GUIDEPOSTS IN FAITH
THE SIGNIFICANCE AND BENEFITS OF
ATTENDING THE OKO LECTURE
MAY 2013 (PP. 8-9, 11-13)
In the “Letter to Oto-gozen’s Mother” (“Oto gozen haha gosho”), the Daishonin teaches: Of the numerous disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, ten were considered to be his major disciples. Of these, Maudgalyayana was foremost in occult powers. Without getting a single hair out of place, he was able to travel all the areas touched by the rays of the sun and the moon under the four quarters of the heavens. Why was he able to do this? He acquired this power as a result of traveling 1,000 ri (approx. 2,500 miles) to listen to his teacher expound the doctrines of Buddhism.
Moreover, there lived a man named Zhangan, who was a disciple of Tiantai. He traveled for 10,000 ri (approx. 25,000 miles) to listen to the Lotus Sutra. Dengyo journeyed 3,000 ri (approx. 7500 miles) to learn about the Great Concentration and Insight (Maka shikan). Hsuantsang of the Tripitaka traveled for 200,000 ri (approx. 500,000 miles) to master the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras. The greater the distance of their path to reach true Buddhism, the greater the determination that they manifest in their lives. They are all men, and their behavior is that of wise sages whose essential nature is the provisional Bodhisattva. Here, by contrast, you are a woman. You may not have had he occasion to know the distinction between the provisional and the true. What could have been the nature of your karmic associations in your past lifetimes?
Nichiren Shoshu temples are training halls for cultivating our faith and practice for the sake of kosen-rufu. Visiting the temple enables us to transmit and propagate to various regions the Daishonins Buddhism, formalities, and practice, correctly based on the transmission of the Lifeblood Heritage of the Law.
The various ceremonies and rituals to conduct at the temples and propagation centers are formalities that actualize the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, through the three categories of action thoughts, words, and deeds.
Thus, attending the various ceremonies and activities at the temple is a manifestation of our seeking spirit in faith, as we uphold and seek the true Buddhism of the Daishonin. Furthermore, such attendance shows our sincerity in repaying our debt of gratitude to the Daishonin.
Particularly important among the ceremonies at the temple is the monthly Lecture in Praise of the Daishonin, also known as the Oko Lecture or Oko Ceremony.
Traditionally, the “ko” in “O-ko” refers to a Buddhist service in which sutras are recited and prayers are offered in praise of the object of worship or founder of the sect. Moreover, it is a service to explain and discuss the doctrines and sutras, as an offering of one’s debts of gratitude.
In Nichiren Shoshu, the Oko is a ceremony in which the priests and lay believers congregate together to offer the ritual kenzen meal, recite the sutra, and chant Daimoku. Furthermore, the chief priest or supervising priest conducts a sermon as an offering of gratitude to the True Buddha Nichiren Daishonin.
There are significant reasons for us to attend the monthly Oko Ceremony, as believers who strive to do our utmost in w faith and practice. The following are the major aspects:
- Offering to repay our debt of gratitude to the three treasures
- Accumulating benefits from listening to the teachings of the Buddha
- Establishing faith and practice to ensure the perpetuation of the Law to our descendants and for peace and harmony to reign in our families
- Making use of it as an occasion to renew our determination in faith every month and as a source of abundant benefits in our lives
- Deepening our faith, practice, and study, and becoming individuals of talent for kosen-rufu.
Great benefits naturally manifest when we accomplish each of
these actions. The following is a brief explanation of each of these five items.
First and foremost, we attend the Oko Ceremony as an offering to repay our debt of gratitude to the three treasures of the Latter Day of the Law. For us to be born, raised, and survive in this world, we have received the favors of numerous people, including our parents, all people in the world, the sovereign (or teacher), and the three treasures of the Buddha, the Law, and the priesthood.
In writings such as “The Four Debts of Gratitude” (“Shion-sho”) and “Repaying Debts of Gratitude” (“Ho’on-sho”), the Daishonin teaches that we must understand the four debts of gratitude [to our parents, our sovereign, to all living beings, and the three treasures of Buddhism] and repay the benefits that we have received by protecting, supporting, and propagating true Buddhism.
The three treasures of the Buddha, the Law, and the priesthood, in particular, enable the people to expiate all of their negative causes from infinite kalpas in the past. Moreover, they function to transform the negative karma of all individuals and enable them to change their lives of suffering and delusions to lives of happiness, fulfilment, and enrichment. The three treasures will lead us to the life condition of enlightenment. Moreover, these are precious treasures that will bring about peace and tranquility to entire nations and societies.
