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Shin Buddhist Path of Gratitude

Hello everyone, I hope this message finds you well. There were many speaking engagements I was invited to this summer. One of them was a lecture at the Kyoshi Kyoshu certificate session. Kyoshi Kyoshu means the second ordination to become a full-fledged Shin Buddhist minister. It’s normally held in Kyoto, but this was the first time it was held at BCA’s Jodo Shinshu Center (JSC) due to the high surge of omicron BA5 and BA2.75 in Japan. The Kyoshi Kyoshu is an intensive 10-day retreat with lectures, chanting and workshops, held from August 21-30. There were twelve participants from the BCA, Hawaii and Canada. Five of the twelve wish to become full-time BCA ministers and will be able to serve after they are certified by the Hongwanji and BCA. It was such exciting news! As the BCA’s Wheel of Dharma (July 2022) mentions, there are three levels (Tokudo, Kyoshi, Kaikyoshi) of ordination concerning Jodo Shinshu ministers. The BCA, Hawaii, and Canada have been facing a severe shortage of ministers, so the Kyoshi Kyoshu certificate session was very important and urgently needed to be held. When I was on the ministerial path, I attended the Kyoshi Kyoshu session in Kyoto consisting of a group of sixteen Kyoshi aspirants from BCA, Hawaii, Canada, and Europe. We spent 10 days in the Nishiyama training center completely separated from the secular world. We got up at 5:15 AM and cleaned up the Hondo, temple garden, and office areas, then attended the morning service with our fuho robe. After the morning service, we had breakfast with no conversation. There were lectures and practices we attended during the daytime and each of the participants needed to pass five assignments such as chanting, etiquette, reading Rennyo Shonin’s Letters, and so on until and after dinnertime. It was not only an individual effort but teamwork as well when we practiced the wedding, funeral, and other special services. Looking back on it now, it was an unforgettable memory for me.

I was asked to speak about the “ho-on; 報恩” to our 2022 Kyoshi aspirants. We are familiar with the Ho-on-ko service every January. “Ho-on” literally means “ho; 報”= repay, reciprocate, respond, and “on; 恩”= favor, debt of gratitude”, so it can be understood as “responding in gratitude to the benevolence (of the Buddha).” Some people ask me after the Sunday service, “So, what’s your practice?” They expect an insightful answer, but my answer is simple and will often surprise them. As a Shin Buddhist, my primary practice is not meditation, sutra chanting, ritual, or precepts, all of which are valuable. However, our main focus should be on the practice of gratitude. We don’t practice to achieve material rewards, a better life, enlightenment, good karma, or a better rebirth. We practice simply to give thanks for what we have received. It sounds like no practice but it can be transformative in our lives when it is pursued. Kakunyo Shonin, the third generation from our founder Shinran Shonin, says in the Liturgy in Gratitude – Hoonkoshiki (1294) that we can never be grateful enough for the Buddha’s benevolence. However, thankful we are, we can never be thankful enough to the legacy of merit left to us by our past masters. Though ten thousand kalpas have passed, it’s impossible to repay even a small tithe of what we owe. Kakunyo wrote the Liturgy of Gratitude when the 33rd Shinran Shonin’s memorial service was held, and he expressed his deepest gratitude to all karmic causes and conditions that have guided him to encounter the Amida Buddha’s deep wish. As we become aware of interconnectedness, we realize some perspective of our karmic limitation. Our own efforts are not perfect enough without the help and guidance coming from countless others. It raises awareness of humility, reflecting of our shortcomings, and patience toward other’s imperfections. In the tradition of Pure Land Buddhism, Shin Buddhists believe that the power-beyond-self (tariki) comes from beyond the ego-self. It is granted by Amida Buddha, the immeasurable wisdom and compassion that benefits all of us. Shinran says, “Other Power is none other than the power of the Tathagata’s primal vow.” (CWS I, p.57). The nembutsu that we recite Namo Amida Butsu expresses our true happiness and deep thankfulness. We thank all the things in our lives that have guided us to the Buddha-Dharma. We try to remember the presence of power-beyond-self in our lives in saying the nembutsu, and we try to do our best to reciprocate by guiding others to the nembutsu life. Our practice is not to attain our own buddhahood, instead it’s to become thankful for all that we have received and to pursue the path of gratitude. Shinran Shonin says, “Solely saying the Tathagata’s name constantly, one should respond with gratitude to the universal vow of great compassion (CWS I, p.68)” and one of the hymns (wasan) echoes his joy of living in the path of gratitude.

Those who truly attain shinjin

As they utter Amida’s Name,

Being mindful of the Buddha always,

Wish to respond to the great benevolence

(CWS I, p.321)


Rev. Dr. Mutsumi Wondra

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