2013-07 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Podcast – Sacred Images

The Travels of the Shinnyo Masters
Making a Connection to the Past
Master Shinjo on Why Do We Have Buddha Images?

2013-July Shinnyo-en Buddhism Podcast – Sacred Images

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Bronze sculptures of the founders of Shinnyo-en Buddhism

The busts of the Shinnyo Parents and the Two Dojis that had been placed at Shinchoji (a Shinnyo-en main temple in Japan) and which had long been exposed to the smoke of the homa fires and incense (causing unique variations in color from their original bright golden bronze appearance when first cast) have been temporarily enshrined during their world tour at our temples in Singapore, Taiwan, six locations in Europe, and Hawaii before making their way to other temples on the mainland United States.

Here in Los Angeles, we supported their visit for a brief 3 weeks while many visitors experienced their first opportunity to make contact with these sacred images from afar. The exhibit included many educational exhibits about buddhist practices and what the purposes and meanings were for the images, sculptures and artwork represented in Shinnyo temples. Some religions forbid creating images of their deities or missionaries, possibly to prevent idolatry or misguided worship of the image itself. In buddhism, we are taught that images represent figures to assist connection with the human senses, but the philosophy is to respect those who walked the sacred path before us, not to worship them nor endow them with supernatural attributes. So, perhaps no differently than one would treasure ones old photographs of departed family members, we at Shinnyo-en are fortunate to have images which remind us in our minds and hearts to bring alive the memories and thoughts of both our founders and the originators of the Shinnyo Dharma Stream before them.

Through this tour of the Shinnyo busts, many practitioners have been able to form a spiritual connection to something infinite yet personal through the experience of touching the vajra cords attached to the busts. By spending time in front of the busts, many have reported feeling a sense of peace and calm. Others said they felt some kind of inner transformation had occurred, which helped them become more open. Some practitioners felt something warm and immediate, as if their hands were enveloped by the hands of our spiritual masters.

One practitioner said that it was a moment she would never forget, when she felt as if the Shinnyo Parents and the Two Dojis were telling her that her efforts were on track and that she was headed in the right direction.

As the busts travel to more of our centers, more people in the world can feel the atmosphere of Oyasono, a sacred site of pilgrimage where people can get closer to the core of Shinnyo Buddhism to recreate that warm atmosphere in their own surroundings.

The intention behind sending the busts to different places outside Japan is to help more people to feel spiritually connected to a sacred place that welcomes all. This international tour started in the centennial year of Shojushinin’s birth. and is due to last until the spring of 2014. It, too, is part of the enhancement of Oyasono as an eternal site, a spiritual “home” that welcomes, rejuvenates, and inspires people to truly strive toward buddhahood.

So what about the person who feels “nothing” when sitting before an image? Similar to the self-reflection that happens during meditation, one could say that the person who brings nothing to prayer, will receive exactly that — nothing. Personally, it takes a LOT of continued practice to become sensitive to all the chatter that is going on in one’s mind at any time. And closing one’s eyes only temporarily mutes one of those five major senses. Your brain is still hard-at-work bringing in smell, taste, touch, and sound sensory input, so to be able to identify and focus upon one quiet and tiny communication that may not be triggered by any of the external senses is the key to expanded listening (to yourself.) Even in a sensory deprivation chamber, you would still feel the pressure from the salt water, the sounds of your heartbeat, breathing and digestion, and taste whatever enzymes or substances are in your mouth – a continual cacophony of sensory stimulation.

This concept is perhaps the important psychological factor in religion. A person who believes there is no spirit or external force that can influence their life, often is quite correct for themselves. The human mind is capable of transcending its own environment – such as a person who is in an extremely hot/cold temperature place, yet feels nothing special (the “it’s not THAT hot/cold”-type of person.) Similarly, someone who can ignore spiritual or metaphysical influences, could similarly ignore their own sub-conscious or intuition, as well. “Mind over matter” is not just a proverbial notion.

Master Shinjo Ito during a lecture in 1965 told his students,

“When you have one good dharma teacher, many others can be educated and nurtured. Since our path is one of being a “greater vehicle,” our aim is to raise each person to be a good role model who can guide many others. Put simply, the Shinnyo Path is one that aims to nurture bodhisattvas and buddhas. That’s why I make Buddhist sculptures. By giving form to a buddha figure, I hope to encourage people to give form to a buddha in their heart and soul.”

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