United with One Mind

Reverend Shindo Nomura,
Nichiren Shoshu Overseas Department Secretary

Greetings, everyone! I extend my heartfelt congratulations to you today for attending the Commemorative General Tozan Pilgrimage. As I was just introduced, I am Reverend Shindo Nomura. For more than sixteen 16 years, I have been serving in the Overseas Department of the Religious Affairs Division to promote overseas kosen-rufu. The topic of my sermon today is “United with One Mind,” and I would like to focus on overseas matters. This topic is also is the title of the Photo Exhibition of Worldwide Propagation that is currently on display in the Treasure Hall.

There are Nichiren Shoshu believers in more than fifty 50 countries and regions around the world. The circumstances in which they uphold their faith differ greatly, according to their respective countries.

For example, there are approximately 3,000 believers in Singapore, an advanced nation in Southeast Asia, and there is one Nichiren Shoshu temple there. Brazil is located directly on the opposite side of the globe from Japan, and there are more than 2,000 believers in two temples in that country. When we compare the sizes of these two countries, we find that Singapore is approximately 1/556 the size of Japan—roughly the size of Awaji Island—whereas Brazil is 23 times larger than Japan. We frequently use the Tokyo Dome as a unit of measure and estimate the size of a place by “how many Tokyo Domes would fit into a given area.” We can make an analogous comparison between Brazil and Singapore. Incredibly, Singapore can fit into Brazil more than 12,000 times. There is a great difference in the sizes of these two countries. Among the approximately 50 countries in which Nichiren Shoshu believers reside, only 15 have temples. Therefore, under current conditions, those who live in the remaining 35 nations have little opportunity to even meet a priest.

In this way, overseas believers must overcome numerous obstacles in the circumstances under which they practice, in addition to defeating challenges that arise from various differences, such as ethnicities, languages, customs, and laws. Together, they carry out their faith and practice as Nichiren Shoshu believers. This year, in particular, they all have been focusing on the Overseas Believers General Tozan Pilgrimage and have been “united with one mind” in their mutual determination to assemble at the Head Temple.

I am currently in charge of matters concerning the three countries of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. I have been in charge of Indonesia and Sri Lanka for more than 12 years.

What comes to your mind when you hear the names of these three countries—Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand? Yes, you would think of the tsunami. Four-and-a-half years have already have passed since the incident. These three countries encountered the most devastation from the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and the Indian Ocean tsunami that occurred at the end of 2004.

These disasters may be gradually subsiding gradually from your memories, but the casualties from the earthquake and tsunami were huge. More than 130,000 people died in Indonesia, and more than 46,000 individuals lost their lives in Sri Lanka. I offer my sincerest prayers for their peaceful repose. Ironically, these calamities of historic proportions have been responsible for making the Japanese word “tsunami” a household word.

With my very eyes, I witnessed the devastating conditions immediately following the disasters in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Those are memories that I can never forget. I realize that I must never lose sight of those memories, since they characterize the strict reality of the spirit of the Rissho ankoku-ron.

Two months following the tsunami, conditions in Sri Lanka were extremely gruesome. The towns on the shore had disappeared. The railroad tracks and the trains that transported many passengers along the coastline were completely were washed away. The tents in the numerous refugee camps were crowded and encroaching on each other. It pained my heart to see a child whose elementary school had been destroyed and was forced to attend classes in a makeshift tent constructed on the grounds of another school. Fortunately, there were no deaths among our Sri Lankan believers as a result of this tsunami.

Do you recall the epicenter of the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake? It was in Aceh. Six months after the earthquake I accompanied an official of the Indonesian government to observe the conditions in Aceh, the epicenter. I assumed that reconstruction would have progressed, since half-a-year had already had gone by. In reality, however, only the mountains of rubble from the devastation had been removed, and conditions were far from any semblance of reconstruction. The official in charge of reconstruction and development informed me that the huge mountains of rubble were a jumble of debris, buildings, trees and plants, and human remains. Even though the workers were anxious to retrieve the bodies, there were no roads that the vehicles could use. Therefore, they were forced to start by first building roads for the construction equipment.

During my visit, I witnessed two sights that exemplified the tremendous power of the tsunami at the epicenter of Aceh.

