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Just Say the Nembutsu

This passage from the “Tannisho” explains that, in Jodo Shinshu, we do not have ritual practice such as in other forms of Buddhism.

In Jodo Shinshu, only saying the Nembutsu (Namo Amida Butsu) is required. It may also be emphasizing how any good done or received is the result of others, not one’s own power.

Although this is our doctrine as Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, I do believe there is a practice of sorts. I have recently participated in the first Kyoshi Kyoshu training session held outside of Japan.

If you were to tell the students, staff and instructors there is no practice in Jodo Shinshu, I’m sure, everyone would just laugh. Kyoshi is the certification after Tokudo ordination, when a Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha priest is certified to be a minister that may run a temple on their own without a supervisor.

The Kyoshi Kyoshu training session is 10 difficult days with classes and ritual practices. This does not include the years of training and study before being allowed to receive this training and certificate. During the 10 days of Kyoshi, the days begin at 5:30 a.m. and the lights are out at 11 p.m. It has been over 35 years since I went through this training in Japan, so it was a little startling to go through it again as one of the teachers here in America.

On top of the difficulty and stress that is ordinarily a part of this training session, COVID-19 had added another layer. This entire endeavor was the result of Rev. Kiyonobu Kuwahara of the Jodo Shinshu International Office (JSIO) working countless hours in Zoom meetings with the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha officials in Japan, along with BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada and Bishop Rev. Tatsuya Aoki of the Buddhist Churches of Canada, who also met with the Japanese officials for support.

Originally, it was envisioned that we would have about 20 students: 12 from BCA, three from Canada, two from Hawaii and three from Europe. However, COVID-19 changed everything. The restrictions for travel between countries made everything exceedingly difficult. In fact, Japan now holds the entire training for Japanese on Zoom. This was suggested to BCA. However, we couldn’t imagine how that would be done, but we found out.

I was lucky because my lecture took place on the first of the 10-day session. It was called “Ippan soryo no han,” which is translated as “the Model of a Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha minister.”

The first day began on Aug. 21. During the day, one of the participants began to have a slight sore throat and headache. His day job is as a physician, so he knew what he was talking about. He thought it would be wise if he quarantined himself.

All of the students, instructors and volunteers had to submit their COVID-19 test results on entering the Jodo Shinshu Center (JSC). Each person entering the JSC had to have their temperature taken and recorded daily.

On the second day, the student who reported not feeling well still had a negative test result, but Hongwanji had commanded that all students would have to isolate in their rooms.

On the third day, the student’s test was confirmed as positive. Japan had two or more written pages of protocol based on their Japanese system. The first thing was that all students were required to be quarantined in their rooms. At the beginning of the session, laptops and cell phones were all gathered up since this was a retreat/training session.

However, as they were now isolated in their rooms, the students all had to communicate by texting and the lectures were done over Zoom. It was really difficult for them to perform the basic rituals over Zoom. The normal lectures were not that difficult to accommodate, but the chanting and ritual practices were really hard.

I’m so happy for these new Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha Kyoshi ministers. In my first lecture, seeing the students, I told them I now understood how the hermit Asita felt when he saw the baby Buddha, Siddartha Gautama.

It was said that he cried, knowing that he would never get to see the great things this baby would accomplish. Maybe this is a part of what our Jodo Shinshu practice really is. It may not be a practice such as other forms of Buddhism, but our life itself is a practice.

This experience of Kyoshi Kyoshu reminded me of one of my teachers in Japan, Rev. Murakami Sokusui. I was fortunate to attend one of the last lectures he gave. Rev. Murakami was considered by many to be one of the great scholars of the modern era.

In this last lecture, he wrote the words “Shinshu Gaku” on the chalkboard, which means “the study of Jodo Shinshu,” and he explained that this is not real Jodo Shinshu.

Mind you, he was one of the greatest scholars of Jodo Shinshu. He then wrote “Namo Amida Butsu” on the board and someone asked him what he meant.

He explained that as a young man, he learned from his youth. He said that as an old man, he learned from his age. Rev. Murakami had suffered a very serious stroke, which had wiped out much of his memories and his years of scholarship. He said his sickness was also his teacher and now that he said he was close to dying, death would be his teacher.

For myself, I can see how it is absolutely necessary for our future ministers to undergo harsh and strict training. But this does not make them true Jodo Shinshu Buddhists. It might teach them a bit of humility. But to really understand Jodo Shinshu is to accept the difficulties of life along with the joys, laughing and crying, and saying Namo Amida Butsu.

I have been so fortunate to take part in this with these students, laughing, crying and saying the Nembutsu. My hope is for them to have a full life as a Kyoshi minister. It has definitely been a wonderful life for me. Namo Amida Butsu!


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