In Honmon Butsuryū Shū 本門佛立宗 various Buddhist services are held on a daily basis not only at temples but also at followers homes. The most important one held at home is called Okō 御講. To hold Okō, the host invites a priest (Kyōmu 教務) and other followers in the neighborhood. During Okō, the invited Kyōmu acts as Dōshi 導師 (officiating priest) and conducts various prayers to Gohonzon on behalf of the host and participants. Okō is concluded with a sermon (Gohōmon 御法門).
Okō is characteristic and unique to HBS. Actually Honmon Butsuryū Shū originates from Okō that Nissen Shōnin 日扇聖人 and a few of his devoted followers held at Asashichi Tanigawa’s home. The kanji Kō 講 originally represents a “group of priests and followers who study Buddhist scriptures and seek the truth of Buddhism.” Therefore, Okō is basically an occasion for Kyōmu to give a lecture about the doctrine of the Primordial Buddha.
Buddhism originally flourished by providing places where people could listen to Buddha’s sermons. It could be at a temple, someone’s home, or even under a big tree, etc. People gathered to meet Buddha or his disciples and learn from their sermons. An old Buddhist scripture describes people giving offerings to Buddha and his disciples in proportion to their means. In a way HBS Okō held at followers homes continues the tradition of how Buddha preached.
Okō, consists of chanting Odaimoku 御題目, praying for its propagation, as well as safety and prosperity of the host family, and peace of ancestors’ souls (especially host’s ancestors). Then there is also a sermon, and describing experiences of receiving Genshō no Goriyaku 現証の御利益 (rewards). Basically it’s all the same as during a service held at a temple. In short, we can say that Okō is a small scale version of a temple service, where someone’s home becomes a practice hall for propagation of Odaimoku.
By participating in Okō followers can learn more about Buddhist doctrine and enhance their faith and practice. The host can also accumulate a lot of merit by providing a place and an opportunity for others to practice together.
With all that said, here are the merits of holding Okō at home or participating in one:
- The host family receives stronger protection of Gohonzon because of many voices chanting Odaimoku, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō.
- Participants get to hear Gohōmon (sermon) and therefore have a chance to enhance their faith/practice.
- Merits of chanting Odaimoku are sent to souls of ancestors (a practice called Ekō 回向) bringing them peace.
- The host obtains merit by attending to Kyōmu (such as offering him money – Ofuse 御布施 – and food – Gokuyō 御供養) who is viewed as a disciple of Nichiren Shōnin 日蓮聖人.
- Kyōmu and all participants pray for safety and prosperity of the host family.
- Participants exchange their experiences of receiving rewards from the Gohonzon 御本尊 and thus enhance their faith.
- Participants deepen their relations and become closer to each other.
One important thing is that the meaning of HBS Okō is quite different from memorial services of other Japanese Buddhist sects (e.g. Jōdo 浄土宗, Zen 禅宗 or Shingon 真言宗). The latter ones are exclusively held to pray for ancestors’ souls.