“Oko” generally means a ritual assembly to recite sutras, to offer prayers, and to preach the teachings of Buddhism in order to praise a particular Buddha or object of worship. In Nichiren Shoshu, we conduct the Oko Ceremony to repay our debt of gratitude for the profound benefit of the three treasures: Nichiren Daishonin (the Buddha), the Dai-Gohonzon (the Law), and Nikko Shonin (the priesthood).
The Oko Ceremony is conducted at the Head Temple Taisekiji three times during the month: on the seventh to commemorate the memorial anniversary of the Second High Priest, Nikko Shonin, who established the Head Temple; on the 13th, which is the memorial day of the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin; and on the 15th to mark the memorial of the Third High Priest, Nichimoku Shonin. The Oko Ceremony held at local Nichiren Shoshu Temples has the same significance as the three ceremonies held at the Head Temple.
The ceremony begins with an offering of traditional foods to the three treasures (Kenzen) and is then followed by the recitation of the Hoben and Juryo chapters of the Lotus Sutra. After chanting Daimoku and offering the silent prayers, the chief priest gives a lecture on true Buddhism. Priests and lay believers enhance their faith, practice, and study through this ceremony and renew their determination to accomplish worldwide propagation of true Buddhism in order to repay their debt of gratitude.
The concept of acknowledging and repaying debts of gratitude, which is basic to the spirit of the Oko Ceremony, is essential to a correct understanding of true Buddhism and our own lives.
People may think that their present life-condition is the exclusive result of their own effort, but this is erroneous thinking. We actually owe a debt of gratitude to many others. Our parents gave birth to us and sustained our growth. We have benefited from the knowledge and experience of countless others in developing our own understanding. We progress toward our goals only because of the support we have received from others. The greater our goal in life, the greater the obliga-tion we usually have to other people in accomplishing it. Nichiren Daishonin states:
Sages and worthy men are the product of families where filial piety is taught. It goes without saying, therefore, that persons who study the teaching of Buddhism also must observe the ideal of filial piety and understand and repay their obligations. The disciples of the Buddha must without fail understand the four types of obligations and know how to repay them. (Gosho, p. 530; M.W., Vol. 2, p. 88)
The “four types of obligation” mentioned in this passage indicate the four debts owned to one’s parents, teacher, sovereign, and the three treasures. The obligations continue throughout our lives. The Daishonin explains this debt as follows:
It is thanks to one’s sovereign that one is able to warm his body in the three kinds of heavenly light (the light of the sun, moon, and stars) and sustain his life with the five kinds of grain (wheat, rice, beans, and two types of millet) that grow on earth.
(Gosho, p. 267; M.W., Vol. 5, p. 9)
The word “sovereign” in this passage indicates the country we live in. Even though we live in a democratic country without a king or queen, this passage still applies to us.
(Note: This Chapter can be read in its entirety in the book: Nichiren Shoshu Ceremonies. For more information, please contact your local temple.)