On the Way Towards Becoming a Shami
By Gabriel De Luca Garrofe (Spain)
Gabriel serving toso on New Year’s Day
After learning about Nichiren Shu and having received the Mandala Gohonzon in 2009 at Renkoji Temple, in its previous location near Milano, a desire to begin the path of a Shami has continued to grow within myself. At the time when I became a member, I was the only Nichiren Shu believer in Spain. There were no other active practitioners. I only had the support of Rev. Shoryo Tarabini at Renkoji.
I felt the need to organize weekly meet- ings at home and to make the teachings of Nichiren Shonin known to others here. Today, we have become a group of 20 participants from different cities throughout Spain.
Many times, I thought to myself that if I had known Nichiren Shu when I was younger, I might have become a monk. My desire to become a monk grew stronger but on the other hand, I also thought, “I’m 53 years old…, I need to improve my English in order to study Buddhism and I also need to study Japanese to deepen my understanding of the scriptures and traditions.” This caused me to think, “I do not know if I can do it…” I often felt discouraged.
At the inauguration of Renkoji Temple in October 2011, in its new home in Cereseto, five Spanish followers came with me to participate in the ceremony, celebration, and Dharma Conference. It was there I decided: “I want to begin the path of a Shami.” Relying on what I felt in my heart, I then returned to Renkoji numerous times to practice and study with Rev. Tarabini. He encouraged me to go to Japan, not only to take an intensive course in Japanese, but to also experience temple life there in preparation for many years of study, dedication, and practice as a possible future novice.
So on December 21, 2011, I traveled to Tokyo where I had the opportunity to live in the temple of Mayaji, until February 28, 2012. At Mayaji, I was warmly welcomed by Rev. Ando, his family, and the other monks and the temple Sangha members.
During my stay, I had the opportunity to participate in various activities: study sessions, recitation of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyo (copying passages from the Lotus Sutra), learning how to read and use a Japanese language Sutra Book, funerals and memorial services, pilgrim- age, and the daily practice of Otsutome. I also had the opportunity to visit many historic sites related to Nichiren Shonin in Chiba, Kamakura, and Minobusan, as well as meeting other monks of Nichiren Shu from Tokyo, with whom I shared pleasant moments.
Gabriel (center) and Rev. Ando (left) at Mayaji temple
While cultural differences between East and West are significant in their customs, food, ways of thinking and expressing emotions, I felt warmly supported by everyone at Mayaji, in particular by Rev. Shodo and Mrs. Ando. This experience has been very intense, giving me a deeper insight, and helped me to learn many things and immersed me into the Japanese culture. Regarding the Japanese language (grammar, vo- cabulary, Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji), this left me with much to study, to recall and to memorize. I found it difficult and at times, I felt my mind would explode, but nonetheless, I persevered and decided to continue to study Japanese upon my return to Spain. I understand, and I’m aware of the importance for a monk to know the Japanese language.
With all that I experienced and from the care and support received, I have come to feel today that part of my family is now the people of Mayaji. I feel deep gratitude towards Nichiren Shonin, the monks and Sangha of Mayaji, Ando Sensei who became my “inseparable” instructor, Tarabini Sensei for his con- fidence and unconditional support, Rev. Gen’ichi Oikawa of Shumuin, Rev. and Mrs. Shosen Seki, Rev. Eiyu Ishii, Rev. Daijo Nakajima, Rev. Kodo Shibuya, and many other monks and believers in Tokyo who gave me much encourage- ment and made it all possible.
I have given the best I could, and I will continue to do so. After having gone through this experience of living in a temple for 70 days, to experience the aspects of the life of a monk, to observe, learn and participate in various activi- ties, I have decided to start the path of a Nichiren Shu novice monk. Namu Myoho Renge Kyo