THE SIGNIFICANCE OF
THE OESHIKI CEREMONY

from Shinyo 9 p72-6
The Oeshiki Ceremony is one of the most important ceremonies in Nichiren Shoshu. Together with the Grand Ceremony of the Airing of the Sacred Treasures, it is one of the "Two Grand Ceremonies of NIchiren Shoshu". Furhtermore, at branch temples it is the biggest ceremony among all the events held throughout the year. And as the disciples and believers of Nichiren Daishonin, the Oeshiki Ceremony is the most important ceremony where we repay our debt of gratitude to the True Buddha.
  The Oeshiki Cremony, which possesses this weighty significance in the true sense, is a formal occasion for repaying our debt of gratitude by celebrating the Daishonin's eternal presence throughout the three existences; that is, when Nichiren Daishonin passed away at the manor of Ikegami Uemon no Tayu Munenaka in Musashi province, on the 13th day of the 10th month of the 5th year of Ko'an (1281), He did not actually pass away, eventhough He exhibited the appearance of passing away.
  Therefore, on the day of the Oeshiki Ceremony, we greet eachother by saying "gongratulations", to express our happiness about this. In times past, believers would dress up in their best traditional Japanese formal wear in celebration.
  The various NIchiren Shu sects also conduct "Oeshiki" ceremonies. However, they merely consider its significance to be a gala event with the purpose of
tsuizen kuyo (to transfer merit to the deceased), perhaps because they view it as a day for commemorating the Daishonin's passing. However, in actuality Nichiren Daishonin is the True (Original) Buddha of the Buddhism of sowing, the True Buddha who is eternally here throughout the three existences. Thus the true significance of the Oeshiki Ceremmony is to celebrate the appearance of the Daishonin in Mappo and to revere Him as the True Buddha who will never pass away throughout eternity.
  Though the Oeshiki Cremony as it is performed today is said to have originated during the time of 17th High Priest Nissei Shonin, it has been performed without fail ever since Nikko Shonin was the Great Master of Propagation at Mt. Minobu 700 years ago.
  When belivers learn of the significance of the Oeshiki Ceremony, they often wonder about certain things, such as:
1) Why is the Buddha who is "always here ever since time without beginning" pass away?
2) After his passing, what form does the Buddha take, and where does he dwell?
3) What attitude should the disciples and bellievers who come after his passing have toward this in their faith and practise?
The answer to the first question, "Why does the eternal Buddha pass away?" is given in the
Juryo Chapter:
The thought that it is very difficult to meet [the Buddha] will invariably rise, their hearts will be filled with longing, and they will thirst for the Buddha; thus they will plant roots of goodness. This is why the Tathagata, though he does not pass away, nevertheless says that he passes away. For the sake of saving living beings, as an expedient I exhibit nirvana, but in reality I do not pass away; I am always here, preaching the Law. Now in reality I do not pass away, yet I still proclaim that I will pass away. It is through this expedient that the Tathagata teaches and converts living beings. Why does he do this? If the Buddha long dwells in the world, people of shallow virtue will not plant roots of goodness. Impoverished and lowly, they will be attached to greed for the objects of desire of the five senses and they will enter into a web of wandering thoughts and deluded views. If they see tht the Tathagata is always here, never passing away, they will bring forth arrogance and selfishness, be satisfied, and become negligent. They will not be able to think it difficult to meet [the Buddha] and they will be unable to have a mind of reverence. (Kaiketsu,p.500)
These passages show that the Buddha does not actually pass away. The Buddha only adopts the means of "passing away" as an expedient to make people practise the Way to attaining Buddhahood. If the Buddha were always before them, people would think that they will be able to meet the Buddha at any time. They would neglect their Buddhist practise and be unable to accumulate merit and virtue. Their lives would become impoverished and base and in the end they would no longer believe in Buddhism and would slander the Law. Therefore, to show how difficult it is to meet the Buddha, the Buddha exhibits the appearance of passing away as a good expedient.
  The second question people ask is, "After his passing, what form does the Buddha take, and where does he dwell?" In other words, "We know that Nichiren Daishonin is the Original (True) Buddha who appeared in
Mappo, but where has His life dwelled since He exhibited the appearance of passing away?"
  Ever since the days of Nikko Shonin, the founder of the Head Temple, we of Nichiren Shoshu have revered the Daishonin as the Original Buddha of time without beginning who will save all the people of
Mappo. Thus we regard His birth on the 16th day of the 2nd month of the first year of Jo'o (1222) as "exhibiting birth without actually being born" and believe that His passing away at Ikegami was in actuality "exhibiting death but not dying". In other words, from the eternal past into the eternal future, the life of the Original Buddha is neither born nor passes away. He is always here in this world of ours. This is taught in the last section of the Juryo Chapter, the verse section that begins with the words "ji ga":
Joju shi seppo: "I am always here, preaching the Law."
