Category Archives: Blog

Sunday Service and Discussion

Nov. 22, 2015, Myoshoji Service discussion

It is always a pleasure to attend Myoshoji services with Ryusho Jeffus Shonin. In fact a large portion of the discussion after the service focused on the value of having trained priests to act as the “good friends” who are necessary to the practice of the Lotus Sutra.

A recording was made of the discussion following the service and if I can get a copy and edit it, I’ll put some of it here. Until then, I’ll just say that I’m very happy to have met so many good friends this year.

Rain of the Dharma

Couldn’t resist creating a simple web page with a rain effect and some verses from Chapter 5, The Simile of Herbs.

Link to animated Rain of the Dharma page
Click on image to see animated rain of the dharma

This is viewed best in Chrome or Firefox. It’s not so good in Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge. Tested on Android phones and tablets and worked as designed.

The web construction inspiration for this comes from Typanus.net Codrops

Sunday in Charlotte

Nov. 15, 2015 online service
Attending online service at Myoshoji in Charlotte from my altar in Sacramento

Attended services online at Myoshoji with Ryusho Jeffus Shonin and a couple of regular sangha members. While I would always rather attend a local service, I really appreciate being able to attend these services.

Ryusho Jeffus Shonin 20151115
Ryusho Jeffus Shonin gives his Dharma talk on faith and doubt on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015
Following the service, Rev. Ryusho discussed faith and doubt. Next time I’ll remind him to record his talk. I don’t want to put words into his mouth that didn’t come from there so I’ll just talk about my reaction to what he had to say.

In the last year my position on “faith” and in particular what it means to be a Nichiren Buddhist has shifted 180 degrees. For more than 20 years, I believed in a magical power of chanting without hardly any appreciation for what powered the Daimoku and why it was important.

Today I have a much deeper appreciation of the Lotus Sutra and the goal of that sutra:

Śāriputra, know this!
Seeing with the eyes of the Buddha
The living beings of the six regions, I thought:
“They are poor, and devoid of merits and wisdom.
They incessantly suffer because they are taken
To the rough road of birth and death.
They cling to the five desires
Just as a yak loves its tail.
They are occupied with greed and cravings,
And blinded by them.

They do not seek the Buddha who has great power.
They do not seek the Way to eliminate sufferings.
They are deeply attached to wrong views.
They are trying to stop suffering by suffering.”

Chapter 2, Expedients

Eliminating suffering in my life by awakening my inherent enlightenment is the reason for chanting, not getting stuff.

Again from Chapter 2, Expedients:

Know this, Śāriputra!
I once vowed that I would cause
All living beings to become
Exactly as I am.

That old vow of mine
Has now been fulfilled.
I lead all living beings
Into the Way to Buddhahood.

Sunday Online Visiting Charlotte, NC

Nov. 1, 2015, Myoshoji Service
A screengrab from the service with five of the attendees shown at left.
Setup for Online Service
My setup for practicing online, my computer atop a cabinet in which I keep sutra books and supplies, the service book spread across the laptop keyboard and all beneath my altar.

For Sunday this week I attended the online service at Myoshoji Temple in Charlotte, North Carolina. There were eight participants online and another person at the temple, making it the largest gathering since I started attending.

Following the service, Rev. Ryusho Jeffus gave a dharma talk that responded to a post I made on the Nichiren Shu Yahoo Group. I’ve posted my original post and the one response it generated in my blog here. The talk was followed by a nice discussion of chanting.

It is truly great to be able to attend these online services and thus enlarge my sangha beyond my local temples.

Why We Chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo

[An earlier version of this was posted on the Yahoo Group: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/nichirenshubuddhism

Below are quotes from books that discuss different perspectives on Why We Chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo

Rev. Shoryo Tarabini in his book, Odaimoku: The Significance of Chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, writes:

I am often confronted with the question, “if I chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo will I receive benefits?” There are some people who chant the Odaimoku solely for material benefit and personal gain. The protective and beneficial powers of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo are not only vast and profound, they are limitless. One can chant, when in need for material or even financial benefit and those prayers will be indeed answered.

