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2019.05.30 Update

The 850th Celebration of Shinran Shōnin’s Birth and the 800th Anniversary of the Establishment of Jōdo Shinshū

The Shinshū Ōtani-ha (Higashi Honganji) will hold the 850th Celebration of the Birth of Shinran Shōnin and the 800th Anniversary of the Establishment of Jōdo Shinshū in 2023. The theme for the commemorative event has been announced.

1. Theme
南無阿弥陀仏 人と生まれたことの意味をたずねていこう
Namu Amida Butsu—To Discover the Meaning of Being Born as Human Beings

2. Our wishes in selecting this theme

I have been given life here and now.
My wish is to live to the fullest of my potential.
Challenges and hardships continue to come my way
But they can never take away the will to live my life.
When I listen that wish “to live” from the depths of my heart,
I awaken to a voice calling from within.
It is the voice calling out to me,
Namu Amida Butsu

When I call out to the Buddha, it is to listen to the Buddha’s calling to me.
While listening to that wish,
I will ask the Buddha to lead me to discover my birth as a human being.

Together with those who lived before us,
With those we live together with now,
And to those who will come in the future,
Let us discover together the meaning of our birth.

A seed sprouts and blossoms into a flower, then withers and dies.
But the seed continues to live to give birth to another flower.

3. Purpose

A. Why was Namu Amida Butsu chosen as the theme?
Each of us experience anxieties, pain, and feelings of loneliness in our lives. At times, we grieve and suffer, but we also experience joy as well. This is because we are living right now having been born as human beings. In the midst of everyday life, we tend to choose the happy occasions and try to avoid those which bring sadness. However, the working of Amida Buddha’s vow is to embrace all of us who are lost in the cycle of happiness and pain without abandoning anyone.
The nenbutsu, the practice of listening to Amida Buddha’s vow and responding to it, is a truly universal path which is open to all people beyond time and place. This is because anxieties and suffering are universal to all humankind, and therefore, the Buddha’s vow has the power to resonate with all of us. When we hear the Buddha’s calling voice, we are reminded of the fundamental fact that we are all deeply interconnected with each other despite our sense of isolation caused by such sources of suffering. It is in this way that Jōdo Shinshū followers have found a way to live together as dōbō through sharing the teaching of the nenbutsu.
As we prepare for the 850th Celebration of Shinran Shōnin’s Birth and the 800th Anniversary of the Establishment of Jōdo Shinshū in 2023, we would like to take this opportunity to deepen our understanding of what the nenbutsu means to us in our lives. Therefore, we have chosen “Namu Amida Butsu” as the theme for this celebration.

B. To discover the meaning of being born as human beings
In the process of selecting this theme, we wanted to emphasize the importance of this idea of “being born as human beings.”
When we simply look for the meaning of our lives, our search always falls into the limitation of self-satisfaction. When we think about the meaning of something, our thought is always based on our judgment of good and bad. That is the reason why we chose the phrase “being born as human beings” as part of the theme. It refers to the universality of life where all of us inevitably experience aging, illness, and death. At the same time, each of our lives is unique, irreplaceable, and deeply interconnected with other lives. We can always go back to this universality through reflecting on the fundamental fact of having been born as human beings.
There appears the word “ningen (human)” in one of Shinran Shōnin’s writings. He annotated this word with an explanatory note, “This word means to be born as a human being.” Shinran Shōnin, as well as his followers, teach us that to be born as a human being is to be born into the midst of interconnections. If that is the case, we can only find the true meaning of life and the joy of living within the connections we have with other people. Moreover, within those connections, we can discover a way of liberation not only for an oneself, but also for all of us together. To discover the meaning of being born as a human being is to appreciate the connections we have through the teaching of Namu Amida Butsu. It is to reflect on how deeply we are supported by those connections, and at the same time, of how grave our transgressions are through reciting Namu Amida Butsu.

C. To realize a world where all lives are respected (a sangha)
Each of us has a unique way of thinking and living. It is virtually impossible for us to fully understand each other. Therefore, it is truly inconceivable that we are living together in spite of the fact that each of us is different.
In reality, however, we have encountered many difficulties in living together. We have a history of damaging human dignity by committing acts of wars, discrimination, bullying, abuse, and harassment. Unfortunately, those problems still run rampant in today’s society…
On July 26, 2016, an extremely disturbing incident happened. At a care home for people with disabilities in Sagamihara, Kanagawa prefecture, nineteen residents were killed and twenty-six others were injured by a former employee of the facility. Moreover, despite the scale and the atrocity of this tragedy, many people expressed their sympathy for the offender’s motivation behind the act on social networking services. Some even blamed the victims, under the thinking that the weak should be excluded from society. You might say that this tragedy was caused by such distorted views people have inside of their minds today. In this society where many people are burdened by negative self-image, the offender might have tried to build his self-esteem by looking down on his victims as people who are living worthless lives.
It is only through finding a spiritual base of equality that we can acquire a true sense of identity and create a world where everyone can live together in harmony.
For people to live together means to create a world where everyone is respected and treated equally despite any differences we might have. We can respect our differences to establish such a world by entrusting ourselves to the nenbutsu, the recitation of Namu Amida Butsu. Only the nenbutsu can be the true foundation of our relationships, a world where all lives are respected. Through reciting the nenbutsu, we can find a spiritual base of equality beyond any differences anytime and anywhere.
The nenbutsu is not a practice we do through our own efforts. It is the voice of Amida Buddha calling us to recite his Name, “Namu Amida Butsu.” When we hear the voice of the Buddha, we can find a true sense of identity. Because we have encountered Namu Amida Butsu, we can live with peace of mind right now, right here.

D. To become a nenbutsu follower
[The Buddha’s] rays of Light illuminate all the worlds in ten directions. [The Buddha] takes up all the nenbutsu followers and never abandon them.
(From the Meditation Sutra)
[The Wisdom of] Amida Buddha has tirelessly illuminated us with Great Compassion. No one is left behind from the Buddha’s compassionate heart. Through meeting with Hōnen Shōnin, Shinran Shōnin was able to find his true self among the unenlightened and ordinary beings. They suffered from their blind passions but were also embraced by Amida Buddha’s Great Compassion. They were encouraged to recite the neubutsu together with others. Since his passing, countless numbers of people have followed his footsteps and walked the path of the nenbutsu.
To celebrate Shinran Shōnin’s birth and the establishment of Jōdo Shinshū is to truly appreciate our being able to hear the Buddha’s calling voice “Namu Amida Butsu” and together to become nenbutsu followers. This appreciation is also the awakening to our harsh reality that we continue to lose direction in our lives and to create suffering and transgressions. But through this awakening, we can find a way to truly live together with all people.
Shinran Shōnin never took an academic approach to clarify the meaning of the nenbutsu. Rather, he always cherished the moment to encounter something beyond his preconceptions through listening to the teaching.
On the occasion of this Celebration, we are reminded of the importance of listening to Amida Buddha’s calling voice, “Namu Amida Butsu.” The previous Celebration was held fifty years ago under the theme “Let Us Discover the Significance of Birth and the Joy of Living.” Through the teaching of the Nenbutsu, and through reflecting on the theme of the previous celebration, we once again would like to seek the true meaning of “what it means to be born as human beings.”

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