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Reflections on the First Kyoshi Certification Outside of Japan

We completed the Kyoshi certification retreat held at the Jodo Shinshu Center (JSC) in Berkeley, California, on Aug. 30 — it was the first time this was ever held outside of Japan.

Because of the pandemic and situation with COVID-19, we asked the Hongwanji to allow us to hold this Kyoshi certification retreat in the United States at the JSC.

This retreat was supposed to have been held in Japan two years ago to certify overseas candidates to become full-fledged ministers in our Hongwanji tradition. The pandemic caused this retreat to be postponed twice. That is what led to it being held at the JSC, and on Aug. 30, we finished the intensive 10-day retreat.

Each day was a packed schedule. We got up at 5:30 a.m., had services, lectures, classes, discussions, and special training in the chanting and rituals of our Hongwanji tradition by a specialist sent from Japan.

Part of the Kyoshi certification is to learn how to do special rituals that most of us in the BCA have never even seen done before. In Japan, they are used for such special occasions as when there is a transmission ceremony of the head minister to the successor at a local temple, or perhaps for a temple’s special anniversary celebration.

The ritual is quite elaborate with ministers having to know when to sit, when to stand together, when to bow, when to chant this or to chant that, all in an orchestrated, elaborate service. I hope that we can somehow introduce this special ceremony to all of you in the BCA someday.

The instructor that was sent from Japan was a wonderful teacher. I learned so much from the instruction he gave.

I received the first level of ordination, which is called Tokudo, over 40 years ago. At that time, the way that they taught at the training center, which is at the Nishiyama Betsuin in Kyoto, was to teach from the “outside in,” focusing on how we sat, how we chanted, how we did the rituals. It was like boot camp, and the instructors yelled and scolded everyone to correct their posture, chanting, or whatever.

Our instructor for Kyoshi, Rev. Gentoku Nishioki, had a totally different approach to teaching. He was teaching from the “inside out” instead of “outside in.”

Instead of just teaching the “form” from the outside, he taught by having the right feeling, the right attitude, the right heart from the inside, which would then show in our physical movements and chanting. He explained that when we do the rituals and chanting, we are paying our respect and reverence to the Buddha, so that is why we have to walk right, sit right, and chant right.

I was so impressed with his way of teaching. To me, that was the most effective way to “train a minister.” His instruction touched our hearts, and made us want to do the ritual correctly. I found that listening to him was like listening to a Dharma message instead of just chanting or ritual instruction. It was totally different from the boot camp kind of atmosphere I experienced 40 years ago.

Actually, our life as a Buddhist, our life as a Nembutsu follower, is also the same. The Dharma hits our hearts. The teachings resonate within us, and then our lives begin to change. We begin to be transformed from the inside out.

In the 10-day Kyoshi retreat, it was amazing to see how the participants improved in the chanting and rituals, from the wonderful guidance and teaching of Rev. Nishioki. They not only did the form correctly, but they did it with a feeling of reverence and gratitude from inside, that showed on the outside.


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