However, to practice the chanting of the Buddha’s eternal enlightenment for mere material or economic gain is, to say the least, the smallest of the merit and the most insignificant benefit one will receive. And while not negating the necessity at times to chant and pray for certain things when confronted with problems in life, people who – only – chant for everyday material gain, are still at an infant level of their understanding of Buddhism and development. One who instead strives to practice and live in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha, will certainly obtain tranquility and immense satisfaction in all facets of life over time.

Rev. Ryusho Jeffus, in his book, Lecture on the Lotus Sutra, writes:

Buddhism … is not about prosperity practice. Our goal should be to eliminate suffering, and attachment to material gain is an attachment, and bound to eventually lead to more suffering. No thing is immune to decay, even wealth and if not the wealth then certainly the body. The goal of our practice is to become enlightened, to manifest our inherent Buddha potential, and thereby convert our lands into the Buddha’s pure land.

Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick, in “Lotus World: An Illustrated Guide to the Gohonzon,” writes:

It should be clear that the Odaimoku is more than simply the title of the Lotus Sutra. Neither is chanting the Odaimoku viewed by Nichiren Buddhism as merely a concentration device or a mantra practiced for accruing benefits. It is an expression of the practitioner’s faith and joy in the Buddha’s teaching contained in the Lotus Sutra, the teaching that buddhahood is not only a potential within all our lives but an active presence leading us to awakening in this very moment. The Odaimoku is like a seed that we plant within our lives. Continuing to chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo as our essential daily practice, we nurture that seed so that ultimately the wisdom and compassion of buddhahood can bloom within us and within all beings.

Sunday Oeshiki Service in Sacramento

Oeshiki service marking the death of Nichiren
For the Oeshiki service marking the death of Nichiren the altar is decorated with paper cherry blossoms signifying the cherry blossoms that bloomed out of season on his death on Oct. 13, 1282.
Banner outside Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church
Banner outside Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church says Namu Nichiren Bosatsu — Devotion to Bodhisattva Nichiren

Attended the Oeshiki Service – the Memorial Service for Nichiren Shonin – held at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church.

The entire altar was decorated with pink paper flowers to commemorate that when Nichiren died on October 13, 1282, at the Ikegami Munenaka residence in Ikegami (present-day Tokyo) there was an earthquake and the cherry trees in the garden bloomed out of season.

Ven. Kenjo Igarashi was attired in formal gray robes, including peaked headgear. (Need to learn the name of these.) This is the first service in the 10 months I’ve attended in which he has worn this garment. Another unusual aspect of the service was Ven. Igarashi’s use of English translations for several standard prayers and the Bodhisattva Vows. His Dharma talk focused on the light of the Lotus Sutra that illuminates the darkness. One point he stressed was that this light is not a sharp flash but a soft, soothing light.

Honestly enjoyed this ceremony.

The October issue of Nichiren Shu News, which is published by the Head Office of Nichiren Shu Buddhism and NOPPA, contains a small article by Rev. Ryei McCormick, the assistant priest at the San Jose Nichiren Temple, about his work helping to translate the “Standard Nichiren Shu Ceremonies and Protocols” into English.

He does a wonderful job describing the priest’s role:

The idea is to master the techniques and perform them calmly. This is how we can delight the Buddha and enable those attending the service to joyfully experience the exaltation and intensifiication of their faith. By performing ceremonies with dignity, we can contemplate deeply the principles of Buddhism through performing these practices, by the forms, actions, and utterances of the ceremonies themselves. Ceremonies should never be mere formalities. They are a practice to calm the mind, contemplate the Wonderful Dharma, and lead all beings to Enlightenment.

Formal ceremonies in temples are a major part of the attraction for me to the Nichiren Shu practice.