Gen u metsu fumetsu: "I appear to pass away though I do not pass away." More specifically, the Daishonin is here in the world as the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teachings. This the Daishonin taught in "Reply to Kyo'o":
I, Nichiren, have inscribed this Gohonzon by infusing my life into it with sumi ink. You must believe! The heart of the Buddha is the Lotus Sutra; the life of Nichiren is none other than Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. (Shinpen,p.685)
Thus to attend the Gokaihi Ceremony is a direct audience with our founder, Nichiren Daishonin. Of course, this means that we must have faith that the Daishonin always dwells where the Gohonzon is enshrined in each of our own homes.
  In the Oeshiki Ceremony we revere the Daishonin's enlightened life, which is eternally here throughout the three existences, always here taching the Law.
  The third question is, "What attitude should the disciples and believers who come after the Buddha's passing have in their faith and practise?" Let's consider this question in terms of the formalities of the Oeshiki Ceremony at the Grand Head Temple.
  On the day before the actual anniversary of the Daishonin's passing, the ceremonies that are held are: In the Gokaihi Ceremony, we worship the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teachings, that is, NIchiren Daishonin, who is one and the same as the Buddha of Intrinsically Perfect Wisdom of time without beginning (
kuon ganjo). In the evening the oneri rite is performed, which expresses the appearance of our Founder Nichiren Daishonin. This is followed by a sermon on the Juryo Chapter by the High Priest, and then by the ceremonial drinking of sake (rice wine) in the san-san-kudo ceremony.
  In the oneri rite, in time with the ringing of a fire bell, six young Priests perform a ceremony depicting the "three refusals and three entreaties" in the Hoben (Expedient Means) Chapter.The procession including the High Priest approaches the Mieido along the stone pathway and stops. Seven times, one by one, a young priest runs up to the High Priest and bows. After moving forward a bit, the procession stops again and one by one, five young priests run up to the High Priest and bow. This happens once again, with three young priests running up to the High Priest and bowing. This signifies the entreating of the Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, to enter the Mieido in order to preach the Law.
  The procession then moves from the front of the Mieido, circles around it to the west, and enters from the rear. This expresses the flow of Buddhism as it was transmitted from India to Japan (from west to east). The reason the procession with the High Priest enters from the rear is because Nichiren Daishonin, the Original Buddha, is always present in the mieido. As regular pilgrims, the believers enter the Mieido from the front. (For a similar reason, after the ceremony, the High Priest exits from the rear and leaves by circling around the Mieido to the east. This signifies the return of the Buddhism from Japan to India.)
  In this way, all present for the ceremony take their seats in the Mieido, and all the priests and layity enter into the ceremony of the
Juryo ("Lifespan of the Tathagata") Chapter of the Lotus Sutra. First, the High Priest seats himself facing to the north on a pedestal that is in front of the high lecture seat. (This pedestal is the size of half a tatami mat, and symbolizes the seat of a boddhisattva) This expresses Boddhisattva Jogyo's emergence from the earth in the Yujutsu ("Emerging from the Earth") Chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
  A senior priest then performs the ritual of the "three rightward circumambulations" from the
Yujutsu Chapter. (This is a ritual of praise performed by the Boddhisattvas of the Earth after they emerged from the earth; they proceeded to the Treasure Tower, bowed to the two Buddhas, Shakyamuni and Taho, and then circled to the right three times.) Then the priest performs the ritual of the "Three exhortations, three entreaties, further exhortation and further entreaty" from the Juryo Chapter in order to ask the Buddha to ascend the high lecture seat. The High Priest finally climbs up to the high seat and offers ceremonial incense in accordance with the Law. He then leads the recitation of the Juryo Chapter and chanting of the Daimoku, and lastly gives a sermon on the Juryo Chapter.
  This part of the ceremony indicates the actual entity of our founder, Nichiren Daishonin, who appeared in
Mappo and, from His transient identity of Boddhisattva Jogyo (who received the entrustment of the five characters of the coalescence of essentials of the object of worship of the Juryo Chapter) revealed His original identity as the Buddha of Intrinsically Perfect Wisdom of kuon ganjo. Thus, this sermon on the Juryo Chapter is the ceremony of Nichiren Daishonin preaching the Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, hidden in the depths of the Juryo Chapter, of the common mortal at the stage of myoji-soku in kuon ganjo.
  There is short break after the HIgh Priest's sermon is over, and the
san-san-kudo ceremony is then performed. The high lecture seat is put away and a "two-layer seat" is set up in the upper center. (The "two-layer seat" consists of two tatami mats placed next to each other with one more mat placed on top to make a double layer.) In the lower center, long-handled sake serving pots, two-handled kegs, and round kegs are placed both the right and left sides in symmetrical positions. All the implements are the same as those used in ancient times.
