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Dharma Message- October 2018

​​​​​Eitaikyo

By Rev. Masao Kodani



​Eitaikyo is the abbreviation of "Eitai Dokkyo" which means the "perpetual chanting of sutras" on behalf of and for the benefit of a deceased person.  In Japan, this was a special trust fund for the Buddhist Temples.  By donating to the Eitaikyo Fund, the name of a deceased relative or friend of the donor was entered into a special Eitaikyo Book.  The Eitaikyo Book is a calendar book which is kept in the Naijin and lists the deceased's name on the day of their death called the Meinichi.  Each day, the morning service is dedicated to the names which appear on the page for that particular day.  Thus by donating to the Eitaikyo Fund, sutras are chanted for the deceased in perpetuity.

In most schools of Japanese Buddhism, memorial services and the Eitaikyo especially, are looked upon as being for the benefit of the deceased.  Jodoshinshu is the one outstanding exception to this view despite the fact that many Japanese and Issei Jodoshinshu Buddhists continue to adhere to the popular view that the chanting of sutras influences the status of the deceased.  In Jodoshinshu teaching, memorial services are not for the dead, they are services in memory of the dead by the living who come together as an extended family to listen again to the Dharma and to reaffirm their family ties.  From another point of view, the deceased, through their Karmic actions while alive, are calling their living relatives and friends to the Dharma.  We do not do it for them, they do it for us.  If you think about it, most Jodoshinshu services are memorial services.  We observe and even celebrate death days- we accept death in all its myriad forms as an essential part of life.  We are taught from the time we attend our first memorial service as a small child the underlying presence of death.  We may not like it, but we are familiar with it and are taught from a very early age that it is a natural thing.  Death is the most important key to life truly seen and truly lived.  Memorial services, which rise out of our love for deceased relatives and friends, are at the same time important opportunities for hearing the Dharma at a time when we are truly prepared to listen.  There is no magic power in the chanting of sutras to soothe or appease the spirits of the dead, at least not in Jodoshinshu teachings.  The daily chanting of sutras and the annual Eitaikyo Memorial Service is for the benefit of the living on the occasion of the memory of the dead.  All of us who live in the past and in the future are urged to experience the reality of the present- a present where we only imagine ourselves to be.


Namuamidabutsu 


This Dharma Message was reprinted from Dharma Talks of the Four Seasons which is available for purchase from Hongwanji Place.  Rev. Kodani was the longtime resident minister at Senshin Buddhist Temple, and is an advisor to SDDSTL Hongwanji Place.