Friday, August 26, 2016

Short Dharma meeting in Vienna and Notes on the 18th European Shin Buddhist Conference in Antwerp

 Dharma meetings before the Conference:

August 19th
I met with my Dharma friend Frank Kusmierz. I offered some books in the memory of late Myoshin Friedrich Fenzl, and we had a wonderful evening with discussions and cofee.

August 20
Frank and me
I met with my good friend from Holland, Frits Bot, who donated many good books for the library of Amidaji temple. These include, Rennyo-sama, His Life Through Pictorial Illustrations, Life of Eshinni by Yoshiko Ohtani, two books by Eiken Kobai Sensei, some biographies of Shinran and Honen, and a few good studies on the history of Jodo Shinshu.

18th European Shin Buddhist Conference in Antwerp
The following is not a detailed and objective report of the 18th European Shin Buddhist Conference, but only some significant events for myself and my mission.

Day 1 (August 23rd)
me and Frits Bot
The first part of the Conference was opened by the organizers, and by Sasaki Sensei of IABC and Zenmon-sama Kosho Ohtani - previous Monshu (Patriarch of Hongwanji). He said many things in his opening address, but my attention was caught by his insistence on the importance of daily devotions and Dharma readings for Nembutsu followers.

arrival at the Conference site
with my knapsack filled with books
During the first break I gave him and his wife, Urakata-sama, each one copy of my new book, The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land. As you well know, this book is the most important attempt on my part to counteract the modern divergences from the Jodo Shinshu teaching. You can call it my personal Tannisho, if you like. The time we talked was very limited as many others waited in line to greet them, but I could manage to say something about the intention of my book to counteract some of the nowadays wrong views that are prevalent in the international sangha, and also to inform him a little about Amidaji temple.

I gave a copy of my new book
on modern divergences to Zenmon-sama
and his wife
 Eikei Kobai Sensei had a very good presentation (About the True Nembutsu in Jodo Shinshu), with many quotes from the sacred texts, on the difference between nembutsu before shinjin (faith) and nembutsu after receiving shinjin, that is, the nembutsu of gratitude for Amida Buddha's salvation. I also helped to clarify some aspects related with the same topic when questions were asked by a listener. We both enjoyed each others company during the Conference, and I was happy to find that the late Ryosetsu Fujiwara, author of A Standard of Shinshu Faith, was his teacher of Jodo Shinshu when he was a student at Ryukoku University.

Zenmnon-sama, his wife and me
Shushin Ioana Marinescu, member of Amidaji temple and art historian gave a presentation on the importance of images ( For A Better Understanding of Images in Jodo Shinshu - click here to download it) and she specifically talked about some paintings made after the Parable of the Two Rivers and the White Path, by Master Shantao. Her intention is to continue her study of Jodo Shinshu images and paintings which can be useful for Dharma instruction of members and visitors.  

I met with Arkady Fayngor from Russia with whom I had a wonderful Dharma talk on the Nirvana sutra and its explanations of the True Self and the false self, and how some nowadays Buddhists (and even Jodo Shinshu Buddhists) wrongly apply the concept of emptiness on the Buddhas and the Pure Land. I thanked him for the teaching, and I recently found that he already wrote a very good paper on this topic - The Concept of Self as Expressed in Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra (click here to download).

Day 2 (August 24th)
The most important event of this day was the Information stands European Sanghas where all sangha groups in Europe were given a desk where they could expose the various materials they use for promoting their Dharma activities, and any information they thought might be useful.

Kobai Sensei 
I myself placed a photo album with explanations of Amidaji project, and some free copies of my book, The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land. Again, I talked with two people who are in the attendance of Zenmon-sama about the need to counteract some wrong views of our time, like "the Pure Land is in one's mind", or Amida described as a metaphor, symbol or fictional character, etc. I told them that I did just that in my book and both clearly agreed that those are indeed, wrong views.
Many people came to the desk where I presented Amidaji temple and looked on the photos from the album and my laptop, while listening to my explanations about the building plan and what I did until
now. Some also expressed the wish to come and visit the temple sooner or later.

At the end of the day, we listened to a group of three students of Ryukoku University who chanted some beautful hymns in the Hongwanji style.

