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PLACES OF RESONANCE

by Lindsey Armstrong


Falling head over heels in love at the ripe old age of 73 in 2019 set in motion many happy changes in my life. That wonderful benefit, coming after I had been widowed for three years, was one of the many turning points in my practice (started in 1973). This year, now married to Steve, another long-time practitioner, we had an opportunity to travel to Japan to stay with his daughter Kirsten’s family in Tokyo. I was happy that the trip was planned but also faced reluctance to leave my comfort zone – and my giant poodle – so I prepared for the adventure with lots of daimoku and determination.

 

Picture of: Steve, Kirsten and Lindsey at the

Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu


Naturally, obstacles arose. No aspect of the fears and worries I self-generated went unchallenged. I tackled financial worries by transforming some old riding belt buckles into useful cash through eBay – couldn’t help but reflect on the jewel-in-the-robe similarity – and challenged my low trust threshold

by finding ample support for my poodle – who has diva tendencies – trusting that all involved would make sure he was duly indulged.

Steve’s daughter Kirsten is a translator for SGI. She and her husband Paul both practice in the International Group in Tokyo and have a teenage daughter. I looked at this trip as a great opportunity to reset my life, as I’d just married and so much had changed.

It was fun chanting with Steve’s family as a group, and experiencing life in the charming area of Setagaya, with its narrow streets and fun shops. Paul and Kirsten were wonderful hosts and took us to the mountains and the ocean and – per my interest – to some of the historic sites associated with Nichiren. I had been intrigued with seeing these after reading Drs’ Suzanne and Yukio Matsuda’s books on Nichiren Buddhism. Yukio had been the Research Director at the European Centre of the Institute of Oriental Philosophy at Taplow Court, UK. In some of their early books they describe visiting some of the sites. (Their books are available on Amazon.)

As a child I was very aware of the “vibes” of a place – how a building felt when you went inside. Since I grew up in England, surrounded by older buildings, some stately, some not, I liked to imagine life in times gone by. I was excited to bring my many years of study to life by seeing significant places in Nichiren’s life.

We visited three sites, firstly Tatsunokuchi beach (now inland), where there was a small temple, and the story of Nichiren’s failed execution is told in carved panels at the entrance gate. Tatsunokuchi was quiet and dusty; there was a small temple building at the back of the site, managed by an earlier Nichiren sect. The cliffs rose up around where the beach had been and there were recessed caves with bars covering them. It was very quiet, with dense forest covering the steep hill behind the site, and hawks circling high above. A rather mild traditional statue of Nichiren was less inspiring than the

striking carved obelisk [left] with Nam Myoho Renge Kyo carved in it. There are a total of eight different memorials on that site (as Google maps told me) but this was the most accessible to us that day, and on the lowest level.

Next was Kamakura, where we saw Shijo Kingo’s house. Now, this was where history became alive for me. I really was impressed. The fact that this disciple who, as documented in the gosho, had doubts and needed encouragement, but ended up being very successful and leaving his mark on his hometown, got my attention. The story was told on a plaque depicting his faith and devotion to Nichiren, and it was easy to imagine the many conversations that occurred between Shijo Kingo and Nichiren in this locale. Up the hill (and past a wonderful ice cream parlor) was a National Treasure of Japan the Great Buddha of Kamakura. What I found interesting was that this traditional statue, which was a huge undertaking, and impacted the whole region, was constructed during the period when Nichiren began teaching (1252 to 1262). It was not hard to imagine the two men strolling up to see how the construction was going, and I wondered what profound conversations they must have had.


We travelled to the coast and again saw extremely dense forests covering the hills, full of wildlife. Set aside in part of a large nature park on the Jogasaki coast is another Nichiren temple, Renchakuji, commemorating Nichiren’s exile to the Izu peninsula. Legend says that when he was exiled, Nichiren was left on a rock off the coast and immediately discovered by a passing fisherman, who sheltered him. High cliffs with small bays and inlets looked untouched. Facing out to sea was a wonderful statue depicting Nichiren. Steely determination emanates from this lovely bronze and made me reflect on why I started this practice fifty years ago: it was the unbridled confidence of the person who shared her experience with me in 1973 (she had successfully overcome being illegally held in isolation after emigrating to Canada, and had not one shred of bitterness).


Picture of: Statue of Nichiren at Renchakuji on the Izu Peninsula


The grand finale of our trip occurred naturally and organically when we were able to visit the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu, securing tickets through a connection with members in Kirsten and Paul’s district. It was there that I felt viscerally I was in the right place at the right time – in perfect rhythm with my dedication to my practice and the mission of SGI. The simplicity of the Hall and the no-hype sincerity of the ceremony as we chanted along with the recording of President Ikeda’s voice to the special Gohonzon commissioned by President Toda for World Peace was reaffirming, transformative, and very empowering.

Lindsey Armstrong lives with her husband, Steve Bell, and mighty poodle Rory in Portland, OR.

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I have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism for 40+ years and making beaded jewelry for 25 years, specializing in Buddhist chanting beads, also known as JUZU.

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