Memories of Tamonin

In the following text, Zuishin Theodorides shares his experiences and thoughts following his intensive training in the Shido Gyōki at Tamonin, Chiba Prefecture, Japan:

In 2015, I visited Japan for the first time. During my stay in Tōkyō, I visited Chiba where I met Reverend Ichishima Shōshin, 36th Abbot of Senzōji Professor Emeritus at Taishō University.

During our conversation and after thoroughly explaining my spiritual background, I expressed a strong wish to receive the precepts. Ichishima Sensei, accepted me as his disciple and recommended spending the last days of my stay at Tamon-in where he kindly conferred the vows on October 21, 2015.

Following my return to Greece, we remained in touch thanks to the social media and online communication applications like Skype. For four years, he supported my practice by providing me with ritual and doctrinal guidance as well as precious material which he diligently translated into English for the sake of his non-Japanese disciples and the dissemination of the teachings of Tendai-shū outside Japan. Long-distance learning, of course, should never substitute direct experience.

After making the necessary arrangements and several postponements, I flied to Japan on October 28, 2019. The aim was clear and further aided by the auspicious publication of the complete set of the Tendai Shido Gyōki in English; it was time to go through a training process and learn how to perform the core esoteric rituals at Tamonin.

My training at Tamonin was a privilege. And this privilege was granted by Reverend Ichishima Shōshin, one of the few authorities in Japan who are both able and eligible to teach Mikkyō in English. Acknowledging the extreme rarity of a human being meeting all the requirements and karmic circumstances that make such training possible, I experienced great joy. In ritual, the practitioner enters a state of offering.

In life, we enter a state of gratitude. This is what I feel when I recollect the generosity and support I received.

Upon arrival in Japan, I was received by Ichishima Sensei who informed me about the training schedule I would follow:

Suigyō: Purification with Cold Water
Pilgrimage: Recitation of Hannya Shingyō at Hinoōshi Jinja

Raihaigyō: 108 Prostrations to Fudō Myō-ō
Early Morning Practice

Samu: Temple Maintenance and Cleaning

Raihaigyō: 108 Prostrations to Fudō Myō-ō
Daytime Practice

Samu: Temple Maintenance and Cleaning

Raihaigyō: 108 Prostrations to Fudō Myō-ō
Evening Practic

I practised for over four weeks; one week for each practice.

Training in the Shido Gyōki as transmitted within the Hōman Ryū Lineage, encompasses the practices of Jūhachidō, Taizōkai, Kongōkai and Goma, along with Raihaigyō.

During my free time, I had the opportunity to rest my body and further train my mind through the study of the sūtras, seminal Mahāyāna texts like the Summary of the Great Vehicle, and important essays about the Bhāvanākrama and the Sūtra-samuccaya. Additionally, I worked with Ichishima Sensei on the translation of the Gojū Sōden, the Tendai Fivefold Transmission of Nembutsu, based on the precious transcription of the ritual he inherited from his grandfather, Shinnō.

The entire process was exhausting but spiritually rewarding. Exhaustion emptied my mind from all thoughts irrelevant to practice. An empty mind within a body practising austerities is like a mirror reflecting all failures and weaknesses. This helped me develop a deeper understanding of the human condition and realise the importance of repentance and purification.

The same mind, emptied from the concerns of the mundane world, serves simultaneously as a mirror reflecting the benefits of Mikkyō. It is a process similar to osmosis. Despite the varied characteristics of our esoteric practices, they are all based on our interaction and identification with the Buddha. My teacher summarises the underlying philosophy in a single phrase:

Buddha in me, me in Buddha.

The rituals of the Shidō Gyoki constitute a process of spiritual evolution. After familiarisation with the ritual etiquette, the practitioner enters the Womb World, the abode of objective reality and perfect wisdom. Infused with the wisdom of the Buddha, the mind of the practitioner gradually prepares to enter the Diamond World, the abode of subjective reality where enlightened qualities dynamically manifest as expedient means for the salvation of all sentient beings. Finally, the gyōja, making use of the accumulated experience, skillfully actualises compassion by lighting the fierce fire of wisdom which burns away afflictions and embraces us with its warmth.

Having tried to write about what cannot be expressed in words, I must once again stress that nothing would be possible without the great support and guidance of Ichishima Sensei, who stood by my side throughout the entire training period, correcting my mistakes, answering my questions and providing me with his valuable explanations of our core doctrines. I will need more than one life to repay his kindness and generosity.

If there is any merit in what I have accomplished, I dedicate it all to Ichishima Sensei, Inagaki Sensei, Ichishima Genshin, their disciples in Japan and across the world, their families and, of course, my own family who supported my decision to travel to Japan despite the fact they are going through their own difficult trials.

May they all lead long, happy and fulfilling lives, and walk the path towards liberation from the bondages of cyclic existence.

Zuishin 瑞真