One was a large ocean-going tanker that had been docked on the coast. It was forced by the tsunami to flow into the center of a town located a mile and a half from the shore and was stuck there. Fortunately, this tanker had the capacity to generate electricity, so it was able to provide electricity to the townspeople who had lost their power source as a result of the disaster.

The second sight was my visit to an expansive location where approximately 60,000 victims were buried. Many of you may be aware that the largest number of Islam followers in the world resides in Indonesia. Roughly 90 percent of the population of 220,000,000—that is, 190,000,000 individuals—embrace Islam. The epicenter of Aceh is the area where Islam was first propagated in Indonesia. Therefore, faith in Islam is particularly strong there, and a huge mosque is prominent in town.

According to the Islamic faith, the bodies of those who have passed away must be buried as soon as possible. They must be buried within 24 hours. Therefore, the bodies of the 60,000 people who lost their lives in the earthquake and tsunami were taken to the expansive plaza as soon as they were found and identified and buried. Bulldozers were used to bury the bodies and scoop dirt over them. This was done repeatedly done so that there were layers of bodies at the burial site. Indeed, the conditions vividly were vividly reminiscent of the situation described in the beginning paragraph of the Rissho ankoku-ron:

Dead cattle and horses are everywhere, and human skeletons clutter the streets. More than half the population has already perished, and there is not a single person who does not mourn.
(Gosho, p. 234; The Gosho of Nichiren Daishonin-Vol. 2, p. 1)

In spite of this tremendous catastrophe, not a single Nichiren Shoshu believer who lived in Aceh lost his or her life. One lady told me her experience. She was out shopping when suddenly she was overcome by the tsunami. When she regained consciousness, she had been pushed atop the roof of a school and survived the tsunami.

Today, after these tremendous tragedies in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, what kind of faith and practice are the believers upholding in these countries?

In Indonesia, a month after the great earthquake occurred, the “Memorial Service for the Victims of the Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami” was conducted under the leadership of Nikken Shonin, who was our High Priest at the time. There were believers from Aceh who attended this ceremony, in their earnest desire to have even a brief audience with our High Priest. Eight months thereafter, Hoseiji Temple was constructed in the capital city of Jakarta, and Myogenji Temple was established in a location approximately two hours by car from Jakarta, and the enshrinement of the wooden Joju Gohonzon was held at the time. Ever since the great earthquake and tsunami, the priests and lay believers of Indonesia have encouraged each other by holding fast to the phrase:

Great evil is always followed by great good.
(“On Great Evil and Great Good,” Gosho, p. 796)

Finally, they were able to achieve their long-cherished objective of establishing temples in Indonesia.

I would like to share my perception of a certain condition that occurred at the time of the visitation by our High Priest. Usually the voices of the Indonesian believers, as they perform Gongyo,always have always been very extremely vigorous. When I sit in front and chant together with them, I always feel the powerful surge in their voices that pushes me from behind. However, during our High Priest’s visit, that usual vigor was somehow missing. It turned out that it was not at all that their vigor was lacking; in fact, they had lost their voices because they were overcome with emotion when they first encountered their large wooden Joju Gohonzon.

Until the establishment of these temples, the only opportunity that the Indonesian believers had to pray to a large wooden Gohonzon was when they went on a tozan pilgrimage. And only those who had the financial means were able to go. Even though the temples were established, you must understand that the area of Indonesia is five times that of Japan. The nation has more than 18,000 islands. Yet, there only are only two temples and two priests. Every month, approximately 1,000 believers congregate at Myogenji Temple, and they must stay overnight to attend study meetings. There are believers from distant islands who must spend two nights and three days one-way to travel by boat and bus to worship at that temple.

Even if the believers are encouraged to go on a tozanpilgrimage, due to financial difficulties, there are many for whom doing so is only a distant dream.

In a previous issue of the Daibyaku-ho, there was an article introducing the experience of an Indonesian woman. She wrote that she works at a fruit stand and makes the equivalent of approximately three dollars everyday. How could a person of such means come up with the airfare of $1,500.00? Even if she worked every single day of the year—$3.00 x 365 days—her total earnings would not amount to $1,500. However, she wrote in her experience that she still dreams about going on a tozan pilgrimage.

