May Oko 2011
I would like to thank you for attending today’s Oko ceremony despite your busy schedule. I have offered your sincere Gokuyo to the Gohonzon, and sincerely prayed to the Gohonzon for the further development in faith; eradication of your sins and negative karma from this and infinite past lifetimes; to enjoy a safe and long life; for peace and harmony to reign in your home; for all matters to proceed forth smoothly; and for the successful achievement of all your great objectives in this and future existences.
For those who have requested for Toba, I have offered my sincere prayers to the Gohonzon for the peace and happiness of your late relatives, friends, and ancestors.
Banishment to Sado
I always assumed that, on the path of attaining Buddhahood, one is certain to meet some great trial that will demand of him that he be willing to give up his life; only then can one become a Buddha. And already, just as the sutra states, I have been cursed and vilified, attacked with swords and staves, rocks and tiles, and banished again and again. I therefore believe that I am reading the Lotus Sutra with my entire being. My faith increases all the more and I am confident of my future existence. Should I die, I will surely save each one of you as well. In India a person called the Venerable Aryasimha was beheaded by King Dammira, and Bodhisattva Aryadeva was murdered by a Brahman. In China, a person called Chu Tao-sheng was banished to Mount Su, and the Learned Doctor Fa-tao was branded on the face and exiled south of the Yangtze River. All these men suffered persecution on account of the virtue of the Lotus Sutra and for the sake of the Buddhist Law. I, Nichiren, am the son of a chandala family who lived near the seashore in Tojo in Awa Province, in the remote countryside of the eastern part of Japan. To discard my body, which would otherwise decay in vain, for the sake of the Lotus Sutra will be like exchanging rocks for gold. None of you should lament for me.
The above gosho written by Nichiren Daishonin in early October, 1271 is a passage from “Banishment to Sado.” He wrote this gosho at Echi in Sagami Province, almost a month after the attempted execution on His life.
The beginning of this gosho indicates it was written the prior to His exile to Sado Island. “On the twelfth day of the ninth month, I incurred the wrath of the government authorities, and I am to leave for the province of Sado on the tenth day of the tenth month of this year.”
After this failed attempt on His life, Nichiren Daishonin was escorted from the execution site at the Tatsunokuchi Beach to the Honma residence in Echi of Sagami Province (present day Western Kanagawa Prefecture). He would remain there for the month prior to His departure. The gosho was supposedly addressed to the senior priests at Seichoji Temple, Gijyo-bo and Jyoken-bo and explains we must be willing to offer our lives in order to attain enlightenment. The Lotus Sutra describes the various difficulties the three powerful enemies creates. It explains that as long as you encounter and overcome these difficulties, you are showing actual proof of the Lotus Sutra and will attain enlightenment through offering your life. Through offering your body to the Lotus Sutra, which will eventually decay in vain, is like exchanging rocks for gold. There is no greater joy than this.
We have just completed one-third of this “Year of Taking Action to do Shakubuku”. Let’s look back at how much we have accomplished and what we need to do to accomplish this year’s goal.
Our shakubuku practice is totally based on the relentless compassion we show to others. This relentless compassion comes from the fact that we are offering our time and body to do shakubuku and nurture others into this practice.
Nichiren Daishonin tells us near the end of this passage, “To discard my body, which would otherwise decay in vain, for the sake of the Lotus Sutra will be like exchanging rocks for gold.” In this passage, He mentions about His exile to the Sado Islands, not knowing whether He will make it back to Mainland Japan alive. During Nichiren Daishonin’s time, being exiled to Sado Island means there is no guarantee that you will make it back alive, and most certainly will die.
Nichiren Daishonin says in the gosho “On the Buddha’s Behavior”:
“None of you who declare yourselves to be my disciples should ever be cowardly. Neither should you allow concern for your parents, wives or children to hold you back, or be worried about your property. Since the infinite past you have thrown away your life more times than the number of dust particles on earth in order to save your parents, your children or your property. But you have not once given your life for the Lotus Sutra. You may have tried to practice its teachings to some extent, but whenever you were persecuted, you ceased to live by the sutra. That is like boiling water only to pour it into cold water, or like trying to strike fire but giving up halfway. Each and every one of you should be certain deep in your hearts that sacrificing your life for the Lotus Sutra is like trading rocks for gold or filth for rice.”
