On Oct. 8, I participated in the Northern California District’s observance of the 800th anniversary of the establishment of the Jodo Shinshu teachings and the 850th anniversary of the birth of Shinran Shonin.
Several of our BCA districts have had a districtwide service like the one I attended in Sacramento. It was a really wonderful service planned by the Northern California district ministers led by Rinban Rev. Yuki Sugahara of the Sacramento Betsuin.
The service had special chanting that we don’t normally do that incorporated music and a melodious style of chanting. I also conducted a special ritual on the middle platform area of the altar that a few of our temples have. Many of the members in the district had never seen this ritual performed before. All of the ministers wore special, formal robes, which created a solemn but dignified atmosphere for the celebration.
The Dharma message was given by Rev. Dr. David Matsumoto, president of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, and he shared a wonderful talk on “What Shinran Shonin Means to Me,” which was both heartfelt and educational for all. He reviewed the life of Shinran Shonin in a manner that gave us new insight into the life of our spiritual founder of Shin Buddhism.
On top of all that, Rev. Sugahara, a talented musician, accompanied the Sangha in singing the gatha “Shinran Sama” on the electric guitar with a stirring solo as well.
When the service ended, to my surprise, two hours had passed. To me, it didn’t seem that long. The chanting was enjoyable, the music was enjoyable, and the Dharma message was enjoyable.
What was even more gratifying for me was to hear so many people at the luncheon say how much they enjoyed the service and how glad they were that they had attended this special service, which is only done on rare occasions.
During Rev. Dr. Matsumoto’s Dharma message, he kept apologizing that his talk was getting long and he cut some parts of it out so as to not go too long. After the service, one mother shared with me that her two adult daughters both were saying to each other during the service that they had wished that Rev. Matsumoto would speak longer rather than shorten his talk. How many times have you ever heard that said about a Dharma message or sermon? Don’t we hear most of the time, “That sermon was too long! He should have made it a lot shorter.”
I also heard the comment from people saying, “It didn’t feel like two hours to me. It went by so fast.”
To me, our services should always be like that. I want people to leave from attending a service with the feeling of, “I am so glad that I came to service today. That was such a nice service. It was so enjoyable and I learned so much.”
Listening to the Dharma or attending a service or seminar doesn’t have to be boring and tedious. It should be enjoyable.
That is our challenge, to make our services, to make listening to the Dharma be like that — interesting, thought-provoking, inspirational, impactful, moving, humorous, gratifying, and enjoyable.
If we can create more services like we observed in Sacramento, then I know that more and more people will join our services, our Sanghas, and our temples and churches. Who would not want to enjoy the Dharma in that manner?
Shinran Shonin, at the end of his lengthy work, the “Kyogyoshinsho,” makes the following statement: “My joy grows ever fuller, my gratitude and indebtedness ever more compelling.”
We too can come to find that the Dharma is enjoyable, and that our joy, our gratitude and our indebtedness becomes “ever more compelling.”