I was in Los Angeles for a ritual training workshop at the Higashi Honganji Betsuin and my husband was trying to get a hold of me. When I didn’t answer my cell phone, he left messages with two of the ministers also attending the workshop. One was Rev. Nori Ito, Bishop of the North America District. He asked me later what that was all about and I told him a family who belonged to the Midwest Buddhist Temple scheduled an ashes burial service and found out their minister, Rev. Ron Miyamura, wouldn’t be able to do it so Rev. Ron suggested they call me. Rev. Nori thought it was strange that me as a Higashi Honganji minister would do a service for a Nishi Honganji temple but I told him we (BTC and MBT) cover for each other all the time and also give and get help from the Jodoshu minister. Rev. Nori might have been more surprised if I mentioned that the Shingon minister has done services for our members and when he was unavailable he told me to go ahead and do the ashes burial service for a Shingon follower (I chanted Hannya Shingyo and read Kukai’s “I-ro-ha” poem).
In a place like Los Angeles, there are plenty of ministers within each Buddhist sect and denomination so they never have to ask for help from ordained people of other sects. But in Chicago the Buddhist clergy cooperates in helping out other temples’ members. Sectarian differences don’t come much into play for most memorials or weddings – people just want a ceremony that feels Buddhist.
(Above – photo from June 2009, Chicago Sun-Times. Think of Rev. Ron as low-keyed Lou and me as hot-headed Ozzie.)
It’s always hard to give a talk at a memorial service when you didn’t know the deceased. The only thing the family of Mr. W told me was that their father was an avid sports fan and everyone was asked to come to the memorial service wearing jerseys of their favorite teams. I went to the service at the funeral home hoping to learn more about Mr. W. It was a Christian ceremony conducted by the pastor from Mr. W’s daughter’s church. The family wanted him to deliver a Christian message for the sake of Mrs. W who is Christian. The minister showed a graceful respect in talking about visiting Mr. W during his illnesses. He didn’t come out and say Mr. W was a Buddhist, but said he always asked Mr. W if it was okay to pray for him and Mr. W cheerfully consented. In his closing prayer the minister asked that God draw Mr. W nearer to Him which I think is a nice way of saying, “There’s still hope even in the afterlife for this person to find Jesus.” It may not be what the hardline Christians believe, but I’ve heard it expressed by Asians who know their many ancestors died as Buddhists.
Mr. W had made it clear to his son that he wanted a Buddhist ceremony, so at the gravesite before the short ashes burial service, I did a Dharma Name presentation. Only that morning I picked out a phrase from San Sei Ge (Juseige to you Nishi folks) – “that my Name is voiced throughout the ten directions.” It occurred to me that hearing the Name, Namu Amida Butsu, is like hearing the cheering of sports fans for their home team. So I explained Mr. W’s Dharma Name “voice [heard] throughout” as hearing him continuing to root for his family and friends, that he will keep guiding and inspiring them. In Namu Amida Butsu, they will hear his voice and the voices of all the Buddhas, enlightened teachers, and Bodhisattvas, spiritual guides. As players on the field of our own life, there will be setbacks and challenges, but we will hear the cheers from the stands, telling us to keep going forward.
Doing the service for the MBT member was a hoyo (Dharma-event) for me, a chance to gain a little more understanding of the nembutsu and receive the encouragement of Amida (Unbounded Light and Life).