A Successful 2016 HO-ON-KO Service
Observed on Sunday, 13 November 2016
On 13 November, we once again observed the annual Ho-On-Ko service, commemorating Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu.
HBMA members and supporters gathered at the HBMA Hondo for the service to show our appreciation to Shinran Shonin, who passed away in January, 1263. The new Hondo welcomed twenty people who came to participate in this important service, including five children.
For this special observance, we were very fortunate to welcome Reverend John Paraskevopoulos from Canberra. This happened to be his first visit to the new HBMA on Woodlands Rd. We also welcomed many Dharma friends such as Mr Michael Chen and Ms Jennifer Hsu from Maha Bodhi Buddhist centre, an engaged couple – Mr Leo Wong and Miss Aki Chan from our local community, and Mr Norman Fung, a very reliable supporter, who attended with his youngest son, Laszlo.
After my welcome message, we all chanted ShoshinNembutsuge in “Gyofu” style and the wasan together. Then we offered incense in front of the shrine one by one.
Then, I delivered a Dharma messages to the children.
First of all, I asked a question “What do you imagine if you hear the word, Ho-Ho-Ho?”
All the children smiled as they listened the word “Ho-Ho-Ho” because the Santa Clause season is coming up and everyone love him. Then I asked them the following question,
“Does it sound like Ho-On-Ko?” Once again all children smiled.
Then I continued, “That’s right, it is Santa Clause who says Ho-Ho-Ho, but today we came for the service called Ho-On-Ko. Ho-On-Ko is the memorial service of the founder of Jodo Shinshu Shinran Shonin. While Santa Clause is giving all the children material gifts, Shinran Shonin introduced a very important gift to us : a spiritual gift from Amida Buddha. This gift you can not see or touch. But it gives us peace of mind, and makes us very happy. It is Namo Amida Butsu.”
I also added the following, “The joy of material gifts doesn’t last long but the gift from Amida Buddha lasts forever. So today we gathered here to say ‘Thank you’ to Shinran Shonin who introduced us this wonderful gift for all of us.
Let us recite ‘Namo Amida Butsu’, this is the way we show our appreciation to Amida Buddha and Shinran Shonin.”
After listening to the very meaningful Dharma message from Rev Paraskevopoulos (Please find this Dharma message in the following section.), I talked to the adults in Japanese about the history of Ho-On-Ko and following is the summary of my talk.
– Ho-On-Ko literally means ‘A gathering to repay our debt of gratitude”. This name of the service is used by other schools of Buddhism too, when they observe a memorial service usually for their founder. It is said that to feel and sense gratitude
In our Jodo Shinshu history, our tradition started when the third Hongwanji Gomonshu, Kakunyo Shonin officiated the 33rd Memorial service for Shinran Shonin, and he shared his writing called “Hoonko Shiki” in which he described how we, as followers of Jodo Shinshu, observe the founder’s memorial service, – praising the virtue of Shinran Shonin and repaying the debt of gratitude to him.
Ever since, the memorial service of Shinran Shonin has been called “Ho-On-Ko”.
Talking about one of these characters “恩(On)”, which I just translated as “debt”. However does not describe all of the meaning of “On”.
When Japan lost second World War, the USA started to govern Japan and established their GHQ. To complete the successful mission, they started to research Japanese characteristics. They had a hard time understanding the word “On” and made a very large and detailed report on just this word. They finally understood “On” to mean ‘liability’, ‘debt’, or just ‘loan’. For example, children were raised by parents, so all the children should repay their parents, and also, all the Samurais who were hired by the master of a castle (殿 /Tono) should work hard to protect their master. The Kanji character of On/恩 was of course from China. But in China there does not mean debt. They understand ‘On’ as ‘Love’, ‘treat someone with affection’, or ‘bless,’ and it didn’t have same meaning as the Japanese term.
In the teaching of Buddhism, we have the word “Shi-On /四恩(Four ‘On’s)”, and these four objects for ‘On’ were Buddha, Teachers, Father and Mother. However, later the objects were changed to Parents, Sentient beings, King and Three treasures (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) and especially two objects – King and Parents – were emphasised. However, as Shinran Shonin wrote in “Ondokusan”, he was clearly saying that ‘On’ is for the Buddha and masters. He said;
“Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion,
That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies;
Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers,
That we must endeavour to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.” (From “Jodo Shinshu Service Book”)
Rev Shigenobu Watanabe