This year, Shinrankai celebrates 60 years since its birth. The sound of Buddhism is crossing the oceans and is steadily resonating around the world. Since its inception, Shinrankai has established foreign branches mainly in overseas Japanese communities. However, in recent years the number of countries with Shinran Gakutos has gone up by 25, and overseas Buddhism-sharing activities have been changing dramatically. Let us explore the front line of the Buddhism-sharing activities.
Matterhorn in Switzerland
Online activities have now lit the fire
of Dharma in Europe
Looking through the window of an airplane heading to Geneva, Switzerland, Buddhist teacher Hiroshi Morita took a deep breath of admiration at the panoramic view of the Alps floating in a sea of clouds. The purpose of this expedition to Europe (Nov 13th – 21st last year) was to meet with Shinran Gakutos in many locations in Europe and bestow the correct object of reverence to them. All of those Gakutos started listening to Buddhism via online lectures thanks to Amida Buddha’s supreme power.
Awakened in Switzerland to the roots of
the Buddhist spirit
Buddhist teacher Morita met Japanese expatriate Ms. Mutsumi Arai at a station in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. 16 years ago, she married a Swiss pianist and moved to Bern, where her husband’s family home is located. She too is a musician and gives piano performances. Her feeling of uneasiness toward Christianity provided a spark for her to start listening to Buddhism. “It seems that everybody believes that as long as they pray and confess whatever sins they have committed, their sins will be cancelled out.” "Why do I think in that way? Is it because I am Japanese? Well then, what are the roots of the Japanese mindset?" In her childhood, she questioned why people would visit family graves. Such an experience pushed her harder to look for Buddhist lectures. Finally, she met with Mr. Morita.
The concept in Buddhism which appealed to her the most was the law of cause and effect. “I learned that the Japanese way of thinking derives from Buddhism. The old traditional Japanese tale 'The man who made flowers bloom' exactly describes the very idea of the law of cause and effect. My experience in Switzerland gave me an opportunity to listen to Buddhism.” According to statistics released by the Foreign Ministry, approximately 1.34 million Japanese people live abroad. “Japanese people coming into contact with a different culture are more likely to search for their roots. They might have an extra interest in Buddhism,” Ms. Arai said.
United by the six characters in Germany
The day after next, they held the Myogo-granting ceremony in Munich in the south of Germany. Outside there was a snowstorm, but the houses there are sturdily built, so you don't feel cold when inside them. The participants were Pascal and Robert from Germany, and Ms. Arai. Although they were meeting each other for the first time, they immediately started a lively conversation as if they had known each other for a long time. One of the topics was “What do you think the dark mind is?” This kind of lively discussion is a unique trait of Shinran Gakutos.
After the ceremony, they had dinner at an Indian restaurant. Pascal asked a question: “Amida Buddha made his promise to save us knowing full well that we cannot perform good deeds. Then why does Buddhism urge us to practice good deeds?" Both Robert and Ms. Arai showed interest in Pascal's question. The Buddhist teachings are gradually reaching them all via the internet, even through unpolished English. Mr. Morita was very moved by their earnest inquiry.
That night, Mr. Morita stayed at Robert’s house. Robert asked, “What should I do daily as a Buddhist?” Mr. Morita answered, “Listening comes first. Whenever there is a chance to listen to the Buddhist teachings, then by all means, listen. But if there is no chance to listen to Buddhism, it is taught that you should do chanting.” And so they chanted the Hymn of True Faith together. Following Mr. Morita’s every step during the chanting, Robert sat on his heels, bowed deeply and joined his hands together towards the correct object of reverence. After chanting, Robert smiled and said, “Now that I know how to chant, I can do it every day.”
Dots to Lines
---- The beginning of a New Drama
The next day, Robert saw Mr. Morita off at Munich Central Station. Upon parting, Robert smiled, shook Mr. Morita’s hand, and said, “I am delighted to have met you.” Mr. Morita firmly returned the handshake. Shinran Gakutos “dotted” all over Europe are finding connections with each other across cultural and generational “lines”; thus the area of influence is expanding. Feeling this enthusiastic response, Mr. Morita headed for the next destination, Paris.
The Myogo-granting ceremony in Munich, Germany. From left: Ms. Mutsumi Arai, Robert, Pascal, Mr. Morita (November 19th 2017)
Cheese fondue, a specialty of Switzerland
Historical townscape in Munich, Germany