The Great Sage, the World-honored One

From The Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) Fascicle 3, Letter 4

When we carefully consider the transiency of human life, we realize that the living will certainly end in death and that the prosperous will eventually decline. This is how life is in the human world. Even so, we vainly live days and nights, spending months and years to no purpose. Indeed, we may lament about it, but I feel that we could never really comprehend the true extent of this pitifully sad situation.

How true it is that impermanence is difficult to escape for all, from the Great Sage, the World-honored One, at the highest level, to Devadatta, who committed evil acts and grave offenses, at the lowest.

Moreover, to receive life as a human being is indeed rare and difficult, and even more so is it the opportunity to encounter the Buddha Dharma, the way of emancipation from birth-and-death through practices of self-power is difficult to follow at the present time in the latter days. Therefore, our lives would be spent in vain unless we encountered the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata.

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Sakyamuni Tathagata is Truly Our Loving and Compassionate Parent

In this month of April, we observe our Hanamatsuri Service celebrating the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha.  The many Buddhist traditions of the world celebrate the Buddha’s Birthday.  The Theravada Buddhist observance of Vesak includes the celebration of Sakyamuni Buddha’s birthday and was recognized by the United Nations as an occasion for the world to honor the Buddha’s wisdom and seek the guidance of his teachings.

A multitude of Buddhist lineages span the world, each with special observances honoring the founders and great teachers of their tradition.  All those diverse linages revere Sakyamuni Buddha as the great teacher who appeared in this world.  In that sense, all those who journey through life on the path of the Buddha are our brothers, sisters, and siblings in the Dharma.  In the following section from his Hymns on the Samadhi of All Buddhas’ Presence, Shandao describes the Buddha as the compassionate parent of all those who seek the path to awakening:  

All my friends who aspire for birth in the Pure Land must carefully reflect upon their own lives.  Sakyamuni Tathagata is truly our loving and compassionate parent.  He uses various skillful means to guide us to awaken the unexcelled heart of entrusting.  Moreover, there is not just one gate into his skillful teachings.  This so that they may benefit unenlightened beings like us with our upside-down views.  Those who live by the teachings may pass through any of the gates he taught to encounter the Buddha and attain birth in the Pure Land.

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Ho’onko: the Annual Memorial Service for Shinran Shonin

 In the Jodo Shinshu School of Buddhism, it is customary to hold an annual Ho’onko 報恩講 (Pronounced HOE-OWN-KOH) Memorial Service in remembrance of Shinran Shonin (1173-1263), the Japanese Buddhist priest who we look to as the founder of our tradition.  The tradition of annual Ho’onko services was initiated by Shinran’s great-grandson Kakunyo during the 33rd Year Memorial Service for Shinran.  At the Nishi Hongwanji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, the Hoonko observance is held each year from January 9th to 16th, culminating in an all-night Dharma marathon of talks by ministers from all over Japan.  This year, we will observe Ho’onko at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple on Sunday, January 22.  In temples of the Jodo Shinshu tradition, Ho’onko is considered to be the most important Buddhist service of the year.

If we conducted a survey of our Sangha members asking everyone which of our annual Buddhist services is most important, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear many responses along the lines of Hanamatsuri (Sakyamuni Buddha’s Birthday) or Obon (the grateful remembrance of departed loved ones that we hold every summer).  Of all the Buddhist services we observe throughout the year, why is Shinran’s Memorial Service traditionally given the most emphasis? 

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Parents and Children

In the month of May we observe our Gōtan-e Service celebrating the birth of Shinran Shonin, the founder of our Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism.  During the Gōtan-e Service, we place a statue of Shinran Shonin as a young boy in the temple hall and recall the story of his childhood.    May is also the month in which we celebrate Mother’s Day and express the gratitude and appreciation we feel for the mothers in our lives.  As we observe these two holidays of Gōtan-e and Mother’s Day, the month of May provides us with precious occasions to reflect upon the karmic bond between parents and children.  The parental figures in our lives are not limited to our biological parents.  Grandparents, teachers, coaches, and mentors are other examples of those who can provide the care and guidance of a parent in our lives.

According to tradition, Shinran Shonin was separated from his mother at a young age and left home to receive ordination as a Buddhist monk at the age of nine.   While the time that Shinran spent living with his mother and father was brief, he had a profound sense of receiving parental love and care in his life. 

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Dharma Discussion: Śīla (July 19, 2020)

Please review the Bodhisattva Precepts

Discussion Questions

  1.  How do you practice these precepts in your daily life?
  2. Is there meaning in doing one’s best, even though one is not able to practice these perfectly in daily life?
  3. Which of these do you think our world needs most at the present moment?

Honen’s Perspective on upholding precepts (from The Passages on the the Selection of the Nembutsu in the Original Vow)

If the original vow required us to make images of the Buddha and to build stupas, the poor and destitute would surely have no hope of birth, but the fact is that the rich and highborn are few, while the poor and lowborn are exceedingly many.  

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