Higan-e Ceremony Address
Reverend Shogu Kimura
Today, on this occasion of the Spring Higan-e ceremony, I have sincerely recited the sutras and chanted Daimoku together with you. I have also offered my heartfelt prayers for the peaceful repose of all your deceased relatives and the individuals for whom you have requested a memorial. I am truly pleased to see that you have put forth great efforts to travel long distances to attend this ceremony on a weekend day such as this.
The origin of the word Higan-e is the Sanskrit term "paramita." It literally means "to cross over and reach the opposite shore." What, then, is the nature of this crossing? In Buddhism, the three paths of earthly desires, karma, and suffering are likened to a large river. The crossing signifies the traversing of this figurative river. Higan consists of "this shore" (shi-gan) and the "opposite shore" (hi-gan). According to Buddhist doctrine, "this shore" represents the saha world, which is full of suffering and hardships; the "opposite shore" refers to nirvana and the life condition of enlightenment. In other words, people cross the "river" of the suffering of birth and death from "this shore" the saha world, and they arrive on the "opposite shore," the life condition of the higan. If a person, seeks to cross the great river, full of the suffering of birth and death, all by himself, to get to the opposite shore, he will be swept away by the tremendous flow. Thus, the Daishonin stated:
In the sea of the sufferings of birth and death, the sutras preached before the Lotus Sutra are like rafts or little boats. Although they can carry people from one shore in the realm of birth and death to another shore in the same realm, they are incapable of carrying them across the sea of birth and death to the distant shore of Perfect Bliss. (Gosho, p. 350; MWND-7, p. 10)
In other words, the Daishonin explained that arriving on the "opposite shore" is only possible by means of the Dai-Gohonzon and the True Buddhism of the Daishonin, as exemplified by a large ship. Not everyone would be able to board a little boat, and it would be absolutely impossible to cross alone. Herein lies the essential significance of the Higan-e ceremony.
I would like to introduce a passage from the Daishonin's Gosho on the tsuizen offerings, although it is rather lengthy. In the "Letter to Nakaoki Nyudo" (Nakaoki nyudo go shosoku), the Daishonin wrote:
Moreover, on the thirteenth anniversary of the death of your infant daughter, you erected a sixteen foot sotoba with the seven characters Nam-myoho-renge-kyo inscribed on it. When the north wind blows, it is said, fish in the southern sea who are touched by it will be released from their sufferings; and when the wind comes from the east, birds and deer in the western mountains who come in contact with it will escape from the path of Animality and be born in the inner court of the Tushita Heaven. How much greater still will be the blessings of those human beings who rejoice at this sotoba, touch it with their hands, or gaze upon it with their eyes! I believe that because of the benefit derived from your erecting this sotoba, you deceased parents must be illuminating the pure land as brilliantly as would the sun and moon in the heavens. Furthermore, you yourselves, their filial son and his wife, as well as your children, will live to be one hundred and twenty, and after death, you will be with your parents in the pure land of Eagle Peak. You should consider this to be as certain as the fact that the moon is reflected in clear water, or that a hand drum produces a sound when struck. Should you erect any sotobas in the future, be sure to have the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra inscribed on them as well. (Gosho, p. 1434; MWND-5, p. 299)
Thus, the name of a deceased individual is written on a toba tablet on which the Daimoku is inscribed. When this is offered to the Gohonzon and the priest recites the sutras and chants Daimoku, then the deceased person will be able to achieve enlightenment through the benefits of the Gohonzon, and the person who requests the tablet will also receive tremendous benefits. These benefits are not minor occurrences that are merely limited to humans; they can even enable animals to achieve enlightenment. As it is apparent from this passage, the benefits of establishing a toba tablet are truly infinite.
We all came into this life as humans. As such, we are all grateful as individuals to have been born human. Indeed, we are human precisely because we possess this sense of gratitude. We cannot attain enlightenment if we lose sight of repaying our debts of gratitude. The Daishonin emphasized the importance of cultivating this sense of gratitude, through his writing, such as the "Four Debts of Gratitude" (Shion sho) and "Repaying Debts of Gratitude" (Ho-fon sho). Our High Priest Nikken Shonin stated:
Even today, the Higan-e Ceremony is performed in various Buddhist sects in Japan and in other countries. It is the traditional custom to visit the grave of the family ancestors, but almsgiving, keeping the precepts, forbearance, assiduousness, meditation, and the obtaining of wisdom, which represent the true spirit of higan, have completely disappeared from the hearts of the people of Japan. The benefits derived from these teachings are extremely significant, so our ancestors in times past were keenly aware of this and upheld their practice. As a result, they amassed benefits. In spite of this, the Japanese people today have all but forgotten about this. This, is also a clear manifestation of the workings of the five impurities. (New Year's Gongyo, 1996)
The Gohonzon will scold us if we do not carry through our faith and practice for the sake of repaying our debts of gratitude.
The most immediate and easiest form of repaying our debt of gratitude in our practice is to make offerings to our deceased ancestors. For this reason, it is essential for you to visit the temple on this occasion of the higan-e ceremony and to establish a toba memorial tablet so as to pray for the enlightenment of our ancestors.
This easiest of practices is a truly positive act that will enable people to "cross over and reach the opposite shore." I ask all of you to understand that this is, indeed, the true meaning of the Higan-e ceremony.
Today, I spoke to you briefly about the toba offering for the deceased. Please drive safely as you return home. I sincerely appreciate the efforts that you have made to attend this ceremony.