Read Rev. Ryuei McCormick‘s article, “Thoughts on Translating the Hoyo Shiki: From Form to Principle

35th Anniversary of Myokakuji Betsuin, 1980-2015

San Jose Temple festooned during 35th Anniversary celebration
San Jose Temple festooned during 35th Anniversary celebration

Traveled to San Jose Saturday to attend the 35th Anniversary of Myokakuji Betsuin. The program for the ceremony offered this excerpt from the history of the Nichiren Buddhist Temple of San Jose:

THE ORIGIN OF MYOKAKUJI BETUIN
(The following log appears on the first page of the temple history book)

In the 700 memorial of Nichiren Daishonin, I built the Betsuin (Branch) of the head temple, Myokakuji in Kyoto, Japan, on this site in order not only to respond to Nichiren Daishonin’s wish to spread the teachings of the Lotus Sutra world-wide, but to also reciprocate his kindness.

Since this great project was my wish, in 1978, the first significant step taken was the installation of Reverend Ryusho Matsuda as the 2nd resident minister of this Betsuin with the support of Myokakkuji in Kyoto, Joenji in Tokyo, Honryuji in Hachioji, and Myokoji in Okayama.

Dedication date: November 23, 1980
Honzon: One stupa with statues of Sakyarnuni Buddha and Taho Buddha
Nichiren Daishonin (transferred from Myokakuji, Kyoto)

May all of us reciprocate Nichiren Daishonin’s kindness and dedication to world
peace.

May all supporters of this project fulfill their wishes.

November 23, 1980
Shingaku Nisshu Oikawa (Signature)

20151024_PriestProcession

Inside, the ceremony opened with a procession of priests who have been associated with the temple. The ceremony was officiated by Ven. Nisshu Oikawa, the head priest of Kyoto Honzan Myokakuji, and Tokyo Joenji, and chairman of the board of the San Jose temple.

As part of the 35th Anniversary, the temple had the stupa with statues of Sakyarnuni Buddha and Taho Buddha and the statue of Nichiren Daishonin restored. Here’s Rev. Arnold Matsuda’s explanation of the preservation project:

Stupa with Sakyarnuni Buddha and Taho Buddha behind statue of Nichiren
Stupa with Sakyarnuni Buddha and Taho Buddha behind statue of Nichiren

In preparation and observation of the temple’s 35th anniversary in Autmnn, 2015, we commenced a preservation project of the Itto Ryoson Gohonzon.

This statue was brought by Bishop Shingaku Oikawa of Kyoto Honzan Myokakuji at the establishment of Myokakuji Betsuin in 1980 along with the statue of Nichiren Shonin. The statue of Nichiren Shonin is a life-size statue which the preservation work was started first and completed five years ago. In the back of the statue of Nichiren Shonin, there is a record that this work was made in 1798. It is more than 200 years ago.

The Gohonzon also has a record that it was restored in 1831. Over the past 10 years, we had research work performed by distinguished Buddhist Professors at Rissho University including Professors Nakao, Annaka, and Terao about the Gohonzon’s history.

At the time of initial contact with the professors, we witnessed that Nichiren’s statue had several exfoliations. If we leave it as it is, the condition would worsen over time.

We asked Prof. Akita for his opinion. He sent us a report: These statues are valuable in the history of Nichiren Shu, so we should preserve its history and condition.

Also, as the object and focus of our worship, so we must avoid incongruity.

Then, after discussion with Bishop Shukai Oikawa, Chairman of Board of our temple, we decided to commence restoration and preservation work for the statue of Nichiren Shonin at the 30th anniversary and for the Gohonzon at the 35th anniversary.

The ideal condition for this project was to have the statues shipped to Japan and have the restoration and preservation work performed in a controlled environment. However, their size and weight made it prohibitive and risky. Additionally, due to the age of the statues, we must be careful to avoid additional damages by air pressure or jolts.

We inquired with a moving company on whether shipping the statues would be feasible, but they said that these are cultural relics and properties. Therefore, they would have to send a professional from Japan to prepare and pack the statues. There would also be additional cost for shipping, taxes/duties, insurance, etc. The estimate that was returned was more than we had expected.

We are so lucky Prof. Akita and his staff – Naomi Sasaoka and Tomoyo Nosaka – shared their busy time, and came to San Jose in 2014.

