Eitaikyo Service: The "Perpetual Sutra"

by Rev. Ken Kawawata

The Eitaikyo Service is a memorial service for people who have handed down the teaching of the Nembutsu to us. In the glossary in our temple’s service book, "Eitaikyo" is defined as a "perpetual memorial service." This is a general memorial service for all departed members of the temple. In particular, we honor those names which have been placed in our temple’s Eitaikyo Register. The word Eitaikyo actually means "perpetual sutra." Eitai means "perpetual" and Kyo means "sutra," or "teaching of Buddha."

I think that the Eitaikyo Service was originally established by the followers of Buddha. They wished that the Buddha’s teachings could continue to their descendants from generation to generation, so they began to observe the Eitaikyo Service and to establish an Eitaikyo Fund for the maintaining of their Sangha or temple. In our Shin Buddhist tradition, it’s said that the Abbot Jakunyo, the 14th Abbot of Honganji (i.e., descendent of Shinran) during the Edo period in 1679, was the one who began the Eitaikyo Services in Shin Buddhism.

At Eitaikyo service time, we are given a chance to think about the kind of "gift" we can leave for our children, and for the following generation. Of course, people usually think about leaving money or property to their children. But we should ask ourselves, "Does money and property guarantee that our children will have a meaningful life?"

Money and property can make our life more comfortable, but they unfortunately are not able to solve the basic and crucial issue of our human suffering. At the first North American District Dobo Retreat back in 1991, Rev. Michio Miyato gave us a similar message in his lecture. He said, "Normally we think of money or property as the ‘fortune’ we leave for our children. But what are the really important values we want to leave to our children?" Then he quoted a poem of Rev. Shiryo Umehara, who was a famous scholar and priest of Nishi Honganji. Rev. Umehara sent his daughter off in marriage with only this simple poem:

"Put hands together and walk the path with spring wind."

The meaning behind this poem is that, by reciting Namu Amida Butsu ("put hands together" in Gassho) and "walking the path" of the Buddha’s teaching, we will feel the warm "spring wind" regardless of how severe the cold north winds may blow. Rev. Miyato then continued: "In the words of Rev. Umehara’s poem, it is the teaching of Nembutsu that will enable his daughter to change the difficult stormy conditions of her life into the comforting spring winds. No gift a parent can give to their children can be greater than the wisdom of Buddha."

This "wisdom of Buddha" in our Jodoshinshu tradition is the "spirit of Namu" in the phrase Namu Amida Butsu. Namu means "bowing the head." Specifically, when we bow our head there are two meanings. First, when we feel we are bad or wrong, we may bow down our head and say, "I am sorry." Secondly, when we express our thanks to someone, we may bow our head down and also say, "Thank you." Thus, Namu has two aspects, the feeling of being sorry and the feeling of being grateful.

Sometimes we may feel that we have a "right" to have a comfortable and happy life. But if we think about our lives, we realize that everyday we have to take other lives for our existence. For example, we eat meat, vegetables and fruits. We have to consume other lives, because the sacrifice of those lives sustain our own. We have to take life for our own living. Rather than feeling we have a "right" to take other life, we should actually confess our selfishness and deeply appreciate the sacrifice of those lives. That is why, in the Shin Tradition, we say "itadakimasu" before each meal. Itadakimasu means "I humbly receive this meal with my sincere appreciation." This is the spirit of Namu, the spirit of feeling both sorry and grateful. In addition, in terms of our relationships with other people, if we can have this spirit of Namu, of bowing to each other, we won’t have any fights and arguments. We can live in the world of peace, harmony and oneness.

Every Sunday during our services, we recite the Three Treasures. The Three Treasures also represent this spirit of Namu. When we say, "I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha," we are also saying, "I bow to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha." In other words, "Namu Buddha, Namu Dharma, Namu Sangha." There is an interesting story concerning the person who was the first to recite the Three Treasures. The story is called "The Ordination of Yasa."

When the Buddha was in the city of Benaresu, a big city in northern India, there was a rich man who had a son whose name was Yasa. He was so rich, he built three palaces for his son Yasa, one palace for the summer, one for the winter, and one for the rainy season. In India, the rainy season is from April to the middle of July. It rains every day, so people do not go out but tend to just stay indoors. However, since Yasa was the son of rich man, staying indoors was not such a bad thing. In his palace, Yasa was the only male, and he lived with his wife, mother and beautiful servants. He had a party every day with young beautiful girls and, even though burning oil was expensive, he burned it every night through the entire evening.

