When I Met Sensei

When I met Sensei

Since commencing my Buddhist practice in 1983, I had quickly come to realise the benefit of contributing to kosen-rufu through SGI (then NSUK – Nichiren Shosh United Kingdom) activities. I was a group leader, I was in the Transport division and the guardian group (formely known as HRG’s – Human Revolution Group) and supported the organisation in any way I could.

So I had already been a keibi team leader on a couple of occasions shortly after we acquired Taplow Court. Many of you will recall the joys of doing keibi in a caravan in the grounds of our ill fated Blackheath Centre prior to our acquisition of Taplow.

I had the great good fortune to be chosen as number 1 keibi from 20th-27th May 1989 at Taplow court. This was the week that President Ikeda’s planned visit to the UK was to commence. It would be his first visit since the 70’s when he had met with the famous historian, Arnold Toynbee. The enormous excitement surrounding Sensei’s visit was even more acute as he was to officially open ‘New Century Hall’, the newly buit Butsuma at Taplow, which of course was only acquired a few short years previously.

With 6 years of solid Buddhist practice under my belt, having avidly studied ‘The Human Revolution’ I felt a huge sense of responsibility and mission, like nothing I had ever previously experienced.

A few nights before that week I had dreamed of being one of the members who joined Sensei for Gongyo, although I wasn’t sure where it had taken place.

For those of you that aren’t aware, keibi at Taplow Court until a few years ago, was a week long residential undertaking. When the whole system was changed a few years ago there were 8 members per week, Saturday – Saturday, each of whom had a particular responsibility. It was a truly life altering experience. Many members can fondly recall how they changed their karma through volunteering for keibi.

Back in the 80’s, there were only 4 members in the keibi team, and it was intensely challenging and of course extremely rewarding to share your lives in the service of kosen-rufu in this way. Of course the prospect of President Ikeda making a visit increased the level of interest at Taplow to almost fever pitch. Inevitably more help was needed at the nerve centre, which was to be in and around the keibi team during his visit, so some additional members were drafted in. Professional switchboard operators and translators, and others, all members of course, joined the team during this time.

The Saturday handover had gone smoothly enough. We all knew this was a crucial time. A lot of work on the actual building structures had been quickly completed including the newly converted accomodation block above the old stables, which would serve as the keibi sleeping quarters. With the anticipation of the imminent arrival of Sensei the following day, Sunday 21st May, and the need to be up for around 5.45am I made sure I had an early night. As number 1 keibi, I had been assigned a room of my own in order to ensure a restful, undisturbed sleep.

I awoke refreshed and full of joy – and a degree of trepidation at the tasks that lay ahead of me, and prepared to take a shower. Wearing my dressing gown and clutching my towel, soap, toothbrush etc. I jolted when I realised the bedroom door had slammed shut behind me The key was inside. I chanted in my head and determined to keep calm. There must be a spare I thought. So I went ahead and showered. When I left the shower, my fellow keibi, Roger appeared from his room and greeted me. I told him what had just happened and he encouraged me to remain calm saying something about inevitable Sansho Shima.

We both agreed that the security guards would have a spare key to my room, so I set off across the gravel towards the gatehouse to ask them.

No we don’t have a spare key” the security guard told me, “the builders have only just finished converting those rooms and haven’t provided us with any keys as yet” he said.

By now it was around 6.15am. Surely Andy, the Estate Manager would have a spare key, but he wasn’t likely to be around for a while this early on a Sunday morning.

I looked up at the sky, imagining Sensei’s plane winging it’s way through the blue sky and light fluffy clouds on it’s way to Heathrow, a few short miles away and tried to appreciate the significance of my predicament. Whatever would Sensei think? If he knew that the number 1 keibi, responsible for the small team that was to ensure the protection and safety of his cherished UK organisational HQ during his visit had LOCKED HIMSELF OUT OF HIS ROOM on the very day he was due to arrive! What would Mr Causton say? I felt I had let everyone down, including of course myself.

While chanting in my head, I began to see however, that in a perverse kind of way, this was actually a benefit.

Somehow, a key would be found and this stupid little experience would ensure that I would from this moment on, pay the greatest attention to every minute detail. That I would check and double check, that I would leave nothing to chance and that I would take total responsibility for every area of my life. Such a benefit that I should learn this lesson BEFORE Sensei arrived and not during his visit!

The week ensued in a flurry of heightened activity and excitement. Sensei had arrived and the team were on full alert, executing our duties with almost grave determination yet at the same time with deep joy and an acute awareness that this was a very significant time in the history of kosen-rufu. Sensei was very relaxed, exuding joy and pulling happiness out of the lives of everyone he encountered. From performing magic tricks to leading stretching exercises he showed us what a joy it is to be alive.

On the Tuesday, 24th May the atmosphere at Taplow became almost frenzied. Something was going to happen. Members were seen rushing in the direction of New Century Hall. Somehow, I’m not sure exactly how, I found myself among the members in New Century Hall with Sensei who led a ceremonial Gongyo. His voice was bright and sonorous and I was struck by his great humanity. Totally down to earth, regular, ordinary yet completely enlightened man – Buddha, and I could truly sense, that actually we all are, when we choose to be.

Saturday came around quickly. In fact the whole week had been a massively energised kind of blur. We were all exhausted. Pleasantly exhausted.

It was customary to spend lunch as part of the handover procedure with our new opposite numbers. After lunch in the canteen my successor and I were walking through the grounds and I was explaining the relevant details of each particular area. We were in what at that time was the orchard.

We were suddenly approached by a senior leader who advised us that President Ikeda and a few of his entourage were also in the orchard and he would like to greet us.

No sooner had the information registered than before me was indeed Sensei. I explained to the senior leader that as part or our keibi handover procedure I was showing the new number 1 around. He relayed this in Japanese to Sensei. Sensei smiled at us then, taking my hand in a firm handshake spoke to me. What he said, all the time smiling and gazing directly into my eyes translated as, “thank you for your great efforts. Please ensure you get plenty of rest”. I must have looked completely exhausted. I assured him I would take his advice. I don’t remember what he said to the new keibi, or to anyone else I’m afraid. I was just elated that having been perfectly prepared to have completed my week without meeting Sensei, that I had after all.

David Bloomfield