There is an old saying that faith arises from the majesty of the temple. I think most of the world's religions have holy places to visit because a peaceful feeling comes over people when they experience a location with a stately, sublime atmosphere, and they are then better prepared to deepen their faith. We members of Rissho Kosei-kai have several special places. The one that plays a central role is the Great Sacred Hall, erected in 1964 in Tokyo. A statue of the Eternal Buddha is enshrined there. Rissho Kosei-kai has Dharma centers in twenty-one countries, and 238 in Japan, where members can visit and study the teachings. Several times a year, as part of their religious practice, members depart from their usual lives to make group pilgrimages to the Great Sacred Hall.
Taking part in a group pilgrimage requires personal adjustments, such as time off from work and understanding and support from one's family. On the appointed day we board buses with a large number of other members and travel long distances. We also take our meals and baths in a group. While such activities can be fun, we are not free to move about at our own convenience. That is when we become aware that our minds are often self-centered. The participants must work together and cooperate. Then our minds become as one, as reflected in the phrase itai doshin (many in body, but one in spirit). The purpose of a Rissho Kosei-kai group pilgrimage is to bring into our lives all that we learn and become aware of in the process of participating, thereby making each pilgrimage an opportunity to help to create a peaceful world.
Our Pilgrimage Group has twenty-five staff members who receive a total of nearly 150,000 pilgrims who take part in some 130 one-day or overnight programs every year. Even with the best of intentions to lend full support to their visits, our need for efficiency unfortunately tends to dominate.
However, through the close connections made with our members who were victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami that struck on March 11 of last year, the staff members seem to have deepened their resolve to be more attentive.
Starting in the month following the disaster, Rissho Kosei-kai put together two-day overnight Yawaragi (Relief) Tours for members from the stricken areas. Because of road damage and concerns over the health of some participants, members of some Dharma centers have not been able to come as far as the Great Sacred Hall. For those centers, we booked hot-spring resort hotels in their vicinity and sent our staff to the hotels to welcome members. In all cases, we set up health consultations with doctors and nurses from Kosei General Hospital in Tokyo and also called on the services of counselors from the Kosei Institute for Counseling Research, also in Tokyo, as well as massage therapists and the like. The members welcomed are people who suffered painful experiences.
The staff prepared for their arrival while praying they could empathize with the members' anguish and grief. One staff member spent time massaging the feet of a woman with high blood pressure. Everyone struggled to think of ways to ease the visitors' minds and provide a relaxing and pleasant experience. Whenever the tour groups arrived, everyone connected warmly. As the visitors boarded their buses to leave, everyone smiled and shook hands. The staff waved farewell to the visitors as if they were family.
Even if the meeting places for Relief Tours were hotels far away from the Great Sacred Hall, they had the same pure feeling of a sangha. The hotels became holy places of Buddhist practice.