The Treatise on the Great Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom (Dai chido-ron) states that, never encountering the Buddha and his teachings is like a lotus flower that never encounters the sun and ultimately decays and withers away.
The same is true in our own lives. If we did not encounter the true Buddhism of the Daishonin, we would have been at the mercy of the slanders and karma from our past lifetimes. We would be drowning in a sea of suffering, full of anguish, distress, and confusion.
When we consider this, we cannot even begin to imagine the great benefits that we are receiving from the three treasures of the Buddha, the Law, and the Priesthood.
The Daishonin states the following in “The Four Debts of Gratitude” (Shion-ter sta sho”):
Common mortals in the Latter Day of the Law, although benefiting from the virtues of the three treasures, do not even try to repay their debts of gratitude. Therefore, how can they expect to complete all the practices of the Buddha way and attain Buddhahood?
Unbeknownst to us, we are receiving the great benefits of the three treasures. The Daishonin admonishes us by saying that, if we do not repay our debt of gratitude to the three treasures, we cannot expect to attain enlightenment, even if we pray for it. Therefore, it is essential for us to make time to attend the Oko Ceremony each month, without fail, in order to repay our debt of gratitude to the three treasures.
Next, attending the Oko Lecture enables us to receive the great benefit of listening to the Law-the teachings of the Buddha.
The following is expounded in the Benefits of Joyful Acceptance (Zuiki kudoku; eighteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra:
When you go to worship at the temple, sit or stand there and listen even briefly to the Law, you wil obtain the superior vehicle that will enable you to reside in a heavenly world.
(Hokekyo, p. 468, summarized)
Another passage from the same chapter states:
If a person comes to a place where a sermon is being conducted, you must try to listen together with him to the sermon. If you share half of your seat and listen to the sermon with that person, you will be able to reside in a heavenly world as a consequence of your actions.
In Lectures on the Juryo Chapter (Juryo enzetsu-sho), Twenty-sixth High Priest Nichikan Shonin discusses an old Buddhist parable about Fayu (Jpn. Hoyo) from Stories of the Lotus Sutra (Hokke denki), complied by Seng-xiang during the Tang Dynasty.
Fayu was a lowly individual who always was getting into trouble. One day, he sneaked into a temple to steal things. There happened to be a lecture on the Lotus Sutra taking place inside. As a result of hearing a sermon on the Lotus Sutra, as he hid out of sight from others, Fayu was able to expiate infinite amount of karmic sins after his death.
(Complete Works of History)
[Reki-zenj], vol. 4, p. 228]
Thus, the benefits of hearing the supreme teachings of Buddhism are tremendous, whether or not we are consciously aware of it. The benefits are exponentially greater when we consciously seek out and listen to sermons.
The third aspect is to attend the Oko Lecture every month together as a family. As a result, we can establish faith and practice as a harmonious family. Furthermore, we can achieve the solid continuation of our faith to our children and grandchildren, thus enabling us to ensure the perpetuation of the Law to our offspring.
Convincing our children to continue our faith or taking them to worship at the temple for the first time becomes quite difficult after they are middle school or high-school age, older youths, or adults, since their ego or self-assertion may become a hindrance.
There is a saying: “The soul of a child old at three is the same at a hundred years of age.” It is important for children to go with their parents to worship at the temple from the time they are infants. We must enable them to listen to the recitation of the sutra, the chanting of Daimoku, and the beating of the drum an atmosphere of harmonious unity among the priest and fellow believers. Faith naturally will permeate their lives and become a part of their very beings. This will become the powerful driving force that will enable them to continue their faith and practice throughout their lives.
The fourth aspect is to attend the monthly Oko Ceremony, which is an opportunity to renew our determination in faith and practice each month. Doing so will be the essential source that will enable us to live a life full of benefits for the month. We become busy with work and daily obligations and tend to unintentionally become forgetful about our faith and practice, as described in the following passage from the Gosho, “Two Kinds of Faith (“Ueno dono gohenji”):
When alone,( they) are apt to forsake their faith. (Gosho, p. 1206; The Gosho of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p.25)
Attending the monthly Oko Lectures will enable us to drive away such forgetfulness.
Finally, when we listen to the teachings expounded by the chief priest or supervisor priest, we can deepen our determination to strengthen our own faith and practice and do shakubuku, in order to bring salvation to all mankind. As a result, each one of us can develop into individuals of talent for the sake of kosen-rufu.
Let us each make every effort to attend the monthly Oko without fail and persevere in our practice, as we advance to achieve our shakubuku objectives.