1st work from June 4· 9

2nd work from Aug. 26 to Sept. 3

3rd work from Nov. 6 to 12

On June 7 and August 31, more than 100 persons of our temple had a rare opportunity to see the restoration and preservation work. They normally see the statues in the depth of the altar, but this time they were so happy to see them closely, and they listened attentively to the lecture given by Prof. Akita. Among many questions, all of them were surprised when they heard these statues were created about 400 years ago. “It is around the time the Mayflower came to America!”

Both statues have records written in the back. In the center, a Mandala is written. Downward, Name Signature and Kao signature: Nichiryo. In the right side, these statues had been enshrined at Great Guest House (Daikyakuden), but had a bad damage at the fire in Tenmei. Observing 550th memorial year of Nichiren Shonin, a good man and woman named Yamamoto restored these statues with a prayer that the Dharma would be succeeded and propagated forever. On the left side, “2nd year of Tenpou” written downward, Yamamoto Tobei, Fuki and their Buddhist names are written.

However, there was a question. Nichiryo was not the abbot but Niccho was the abbot in the era of Tenpou. However, this question was solved by Motoichi Tsumori Sensei of Joeriji Nichiren Kenkyusho (Research Laboratory). According to his idea, this statue was created at the time of Nichiryo in Kan’ei Era and at the time of the restoration work in Tenpo 2nd year, additional records were written in both sides.

As a matter of fact, while performing the work, Akita Sensei found a board under a statue to protect the strength. In the board, it is written, 11th month of Tenpou 2nd year, Senmyoin Niccho.

Prof. Akita said: “I do not know if this board can be removed. If so, we may find some new data.” But the board had been attached firmly, and could not be removed. However, through a tiny hole, research was done by using a small camera. Though there was no writing inside, Prof. Akita found the method of how the statue was created.

I cannot explain precisely how the work has been performed, because I am not an expert. However, looking back at close to 10 years, Professor Akita and his team followed this process and protocol. In October, 2015, we are so pleased to observe the 35th anniversary of our temple in front of newly restored Gohonzon.

At this time I would like to express my appreciation for your good supports and understanding. I had a help from Ven. Ryusho Matsuda to get the source and for the translation into Japanese.

Rev. Arnold Matsuda

Sunday in San Jose

San Jose Temple altar

Drove to San Jose today to attend the regular Sunday service at Myokakuji Betsuin. I try to attend services in San Jose at least once a month. They are very different from what I experience at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church. Included today was a sermon by Rev. Ryuei McCormick, the assistant priest. He is a scholar monk with an academic’s love for detail. I never find his talks boring.

Sunday Kaji Kito Service

Took a photo of the altar at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church and Google returned this "Auto Awesome" interpretation. (I added the drop shadow to complete the snapshot look.)
Took a photo of the altar at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church and Google returned this “Auto Awesome” interpretation. (I added the drop shadow to complete the snapshot look.)

This Sunday was the monthly Kaji Kito – “purification” – ceremony at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church, during which Ven. Kenjo Igarashi goes into the congregation and prays individually for each member. Today after the purification he explained that his purpose was to bring the light of the Lotus Sutra to the darkness that causes suffering in the individual’s life. In past ceremonies he has described the purification as erasing a portion of the individual’s negative karma to make room for positive karma.

Clearly I don’t have a full grasp of what’s going on in this esoteric practice. Ven. Igarashi’s daughter, Kyomi, wrote an Honors Thesis in 2012 while at Wellesley College on “The Development of Kaji Kito in Nichiren Shu Buddhism” in which she explains as much of the ceremony as can be explained given that the transmission is “secret” and limited to priests who have undergone the 100-day Nichiren Shu aragyo training. Ven. Igarashi has undergone the aragyo training five separate times at Nakayama Hokekyo-ji in Japan. As of 2012, he was the only priest in the continental United States to have completed all 500 days of training.

One of the benefits of the training is the ability to install Hariti and Mahakala idols on the altar.

Hariti (left) and Mahakala idols
Hariti (left) and Mahakala idols

Service Animals

Pets who attend Nichiren Shu services
Yesterday I mentioned that Ryusho Shonin’s dog curled up next to him during Sunday’s service at Myosho-ji. Today, my cat napped with me during morning gonyo. Hence we have an all-new meaning to “service animals.”