Day 3 (August 25th)
Kobai Sensei and me
It was a short day with tree papers. I had a comment on the first paper by Marc Nottellman (Our Personal Calling within the Shin Buddhist Community or the question: What I am doing?) about the need to have a good Jodo Shinshu literature for children, and I suggested that Hongwanji should start an English translation project just like they did with other translation series. Perhaps they already have some good Japanese mangas or books about Shakyamuni's life from the Jodo Shinshu perspective, or life of Rennyo, etc, which might be useful for non- japanese chidren, too.

Detlev Kemph from California and me
The second paper was presented by a japanese woman, who accompanied Kobai Sensei. Her English and her presentation was very poor and hard to understand, but among the words she said, I could hear clearly: "Namo Amida Butsu - I have no doubt about the existence of Amida Buddha".  After she finished the minutes allocated to her, I bowed toward her and I said that those were the most important words I heard during that day at the Conference.

me and Arkady
Then, I was very much dissapointed (not the first time)  by Thomas Moser Sensei who, during the cofee break which followed that Japanese woman's presentation, he asked me, "so, do you still believe that Amida is  a real person?". I said, "yes, but He is a real Enlightened person", with an emphasis on  the word, ENLIGHTENED. So, Amida is not any person in the worldly sense, but an Enlightened Person. Then, after a few exchanges on the reality of Amida I asked him directly, something like, "Sensei, please tell me, what do you really believe? You are a Jodo Shinshu priest, so in what things do you actually believe if you do not rely on the Jodo Shinshu texts? If you do not have faith in how Shakyamuni described Amida Buddha in the Larger Sutra, then in what do you actually believe?" He said he will think about it and finished the discussion...
Anyway, he is a person I respect and love, and so we both agreed that we remain friends no matter how much we differ in our understanding of the Dharma. I find this to be extremely important.

The last paper of the day was presented by  Enrique Galvan-Alvarez - What Do I Mean When I Say Namu Amida Butsu? I made a comment after he finished his presentation, about the relation between Nembutsu and faith, showing that in the Primal Vow, Amida Buddha did not ask us to say His Name a milion times, but only "up to ten times", which can mean any number between one to more than a milion. The author of the paper mentioned Honen's example of reciting Nembutsu many times and so I also gave a quote from Honen in which the Master pointed out that the number of Nembutsu repetitions is not important:
me and Rev Kiyonobu Kuwahara of BCA
 "Question: It is taught that if one observes the one million recitations of nembutsu one hundred times, one will be assured of the attainment of birth in the Pure Land. What happens if one does not live long enough to do so many repetitions?
Answer: This, too, is a mistaken notion. Reciting one million nembutsu one hundred times will assure birth in the Pure Land; so will ten repetitions; so will even a single utterance of nembutsu."

Thus, although Honen himself recited Nembutsu many times he was not attached to the number of recitations. If faith in Amida is present, one can enjoy the Nembutsu whenever he likes.

After the short Conference day was over, we did a guided tour of the city of Antwerp. Even in that tour, and at the dinner after it, I had the chance of talking about Dharma matters with some participants.

Day 4 (August 26th)
presenting my paper
The day started with me leading the chant at Jikoji temple. I also presented the article, Some General Notions of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism (click here to read it), which is an abstract of the teachings I give at Amidaji temple and in my sangha. As you well know, it contains a lot of refferences to Amida as being a real Buddha and His Pure Land a real place where we should aspire to be born after death. All the orthodox elements of our Jodo Shinshu school were found there, in my paper, and were presented to Zenmon sama and many Jodo Shinshu followers from Europe and USA. I mention that Zenmon-sama and his wife attended in silence all the paper presentations of the Conference.

in front of me, listening my presentation,  there were
Zenmon-sama Kosho Ohtani and Governor general (Socho)
of Hongwanji, Chiko Iwagami
Usually people ask questions or comment after a paper presentation, but this time everybody kept silence. However, I know some people got the Dharma message I wanted to share with them.
I also had other interesting discussions with American friends on the topic of what is true or not in relation with Amida Dharma and gave away other copies of my new book, including to the Governor General (Socho) of Hongwanji.

This is all for now. I cannot explain in detail all the things I did and talked during the 4 days of the Conferences. I just assure you that I did something useful, although I must appologize before you and Amida Buddha for not being able to do more.

Namo Amida Butsu

- the trip to Viena and Antwerp were made possible by the kind help of IABC and Dharma friends - 

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