By Doko Christopher O’Brien
I recently interviewed a Tendai Soryo priest from Australia. Since Rev. Jikai lives so far away I asked him if we could do the interview over email. Thanks so much for your answers Rev. Jikai!
How long have you been practicing Buddhism?
I have been practicing Buddhism since I was 15, so it’s been about eight years or so. I started looking at Buddhism generally but very quickly gravitated towards the Mahayana. From there I made the journey to Tendai.
How long have you been a Buddhist priest?
I became a Buddhist Priest about three years ago.
What does your Dharma name mean?
My Dharma name was originally Ryokai (了海) which roughly translates to ‘Limits of the Ocean’ The first character Ryo was taken from my teachers name. However, very soon after I began my training, my teacher changed the first character to ‘Ji’ and so, my Dharma name is ‘Jikai’ (慈海). The meaning of my current Dharma name is ‘Compassionate Ocean’. The reason my teacher changed my Dharma name was due to his great respect for the late Bishop Jion Haba who started the propagation efforts in Hawaii, and subsequently helped procure the land on which the current Hawaii Betsuin stands.
Who is your Teacher?
My teacher is Archbishop Ara Ryokan of the Hawaii Betsuin. He has spent the better part of his life in Hawaii, building the Tendai community there, and abroad. He is originally from a temple family in Fukushima, Northern Japan. Ara Ryokan is famous around the world for his Buddhist paintings, which provide income for the Hawaii Betsuin and propagation efforts, while spreading the Dharma. As a teacher he is very traditional. However his disciplined approach is always tempered by his great generosity and kindness.
Tendai is known for its very wide range of practices; which one(s) are your favorite and why?
I am particularly fond of Walking Nembutsu Meditation, and Shomyo. The Walking Nembutsu at first glance appears simple and uncomplicated. As soon as its depths are probed however, much more comes to light. Likewise Shomyo when observed, while beautiful, does not immediately ‘give up it secrets’ if you will. Both practices, like all others, have the power to submerge you in the sublime.
What does daily Buddhist practice look like for the average person at your sangha?
The average member of our temple is encouraged to perform morning and evening Gongyo as well at least one session of Shikan meditation. Each member of course, grapples with these practices and their routine personally. Morning Gongyo usually consists of the Sanrai (Taking Refuge), Sange Mon (Repentance of past deeds), KaiKyou Ge (Sutra opening verse), Jiga Ge (Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra) , Hannya Shin Kyou (The Heart Sutra), Shuso Hogo (Thanks to the lineage) and the So Eko Mon (Dedication of Merit), capped again with the Sanrai (Taking Refuge). The Evening Service consists of the Sanrai (Taking Refuge), Sange Mon (Repentance of past deeds), KaiKyou Ge (Sutra opening verse), Kannon Gyo (Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra), Endon Sho (Perfect and Complete Awareness verse), The Nembutsu, Nembutsu So Eko Mon (Pure Land Dedication of Merit), finally capped with the Sanrai (Taking Refuge). These are the base patterns which are shortened for beginners or lengthened for those wishing to add more to their practice. Members are encouraged to sit for half an hour of Shikan a day if possible.
Of the many different schools of Buddhism, why did you choose to become a Tendai practitioner?
As I mentioned, I very quickly gravitated towards the Mahayana. During my study I had read a number of the Mahayana Sutra and finally decided to read the Threefold Lotus Sutra. On my first reading, I was a little confused. It was not like the other ‘great sutra’s’. Nevertheless, I was immediately intrigued and began to ‘fall in love’. Every time I read it, it felt like I was reading a completely different text, as the layers became more apparent. As this developed, I looked at the Nichiren Schools but it didn’t quite seem to be the right fit for me. Finally, I came upon Tendai and after a little investigation, “ah! this is it!”…I’ve never looked back.
Tell us a little bit about your sangha and its history.
Our Kanshinji Temple (Contemplation of the Heart-Mind)/ Sangha is one of only two Tendai Sangha in Australia. We are based just outside of Sydney at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The other Australian Sangha is up north in Brisbane, many thousands of kilometres away. Our Sangha was established a three years ago when I began teaching from a converted garage. We are still located in a converted garage, although it has changed location and increased in size. We are still young, small, and our Dojo is a humble one. But we are growing, and in time we hope to build our own temple.
What is your role at your sangha?
I, Jikai Dehn, am the resident priest here at Kanshinji. At present, I am the only priest here, but that may change in time.
What are some of the things your sangha does or participates in to serve your community?
Our sangha members often join me in chanting Okyo in Sydney, and the Western Suburbs in order to teach by our example, and send our blessings to the community. We also serve at a number of interfaith events, and participate in the Memorial service conducted in Cowra for Japanese P.O.W’s who attempted a ‘break-out’ during their internment. Finally, we are in the process of completing the necessary qualifications to engage in Hospital and Gaol/ Correctional Chaplaincy.
Is your sangha working on any building projects, community projects or anything in the future that you would like to tell us about?
At present our Sangha is in the process of producing a number of translated materials for our community, and for use anywhere else they might be of value. These translation projects are financed by our Begging rounds in Sydney.
What did you take away from your recent trip to Japan and would you like to share anything that you found personally significant with us about your trip?
The trip was a fantastic opportunity to meet many of the other ‘Tendai Missionaries’ around the world, and to see how others are attempting to “light up their corner”. The great depth and vastness of Tendai Buddhism was on show, in the varied approaches and feels of the foreign Sangha represented there. This diversity I think is to be celebrated. Nevertheless, It was also highlighted to me, that we need a greater level of ‘information-sharing’, and dialogue between the three foreign branches. I found that there was very little ‘proper contact’ between Sangha in my own lineage (Those stemming from the Hawaii Betsuin and Ara Ryokan), and those stemming from the New York Betsuin/ Ichishima Sensei. Likewise, both my own line and the New York related Sangha had little knowledge of what was going on at the Indian Sangha (which for the record, was very impressive). In short, I really hope that we can all foster a greater degree of ‘brethren-ship’ between us, and walk together.
Can you tell us something about San-Mitsu?
The San Mitsu are everything, and everything is none other than the San Mitsu. All are expressions of Dharmata, of Suchness. And when we engage Shin Ku I,everything else falls away, by being present.
What would you say to someone interested in Tendai Buddhism?
I would tell them that ‘Tendai Buddhism is a rich and vibrant tradition that encompasses many of the Buddha’s Dharma Doors. Its practices range from the simple, to the complex- all of which share the same flavor.’ But I would also tell them that more important than finding a particular tradition, is finding a good teacher. All genuine Sangha, regardless of tradition offer Buddha Dharma, and nothing more. Therefore, find a teacher whom you can respect, and trust. Because when you are really mired in Samsara, in suffering, it is the teacher, and his ability to transmit the teachings, that you will need- the name of the tradition on the door will be of no importance to you. So why don’t you stay awhile? see what we have to offer, and go from there….
Rev. Jikai Dehn
Tendai Buddhist Sangha of Australia:
Kanshinji (Contemplation of the Heart- Mind Temple)