The Origin of Chigo Kids

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Coast District Gotan’e and BCA 125th Anniversary Celebration

On September 1, 2024, the Buddhist Churches of America will mark the 125th Anniversary of its founding. On that day, all BCA Kaikyoshi ministers will gather at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco to participate in this milestone ceremony. Prior to this event on May 19, the Coast District will also host the Joint Gotan-E Service combined with the BCA 125th Anniversary Celebration at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin sponsored by the Coast District Ministers’ Association. For this ceremony, with Bishop Marvin Harada as the officiant, all Coast District Kaikyoshi ministers, Tokudo Minister’s Assistants, and Minister’s Assistants at the district level will gather as one body to celebrate. Rev. Dennis Shinseki, who plans to retire from the BCA this summer, will be a guest speaker. We are also planning to have an Ochigo processional. For these and other special activities, I sincerely hope that many Sangha members and Dharma friends will join us to grandly celebrate this historic ceremony at the Betsuin.

Hanamatsuri 2023 Had Chigo Procession

Regarding the Chigo procession that will begin this celebration, our Temple also had a Chigo procession when we celebrated Hanamatsuri last year. Fourteen Dharma School kids participated in the procession as Ochigos and they all brightened our hondo after the pandemic. I believe that many Sangha members felt a sense of peace when they saw mothers and fathers smiling and giving enthusiastic encouragement to their cute Chigos as they took photos of them. Because it was to be the first in-person Hanamatsuri in four years, I had been feeling a little nervousness before the service. However, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the cute Chigo procession begin from the back, and I was able to start the service in joy and happiness. It made me wonder if Chigo has a special power to make all people who are watching it feel happy and at peace.

“He is an Honored One! He is Buddha!”

According to Buddhist history, the origin of the Chigo seems to go back 2,500 years. It was during the time of Sakyamuni Buddha, who was traveling with his disciples all over India to spread the Dharma. In those days, Sakyamuni Buddha and his disciples wore robes called funzo-e, made from discarded rags or pieces of cloth used to wipe off excrement. Because they were asking for alms (money or food given to poor people) as they traveled, there were very few people who welcomed them with pleasure. Instead, there were many more people who disliked seeing the group’s poor appearance.

One typical day, as Sakyamuni Buddha and his followers made the rounds in a certain village to share the Dharma, many people locked their doors to avoid meeting the group of bad-smelling beggars. But compared to those of the suspicious adults, the pure eyes of the children of this village were completely different. Even though Buddha’s looks were ragged, they realized by intuition that Sakyamuni Buddha was a very gentle and noble person. At that moment, they simply said, “He is an Honored One! He is Buddha!” and went right up to him without hesitation.

In spite of their parents’ prejudices, the children surrounded the Buddha and his disciples and offered them water, flowers or nuts and so on, offering the best service they could. Thus, a harmonious and peaceful atmosphere was created around this gathering.

Observing their children, adults gradually forgot their wariness towards Sakyamuni Buddha and came out of their houses, one after another. They were willing to talk to the Buddha and his disciples. Fortunately, as they talked with the Buddha, the villagers were able to hear the Buddha Dharma. By following the children’s example, many adults were led to the path of the Buddha and were saved. These are the historical origins of Chigo.

See Things Without Prejudice or Bias

Certainly, there is a big difference between an adult’s bias and fixed ideas, judging a person after seeing only a figure and shape; and a child’s way of seeing things without prejudice. I think that the reason children are called “Buddha’s Child” is because they are just like the Buddha himself – able to see a person without being affected by that person’s outward appearance. I can’t help but think that pure kids bring to the Temple such eyes that see the truth. It seems to me that we are taught by kids that the Buddhist way is to see things without preconceptions.

However, as adults, we are accustomed to judging everything with our trivial limited sense of values. Because our minds are controlled by such prejudice and bias, we always judge other people selfishly. Compared to the open mind of children, our minds are always in the dark.

Fortunately, like candlelight brightens the dark, the prejudice and doubt hidden within us disappear with Amida Buddha’s light of wisdom. But we should understand that there is a big difference between normal light and Amida Buddha’s light. Tan-luan, one of the Seven Pure Land Masters, said:

This light is wisdom and when the light illumines the whole world, nothing can disturb it. It gets rid of the darkness of all living things. It is completely different from the light that brightens the room.

Because Amida Buddha’s light is wisdom in accordance with the “Dharma of Dependent Origination,” selfishness is not a part of this light. And because this light is based on the right wisdom, it can shine equally on all living beings without discrimination. Now that we have encountered Amida Buddha’s light of wisdom, we should live the Nembutsu life of gratitude each day while realizing our foolishness that judges everything with prejudice.

Right View Sees Each Thing as It Really Is

To listen to the Nembutsu teaching is to fully realize the darkness of our doubt and selfishness. And at the same time, it is the encounter with Amida Buddha, who knows the depth of the darkness of our minds, and instead shows us the path of the truth that we should take.

I sincerely hope that we will try to get rid of our doubt and prejudice so that we can use the right view to see each thing as it really is in all its aspects. If we try this, we, too, may have “Buddha’s eyes.”

In Gassho,
Rev. Yushi Mukojima