The Docho Ceremony

by Ryuei Michael McCormick

This was a talk given at the temple sometime in the summer of '98 after I had returned from the Docho Ceremony in Japan at Seichoji Temple. The Docho is the ceremony wherein one is officially registered as a shami in the Nichiren Shu.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,
Ryuei

The Docho Ceremony

This past July 29th of this year, I had the good fortune to attend the Docho or Registration Ceremony at Seicho-ji, the temple where Nichiren himself was first educated and ordained as a priest. It has been my hope for years that I would get the chance to visit the many places that were of significance in the life of Nichiren, so that I could see for myself a little of the world that he lived in and the sights that inspired him. Seeing these places has helped make them more real to me, and has helped me to gain a deeper understanding of Nichiren’s heart as well as his teachings. Of course, none of this would have been possible if it were not for my own sensei, the Venerable Ryusho Matsuda, who prepared everything for me and accompanied me to Seicho-ji and to many other places in Japan so that I could further my training as a Nichiren Shu novice. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank him at this time for all of his time and effort, without which I could not have done any of this.

Rev. Matsuda has asked me to briefly share with you my impressions of the Docho ceremony and my other experiences in Japan. Before I do that, however, I would like to remind you of the parable of the hidden jewel in the Lotus Sutra, because I feel that the hidden gem of the Wonderful Dharma was something that continually came to mind while I was in Japan. As you may remember, the parable is about two friends, a rich man and a poor man, who are drinking together one night. Towards the end of the evening, the poor man is on the point of passing out and the rich man must leave the next day on a long business trip. Concerned for his friend, the rich man takes a precious gem and hides it in the lining of the poor man’s jacket so that when he awakes the next morning he can sell it and live in luxury for the rest of his life. The poor man, however, does not remember the gift and never discovers the gem in his jacket and spends the next few years in poverty, barely able to survive. When the rich friend returns, he is shocked and reveals the gem to his friend, saying “I had already provided for you. You were wealthy all this time and never noticed.”

The reason this story came to mind is because several times in Japan, I was asked why I was willing to undergo so many difficulties in order to become a priest of the Nichiren Shu. When I was in Okayama, a high school student named Takuma Maeda volunteered to show me around Kurashiki, and afterwards we went to dinner at his father’s Thai restaurant. His father was very interested in South-East Asian culture and had a great respect for Thai Buddhism, which he told me was a living tradition which had a real place in the lives of the Thai people. Japanese Buddhism, however, he did not feel was anything more than empty ceremonies and museum like temples, the mere shell of the Buddha Dharma. When I was taking the overnight train back to Joenji Temple in Tokyo from Myokoji Temple in Shimane, I met a business man named Haruo who had studied English and he was also curious about my interest in Japanese Buddhism. He also seemed to feel that Japanese Buddhism had no real connection to everyday life. Finally, on my last day in Tokyo I met a woman from Oregon named Leslie who had been teaching English in Kobe for a year and was sight-seeing in Tokyo before returning to the States. She was curious about Buddhism and had even visited several temples, but none of her Japanese friends could tell her anything about it, nor were they interested in it. In fact, she told me that I was the first practicing Buddhists that she had met while in Japan. In each case, I told these people the story of the hidden gem and I explained that Japanese Buddhism, and Nichiren Buddhism in particular, was like a hidden gem. The teachings of Nichiren, I feel, are very relevant, not only to the people of Japan today, but to people all over the world. However, these teachings do no good if they are taken for granted and neglected. I was sad that these people had not seen and experienced what I had at Seicho-ji.

When Rev. Matsuda and I arrived in Kominato, where Nichiren was born, I was very impressed by the beauty of the surrounding hills and the ocean. At that time, I could understand why Nichiren felt so homesick during his time at Mount Minobu, so far from the shore and hidden away in the mountains. When Rev. Matsuda and I took the taxi from Kominato to Seicho-jo, I was amazed at how far away it seemed. It only took maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, but as we drove further and further inland into the mountains, I realized that when the young Zennichi-maro and his father hiked to Seicho-ji, he really was leaving home. I can only imagine that it would have taken an entire day or more to hike up to the temple. This was no ten minute walk. I realized at that moment what was involved for Nichiren to have left home at such a young age to study Buddhism. I can’t imagine that anyone would hike so far away from home to such a remote place and leave behind one’s family to merely learn how to perform mere ceremonies or learn esoteric trivia. In Nichiren’s time, the Buddha Dharma was still a matter of life and death.

At Seicho-ji, I gained a deeper understanding of what it means to be a part of the Sangha and what it means to be a part of a lineage that goes back hundreds even thousands of years. That evening, all of the novices gathered together in the Founder’s Hall where we practiced reciting the Jigage, the verses of Eternity from the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. For the first time, I had the opportunity to recite the Lotus Sutra in the company of a hall full of fellow novices. At that time, I truly felt that I was following in the footsteps of Nichiren and in fact of all those who have strived to realize the Dharma back to the time of Sakyamuni Buddha. I felt this again the next morning, as we greeted the dawn chanting Odaimoku from the very sight where Nichiren first recited Namu Myoho Renge Kyo and began his mission of propagating the Lotus Sutra.

Even though I was only there for a single night and a single morning, and I could not understand any of the talks, the important thing for me was that I was able to make a connection with Nichiren through experiencing life with my fellow novices at Seicho-ji and that I was able to receive the recognition that I too was a part of the lineage of Nichiren Shu. Here in America, it is sometimes difficult to imagine the history and long tradition of Nichiren Buddhism. It is easy to feel very isolated as one tries to maintain a Buddhist practice in a non-Buddhist culture. Even Japan, it seems, has become so secular that Buddhism has become something remote and strange judging from my meetings with Mr. Maeda, Haruo and Leslie. At Seicho-ji, however, I saw and experienced Buddhism as a living tradition, and I was able to recite the Lotus Sutra and Odaimoku with 57 other young novices. Together, we committed ourselves to the propagation of the Lotus Sutra under the direction of our masters. Like a hidden gem, the Wonderful Dharma has been in the world for over 2,000 years. It is my hope that like the poor man in the parable, the world will discover the great wealth that it has overlooked for so long and that we novices will be able to complete our training and as priests of the Nichiren Shu demonstrate that Buddhism is still a living tradition of vital significance for the whole world.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 1998. 2002.


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