In Commemoration of Shinran Shonin’s 750th Memorial
Socho Koshin Ogui, Bishop
Buddhist Churches of America
It is very easy to go back to things as they were. It seems safe to keep things as they are. It is almost always a challenge to change and try and move forward to make something happen. It is, indeed, not easy to try new things out. But for me, there is no question that without trying new things and learning from our mistakes, there is no progress. What we are facing today is the result of what we’ve done or not done in the past. What we will have to face in the future is the result of what we are doing and decide to do now.
As we commemorate the 750th Memorial of our Founder, Shinran Shonin (1173-1263), I consider him to be a revolutionary priest because of the role he played in the history of Japanese Buddhism. He retreated from his life of “mountain Buddhism” for the select few, and brought “ground level Buddhism” down to the ordinary people of the villages and towns. He opened up the path to Buddhism for ordinary men, women, and children.
Shinran Shonin accepted fish and meat, and officially married – something which was unthinkable during those days. And as a result of his radical movement, he was able to find the way to walk the Buddhist path with his wife and children on a common ground. Shinran Shonin showed us that the Nembutsu path towards enlightenment was for anyone, including housewives, fishermen, and farmers. As a result, he was criticized as being a corrupt, fishy-smelling, undisciplined priest. And his name was not listed in the record of high-ranking priests during the Kamakura era.
Monshu Koshin Ohtani, present Abbott of the Nishi Hongwanji, describes in his book, “Buddha’s Wish for the World”, that, “….Shinran Shonin was the type of person who, even if he ran into a wall, would proceed to pick himself up and positively seek a new approach.”
Shinran Shonin was, indeed, a revolutionary priest in the history of Japanese Buddhism. We should truly realize this fact.
As Shin Buddhist living in the twenty-first century here in America, where different histories, traditions, cultures, ways of thinking, lifestyles, and languages prevail, I believe we must be open to making changes even bolder that those of Shinran Shonin 750 years ago. The “big picture” that I envision, and the dream that I have is, to make Jodo Shinshu Buddhism a major religious tradition here in America.
I am sure there are various reasons for our organization’s declining membership and shortage of ministers. We should do something to solve these matters. This is why my motto continues to be, “Anchu mosaku suru koto wo ikigai to shi, shiko sakugo wo osorezu,” or, “….to challenge oneself to search amidst the uncertainties of work and life, and not be afraid to try new things or make mistakes along the way.”
When we positively try new things out which fit into today’s lifestyle, then will we be able to see the BCA move forward in a positive direction. And then, we won’t have to keep crying about our declining membership and a shortage of ministers.
Koshin Ogui, Socho
Buddhist Churches of America