Listening attentively to the voices of suffering people

Rissho Kosei-kai of Tainan (Taiwan)

Ms Chen Shufen

This Dharma Journey talk was presented at Rissho Kosei-kai of Tainan, Taiwan, on 9 November 2019, during the ceremony celebrating the birth of Founder Nikkyo Niwano.

I became a member of Rissho Kosei-kai in 2007, but my Dharma parent [a person who guides another to Rissho Kosei-kai] quit the organisation soon after I joined. I dont know the true reason why she did so, but shortly after I became a member, she and I took part in a group pilgrimage to Rissho Kosei-kai headquarters in Tokyo. At that timeshe publicly accused me of stealing a thousand yen from her purse while we were staying in the Second Pilgrimage Hall, and this caused a big fuss. I think it was one of the reasons why she quit.

I thought if I quit, too, I would lose my chance to clear my name, so I stayed on. A few years later, a similar incident happened and I became the suspect again. I stayed on, believing that the suspicion would be cleared someday.

During this time, I was asking my fellow members what the core of Rissho Kosei-kai’s teaching was. No one could give me a satisfactory answer, so I read Buddhism for Today by Founder Niwano to study basic Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra. However, reading the book didn’t clarify why I’d been suspected of being a thief more than once.

Last year, Rev Ikuyo Hirose, a deputy director of Rissho Kosei-kai International, was newly appointed as minister of Rissho Kosei-kai of Tainan. In the Buddhist centre, she repeatedly taught us about the practice of the Bodhisattva Never Unworthy of Respect, who is described in chapter 20 of the Lotus Sutra as revering the buddha-nature inherent in everyone he met even though they attacked and ridiculed him. Rev Hirose also explained to us the content of Buddhism for TodayThanks to her, I came to have a better understanding of the Lotus Sutra and other basic teachings of Buddhism, but there were a few things that I did not yet fully understand.

I was appointed as an area leader in the spring of last year. 6 months later, in October, even though I was not sure whether I was performing satisfactorily as an area leader, I received my qualification as a Dharma teacher. During my Dharma dissemination training, which I received at the Taito Buddhist Centre in Tokyo prior to receiving my Dharma teacher qualification, I was able to learn through experience what the role of an area leader is. Little by little, and to my great gratitude, I became able to understand the meaning of assisting others in the Way.

When I participated in the chanting of o-daimoku [Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, meaning, “I take refuge in the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wondrous Dharma”] during the Dharma teacher qualification ceremony, my grandfather on my paternal side appeared in my mind. I had never met him, as he was killed in World War II. When I felt his existence, tears welled up in my eyes. In my mind’s eye, he was trapped in a cage on the bottom of the deep sea. During a Hoza following the o-daimoku chanting, I asked for guidance from Rev Koichi Saito, the director of Rissho Kosei-kai International.

He told me, “Since you are a Dharma teacher now, it may be time for you to get over your previous narrow perspective”. I received his guidance with deep gratitude and pledged to practice the Dharma ever more diligently, thinking that I had been reborn as a new person.

I’d heard that my grandfather had been conscripted by the Japanese military during World War II and was killed in battle, but it was not known when and where he died. Before leaving Japan for Taiwan, I visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where the spirits of the fallen soldiers are enshrined, and asked for a record of when and where my grandfather died. I was told that they could not find his file because I could not provide enough information about him. So, I jotted down the address of the shrine and returned to Tainan.

Before receiving my Dharma teacher qualification, I had been told by Rev Hirose to apply for posthumous names for my grandfather and other ancestors of mine. However, the number of ancestors for whom I wanted posthumous names was increasingand I had not been able to submit an application before I came to Japan. When I submitted the application soon after I returned to Tainan, Rev Hirose told me that since I was a Dharma teacher now, I was qualified to give my ancestors posthumous names myself. After receiving instructions from Rev Hirose, I gave posthumous names to my grandfather and other ancestors. On that same day, I sent a copy of my family register to the Yasukuni Shrine, asking once again for information about the death of my grandfather.

