Hawaii Betsuin Trip 2012
From the end of November 2012 through to January 1st 2013, found me at the Tendai Hawaii Betsuin for a period of intense study and practice. This not only provided an opportunity to persue a personal study of Tendai Pure Land Buddhism, but also to witness the Shukke Tokudo (initial ordination) of Jikai Dehn, my young assistant from Sydney. The stay became more intense however, as equally important other aspects began to take shape.
Pearl Harbour Day Commemoration:
December 7th marks the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese Imperial Fleet in 1941. A few days after my arrival, Jikai san, myself, and a strongly represented party of highly represented Tendai Monks, took part in the prayer segment of the ceremony. As a child, I had grown up with the story of, and seen movies about the attack. But it is not until you see Pearl Harbour, that the gravity of the attack becomes clear. Listening to the stories of those who somehow managed to survive, I wondered how any had survived at all amidst sinking ships, others keeling over, shelling, bombs, the harbour afire from oil spillage, and relentless air attacks. But December 7th, 2012 was a day when one-time enemies stood together in reconcilliation to honour those who did not survive. Especially the 1117 young American Sailors and Marines who's remains are entombed aboard the sunken USS Arizona whose rusting hulk can be seen just below the harbour's surface.
'Ku Fu' (like the wind) is commonly heard around Japanese temples and the Hawaii Tendai Betsuin in no different. Although there may well be an arranged schedule, it is by no means fixed, and one has to be prepared to change or adapt. At 5:30am we would file into the Hondo for Joza Sanmai (Seated Shikan). This was followed by Asa Gongyo (morning service), and a shorter service in the Amida Do for all enshrined there. Then incense offerings to the large Thousand Armed Kannon Bosatsu out in the foregrounds. This was followed by O'Souji (mindful work- cleaning). Initially, this meant ensuring that the outer areas of the Betsuin were swept clear of fallen leaves. As the month progressed, O'Souji took on a much wider scope encluding window cleaning, Hondo cleaning, and Altar preperation as New Year appeared on the horizon. In between all of this, personal study and formal practice was expected to be done. Thus, any given day was not only physically, but also mentally tiring. In addition, there was always something needing doing, or somebody to be met. O'Souji is not just about cleaning. It is equally about discovering the limits of oneself and the 'chinks' in one's armour. Yuza Gongyo (evening serivce) began at 4:00pm after any afternoon session work or study had been done. This was followed by an hour of Jogyo Zanmai (walking meditation) in the Amida Do. And as it is winter-time in Hawaii, the practice began as the sun set in the West, which cast a gold glow over the area unitl the sun finally set, leaving only one lit candle, shining in the dark as if guiding the way to Amida's Pure Land.
There was also a very rare opportunity to recieve direct instruction in Shomyo (melodic chanting) from Chairman Sakamoto Kanko of the Tendai Shomyo Studies Association. Unlike mantra, or standard sutra which are usually intoned in one linear tone, Shomyo rise and fall, sometimes sharply while others are 'wave tones' requiring breath control. Sakamoto Sensei made this look effortless as one might expect. However, it takes time to perfect. And although my choice of Shomyo is limited at the moment, it is something I am very keen to establish here in Australia.
Jikai San's Shukke Tokudo:
Tokudo is an important step for anyone to take as it marks the 'stepping out from the worldy realm, into the realm of the Priest'. The Tokudo of Jikai San was a wonderful event to be a part of. For myself, it seemed more personal and important as the ceremony was being performed by our teacher Dai Sojo Ara Ryokan- who is also Secretary General of all Tendai Temples outside Japan. However I will leave the description of Tokudo for Jikai San.
Nothing is more traditional in Japan, than handmade rice cakes at New Year. Jikai san and I had learned, that there were more modern, simpler, methods for making Mochi available. But Ara Sensei insisted that it be done in the traditional manner. So it was, that we got up at 9:00pm in order to wash 50kilo's of rice as step one of the process. Ara Sensei joined us, quickly pointing out the correct way to wash the rice, and in what quantities. It is actually quite gruelling work which took us over two hours to complete. We went to sleep exhausted.
We were up early the next morning as teams of people arrived to help make the rice into chewy cakes. Fortunately, Ara Sensei had made a concession on the kneeding process of having mixers available which certainly helped in saving time. But as usual, there was a never ending stream of mixing containers that needed washing and cleaning before new batches could be made. A task which seemed to fall to myself. Ara Sensei has all the traditional implements for making Mochi. And as he insists that Mochi making is good Gyo, I would not be suprised to find that one year we might be using these!
Mochi making is hard work, but it is fun. And we did share some humorous moments with Ara Sensei, as well as it being a simple way of sharing with others.
I guess there would be few who were not shocked and felt that sense of helplessness as great tidal waves smashed into the North-Eastern Coast of Japan, creating untold damage and destruction, and the loss of 25,000 lives. Followed shortly after by an explosion at the Nuvlear Reactor which began leaking radiation. The effects of which will continue to be felt for years to come.
An organization was set up quckly especially to help the children affected in some way by this terrible disaster. Twelve such children had come to Hawaii, and Ara Sensei had offered accomodation at the Betsuin. On meeting these 12-16 year old kids, Jikai san and I felt both touched and connected. Suddenly it seemed as though we were connected to this great tragedy through these wonderful kids, many of whom were suffering from radiation poisening to some degree. What they had seen, suffered, experience we will never know. And I do not know who thanked who more! But I feel sure I learned much, much more from them.
The Goma Fire Ceremony:
The day after the children left, we had to help prepare for the New Years Goma. The Fire Altar has to be set a certain way. and ofcourse, everything has to be spotless. This year, I was given the opportunity to assist Ara Sensei. I was to sit on the Raiban, close to the Fire Altar and observe what he was doing, but also assist in removing and replacing all the containers, as well as continually feeding the fire with Goma Maki (prayer sticks) in additions to those put in by the attendee devotees. After the ceremony, there was the traditional 'first Soba of the New Year'. Here, one can relax a little and it is a fine way to start the New Year. I had to leave for the airport a few hours later to return to Australia so I said my goodbyes and offered my well wishes to all for the coming year.
Tendai Shu has one of the most extensive study/practice systems of among not only the many Buddhist schools of Japan but also the world. And there are certain aspects of that one is expected to fulfill. But in genera, what I am finding more and more is that at its heart, Tendai is no different from any other Buddhist system. That which really counts is not whats learned or the knowledge accumulated, but to strive for the awareness of the perfection which lies within the ordinary and to allow one's Buddha-Heart awareness. And that in everyday moments in everyday life, lies the real training and testing ground in which to reap experiences. To be the best you can be in the service of others. And that 'being selfless is a lifelong journey', as I have been recently reminded. This alone is more than enough. My stay at the Hawaii Betsuin, in its day to day running and beautiful 'inbetween moments' have strongly confirmed this. Thus a New Year begins with a New Horizon. Where this will lead? I do not know. And then again, in the end, it is not important to know because there is nothing to know; no horizon to reach. All that matters is the journey, one step at a time...
Reverend Jiryo Moxon