When these preparations are complete, at a signal from the huge bell in the Mieido, the High Priest enters and sits on the two-layered seat. Six senior priests accompany him, and seat themselves in front of him, three to the left and three to the right, facing eachother. Then the offering of the
sake begins, served by six young attending priests. The six attending priests first set up small tables first in front of the High Priest and then in front of the six senior priests. They then place the goshiki-matsu (five-coloured pines) on the middle of the tables. (Goshiki-matsu are paper decorations in the form of a pine. They are used for celebratory occasions.) Mandarin oranges, persimmons, tokoro (a kind of yam), citron, rice cakes made of powdered new rice, and buckwheat noodles are placed around the goshiki-matsu. These are the foods that were eaten in the Daishonin's day.
  Next, the
sake (rice wine) is offered. Sets of small, medium, and large sake cups are used to serve the High Priest and then the six senior priests sitting on the left and right.
  The
san-san-kudo ceremony is an ancient Japanese tradition used to celebrate happy occasions. (San-san-kudo literally means three times three equals nine times) In this rite the HIgh Priest is given six sake cups three times each. Each of the six senior priests drink from each of the three cups (small, medium and large) three times, for a total of nine times. (Thus the meaning of san-san-kudo)
  In serving the High Priest and six senior priests, the attending priests move in a strict, choreographed pattern, in which all movements are according to traditions passed down from centuries ago, such as moving three small steps forward and three small steps back before kneeling to serve someone. When the High Priest and six senior disciples have finished toasting each other, the six attending priests then take turns serving each other using the leftover
sake from the cups. (This is the traditional way of honouring one's seniors) As in ancient times, specially made un-refined sake is used.
  Moreover, the drinking of
sake by the Daishonin and His six disciples signifies that the disciples are also fundamentally always here. That is, the Kejoyu ("Parable of the Phantom City") Chapter of the Lotus Sutra states:
They are constantly born together with their master in various Buddha lands. (Kaiketsu,p.351)
The
Hokke Gengi ("Profound Meaning of the Lotuas sutra") of the Great Teacher T'ien T'ai states:
"Originally one followed this Buddha and for the first time concieved the desire to seek the  Way. And by following this Buddha again, one will reach the stage where there is no regression." (MW7, p.20; Taisho Tripitaka, 33-756)
The
Hokke Mongu Ki ("Annotations on the Hokke Mongu") of the Great Teacher Miao-lo states:
One formed a relation according to this Buddha or bodhisattva, and it is with this Buddha or boddhisattva that one will attain [the Way]. (Taisho Tripitaka; p.34-324)
In "The True Object of Worship" the Daishonin teaches:
The Buddha did not pass away in the past noe will he be born in the future; those that he teaches are likewise the same. (Shinpen, p.654 MW1-66)
These passages reveal that the master and disciples are eternally here, in terms of the meaning of the True Cause hidden in the depths of the Juryo Chapter. This also means that this will also hold true in Kosen-rufu in the future and, at the same time, celebrates the Kosen-rufu of the entire world that is certain to come.
  These are the ceremonies that take place on the evening before the anniversary of the Daishonin's passing.
  The next day is the day of the main ceremony. Ushitora Gongyo is held in the very early morning, and the Oeshiki Ceremony itself is held in the morning. At this ceremony, the Rissho Ankoku Ron is recited by the High Priest, and other priests recite remonstrations by Nichiren Daishonin, Nikko Shonin, Nichimoku Shonin, Nichido Shonin, Nichigyo Shonin, and Nichiu Shonin. This ceremony is unique to Nichiren Shoshu. It expresses the very foundation of the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, the way of shakubuku.
  The Rissho Ankoku Ron teaches the goal of the Daishonin's entire lifetime of teaching; to make the country peaceful by the widespread faith in the True Law. Next, the remonstrations of the successive High Priests illustrate the spirit to inherit the will of the Daishonin taught in the Rissho Ankoku Ron and remonstrate with the sovereign to abandon mistaken teachings and embrace the True Law.
  The real meaning of "rissho" is to establish the Three Great Secret Laws - the Object of Worship, the High Sanctuary, and Daimoku of the Essential Teachings - and to thereby secure the peace of the land. By reciting the Rissho Ankoku Ron and remonstrations at the Oeshiki Ceremony, we express the Daishonin's spirit in the present age. All the priests and lay believers at the ceremony chant three Daimoku together after each of these passages are recited. In this way, each and every participant makes a vow to achieve Kosen-rufu. This, then, is our attitude and stance in faith and practise as the disciples and believers of the Daishonin after His passing.
  These are the formalities that are performed at the Grand Head Temple for the Oeshiki Ceremony. Deep in our hearts, we should sincerely regard all of these formalities as bearing the true significance of the noble actions of NIchiren Daishonin as the True Buddha.
   Today in Nichiren Shoshu, we are moving forward together with harmony between the priesthood and layity toward the Tozan of 300.000 believers in 2002, the 750th year of the Daishonin's True Buddhism. With this great undertaking as our goal, let's achieve itai doshin without leaving anyone out, and make progress in faith, practise, and shakubuku.

TAKAISIN KUVIIN /
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