Hō-on kō 2023 – Thinking about Shinran Shōnin

January 16 is the date on which Nishi Hongwanji commemorates Hō-on kō, the memorial of our founder Shinran Shōnin, but the Buddhist Church of Oakland held its annual Hō-on kō Service yesterday on January 15. I gave the talk to the Dharma School students, relating a story I heard from a BCA minister who built a time machine to visit Shinran. Rev. Michael Endo delivered the message to the adults, talking both about his paternal grandfather who he never met, and Kakunyo, Shinran’s great-grandson, and his own efforts to learn about and commemorate his great-grandfather who he never met. You can watch the entire service here (click on the times in the description on YouTube to jump to different sections):

(Click to go to YouTube – I couldn’t embed it since it was a live stream – gotta figure out how to do that)

Rev. Endo adorned the Naijin with special setups, including “gogusoku” (two flower arrangements and two candles) for both the main table and for Shinran Shōnin, and also displayed our copy of the “Go-eden” “Illustrated Biography” of Shinran. We were also fortunate to have a visitor – Rev. Dr. Seigen Yamaoka!

Finally, check out my rendition of gatha “Shinran Sama”:

Overview – A New View?

Happy New Year! This is a great time to look into the new year with new eyes. William Shatner, the iconic actor of Star Trek fame, had such an experience when he actually went into space. In his recent memoir, he says that when he saw the earth from space, he began crying. This isn’t the reaction I expected from Captain James T. Kirk! But apparently it is a reaction that happens to those lucky few who are able to view the earth from space. It has been called the “overview effect,” described as “a cognitive and emotional shift in a person’s awareness, their consciousness and their identity when they see the Earth from space.”*

Of course, very few people are able to go into space. But I still think it is possible to shift one’s awareness. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say, to have one’s awareness shifted. For myself, my normal mode of awareness is centered on myself. What do I want to eat, what do I need to do, why me?!! I am pretty sure that I am less self-centered than I used to be, but fundamentally I experience things through my own sense-organs (eyes – ears – nose – tongue – body) and feelings of genuine empathy are far and few between, if I experience them at all.

And yet, I have been fortunate to encounter the Buddha Dharma. So many teachings that help us understand ourselves, the world, and our place in the world. Everything we go through – every experience – is an opportunity to delve deeper into the Dharma, to delve deeper into ourselves and our relationships. 

As an example, Shinran Shonin, the founder of our Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism, shares the following insight: “…All beings, without exception, have been our parents and brothers and sisters in the course of countless lives in many states of existence.” I wonder if Shinran’s feeling when he realized this was similar to the “overview effect” experience of William Shatner? A feeling of kinship and concern for all beings. This insight is difficult to generate on one’s own, but the Buddha Dharma, whether the various teachings of Shakyamuni or the Primal Vow and Nembutsu of Amida Buddha, offers it to us. We just need to be on the lookout as we live our lives. I hope that this New Year brings you happiness and good health, as well as continued opportunities to truly encounter the Dharma!

* Quotations about the “overview effect” from this NPR article: