Tuesday, June 6, 2017

No Fanfare: The True Buddha-Disciple

How many of you can say your college drinking buddy is now the university president? I’m so proud to say, “Yes, my classmate Kigoshi Yasushi is currently the  president of Otani University.” But after reading the article in the June 2017 issue of Higashi Honganji’s magazine Dobo, I’m even prouder of my dear friend Yasushi (aka “Harry”) – I see he is a true disciple of our teacher Shunsho Terakawa (see my Tricycle magazine article http://tricycle.org/magazine/confronting-heart-darkness/).

A year after I enrolled, when Kigoshi-san joined the Master’s level of the Terakawa zemi (seminar group), we all thought,  “What a party boy!” He wanted to go out drinking every week though our normal schedule was once a month. But I cherish the memories (what’s left of them in my addled brain) of those weekly binges – besides me, there was the Brazilian student Joaquim, so our pub-crawlings through Kyoto were truly international conferences. After a couple months, we had to go back to our monthly schedule because it was too much of a financial strain on our limited pocketbooks at the time.

I’ve met up with Kigoshi-san at various IASBS (Int’l Assn. of Shin Buddhist Studies) conferences and I’m hoping I’ll still be alive and well enough to see him in Los Angeles for the Dharma Seeds (Higashi Honganji’s lay leader training program) seminar next year. But in case I’m not around for that, I’m writing this post for all of you Dharma Seeds attendees.

One thing you should know about Kigoshi-san is what he’s been trying to keep secret for many years – ever since the 2011 tsunami disaster in northeastern Japan, he’s been leading an ongoing volunteer project to help the victims. He’s been organizing students and faculty members to go to the affected area on an overnight bus – do their work for a full day – then return to Kyoto overnight, so no one has to require overnight lodging. I heard that the volunteers assist in the hard work of cleaning up the debris and doing what they can to help the victims deal with the details of going on with their lives.

[photo from Dobo magazine]
The cat is out of the bag now, since in the June 2017 Dobo issue, Prof. Shimazono Susumu brings up Kigoshi-san’s volunteer work in their dialogue. The article’s dialogue brings Sophia University religious studies professor Shimazono into conversation with Kigoshi-san on the topic of “End of Life Questioning of Religion.” Following Terakawa-sensei’s footsteps, after our time in graduate school at Otani University, Kigoshi-san went on to do comparative religious studies in Tokyo and in Europe.

Actually I found they didn’t discuss “end of life” questioning of religion as much as how many people who aren’t necessarily facing imminent death are seeking answers to life’s problems. Kigoshi-san states that young people want a religion that addresses the suffering of others, suffering brought about through upheavals such as war and natural disasters. Religion can’t be about just my individual salvation and the condemnation of all others to hell. For Kiyoshi-san as a teacher and administrator, it is very much a part of the students’ education in Buddhism to be involved in the specific problems of real people, not some abstract concept of “helping the world.” For those who are going back to their temples as ministers, they need the hands-on experience of grappling with Buddhist principles of non-self and interconnection by working with others in community service. Otherwise the Buddhism they preach from their pulpits will be purely hypothetical.

The article blew me away (not easy to do right now in my preoccupation with health issues) – how Kigoshi-san and Prof. Shimazono make the case for the crucial role of religion in the world today. There is so much grief and loneliness felt by people in various segments of society – the elderly, the disabled, the socially and economically oppressed – yet the teachings of Buddhism have shown the way for centuries how to overcome such sadness and isolation. Kigoshi-san in the Higashi Honganji way (of Kiyozawa et al) states that it’s not about telling people to wait for their rebirth in the Pure Land after they die, but it’s really about awakening to the realm of flowingness in our day-to-day, moment-by-moment interactions with other beings (human and otherwise).

I remember one of the topics discussed in Prof. Terakawa’s seminar was the concept of “true Buddha-disciple” that Shinran emphasized in his Kyogyoshinsho. Now I’m happy to say I can see the manifestation of that true Buddha-disciple in my classmate, my good old drinking buddy, Kigoshi-san. Not by just being a scholar but by walking the walk, he shows us the way of Oneness, of transcending the ego-self.

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