Hoonko (Memorial Service for Shinran Shonin)

The following is text by Rev. Gerald Sakamoto, from a pamphlet published by the Northwest Ministerial Association, Buddhist Churches of America.

line drawing of Shinran ShoninShinran was acutely aware of his own death. This awareness played a very important part in the overall outlook of Shinran concerning his life and his relationship to Amida. It can perhaps be said that Shinran’s own perception of himself as a finite limited individual was the most influential attitude of Jodo Shinshu. Death itself was neither good or bad, it was a condition of this existence. In the sixth letter of the Mattosho, the last recorded letter of Shinran, this sentiment is clearly stated.

“It is saddening that so many people, both young and old, men and women, have died this year and last But the Tathagata taught the truth of life’s transience for us fully, so you must not be distressed by it. I, for my own part, attach no significance to the condition, good or bad, of a person in his final moments. People in whom Shinjin is determined do not doubt, and so abide among the truly settled. For this reason their end also
-even for those ignorant and foolish is a happy one.” (Hongwanji International center, Kyoto, Japan)

Of his own death Shinran said, “Throw my body in the Kamo River, let it be feed for fish.”

At this time of Hoonko we should remember that Shinran met his own finiteness directly. His recognition of his limitedness resulted in a deep appreciation of Amida. It is for this reason that Jodo Shinshu dwells so on death. If we are able to fully realize our inability to attain enlightenment through our own effort, recognizing our in- evitable end, then the value of Amida’s compassion can be truly appreciated. It is almost as if Shin ran perceived himself in a meaningless maze with absolutely no way out.

Were this to be all there was to Jodo Shinshu it would indeed be a very depressing view of human existence. Even if it were known that Amida provides a means of Satori (Enlightenment) for all beings this life which we presently experience would be dark and without life. However, although the recognition of one’s own finiteness is the alpha and omega of each of our experience it is only the beginning of Jodo Shinshu. For with the recognition of myself as I am and Amida’s absolute affirmation I am truly free to manifest my humanity. We need no longer remain huddled about the sign posts which once structured our lives. It is if we are on a great plain with only the horizon around us. We can now strike out and manifest fully the potential of our human-ness, knowing whether we succeed or not each of us is constantly affirmed and assured of eventual Satori by Amida.

It is for this we observe the birth and death of Shinran. He made known the great path on which every individual is truly free.

Namu Amida Butsu
Rev. Gerald Sakamoto
White River Buddhist Church