HO-ON-KO is a special term used exclusively in Shin Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu), and designates the special Buddhist memorial service held every year to express our gratitude to Shinran Shonin, the founder of Shin Buddhism.
This is the most important of annual observances in Shin Buddhism. In Japanese “HO-ON” means "gratitude or repayment," and “KO” means "gathering," thus HO-ON-KO is a "gathering to express our gratitude to the Founder."
Shinran Shonin passed away on November 28, 1262 at the age of 90.[Note:1] Long ago, Shin Buddhists observed this occasion around the clock (starting 7 days before and lasting 7 days after the actual date).
However, the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha and Takada-ha sects adapted the original date to the Western calendar and set Shinran's memorial date as January 16th. Thus, these two sects observe HO-ON-KO between January 9th to January 16th.
By the way, why do we observe a special service on Shinran Shonin’s memorial day? As I previously explained, “HO-ON” means gratitude and repayment. We often hear the expression “return what we received from others.” However, it's not possible to return exactly what we have received from others. Therefore, what can we do? This is the point that we need to focus on. We can only return or express our appreciation to Shinran by living with gratitude. The HO-ON-KO service is an opportunity for us to reflect on our way of life and the wonderful teachings left to us by Shinran Shonin.
Although all of us are busy in our daily lives, on the occasion of this year's HO-ON-KO, let us reflect on the true teachings which Shinran Shonin left for us and how the Nembutsu resonates within each of us to bring our lives meaning and growth even today.
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浄土真宗本願寺派 大見山 超勝寺 衆徒。翻訳家。ハーバード大学 神学部研究員を修了し、帰国。現在は、執筆活動や通訳・翻訳を通して、日本仏教を世界に弘める活動をしています。