Ceremony Jodo-e Commemorating the awakening of Buddha Shakyamuni
In the Soto Zen monasteries in Japan, an intensive retreat (sesshin) is celebrated from the 1st to the 7th of December. On the 7th, an evening zazen (tetsuya zazen) continues until 1 am the next day. After the last zazen, the bell of the Buddha Hall rings and all practitioners enter the Buddha Hall. The abbot offers an incense stick. Everyone prostrates three times together than fold the zagu, the rectangular cloth to sit on. Then the abbot presents an offering of hot water with sugar, of rice porridge and tea, then everyone chants the Dharani of the Great Compassion (Dai Hi Shin Dharani). When the assembly has finished the dedication (eko) and three prostrations, there is a small gathering (shôsan). Then they leave the room to go to sleep until the morning.
All of these events are named Rohatsu sesshin. « Ro » means December and « hatsu » means eight. This special retreat is conducted annually in order to commemorate the realization of the Way by Buddha Shakyamuni. According to the story of the Buddha, after many years of hard ascetic practice, Shakyamuni sat down and practised zazen under the Bodhi Tree. At dawn on December the 8th , upon seeing the morning star (Venus) he experienced the great awakening. He turned from an ordinary being into the Awakened one, the Buddha.
His awakening is also called Jodo that litteraly means : « to realize the Way ». Here the word « Way » is a Chinese translation form the Sanskrit word « bodhi ». In the Zen tradition, « bodhi » is understood as the «the awakening to one’s own nature, as it is ». When he realized the Way, Shakyamuni became the true and authentic Shakyamuni.
In the Denkoroku (Transmission of the Light) of Keizan Zenji, the first case describes his enlightenment as follows :
Upon seing the morning star, the Buddha Shakyamuni realized awakening. He said « I, along with the great earth and all sentient beings, simultaneously realized the Way ».
We should note that before making this statement, it is said that he had exclaimed, beaming « Wonderful ! Wonderful ! »
It implies that he was first enlightened emotionnally. To that moment he was discouraged for he thought that there were only enemies or demons around him. It was simply unbearable. He felt lonely and cut off from the world. But after the awakening, he realized that he was surrounded by all sorts of precious treasures that were shining brightly. He could feel intimetaly connected to all things of the world. He was not alone any more. The world had changed in its entirety. Buddha Shakyamuni deeply rejoiced from this unity.
This shift towards a simultaneous transformation of the self and the world is also possible for us. As practitioners descendants of Dogen Zenji and Keizan Zenji, fortunately we were taught a wonderful and direct manner to realize the Way, as Buddha Shakyamuni : the practice of zazen. « Sitting upright, practising zazen is the authentic way to free yourselves in the unconfined kingdom of the samadhi » (Bendowa). Samadhi here is not a particular state of consciousness but it is this fluid and dynamic unity of the self and the world.
Dogen Zenji has described this transformation in the Bendowa as follows :
When someone, even for a short moment, sits upright in the balanced posture of the Buddha which positions the body straight, it becomes clear that all things in the Universe manifest the same balanced state, and that such realization is manifested in the entire space.
This practice brings us back in the joyful state of Buddha through which we reaffirm how wonderful the reality is. All the different states of mind and all the physical conditions people go through during their lives dissolve immediately, replaced by a state of unity that is clear and pure.
We enter the state that is free from all what prevents us from acting freely and returning to our natural balanced state. Experiencing and understanding what is trully real extend to all things, and each thing takes its natural and balanced form.
At this point, sitting supremes in the same posture as the Buddha under the bodhi tree, each thing goes beyond the limits of what can be experienced and grasped. In its balanced state, at that moment each thing is in tune with the teachings of the Universe and manifests the profound and bare state that existed before the world was conceptualized.
Since there is a dynamic balance between the practitioner and the world, it works in both directions in ways that we can not fully understand, which enable us, who are sitting in zazen, to be released from the split between body and mind, cut off from the various indoctrinations and thoughts we have accumulated in the past, and thus through the experience we realize the pure and real nature of this world ...
On December 8th, after the Rohatsu sesshin, a special ceremony called Jodo-e is celebrated to express our deep gratitude to Buddha Shakyamuni. In the Declaration of the Assembly of the accomplishment of Buddha, there is a statement of appreciation from the bottom of the heart.
On the eight day of this month, we celebrate with respect the realization of the Way by our Great Benefactor and Founder of the Doctrine, the Original Master, the Reverend Buddha Shakyamuni. We have prepared with veneration incense, flowers, lamps, candles, hot water with sugar, confectioneries, tea, rare delicacies, and we
Gathering respectfully the pure present assembly, we have chanted the (Dai Bucchô Man Gyo Shu Ryôgon Dharani from the Sutra Surangama). So here we offer the excellent merit accumulated to reward the compassionate blessings of his dharma, which is like milk.
What follows next is humbly considered. When the jugs, the plates, the hairpins and bracelets are fused together, they become a single metal, if the fire of wisdom wouldn’t exist that would be almost impossible. When the guitar, zither, the lute and harp are tuned together, the six dominant colours can harmonize. But without skilled fingers, how can this be accomplished ? That is the wonderful teaching of Buddha.
It is true that all living beings are fully endowed with the properties of wisdom and virtue of a Tathagata (Nyorai), but if the Great Awakened had no effective means to reveal the illusion and the awakening of the living beings, the madness of Ennyadatta would be difficult to stop, and the jewel in the forehead of the strong man would be long forgotten.
We know now the accomplishment of the Way through the great land and the sentient beings and us are really aware of the direct cause of the inherent buddha nature. May the wisdom of enlightenment shine a long time and the flame of a single lamp be transmitted to hundreds and thousands of lamps. May the wind blow the way far away in this world and reach unlimited worlds ...
So the Jodo-e is an important occasion where we make the vow to renew our efforts and our commitment to follow the Buddha Way.