The first 2009 Overseas Believers General Tozan Pilgrimage was held in April of this year, and approximately 400 believers from Indonesia were able to attend. Over half of these individuals—more than 200 believers—were on tozan for the first time. There are more than 1,200 believers in Indonesia who hope to come on a tozan pilgrimage this year. Indeed, they are “united with one mind” in their determination to come to worship at the Head Temple.

Next, I would like to focus on Sri Lanka. Are you all familiar with the geographic location of the nation of Sri Lanka? You may feel better acquainted with this country if we refer to it as Ceylon, where the Ceylon tea leaves are produced. Ceylon It is an island country on the southern tip of India. A direct flight from Japan to Sri Lanka takes approximately nine-and-a-half hours. The total area of this country is slightly smaller than the island of Hokkaido.

In Sri Lanka, 70 percent of the population are believers of Hinayana Buddhism. The national government prioritizes and supports Hinayana Buddhism. There are many Hinayana Buddhist priests among the members of the national government authorities. Based on these conditions, Nichiren Shoshu priests have not been permitted at this time to reside permanently in the country to engage in propagation activities. As a result, we must travel there two or three times a year for short periods to perform the Gojukai Ceremony, guidance meetings, study sessions, memorial services, and home visitations.

As is the case in Indonesia, many of the Sri Lankan believers only can only dream about going on a tozan pilgrimage, since it is extremely difficult to raise the money to do so.

There is a Sri Lankan husband and wife who are determined to go as a family on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity tozan pilgrimage this year. Since several months ago, they placed their children in the care of their parents, and they have both gone to work away from home in the Middle Eastern country of Kuwait.

The cost for one person to go on a tozan pilgrimage from Sri Lanka is about the entire annual salary of a white-collar office worker. The cost soars exponentially for an entire family to go on tozan. Moreover, if a Sri Lankan person does not obtain an entry visa to Japan, he would be denied entry into the country and, therefore, would not be able to visit the Head Temple. There are tremendous obstacles in place to obtain this visa, such as showing proof of sufficient funds in one’s bank account. In other words, however much an individual wants to go on a tozan pilgrimage, he cannot do so unless he can prove that he is financially secure.

I hope that you can now see how a trip to Japan and the tozan pilgrimage for these individuals are truly remote endeavors, far beyond mere physical distance.

Even so, their sincere veneration and adulation for the Head Temple continues to intensify. For many years, the Sri Lankan believers have lived in the midst of a war zone between the government and anti-government terrorist organizations and have had all too many encounters with death. It is precisely because the Sri Lankan believers sincerely pray for upholding justice to achieve peace and tranquility in the land (rissho ankoku) that they are ever more determined to participate in the Overseas Believers Tozan this year.

I am certain that you are familiar with the story of Nichimyo Shonin, who traveled the distant route from Kamakura to Sado with her infant daughter, Oto-gozen, to have an audience with the Daishonin. In a letter addressed to Nichimyo Shonin, the Daishonin wrote the following:

The determination of these individuals is manifested in their willingness to travel great distances.
(“Letter to Oto-gozen’s Mother,” Gosho, p. 688)

Thus, the Daishonin praises Nichimyo Shonin’s faith. He explains that a person’s determination in faith can be seen by one’s willingness to travel long distances to worship.

The Sri Lankan believers have received tremendous benefits from the Gohonzon, and they truly desire to repay their debts of gratitude. If they could, they would like nothing better than to be able to come on a tozan pilgrimage themselves and directly express their gratitude to the Dai-Gohonzon and our High Priest.

They thought about how they could repay their debts of gratitude, since in their current circumstances they lack the means to make Gokuyo offerings and to go on tozan. They realized that if they mustered forth their courage, they would be able to do shakubuku. Thus, the Sri Lankan believers have channeled their desire to repay their debts of gratitude into shakubuku activities. As a result, I have seen great improvement in what, at first, had seemed like hand-to-mouth existences. When I met some of them the next time, they happily informed me that their lives had improved to the extent that they could make a small Gokuyo offering. Then, when I met them on my next visit after that, they told me that they could participate in the next tozan pilgrimage. There are numerous such Sri Lankan believers whose life circumstances have shown tremendous improvement in a short span of time.