One night, he awoke from sleep and looked around him. He saw the young beautiful girls were all sleeping. One girl was sleeping on a musical instrument, some girls were snoring, and another one was drooling. One was talking in her sleep. When he saw that scene, he thought that it was like a graveyard. He felt that it was ugly. Even though he had a fulfilled life materialistically, he had a question, "Is my life really like this?" He decided to leave the palace. He walked to a place called Deer Forest, where the Buddha lived. The Buddha called to him "Come here," and he went to where the Buddha was and listened to his sermon.

Meanwhile, back at Yasa’s palace, his mother and his wife realized that he was not at the palace and they called his father. The father organized a search team to look for Yasa. They found his gold sandals at the entrance of the Deer Forest. Eventually, Yasa’s father also found the Buddha in the forest. He too, began to listen to the Buddha’s sermon. Yasa’s father was really impressed by the Buddha’s talk.

Then Yasa’s father said, "I take refuge in this great teacher (Buddha) and I believe him from the bottom of my heart." He said, "I take refuge in Buddha’s teaching and in his group." And he wanted to become a follower of the Buddha. He asked Buddha to let him become his lay follower. Then he said, "I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha until the end of my life." So Yasa’s father was really the first person to recite the Three Treasures.

When the Buddha was giving his teachings to Yasa’s father, Yasa’s own understanding of the teachings also became deeper. Yasa himself decided to become a disciple of the Buddha and became an ordained priest. Yasa’s father and mother were surprised that Yasa had become a priest and they wished he would come back home. But Yasa said, "I have become a disciple of Buddha; I cannot go home." Finally, his parents accepted his becoming a priest and invited the Buddha and all his disciples to their palace for a meal.

The next morning, the Buddha and his all disciples went to Yasa’s parent’s palace. At the palace, Yasa’s mother and Yasa’s wife also listened to the Buddha’s sermon. They said to Buddha, "We are really impressed with your message…Now, we take refuge in you, your Dharma and your Sangha." Then they also became lay followers of the Buddha. In this way, Yasa’s mother and wife were the second and third people to recite the Three Treasures. Eventually, the rest of Yasa’s family and their employees all became followers of the Buddha. Four of Yasa’s best friends also became monks. It is said that, all together, through Yasa’s influence, more then 50 people became followers of Buddha. Clearly, Yasa’s action and thought influenced his family and friends. Yasa realized that listening to the Buddha’s teachings was the most important matter in his life. He found a meaningful direction for his life. He became a seeker of the truth. He showed others how the Three Treasures of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha actually work in his everyday life.

Today, we ourselves wish that the Buddha’s teaching can be passed to our children and continue from generation to generation. We know that a religious education is important in order to live a happy life. But the reality is that the teachings can really only be transmitted to us when we really enjoy listening to the Dharma. How can we enjoy encountering the teaching of Buddha? I think that when we really encounter the Dharma, we are actually encountering our own true self, we are seeing deeply into our being beyond the normal veil of our ego. I think that this is the enjoyment of listening to the Dharma. Also, when you really enjoy it, you naturally want to share it with others. In the same way, when you discover a new delicious food, you want to tell somebody and perhaps share it with them. When you eat delicious foods together with friends or your family, you feel that the food is somehow even more delicious. You feel the joy of sharing. It is the same way with the Buddha’s teaching. You find the joy of discovering your true self and you want to share your experience to others. This is the real meaning of Eitaikyo. We just need the spirit of Namu in our heart and in our daily lives.

If you have a cup full of water, you cannot pour any more water into it. You have to tilt it and let some of the old water out. Then you have space for new water. In the same way, our head is like a cup full of water. Our head is always filled with thoughts of our own problems and with the worries of our daily lives. We have to let those thoughts out and make space for a new direction. So we have to tilt our heads when we bow, and let those self-centered thoughts empty out. We have to make space for the Buddha’s teachings. That is why the spirit of Namu, the spirit of bowing our head, is important in our daily lives. Having this spirit is necessary in order to live the life of Namu Amida Butsu. When we bow our head, we can discover a new world and our true self.

Thank you.

Library Menu | Home