Past, Present and Future Meet at
West Covina Buddhist Temple's 2002 Ho-on-ko

On November 17, 2002, WCBT Sangha gathered together to attend the annual Ho-on-ko Service, which is one of the most important services of the year, since it honors the founder of our Jodo Shinshu tradition, Shinran Shonin. After chairperson Mr. Tor Ormseth welcomed everyone, and after the special Kada chant and the Shoshinge sutra, WCBT’s Lotus Band performed the gatha "Shinran Sama," and were joined by the entire Sangha. Next, Mr. Ormseth introduced WCBT’s current minister, Rev. Ken Kawawata. Rev. Ken in turn, introduced guest speaker Rinban Nori Ito. Rinban Nori was WCBT’s minister during the early 90’s before going becoming the minister at our main Higashi Honganji temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.

Rinban spoke first about the sudden passing away of Rev. Hirosumi of our sister temple in Newport Beach, and movingly recalled some of his personal memories of Hirosumi-sensei. Next, he addressed his main subject, which was the teaching of Shinran Shonin. However, Rinban Nori clarified that it isn’t enough to just hear Shinran’s words. We ourselves should go outside of the walls of our own temple, and even outside the "walls" of our Jodo Shinshu tradition and actively share our understanding of his teaching with others. Rinban Nori repeatedly emphasized the importance of engaging ourselves not only with other Buddhists, but with people of other faiths and beliefs as well.

One story Rinban told was about a family friend of his which had been dealing with a difficulty, and had sought out his advice. This friend was a father whose son had apparently done something "bad" and then tragically passed away. The father, raised a Christian but now doubting his "faith," was deeply troubled over the thought that his son might be destined to "hell." Rinban Nori said that he shared with his friend some of the passages of the Tannisho. Among them was the famous dialog between Shinran and his disciple Yuienbo, in which Shinran teaches the importance of realizing that, if we ourselves do not kill others, it is only due to the causes and conditions of our life; it is not that we are "good people." Similarly, if we do something "bad," it is also due to the causes and conditions in our life. Essentially, Shinran is expressing an awakened attitude which seems to be beyond black and white judgements of "good" and "evil," because it is pointing out the relative and limited nature of the ego-self. It is perhaps even beyond the Christian concept of "forgiveness," because if a person truly has the humble attitude of Shinran, there is nothing to forgive in the first place.

Rinban Nori recalled that later on, the wife of his friend called to say that her husband had greatly benefited from talking to Rinban Nori. Her husband was transformed and seemed to not only have been able to accept the reality and go on with his life, but to actually live life with more enjoyment. Rinban Nori quickly added that the point of this story is that the positive transformation of his friend was not due to his own "power"; it was the power of Dharma being transmitted through him. Rinban Ito stated firmly that being engaged and sharing our understanding of the Dharma with others, is the true message of Shinran Shonin.

Following Rinban, participants were also treated to a second, unique Dharma talk by another former minister, Rev. Mishima. Rev. Mishima, who now lives in Japan, was in Southern California to attend the funeral of Rev. Hirosumi, and was invited to WCBT’s Ho-on-ko Service by Rev. Ken. Rev. Mishima’s talk focused on what he called finding the true self, and of getting in touch with the "kokoro" or heart within us. He gave a humorous example of one person thanking another person for a favor done, first in a sort of casual way, laying on one’s side, versus in a more emotional fashion, this time bowing and with a profuse expression of gratitude. Rev. Mishima said that in comparing these two types of expressions of thanks, the former is likely to be perceived as insincere, while in the latter there is the power of emotional conviction. In a similar fashion, Rev. Mishima said our saying of the Nembutsu, "Namu Amida Butsu," must also have the same conviction. But he clarified that, contrary to the beliefs of some Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, it doesn’t matter how loudly or how many times you say it. In fact, he said it really doesn’t have to necessarily be said at all; it just has to be deeply felt within. Rev. Mishima’s message was that discovering the attitude of Namu Amida Butsu within oneself is "finding the true self."

Following Rev. Mishima, WCBT’s Lotus Band took the stage and performed a mini-concert of three songs. In I Want It That Way, singer Allison Haraguchi took center stage and gave a very strong performance, with backup vocals from singer Lindsay Ogino and guitarists Kevin Hata and Kyle Kagawa. Next, the audience enjoyed the band’s performance of Reflections, the beautiful song from the Disney movie, "Mulan." This song relates to the Buddhist quest of finding the true self, because Reflections asks "Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me? When will my reflection show who I am inside?" This song was one that the Lotus singers had also sung at their well-received debut performance several years ago. But it was truly remarkable how much stronger and more beautiful Lindsay’s and Allison’s voices sounded at the Ho-on-ko Service, and how much both continue to grow as singers.

For their last number, Lotus performed one of their most recent additions, the moving ballad by Edwin McCain, I’ll Be. The song featured the lead vocal of Lindsay, who passionately delivered the haunting lines of the chorus: "I’ll be your crying shoulder, I’ll be love’s suicide. I’ll be better when I’m older, I’ll be the greatest fan of your life."

To cap off a this memorable service, after the Lotus Band performance, participants were treated to delicious chow mein dinner courtesy of Toban D. The chef was none other than Mr. Dick Koga himself, who appears to have perfected the chow mein recipe. Many thanks to Dick and to the toban for a great dinner!

Perhaps it can be said that WCBT’s 2002 Ho-on-ko Service created a unique opportunity to reflect upon not only our past, but our present and future as well. While it was wonderful to renew old ties with Rev. Mishima and Rinban Nori, who were our ministers in the 80’s and 90’s, it is also a bit sad because we understandably miss their presence. However, our current minister, Rev. Kawawata, continues to emphasize and support the same message as that of our previous ministers, which is to remind us of the need to continue not only listening to the Dharma and seeking our true self, but also actively trying to help share our understanding of the Dharma with others. A concrete example of this support is our Temple Communications Staff, whose main responsibility is, in fact, studying and sharing the Dharma with others. Also, at this service were several relatively new WCBT families, some of whom had discovered our temple via our Living Dharma Website. Interestingly, the website, which exists to share the teachings of Buddhism with people the world over, began through the support of another previous WCBT minister, Rev. Motohiro Kiyota, who though not present in person, was instrumental in getting the website started in 1997. Finally, the Lotus Band, as representatives of our Buddhist youth, and as performers who have shared and will continue to share their Buddhist message outside our temple walls, might also be said to symbolize our positive hopes for the future.

Rinban Nori Ito

Rev. Koen Mishima