In the morning before breakfast Shumon and I conduct a daily gongyo. Before starting the service we sit in front of the Butsudan (family Buddhist altar), that is located to the left of the shumidan (the front altar with the main Buddha image) and offer our prayers. It is brief, only a few minutes. It is accompanied by lighting a candle, burning incense, striking a rin (bowl shaped bell) and sitting silently in seiza with hands in gassho.

These prayers can take several different forms. There is connecting with one’s deceased family members, asking for advice, asking for protection, seeking solutions to a problem. The prayers can be a reflection on how we can best serve our community and all sentient beings on that particular day. One might also entreat the buddhas and bodhisattvas to assist us in compassion, wisdom and skillful means to meet the challenges ahead. Most often we don’t think in advance of what we’re going to do, it arises spontaneously.

Most recently my prayers have addressed our ancestors. Not the ancestors, about whom I am personally aware from my father or mother’s side of the family. Rather, I express gratitude to and ask for guidance from those who inhabited the land up until several hundred years ago on which Jiunzan Tendai-ji is built. These peoples are the Mahicans of the Lenni-Lenapes. There was no native American settlement on this land that can be identified. Though it is likely those people hunted and fished on the land. Perhaps there had been temporary, seasonal, settlements which leave no discernable trace today.

Some might find it odd that I am communing with people with whom I am not genetically or culturally related. This is in no way a form of cultural appropriation. This is not a ritual borrowed from those noble people. It is one of the ways that I deeply acknowledge the Buddhist concept of interpenetration.

The idea of interpenetration states any phenomenon exists only as part of the total nexus of reality, its existence depends on the total network of all other things, which are all equally connected to each other and contained in each other. This is exemplified by the metaphor in Indra’s Net from the Avataṃsaka Sūtra in which a vision of the universe is that all things are mutually interrelated to all other things, in simultaneous mutual identity and mutual intercausality. (Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism) To read about it, discuss it, to know it intellectually, is not the same as embracing it. As with many profound Buddhist concepts it is fairly easy to accept on faith, almost intuitively, but difficult to embrace, to truly realize in a way that can transform our lives and bring us closer to awakening.

Using the example of my personal prayer at the Butsudan, we frequently acknowledge our familial or cultural ancestors, publicly or personally, without accepting, within our Kokoro (heart/mind/spirit), the interpenetration of those about whom our provisional self knows little or has no affinity. This small expression is not a gimmick to better understand interbeing. It is a genuine cultivation of my essence into the true nature of interrelatedness. This becomes a sincere Buddhist practice. It is shining a light into the dark recesses of ignorance to better incorporate reality into my consciousness.

When sitting at your Butsudan, realize that this altar is not just a place to meditate, conduct a Buddhist service, and make offering to the honzon. It is a place that offers the opportunity for transformation through many personal practices. Open your mind, open your Kokoro, be open to transformation.


The year 2023 is the Year of the Water Rabbit in East Asian cosmology. The Rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace, patience, luck, and prosperity. The new year is projected to bring less anger and more relaxation. Thus, 2023 is predicted to be a year of hope, bringing what we may have lacked in 2022, peace and success. The ethereal Water Rabbit arrives to restore us to serenity.

Let us be optimistic and hope that the seers of ancient China are correct in their forecast. To you and yours, akemashite omedetô gozaimasu – Happy New Year.

With Love and Gassho . . . Monshin and Shumon