Temple and Shinbochi Ministers

By Ryoko Osa

Most of the temples in Japan are taken care of by families with their sons’ or daughters’ being ordained so as to succeed their fathers. It is necessary for all potential ministers to be registered at a temple where the chief minister is prepared to take full responsibility for their conduct and words.  Our Jodo Shinshu denomination does not have a master/disciple relationship, but instead, the chief minister is regarded as a parent for the younger minister even though there is no blood connection. For those outside the temple, it is not very easy to find such a temple because of the responsibility and work, which the chief minister has to undertake for them.

The compassion of human beings is limited but that of the Buddha is limitless, hence it is called “great compassion.”  Amida does not choose, hate, nor refuse anyone, but rather accepts and grasps us all, never to abandon us. Buddha’s working is constantly reaching toward us. However, it is hard for human beings to practice that kind of compassion, as we tend to like or dislike someone, based on birth or upbringing.

A temple is a place from where the teaching spreads though still managed by ministers who are human. Therefore, they are not on the same level as Amida Buddha and so, they also need to listen to the Buddha’s teaching. It is impossible for us to truly have Amida’s compassion. However, I think Mahayana Buddhism always tries to practice Amida’s Primal Vow even though it seems impossible.

 When I was working in the Youth Section at our mother temple in Kyoto and with the Shinshu Otani-ha Choir Group Federation, there were four committee members of that group, who came from Shomyoji, a temple in Gifu prefecture. When I was looking for a temple to which to belong, I was concerned whether or not the temple family would accept me even though the chief minister might.  Later, however, I remembered this temple family, whose members were open-minded, kind, easy to talk to and placed the Dharma teaching at the center of their lives. However, I became worried because if they did not accept me, I would be disappointed with all other temples in general. It took a while before I could ask them about my ordination and my belonging to the temple. Thankfully, I became one of the ministers there and it, too, became my “Buddhist parent.”

And the wonderful thing was that the chief minister, Rev. Wada, was not only a member of the choir but also became a cabinet member after my coming to the United States, so I could meet him at retreats and conventions. At any time, I was able to talk to him like a part of his family and ask him about his temple.

In the United States, it is customary to call all ministers “Sensei,” which means “teacher.” When I am called this, I always feel uncomfortable as I do not consider myself as such. In Japan, a minister is called “Shinbochi,” which means a person who is determined to live according to Buddha’s way and is newly-ordained, whom you might call a “novice.” For me, the word “newly” is not about time but constantly having a fresh feeling. The relationship between the temple and ministers should not be a give-and-take one as in business, where the latter just sell their knowledge like schoolteachers. Rather they constantly need to listen to the Dharma teaching, and officiate at services for their practitioners. Therefore, I feel that I am not a “Sensei” but a “Shinbochi.”

My heart wishes to listen to the Buddha’s teaching because of the many causes and conditions, which have created me. When I see people, living in the Shinshu teaching, and see their way of life, I feel that I am receiving the teaching itself as it is at that very moment.  As a Shinbochi, I would like to reflect on myself through the teaching and encounter as many followers as possible, who are walking on the same path as I am.