There is a burn mark on the onaijin carpet. Its about three inches long and an eighth of an inch wide. I have seen this mark in the onaijin of other temples. Sometimes the mark is on carpet. Sometimes the mark is on wooden floors. For some ministers this may be a familiar mark.
Sunday mornings can sometimes be hectic. There are parents and students arriving for the Sangha and Padma class I teach that is supposed to start at 8:15 but always starts later. While they wait for the other students to arrive they do things on their smartphones, talk and laugh, or nap. When I ask them how they are invariably they say, “I’m tired”. I think its a condition that affects a large portion of that population. I suppose an epidemiological study could be conducted regarding the sleepiness of this age group. Occasionally, people will come to the office early to wait for morning service to start. By 9:15 the office is a busy place. People coming and going. Checking mail. Dropping off things. Checking out keys. Scheduling appointments. Looking for information about the temple.
When the Sangha Padma students are gathered we go into the hondo for our class. Our class time is usually filled with conversation that might be related to the dharma. Sometimes they do get tangential. There was a period of time when coelacanths took up most of our discussion. Coelacanths are large primitive fish that were long thought to be extinct. These fish became apart of our discussion when the theme song of a new casino had the phrase, “ceiling can’t hold us” which sounded to like coelacanth. Sometimes we digress but everything can come back to the buddhadharma. Mishearing coelacanth (see-luh-kanth) for “ceiling can’t” can remind us, in a funny way, how we may not be seeing or hearing things as they are.
Occasionally, part of the class time is spent practicing onaijin etiquette. Students are familiar with how to enter and exit the onaijin. They prepare the onaijin for morning service; lighting candles, placing incense and obbupan. Although, sometimes their movement in the onaijin is chaotic, generally things get done.
They have also participated, reluctantly, in sutra chanting. The time to practice is really short. We practice entry, receiving the service book, ringing the bell. The person in the chosho seat leads. We read a few lines of the beginning then jump to the end, read a few lines of the end, then finish with nembutsu and ekoku. Finish with closing, receiving, then gassho, nembutsu. It takes a couple of minutes to complete then everyone rotates. Some years the class is more open to leading a service. Other years they are more reluctant. When I ask they just refuse my request. At those times I feel more the student than the teacher. Its hard to get them over being overly self-conscious. The hope was to have them lead services. We’ve done it before. Perhaps we’ll do it again.
On most weekday mornings a service is conduct in the hondo. Lotus Preschool students join us for that service. Its a simple service. We usually read Juseige then recite the Golden Chain and finish with a song. During the reading of Juseige the students come up for oshoko.
One Monday morning as I sat reading Juseige I noticed the black mark on the carpet. It looked fresh. I wondered how it might have gotten there. The Sangha Padma students from the day before must have been careless and dropped the burning incense as they prepared the onaijin. I would have to remind them of the need to be mindful while in the onaijin. The onaijin is not a playground. We should be careful in our movements and mindful of where we are. I would have to remind them again of the need to be focused on what they were doing. Not to be thinking of others things while preparing the onaijin.
As I sat there reading Juseige, thinking about what I needed to talk about to the students I realized that a thin, wisp of smoke was rising from the just dropped incense, smoldering on the carpet.