A Place to Hear the Nembutsu

During the month of October we observe our annual memorial service in honor of Shinran Shonin’s wife Eshinni, their youngest daughter Kakushinni, and the many the Buddhist women who have passed the joy of the Nembutsu down through the generations.  Following Shinran Shonin’s birth in the Pure Land, Kakushinni provided land and received support from Shinran’s followers in the Kanto region to build a hexagonal mausoleum dedicated to his memory.

Kakushinni took responsibility for the care and maintenance of the mausoleum and made an agreement with the Kanto followers that her descendants would continue to serve as its caretakers in the future generations.  That hall is called the Otani Mausoluem (Jpn. Otani Honbyo) and is considered to be the precursor to our present-day mother temple, the Hongwanji.  Down through the generations, the descendants of Shinran Shonin have maintained the Hongwanji as a place where we can come together to share in the joy of the nembutsu.  In many ways the Hongwanji temple serves as model for our activities at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple.

This past summer, my family and I travelled to Kyoto, where we had an opportunity to visit the Hongwanji Temple.  It was a rainy weekday, and there were not many visitors.  As we admired the beautiful architecture and adornments of the temple, a gentleman around the age of sixty wearing work clothes was sweeping the deck outside the main hall.  Overhearing the many curious questions our children were asking, he kindly joined us to explain the history of the temple building and pointed out some of the unique aspects of its construction.  Through our conversation, we learned that he was ordained minister and member of the Hongwanji staff.  Observing the care he took to maintain the temple grounds, we could sense the deep gratitude that he felt for the generations of nembutsu followers who made great efforts to pass down the teachings of Shinran Shonin.

Just as Kakushinni worked to maintain the Otani Mausoluem, there are now Jodo Shinshu temples all over the world dedicated to passing on the teachings of Shinran Shonin.  The San Mateo Buddhist Temple is one such place, and this past month many of our Sangha members came out to join our Fall Clean Up Day, during which we worked together to clean the temple facilities, including the main hall (Hondo), kitchen, Dharma Room, and front garden.  At the end of the day, the temple felt noticeably more clean and welcoming.

For many Sangha members, taking part in the cleaning of the temple seemed to inspire a renewed appreciation for its significance as a place for us to hear the Nembutsu.  One four-year-old child who had knocked over the incense container the week before, was most attentive and thorough in wiping down the Hondo walls.  The child, who often wanders around in the middle of service a little bored and not quite ready to sit through the entire program, seemed to find real enjoyment in cleaning the Hondo and took a new interest in it as a special place.

A couple of our younger Sangha members joined a group of us who were sorting through various boxes of donated books and Dharma School materials that had piled up during the pandemic in the library area above the Social Hall.  While sorting through the boxes, they came across a shoebox filled with old photographs of temple activities.  Looking through the photos that had been taken decades ago, our young Sangha members were inspired with appreciation for the history of the temple and the special place it has held in the lives of our Sangha members over the generations.  As we concluded our work for the day, they volunteered to return another time to organize and scan the photos so that the inspiration they felt seeing them could be shared with others.

Thanks to Kakushinni’s efforts to establish the Otani Mausoleum as place to reflect in gratitude on Shinran Shonin’s dedication to sharing the Dharma, generations of Jodo Shinshu Buddhists have been able to encounter the joy of the Nembutsu.  When we cherish the San Mateo Buddhist Temple as our place to hear the Nembutsu, we deepen our own appreciation of the Dharma and create opportunities for others to discover peace and happiness in the Buddha’s teachings.  I look forward hearing the Nembutsu at the temple with all you again soon!

Namo Amida Butsu