(MWND Vol. 1, p. 176)
This passage describes when we (as disciples of that time) look back at all our sufferings, it is certain we offered our bodies many times to protect our families, jobs, property, during wartime, and for our masters. But not once did we offer our bodies for the sake of protecting Buddhism, to carry out our belief of the Lotus Sutra. Despite undergoing tremendous difficulties to begin our practice, whether through encountering opposition from the people we know, or because various obstacles and devils arose and difficulties continued to pile up, we were unable to continue with our Buddhist practice. As a result of our weak faith amidst these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, we abandon our practice all together and fall into the evil paths. We have been continuing this cycle since the remotest past.
Yet we know the more that obstacles and devils arise, and the more difficulties and hardships come one after another, the greater chance we have of eradicating and changing our negative karma accumulated from our past lives. As we continue to practice we will accumulate merit and good causes to further deepen and advance in our practice in faith, especially as we strive to reach our goal to increase our membership of 50% increase by the year 2015.
It is stated in the fifth volume of the Maka-shikan, and also in the gosho “Letter to the Brothers”:
“As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge, vying with one another to interfere… You should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If you fall under their influence, you will be led into the paths of evil. If you are frightened by them, you will be prevented from practicing true Buddhism.”
I explained this passage in last month’s Oko, so please review it if you can. What I can say about this passage is we must always be confident with our practice should we encounter tremendous difficulties and hardships, because when we are advancing for the sake of Kosen-rufu, obstacles and devils will arise to stop us.
As practitioners of True Buddhism, when we receive Gojukai and enshrine the living essence of Nichiren Daishonin in our homes, a new beginning arises for us. For the new practitioner, it marks the beginning of life as a Buddhist. For the sponsor, it means their focus will now be to encourage the new member to do shakubuku. It does not end with the Gojukai and the enshrinement. This is where we develop strong faith based on devotion to our practice. If we are not totally devoted to our practice, not only will we see our faith weaken, but our expression when we die will display that of someone in the hell of incessant suffering.
People always talk about life and death. They ask certain questions. Yet, they seem to think death is something that will happen in the future or many years from now. We don’t know when we will die and I’m certain no one else in here knows when death will come either. If none of us know this, I’m certain the person asking doesn’t know it either. The one thing clear though is we are going to die. There is no way of avoiding it. As practitioners, devoting oneself to this practice will determine the expression on our face when die. When we die, it is like a final settlement of our life. It isn’t how long we lived, but how much we put our practice of jigyo-keta into action. How much of our lives we served for Kosen-rufu. How much we served for Nichiren Daishonin. All of that will determine our facial expression when we pass away.
This year, the “Year of Taking Action to do Shakubuku”, marks the 30th Anniversary of the establishment of Myogyoji Temple. It has been an eventful year, especially the blizzard that covered all of Chicago in snow. Yet up to this point in time, the Myogyoji Hokkeko Chapter has had at least one person receive Gojukai each month this year. Also, we had at least two people receive either Gojukai or Kankaishiki for the past eight months in a row. In total, 12 people received Gojukai this year. Last year, by the end of June, we had 13 people receive either Gojukai or Gohonzon. I want to go over that number before we enter June. In order to do that, we must continue to further strive in our shakubuku practice.
Although the upcoming Chapter Tozan was planned since last year, it wasn’t until last month that the situation in Japan started to clear up. It was disappointing that no one from the United States was able to participate in the Omushibarai Ceremony. But with the situation clearing up in Japan, I am certain everyone will try his or her best to make it to the Head Temple during this year. After all, it is one of the practical points for Overseas Believers for 2011. The warning issued by the U.S. government on non-essential travel has been lifted except for the area around the Fukushima Nuclear plant. We shouldn’t worry about the danger of radiation at the Head Temple.
During the month of July, the anniversary month of “Revealing the Truth and Upholding Justice through the Submission of the Rissho Ankoku-ron”, the Head Temple announced that a one-hour Shodai-gyo will be conducted every day throughout the month.
In July we will review our shakubuku results from the first half of the year, discuss our strategy to achieve our objective, and prepare our shakubuku efforts for the second half of the year as we participate in this month long shodai effort.
In closing, I wish for further development of faith and greater health and happiness for each and everyone here today. Thank you very much.