To my pleasant surprise, three weeks later, I received a letter from the Yasukuni Shrine letting me know when and where my grandfather died. According to the letter, my grandfather, who belonged to the Japanese navy, died off the coast of the Philippines when he was 35 years old. This made me realise the significance of giving posthumous names to and conducting memorial services for our ancestors. At the same time, I wondered why the image of my grandfather had appeared in my mind while I was chanting the o-daimoku during the Dharma teacher qualification ceremony. My grandfather had to leave his family when his son (my father) was still very young. He has been cooped up at the bottom of the sea for more than seventy years. I marvelled at his perseverance and realised that the power of endurance was what I needed most.

I always wondered why I had to be falsely accused of theft, and I hadn’t forgiven my Dharma parent. But through learning about my grandfather, I came to realise that the Buddha had been teaching me about perseverance. I found myself filled with a sense of liberation I had never experienced until then.

I also remembered that I fell while riding on a motorbike shortly before leaving for Japan to participate in the Dharma teacher qualification ceremony. Fortunately, I didn’t get injured, but it was near the condominium where my Dharma parent lived. It made me realise that because I was a Dharma teacher now, I should repay my debt of gratitude to my Dharma parent for connecting me to the Dharma by visiting her and helping her to be linked to the Dharma once again. I wanted to see her and talk to her directly, and I visited her condo several times. But she has never opened the door for me. I do not know how long it may take, but I hope that someday I’ll be able to see her and convey my gratitude to her.

In the following month, November of last year, our chapter head and her husband went abroad and were away from home for a month. I went to the Buddhist centre every day on behalf of the chapter head. I served as the leader in sutra recitation almost every morning and I was able to recite the whole volume of the Threefold Lotus Sutra by the end of the month. At first I was worried about whether or not I could perform the role of recitation leader satisfactorily. When the recitation of the entire volume was over, I found myself enveloped with deep emotion. I realised that everyone possesses unlimited potential and buddha-nature, as well as the wisdom of the Buddha. I was also able to understand the importance of helping other people realise it and find true happiness their own.

Last year, Ms Chiu Jie Zi, who had been a mainstay of Rissho Kosei-kai of Tainan for a long time, passed away. We conducted a funeral for her in the Buddhist centre, in Rissho Kosei-kai style for the first time. The deep emotion I felt then stays vividly in my mind. Ms Chiu taught me how to live as a human being. In front of the funeral altar, I made a vow to draw close to people who are in pain, listen carefully to what they have to say, and share the Dharma with them.

In September of last year, shortly before I attended the Dharma teacher qualification ceremony, I guided a daughter-in-law of my great senior Mr L to Rissho Kosei-kai. Mr L was fluent in Japanese. While serving as an interpreter for the Japanese ministers of Buddhist centres in Taiwan, he was also working on translating many Rissho Kosei-kai publications. He published a periodical, Chinese Tainan Kosei, and made a great contribution to Rissho Kosei-kai of Tainan. He is 94 years old now and has been suffering from brain disease for the past six years. He can no longer speak and is in a wheelchair.

Two years ago, because of a misunderstanding between his children and a member in charge of collecting membership fees, his name was removed from the membership register without notifying him. I thought he must have been feeling sad since his ties with his favourite Rissho Kosei-kai had been cut off, even though he could not put his feelings into words. Through my work, I had become acquainted with Mr L’s daughter-in-law, who was the wife of Mr L’s late second son. She was taking care of Mr L all by herself, and she had a lot of complaints toward Rissho Kosei-kai and the brothers and sisters of her late husband. Whenever I met her, I listened to her attentively. She gradually came to trust me and joined Rissho Kosei-kai. Shortly after I returned from the Dharma teacher qualification ceremony, her own mother passed away.

I soon went to Kaohsiung with Rev Hirose, where the mother of Mr L’s daughter-in-law had lived. Upon the advice of Rev Hirose, I gave a posthumous name to her deceased mother. Then Rev Hirose and I visited her native home, where we conducted a service in Rissho Kosei-kai’s style before 20 relatives of hers who were non-members of Rissho Kosei-kai. It pleased her very much.

I had heard that Mr L’s other children didn’t like Rissho Kosei-kai. So, I thought it was time for me to practise a motto suggested by President-designate Kosho Niwano as part of Rissho Kosei-kai’s objectives for 2019: “First, try doing it.” I gave it a try and learned that his family did not necessarily dislike Rissho Kosei-kai. In fact, Mr L’s daughter joined Rissho Kosei-kai, thinking it would be conducive to happiness in the afterlife for her father-in-law, who had died recently. I also heard from her that on the memorial day of her mother (Mr L’s late wife), her brothers and sisters would get together and have a ceremonial dinner. I understood that all of her siblings shared deep respect for their mother and were tied together with familial love. I thought that paying respect to our ancestors and bringing harmony to a family were what Rissho Kosei-kai taught us, too. I realised that all I had to do was revere their buddha-nature, which they expressed as respect for their parents.

