Shingon Shu Hawaii will host a Saito Goma service, also known as the “Great Outdoor Fire Ceremony,” on Sunday, April 5, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the construction of the Sheridan Street temple. The Saito Goma is a rarely performed ritual fire service held outdoors to cleanse and purify as well as offer prayers on behalf of you and your family and friends.
The April 5 service will be performed jointly by ministers from Shingon Shu Hawaii and several from Kyöto. Prayer requests will be accepted from 4 p.m., with taiko master Kenny Endo and the Taiko Center of the Pacific performing. The Saito Goma service will begin at 5:30.
The Rev. Reyn Tsuru, Shingon Shu Hawaii director, explained, “For thousands of years, fire has been a significant part of our lives, helping to build civilizations and burn them down as well. The mana (Hawaiian word for “power”) surrounding flames has been an integral part of religious ceremony and represented power and purification throughout history.
“For Japanese ascetic priests, or Shugendo practitioners, fire is the way to karmic purity.” Tsuru said Shugendo practitioners engage in many physically challenging rituals, all of which are meant to bring the physical body closer to the world of spirituality. Some rituals involve reciting sutras while traversing the foot of mountain ranges, or perhaps more famously, while sitting under freezing waterfalls.
The Saito Goma service is performed “to reveal the inner Buddha spirit, clear the mind and expose our mortal delusions to be burned away. Participants share in the experience with the praying priests as they go through the ritual. This involves the priests shooting sacred arrows to the cardinal compass points to purify and consecrate the fire area. Another priest will wield a sword to symbolically cut through the clouds of delusion and desire that we all harbor within ourselves.
Once the Saito Goma fire has been set ablaze, prayer sticks are offered, symbolizing the hopes and wishes of those who wrote them being sent to the heavens and accumulating good karma for everyone involved.
Finally, the officiating minister, the Rev. Shinsei Uehara, will hold “the Treasure Sword,” bestowing good health and fortune on everyone present and preparing the path through the flames. Spectators will be allowed to walk through the sacred fire altar, which, by this time, has been reduced considerably, shedding and leaving behind whatever negative karma they have accumulated.
Besides marking the centennial anniversary of Shingon Shu Hawaii’s Sheridan Street temple, the Saito Goma ceremony represents a gift of “thanksgiving to the immigrants and local people who worked so hard to spread the Buddhist faith . . . not only for the Shingon sect, but for all of the Japanese Buddhist sects that have the honor of serving our shared community and have become, Hawaii-born Buddhist faiths.”
The ceremony is also aimed at breathing “new life into the temple,” Tsuru said, adding that the public is invited to the ceremony.
“No matter what faith anyone adheres to, we all wish for the same things: happiness and health for ourselves and our loved ones; inner peace and stability within our minds; purity of thought; and a better and safer world for all of us. Will a single Saito Goma ritual provide all of this? Every journey begins with a single step . . .”