Happy New Year!
My wife and I are really appreciative of the loving kindness, help and support the Mountain View Sangha gave us in the past year. We humbly hope to avail ourselves of your warm friendship and continued support again in the coming year.
Devon in Tokudo Shurai Training
Although I am writing this article in the middle of December, our Certified Minister’s Assistant, Devon Matsumoto, is in the middle of participating in the Tokudo Shurai Training at the Nishiyama Betsuin in Kyoto right now. In order to receive Tokudo ordination, he has taken all the mandatory sessions and has been making preparations begun a couple of years ago. And last year, he passed the tests (including written, chanting, ritual tests and interview) and is now finally undergoing the Tokudo Shurai Training in Kyoto.
Tokudo Shurai Training is eleven days of final training before receiving the Tokudo from the Gomonshu (the head priest). The training includes ritual training, academic lectures, participating in three daily services and group chores, and passing required assignments. During this training, Tokudo aspirants are isolated from the world, meaning that newspapers, TV and smartphones are all prohibited. On the final day, the Tokudo Ordination Ceremony takes place at the Nishi Hongwanji where the aspirants receive the “rite of the razor” from the Gomonshu and are granted the Tokudo Certificate. I believe that Devon is now making efforts to accomplish this severe training while dreaming of that ultimate moment.
Certified Minister’s Assistant & Recipient of Asada Scholarship
Photo from August 2021 Echo
I had the opportunity to talk to Devon before he left for Japan last month, and asked him whether he was ready to go. What he told me was unexpected. He said,
“I am actually afraid of receiving Tokudo.”
When I asked him why he felt so, he said,
“Of course, I am excited to receive Tokudo, but I have mixed feelings about finally throwing myself into the world of the ministry.”
When I heard his sincere words, I felt he was expressing something very important about his mindset for becoming a minister.
Tonsure [Shave My Head]
Originally, to become ordained meant leaving everyday life and giving up all worldly attachments — daily routines, work, family and friends — so as to make every effort to perform Buddhist practices. When Siddhartha decided to become a monk, he abandoned his family and his position of succession to the throne. And by shaving his hair which represented blind passions and attachments, Siddhartha expressed his strong will to seek liberation. At that time, he declared,
“Now I take the tonsure [shave my head]. May I with all sentient beings get rid of the blind passions and hindrances!”
The ritual of shaving one’s head when receiving Tokudo comes from this historical fact.
Our founder Shinran also received Tokudo ordination at the Shorenin temple when he was only 9 years old. The intensity of his anxiety and determination when he left his family to enter the priesthood at such a young age must have been beyond our imagination.
In the long Buddhist history of 2,600 years, the process of becoming ordained has changed depending on the era and region. But, because the resolution of someone who wants to become a monk or priest is the same as the aspiration of Sakyamuni Buddha and his predecessors, I think that Devon was deeply grateful that he would place himself in the world of this ancient Buddhist tradition; but at the same time he must have felt anxious about the heavy responsibility of becoming ordained. And because this anxiety comes from his modesty and humbleness, I believe Devon deserves to become a Jodo Shinshu minister.
When one becomes a minister, he or she tends to have a sense of superiority because of the elevated position one has attained to teach the Buddha Dharma to others. However, to become a Jodo Shinshu minister by receiving the rite of razor from the Gomonshu is also an expression of one’s determination to give up one’s ego (self obsession) and to live with the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha as spiritual support. And it is also a vow to live as a minister humbly each day with the Nembutsu.
When I was in Brazil
When I first arrived as a minister in Brazil, the Vice Rimban (head minister) of the San Paulo Betsuin asked me the following question.
“Amida Buddha is often compared to a doctor. If so, the members who often came to the temple would be his outpatients. Given this description, how would you describe yourself, living at the temple every day?”
Without hesitation, I answered proudly,
“I am a minister who serves Buddha, so if Amida Buddha is a doctor, I am like a nurse.”
The Vice Rimban smiled at me and said,
“What are you saying! You are an inpatient!”
“You have gotten used to life at the temple and now you fancy yourself great because you are made much of by the Sangha calling you, ‘Reverend’ or ‘Sensei.’ But all of us Jodo Shinshu ministers are definitely not nurses nor counselors as you said. We must never forget that we are inpatients (serious cases) allowed to stay by Amida Buddha’s side (doctor) in the Temple (hospital). It is most important for ministers to fully realize that each one of us has a more serious illness (burning with the flames of blind passions) than our Sangha members (outpatients) have. This is why we must be more grateful than anybody else for Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, which is always tirelessly working on each of us without abandoning us; and why we must share our joy in the Nembutsu with others. It is called Jishin-Kyoninshin (secure our own entrusting heart to the Primal Vow while guiding others to the same path) and to do our best to practice it is the minister’s duty.”
The Vice Rimban’s unexpected and profound words made a great impact on me as a callow young minister. With these words, he had shown me how I should live as a Jodo Shinshu minister.
Devon Now Tokudo Minister
Devon will return to the U.S. as a Tokudo minister in a couple of weeks. Tokudo is just the beginning and first level of ordination. I sincerely hope that he will never forget the beginner’s mind, never be arrogant and conceited, always reflect deeply on his imperfect self, be humble and grateful, and do his best to carry out his role as a Jodo Shinshu minister just as Shinran did. And furthermore, I sincerely want him to enjoy his own life to the fullest with the minister’s pride and responsibility.
From the time the Mountain View Buddhist Temple was established, our temple has turned out a lot of excellent ministers, such as Rev. Kenneth Tanaka. I am really proud of Devon who took over those ministers’ noble aspirations to share the Nembutsu teaching with as many people as possible. Let us, the entire MVBT Sangha, welcome Devon with his shaved head warmly and openly, for he has just embarked on a new life as a Tokudo minister.
Rev. Yushi Mukojima