In October of this year, I participated in the Oeshiki Ichijo Festival held in the Tokyo headquarters. After that, I visited the Odate Buddhist Centre in Akita Prefecture to receive Dharma dissemination training, where I met Ms Yasuyo Yamamoto, an area leader. Her father-in-law, Mr Koichi Yamamoto, had visited Rissho Kosei-kai of Tainan many times to spread the Dharma with Mr Sadao Otsuki, who was the founding father of Rissho Kosei-kai of Tainan. I learned that Mr Yamamoto had passed away three years agoand before his death he had been worried about members in Tainan, especially Mr L, with whom he had lost direct contact.

Although Ms Yamamoto herself had never been to Tainan, she had heard a lot about the Tainan sangha from her father-in-law, so she felt close to it. She kept letters from Mr L, among other mementoes of her father-in-law, which she showed us. The letters from Mr L were written in beautiful Japanese.

Mr Yamamoto often wrote letters to Mr L, but he stopped receiving replies several years before his death. One day, Mr Yamamoto received a phone call from one of Mr L’s sons, asking him not to write letters to his father anymore as his father had been seriously ill. Mr Yamamoto died worrying about the health of Mr L as well as the current situation of Rissho Kosei-kai of Tainan.

I was deeply moved to hear what Ms Yamamoto told me about her father-in-law. Mr Yamamoto kept thinking about Rissho Kosei-kai of Tainan for a long time, and now, after his death, his consideration for his fellow sangha members was kept alive by his daughter-in-law. When I thought about this, I realised that, thanks to Mr L, I’d been able to guide his daughter-in-law as well as his own daughter to Rissho Kosei-kai. I told Mr L’s daughter what I had learned in Japan soon after I returned to Tainan.

I think what is wonderful about Rissho Kosei-kai is the warmth and kindheartedness of the sangha. I visited the Odate Buddhist Centre for the first time, but I felt as if I had returned to my parents’ house. I felt the same at the Taito Buddhist Centre, where I received the Dharma dissemination training. People may not be able to feel the same warmth in the Tainan Buddhist Centre yet, but when I realised how important it is for me to take the initiative in listening to the voice of every member—and connecting with them so we can attain liberation togethermy heart felt lightened and refreshed.

This year, I guided a couple who had lost their son in a traffic accident to Rissho Kosei-kai. The only thing I can do is to listen attentively to them, as they are in deep sorrow and holding a grudge against the person who caused the accident. I gave their son a posthumous name and conducted a sutra recitation service for him, but his parents are not yet able to turn to the teachings of the Buddha. Listening to their complaints for a year or two is nothing when I think of my grandfather’s hard lot. I have no trouble listening to others for hours. I hope from the bottom of my heart that listening to what people have to say with a sincere heart will bring them to an awareness and we can practise the Dharma together.

When I received the Dharma dissemination training at the Odate Buddhist Centre, I shared a room with a member from another Buddhist centre. I listened to her for hours. She had suffered from insomnia for forty years, but after she talked about her troubles during a Hoza, she began to be able to sleep without sleeping pills. As her Dharma parent had also left Rissho Kosei-kai, she’d spent the last 12 years feeling like an orphan. She remained a member but had little knowledge about the teaching since she had not participated in the Buddhist centre’s activities. When she returned home after the Dharma dissemination training, she made a vow to be diligent in her practice and started walking the bodhisattva way.

I am happy to learn of her spiritual growth as if it were my own. There are many members who need assistance in order to understand Rissho Kosei-kai’s teaching correctly. Some have trouble in their family relationships. There are also many who have left the organisation for various reasons. I am sure, however, that Rissho Kosei-kai can make anyone happy if they faithfully practise the Dharma.

Following in the footsteps of the Founder, I pledge that I will not forget a smile and dedicate myself to practising the Dharma together with my fellow members.

Thank you very much.

Ms Chen (far right) participates in a Hoza at Rissho Kosei-kai of Tainan.