November 2019 Message

Tokudo Ordination and Working Together as a Family
by Rev. Landon Yamaoka

This summer a group of twenty aspiring ministers from the overseas districts; Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), Canada, United Kingdom, China, and Hong Kong attended the Tokudo ordination training in Kyoto Japan. We went to Nishiyama Betsuin, a training facility located twenty minutes from Nishi Hongwanji. The majority of us had trained together at the Jodo Shinshu Center (JSC) in the Minister Assistant Program (MAP) trainings or at three specific Tokudo training sessions in the months leading up to our departure. Two days before the actual training started, all twenty of us met up to do a pre ordination orientation practice.

The training tested our chanting and ritual abilities, provided training for various types of services we would need to know, and delivered lectures to understand different theories behind Jodo Shinshu doctrine. The training was from July 6th through July 16th. Our days were long and demanding. We knew we were going to be pushed physically and mentally during this training, and were told it would be something we would never forget, AND most people would never do it again because of how strenuous it is to complete.

As a foreign group, we knew it would be easier compared to our Japanese counterparts, but we would still have to really push our selves to make it to the end. Everyone was stressed out about going, and I wondered how we would make it through. Koyama Sensei’s nephew, Tadao, was known for leading his group through Tokudo. Luckily for us he is studying in Japan. On his lunch breaks he came to practice chanting with the few people who flew in earlier. He quizzed me, made sure I had everything I needed, and reminded me about what I would need to recall.

Going into this training I was told, it was not about the individual, but a test to see how we could work together as a group. My advisor, Matsumoto Sensei, told me we needed to view this process as either we all pass, or we all fail. Of course we all had individual tests to pass, including, four chanting and one written test. However, we could not go in thinking, “Well, as long as I pass...” because they will notice if we leave people behind who are struggling. This was hard because there was such a high amount of stress on passing these tests. So we had work on our own needs, as well as making sure everyone were doing good.

We are put into smaller groups called Han(s). Hans were made up of about 9-10 people, and our foreign group was split into two Hans. I was not proficient at folding my robes. My friends in my room spent several days in the beginning helping me go over the folds, as we needed to change between the two different styles of robes multiple times per day. There was a man from China in our room. He spoke the least amount of English out of the three people from China or Hong Kong. I spent lots of time reminding him of what we needed to bring for each lecture, or what to wear or bring to the different services. Someone in my room got upset at this person as he always needed help, but I felt bad knowing he could not understand a lot of what was going on. There were times where he was not listening or paying attention. At times it got tiring reminding him of everything. I knew I relied on my roommates to help me a lot in the first several days with robe folding, so I knew I had to continue to help him. He always thanked me wholeheartedly. I think that his smile along with how sincere his voice was, helped me get through some of the training. (I think it would be good to mention that he and the other lady from China were doing this training in secret because in China, Japanese Buddhism is against the law, so they could get in trouble with the government if they found out what they had been doing). Our Hans and especially our rooms were the people we relied on the most since we saw them the most. We all became close as we were always looking out for one another. By being together we knew we had to work with each other as we were viewed as one unit, not as individuals.

In the first two days of training, there were no English announcements. When we heard the noise alerting us of a message we listened for key words to know what to bring and would check in to confirm we all got the right information. Later, they provided a second announcement in English, but we still double-checked with each person we passed making sure they didn’t forget certain books, or items for lectures and services. It was like the game telephone, as sometimes you were in a place where it was hard to hear the speaker. At times we were in lecture and someone would realize the paper schedule said to bring X. We would run back to our rooms, tell people we were grabbing a certain book, or even just grabbing it for them, so the whole group would not make the lecture start late. When my back was really hurting, people would offer to grab my stuff when we were told last minute. Not only does this work as a check in system, but also people appreciated the gesture when they were super tired and didn’t want to go back.

Since we all had to pass chanting exams, we would work with those who needed extra help. We would help the others regardless of needing help ourselves, especially if even if we had passed a few test and they had not passed any. I spent a lot of time going over chanting with people who were not Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) students when we were in line for our tests because I knew I had more chanting practice. I had not passed two of my tests towards the end, so people who had passed three would let us cut the line to make sure we got more chances.

There was so much stress on getting your test card stamped to pass. After passing my third test, I knew my last test was going to be the hardest, but I also knew I had to let people go in front of me because some really struggled with their chanting. A few of us still needed to pass right up to the very end. I finished on the 8th day at night. One has to passed all tests by the 10th day; since that was the day we were to be ordained. My Han leader needed help with her last test. After she failed the test, she broke down. Myself and another lady took her outside to give her a hug. We reassured her she would get through it. We knew it was hard for her, as she was also in-charge of our group. She made sure our chore duties were being set, signed us up for service duties, and filled out daily charts with our physical health. She and her second in command really stepped up to take care of our group. They were always running around making sure our paperwork was completed. I knew she needed more help at the end since we had only a few days to pass our tests. I would help her by working with people so she could study, check-in with her, and I volunteered to clean the bathrooms a lot. For some reason, people did not seem to want that chore.

I was not as strong as others in having the chants memorized, but whenever our group had to run a service, I would volunteer to do parts of the service. This allowed people who were stressed out to take a break from performing. I knew people did not like being the head chanter, so I volunteered to lead one service, offered to chant solo lines in Shoshinge, and rang the bell for our first service. The people who had physical needs like my self were always in pain, so I would check in with them to ensure they were okay. I shared my pain ointments with them to help manage their pain levels. Every day when we had morning service people were always checking on me and offering me a seat closer to the fan so I would not over heat. My friends would offer to put my chair away for me or pick up my cane off the ground so I did not have to bend over to get it. People were constantly looking at my body and face to see if I was in pain and checking I was not going to collapse from exhaustion.

I would say, by the end of the training, all of the candidates went from being friends or strangers to being part of a family. While we will always have a bigger family with anyone who has Tokudo, our specific group will always share a bond of going through Tokudo together. My family looked after my needs, and in turn I was there for them. The saying, “it takes a village,” really applies here because if we did not stick together, getting through the training would have been impossible. We do not go through life alone. Sometimes I think we forget that and try to do it all on our own. Going through this experience, I remember thinking many times, it was impossible to make it through. However, having my family there to pick me up was what got me through it all. We came together looking out for each other. We all passed by encouraging others when necessary and functioning as a family unit. We all relied on others, at times needing assistance. This experience would not have been possible if it were not for our dharma family looking out for one another, even though we were all at our breaking points at times. We all have to work in groups in some aspect in life, so it is important to remember if we work together versus against each other or independently, better outcomes are possible.

In Gassho,