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Buddhist Center of New York

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New York, NY 10016
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Minister's Message

Issue June 2015

To always have room for prayers in your life・・・】

Lately, we’ve been experiencing continuous days of considerable heat. How are all of you doing?

This year, there were also many days of rain during the latter half of July. Furthermore, the squall of severe thunderstorms we experienced reminded me of the rainy season in Japan. Just when the rainy season (?) ended, hot and humid days immediately followed in New York. 

The theme of President Niwano’s guidance for the month of July was “The Joy in Expressing Gratitude to Ancestors.” Obviously, I think the President mentioned ancestor veneration this month because the Special Annual Memorial Service for Ancestors (Ullambana Festival – “Obon Festival” in Japanese) happened to be observed during this period.

First of all, the President said, it is by leading lives “that will make our ancestors rejoice” that we will “cultivate our individual character.”

Next, that “we are connected by the ‘baton’ that is the lives of (our) ancestors innumerable”. Thus, we need to realize “the preciousness of our own lives.”

And “if even one of those ancestors had been absent, we would not exist.” “It is the opportunity to know the miracle of our own lives.” To summarize, the President said: “Ancestor veneration, in other words, gives us the chance to reflect upon the preciousness of our own lives.”

“In doing so, when our thoughts of appreciation for our ancestors have deepened, we cannot help but take a hard look at how we conduct ourselves and lead our lives.” He continues by saying: It is “such self-reflection” that is “connected to bodhisattva practices that shine the light into our corner of the world.”

“That is also the reason that Founder Niwano considered filial piety, ancestor veneration, and bodhisattva practice as components of one thing, and made that a subject of his teaching and guidance for us.”

“When we accept the larger meaning of ancestors,” we understand that “our ancestors are not only our own relatives, but everything to which we are connected” in the world in which we live. Thus, the greatest offering we can make to our ancestors is “to build a world of peace.”

Reading this, I was filled with gratitude.

In his guidance this month, the President explained to us the teaching of the One Vehicle, that any and everything in this universe are all related, that we are all one great life in this universe. I also thought that he explained in easy to understand manner the gradual and orderly sequence of how filial piety, ancestor veneration, and bodhisattva practice are all connected with “building a world of peace.”

Gratefully, this nurturesa sense of oneness with all living beings.

I have never understood as deeply as I had through this guidance how world peace is an extension of filial piety, ancestor veneration and bodhisattva practice. This left a deep impression in my heart and mind.

Now, “Urabon” is a phonetic translation of the Sanskrit word “Ullambana.” It is commonly called “Obon.”

Ullambanameans “hanging upside down.”  It connotes reversal or inversion.

Therefore, the significance of “Urabon-e (the service for Urabon)” is that it is a service for the deceased who are hanging upside down in the world of hell.  

“Urabon-e” is depicted in a easy to understand way through the story of the Venerable Maudgalyayana (named Mokuren Sonja in Japanese), one of Shakyamuni’s great disciples well known for his supernatural powers, who liberates his deceased mother, Shodainyo. 

I think many of you have already heard this legendary tale, but Maudgalyayana’s mother was always thinking of her son to the point of neglecting others’ welfare. She was guilty of being a miser, full of greed, always coveting at the expense of others and therefore, was being tormented in the world of “hungry spirits.”

 

When Maudgalyayana learns of his mother’s fate, he yearns to liberate her and asks Shakyamuni to help liberate her. Shakyamuni teaches him the importance of gathering his fellow practitioners together to offer transference of merit and donation. According to the story, Maudgalyayana immediately put the teaching into practice and was able to liberate his mother. This is said to be the origin of Urabon-e.

An event held when the spirits of the ancestors return to their respective homes – that is the ancestor veneration ritual for traditional Uranbon-e..

It happens only once a year. Since our ancestors are coming to our homes, we should welcome them warmheartedly.

This year, I had the opportunity to return to Japan in July. Our family gathered in front of our home altar in Tokyo and together we held the Uranbon-e ancestor veneration. We prepared and offered numerous dishes and drinks for our ancestors. The leader of the recitation was my son. My husband did the gong. My elder daughter did the wooden drum. My grandson, Kosuke, and I were participants. It has been three years since we gathered as a family to hold the Obon service at my home. I was so grateful. My heart felt calm and swelled with abundance. I prayed for our ancestors to feel at ease as they see how we are living. I was very happy.

We human beings tend to become pressed by our daily lives and lose ourselves. To have the time to face ourselves and to have a suitable place to do that would be wonderful. I believe that is precisely a place for prayers. Let us remember to quiet our minds and always endeavor to cultivate our hearts and minds.  

Gassho

Minister of New York Church

Etsuko Fujita

 
 

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