The shakubuku force in Sri Lanka has been tremendous. In the past ten years, more than 9,000 people there have received Gojukai, and more than 6,500 individuals have received the Gohonzon. When I visit Sri Lanka every six months, I conduct the Gojukai ceremony each time for more than 800 persons and I bestow the Gohonzon to 600 individuals in a single day. This begins with morning Gongyoat 7:00 and continues until 1:00 p.m. that day.

The shakubuku statistics are tremendous in Sri Lanka. Indeed, the believers experience great hardships and dangers in their finances and public safety, but they remain joyful in their shakubukuefforts. From their actual experiences, they learned that shakubukuwill enable them to become happy and to make others happy as well. Wherever they are, even if they are in the jungle, they passionately uphold their mission and advance in their shakubuku efforts.

For dozens of years, these individuals sincerely practiced Hinayana Buddhism, which they inherited from generations of their ancestors. However, they saw no results or benefits and they never gained any hope in life. When they encountered the True Buddha and the Gohonzon, they recognized the great fundamental change that took place in their lives, their daily existence, their purpose in life, and their way of life.

In our morning and evening Gongyo, we recite the following from the Juryo chapter:

I will leave this good medicine here. You should take it and not worry that it will not cure you. (Ze ko ro yaku. Kon ru zai shi. Nyo ka shu buku. Mottsu fu sai. )
(Hokekyo, p. 437; The Lotus Sutra, Watson, p. 228)

This passage gives instructions for one to take the medicine without being concerned that it may not be effective.

Although we hear all the time that the Gohonzon’s benefits are tremendous, we tend to evaluate these benefits of the Buddha within the confines of conventional knowledge. We are prone to arbitrarily to restrict the possibilities by thinking, “Whatever the circumstances may be, this couldn’t possibly come true.” Thus, we make arbitrary limitations. It would seem logical that we only would only be able to receive benefits that are proportionate to such restrictive estimations.

Similarly, in doing shakubuku, we may be placing preconceived limitations on ourselves by thinking, “Maybe it would be impossible to shakubuku this person,” or “It’s difficult because I have not extensively studied t extensively the Buddhist principles.” Based on our shallow wisdom and experience, we arbitrarily may be arbitrarily determining the results of our shakubuku efforts, even before we act.

Since 2002—when we were first presented with the objective to double the number of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth—until today, Sri Lanka has achieved exemplary shakubuku results by quadrupling the number of Nichiren Shoshu households from 1,800 to 7,200. Frequently, those who received Gojukai during one of my visits immediately would immediately do shakubuku and be waiting to sponsor several individuals to receive Gojukai by my next visit, six months later. We truly cannot expect these new believers to possess extensive knowledge about the principles of Buddhism. They are simply overjoyed that they have been able to encounter the True Buddha, and this enthusiasm immediately connects them to the Gohonzon and enables them to receive benefits. Then, they honestly tell other individuals about the joy of receiving their benefits. In am convinced that this singularly unwavering faith in the Gohonzon is the essential driving force for the incredible development of the great shakubuku efforts in Sri Lanka.

I am certain that this year, as we celebrate the 750th Anniversary of Revealing the Truth and Upholding Justice through the Submission of the Rissho ankoku-ron, we all feel that we live in a world in which any tragic occurrence anywhere on the planet would come as no surprise to us.

We are currently in the midst of a 100-day Daimoku campaign. Our High Priest Nichinyo Shonin presented us with the following directions:

I ask you all to use the precious experiences and benefits that you gain as a result of chanting this Daimoku to focus on doing shakubuku, the best means of achieving salvation for all mankind, for the sake of the world and all people.

All of you assembled here today will now attend the Gokaihi Ceremony and have an audience with the Dai-Gohonzon. As you do so, I ask each of you to keep in mind even a small portion of what I have talked about on this occasion and “unite with one mind” to sincerely pray sincerely for the achievement of peace and tranquility through upholding justice (rissho ankoku) not only in Japan, but throughout the entire world. Furthermore, I ask you to pray for the accomplishment of your own shakubuku goals and the great success of the upcoming Great Assembly of 75,000 Believers. I also ask that, when you return home, you put your thoughts into action. This is the only means to bring peace to Japan and the world as a whole. It is also is the most wonderful way of life, through which you will be able to elevate your own life condition and easily and calmly overcome whatever obstacles you may encounter.

I pray for your continued good health. Thank you for your kind attention.
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