Impressions from the Pilgrimmage Tour

Last month I had the opportunity to travel with Rev. Takashi Miyaji of the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Temple and several members of the San Mateo Buddhist Temple on the Bay District Pilgrimmage Tour to attend the 17th World Buddhist Women’s Convention, held in conjunction with the Joint Service Celebrating the 850th Anniversary of Shinran Shonin’s Birth and the 800th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Jodo Shinshu Teaching, followed by an excursion to sacred sites related to hidden Nembutsu practice in the Kagoshima region.  A pilgrimmage tour differs from ordinary tourism, in that the sites we visit are connected to the transmission of the Buddha’s teachings and the Nembutsu, and therefore provide us with a precious opportunity to reflect on the causes and conditions that have supported our lives up to this moment and guide us to clarify the direction of our lives moving forward.

We arrived in Japan at Haneda Airport in Tokyo and spent the first two nights of our trip at a hotel located near the Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple, where Rev. Miyaji and I joined a morning service at the Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple.  Tsukiji Hongwanji is located in central Tokyo, surrounded by tall office buildings.  The morning service begins at 7:00 a.m. and some of the attendees joined the service on their way to work. 

Later that day, the Tsukiji Hongwanji staff gave our Bay District group a guided tour of the temple grounds.  We were impressed by the unique temple architecture, which incorporates elements of classical Indian Buddhist temple design and early twentieth-century Western architecture.  Our Bay District members enjoyed hearing Ondokusan played on the beautiful pipe organ that resides in the main temple hall.  Tsukiji Hongwanji also offers a community columbarium that provides an affordable and meaningful option for people living in the urban area to remember by loved ones supported by the Buddhist community.  I was inspired by the efforts that are being made at Tsukiji Hongwanji to apply the teachings established by Shinran Shonin 800 years ago to our lives in this modern world.

From Tokyo we travelled to Kyoto, where Shinran Shonin spent many years of his life, to visit the sites of important events of his life.  Attending the 6:00 a.m. morning services at Hongwanji, the Joint Celebration Service on May 10, and the World Buddhist Women’s Convention were highlights of our trip.  Gathering with Nembutsu followers from all over the world to reflect upon Shinran Shonin’s steadfast dedication to sharing the Nembutsu teaching renewed the profound gratitude we feel to Amida Buddha for the compassionate vow that ensures our the path to liberation.

During our time in Kyoto, we had the opportunity to visit the Shorenin Temple where Shinran Shonin was ordained as a Buddhist priest at the age of nine, the Enryakuji Temple complex on Mount Hiei where he pursed rigorous monastic practices for 20 years, and the Otani Mausoleum, where Shinran Shonin’s youngest daughter Kakushinni established the memorial site to remember him and his teachings following his birth in the Pure Land.  We also had the opportunity to see a special exhibit at Kyoto National Museum of treasures related to Shinran Shonin’s life, including sacred teachings written in Shinran Shonin’s own hand.  Encountering the life of Shinran Shonin through these concrete experiences of the world he lived in deepened our personal appreciation for the Nembutsu teaching.

For the final leg of our journey, we travelled to Kyushu to visit sites related to the hidden Nembutsu practice that continued for a period of about 300 years from the 16th to 19th centuries, when the Shimazu clan that ruled the Kagoshima region brutally suppressed the Jodo Shinshu teaching.  During that period of severe persecution, followers of the Nembutsu teaching continued their practice underground, often gathering in caves by the cover of night to hold services taking refuge in Amida Buddha and reciting the Nembutsu. 

During our stay in Kagoshima, we visited the Tateyama Kakuregama, a historic site of hidden Nembutsu practice, along with the Kagoshima Betsuin, where one of the local Jodo Shinshu Buddhist priests shared the history of hidden Nembutsu in Kagoshima and invited us to view the namidaishi (“stone of tears”), an artifact of the period of Nembutsu persecution that is now displayed at the Kagoshima Betsuin in order to educate visitors about the fearless commitment to the Nembutsu teaching shown by the Jodo Shinshu Buddhists of Kagoshima.

Hearing the history of the hidden Nembutsu in Kagoshima shed new light on the extraordinary dedication and sacrifice made by those who have come before so that the Nembutsu teaching of Shinran Shonin could be passed down for us to receive today.  Reflecting on all the efforts that have made it possible for us to receive the precious legacy of the Nembutsu, we feel a renewed commitment to pass the Nembutsu teaching down to the next generation.

Namo Amida Butsu