it back to Shinagawa Station in Tokyo to catch our shinkansen to Kyoto. The Shinagawa station has been modernized and is a good alternative to catch the shinkansen instead of busier and larger Tokyo Station. There were only three stops on the fastest of all the bullet trains. It was too dark to spot Mt. Fuji along the way.

Once we arrived in Kyoto, we had to pick among the many restaurants in the station as well underneath it for dinner. We stayed at the Shin Miyako Hotel, which is very close to Kyoto Station.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Back from Japan

Actually it has been a couple of weeks. I sorted out my photos and edited from 2,500 to about 1,000. So I am still ways from posting here and on Facebook.

12 of us were in Japan to attend one of the services for the 750th Memorial of Shinran Shonin at Honzan, the short name for the temple that most people know as Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto. It is rhe mother temple of the Buddhist Churches of America. It was the highlight of the trip and because it onky happens every 50 years, it was truly once on a lifetime.

On the other hand, I gave the group a tour of a few of the sites connected to Shinran. It wasn't that hard, as they were expecting visitors attending this service.

We had four mornings in Kyoto, so each morning at least four of us attended the daily morning services. Some of the days others in the group were able to join us. It was a bout a 15 minute walk from our hotel, New Miyako Hotel, near Kyoto Staion, to Honzan.

The first morning, we got there at 6 pm and already the Amida Hall was full. Because half of the service is in the Amida Hall and the second half is in the larger Goei Hall, we were able to sit in the Goei-do. (The Goei-do is set for the memorial services so their are chairs set up im the enlarged hall.

The traditional morning service begins with Sanbutsuge in the Amida-do, then the Sangha walks over to the Goei-do for Shoshinge and 6 of the wasan. then it ends there with a reading from one of Rennyo's letters and a sermon.

You must take your shoes off, so we used the bag that we got forthe 750th and carried ournshoes around. I knew at leastbto get chairs for the group. It is becoming more popular even among Japanese to sit on chairs instead of the tatami.

The voices in chanting is so strong. All four mornings were similar, except for the six verses of wasana, which are rotated. On the second morning, it was slightly different as it is traditional for the Go-Monshu performs this service, with the toraiban, on the 15th of each month. Honzan provides books for the services, but you have to be able to read the hiragana over the kanji for Sanbutsuge. And thr katakana over the kanji for Shoshinge. I am not sure why it is done this way.

In gassho,

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Funeral Service for Rev Shindo

The funeral segice for Rev Hosho Shindo, the beloved resident minister of Gardena Buddhist Church, will take place on Aug. 25 at 3pm. The service is sponsored jointly by the Buddhist Churches of America and our temple.

In gassho

Obon, It's Festival Time

In the Hongwanji tradition, Obon is really a gathering of joy. It is not a homecoming of ancestral spirits. That is why our tradiotn does not welcome them or send them off. But this idea of a spirit homecoming is really an innate Japanese tradition that goes back before the advent of Buddhism from China.

YhebGathering of Joy is to hear the Dharma, and to bring the Sangha together. In the Hingwanji, when passing, we enter the Pure Land (Jodo) immediately. Thus there is no 'soul' we are joined to Amids Buddha. But as homecoming of the living, Obon is ideal. We dance the Obon dances for joy and having a good time. this really is a festival, or 'matsuri.'

To have around 1,000 each day of the Obon matsuri is quite an accomplishment for the temple to care for the guests. Yes, it is a fundraiser and it does return some funds into the general budget. But, our Sangha has to support the dancers and their friends and family.

A big thank you to our Sangha members for putting on this party.

And to the public, including members of our neighbor temples and churches and the Hongwanji temples in yhe U.S. Who vame, thank you for visitng.

Although we are missing this year our resident minister, we continue the work that needs to get done - a Dharma lesson.

In gassho,

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In the Pure Land...

On the day Rev. Shindo passed away, I wanted to go to the hospital but could not because I had a meeting at the temple with Kintetsu about the traveling to Japan in October.

Later, that night I had this dream where I was in a town/city that I was exactly sure where it was but it was familiar. All I know I spent the whole time looking for Rev. Shindo. Could not find him down the hall or up the street.

Finally, I noticed I was the only one there - I had not seen a single person at all during my search. At this moment, I thought I better wake up, so I did. I never got to know what I was doing or why I was there because I broke the dream by waking up.

A week later, Bill Dearth, minister's assistant of Orange County Buddhist Church, came to speak at our temple. In his discussion of an essay on Jodo Shinshu Buddhism written by a Catholic priest, he mentioned that in our beliefs that Amida Buddha had shown us the way and we instantaneously join him on death, and that if we do somehow go to the Pure Land, we would not see anyone there because that is not what believe in.

hmmmmm...I must be dreamt about being in the Pure Land, of course, where else would I be to look for Rev. Shindo? But it was not filled with palaces of precious stones and metals of different colors. It was a place that was bright yet familiar, yet unidentifiable. If so, that would be appropriate for the Pure Land to be - nothing. Gee, if I had not have waken up, would I have just remained there forever? No wonder I rushed to wake myself up, I still have tasks to finish here on this shore.

Namu amida butsu.