This weekend I received the sad news of the passing of Rev. Taitetsu Unno. I am at a loss of words to describe the great impact that he has had on me and people around me. There are many wonderful stories I’ve heard of him, but before sharing any of them, I encourage you to read a short biography by his son, Rev. Mark Unno.
Rev. Dr. Taitetsu Unno completed his life journey on Saturday, Dec 13, 2014. To the very end, he was fully aware and at peace, saying, “Thank you for everything, Namu Amida Butsu,” and when he could no longer speak, simply putting his palms together in gassho. His family and close friends who came to visit in his last days and hours experienced the deep joy of being with him and chanting together, immersed in the rhythms of boundless compassion. He received the remarkably good fortune, the great gift of the Dharma, of the life of Namu Amida Butsu, which he was able to share with so many.
I’m not going to list out the dates as I did in previous years, in part because I’m so lazy, but mostly because Japanese City does such a better job. They even have a map and list of the most popular festivals. Seriously: check out the map!
In addition, she was recognized for her active role in advancing and promoting the study of Shin Buddhism to Westerners.
“Jane Imamura made everyone, regardless of background or age, feel welcome and wanted,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, who along with other Beat Generation iconic figures such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, studied Buddhism at the temple during the 1950s. “She was also a wonderful, personal friend and advisor, with a deep knowledge of Buddhist thought and values, and a great spirit of compassion and service…. Jane Imamura was kind of a beacon in my mind, a light to steer by all those years, and I know this was true for many others — not just me. My great thanks to her big spirit and extraordinary life.”
There are five finalists in four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature. What’s noteworthy is that the short list for fiction includes Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic, a fictional retelling of the postwar Japanese American experience.
In eight incantatory sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.
This book sounds like one to definitely consider adding to your reading list. And congrats to Julie Otsuka!
Here’s another piece that’s been sitting in my draft box, waiting to be published. I was happy to see an interview by Jeff Wilson with Rev. Patti Usuki in this summer’s issue of Tricycle.
Rev. Usuki is a well-known Shin writer, and I was personally impressed by her book Currents of Change: American Buddhist Women Speak Out on Jodo Shinshu, which documents the attitudes of Shin Buddhist women who don’t quite fit the stereotypes of “insular ethnic Buddhists.” You can get a taste of her writing with this excerpt from the Tricycle interview.
Converts and newcomers to Buddhism outside of Asia sometimes have a tendency to dismiss Asian-Americans as “ethnic Buddhists” or “baggage Buddhists”—as people who do not seriously practice Buddhism. However, we have much to learn from many of these women who still reflect a generations-long internalization of the buddhadharma through their thoughts, words, and deeds. They themselves are often the first to humbly profess that they know nothing about the dharma, and yet many of them display an innate understanding of such tenets as dana [the practice of cultivating generosity] and interdependence in all that they do—and many show, through their outlook, a profound grasp of the spirit of the nembutsu. They have often made huge sacrifices so that the temples will prosper, enabling others to experience the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. And yet they have embraced change without stridency. We have to remember that through their life experiences—such as racial and religious discrimination and being put into internment camps during World War II—they understand suffering and impermanence, and they know the value of finding joy in whatever life dishes out. They keep moving forward, and their positive perspectives alone are a lesson to us all. Certainly, they know what it is to be marginalized by those with dualistic minds, but they know that the light of immeasurable wisdom and compassion shines on all without discrimination.
If you have a copy of the summer issue, you can find this paragraph tucked away in the back, across pages 105–106. I am a big fan of Rev. Patti’s writing, and I hope to be able to post more from her here in the future.
Obon season may be over, but temple festivities continue! This weekend the Buddhist Church of Sacramento and the Midwest Buddhist Temple(Chicago) are hosting bazaars. Both celebrations date back over half-a-century to a time when the Japanese American community struggled to rebuild itself out of the trauma of the concentration camps. As the Ginza Chicago website explains…
Ginza Holiday found its beginning in 1956. […] The event serves two purposes; one as a fund raiser to meet the temple expenses and the other as a way of sharing Japanese traditions with the people of the neighborhood. […] The first event proceeded with some apprehension as it intended to draw upon the non-Japanese community. Most members harbored unfavorable experiences in the decade preceding. Uprooted from the West Coast to isolated camps, they made their final trek to Chicago on news of jobs and friendlier surroundings. The dread of non-acceptance ran deep.
The optimists among them proved right as fears were totally unwarranted. The good neighbors of Chicago attended in droves. Teriyaki chicken became an instant success. An old family recipe surely helped. To the consternation of a few, it may have eclipsed some of the cultural events.
These bazaars endure as a testament to the vitality of the Japanese American spirit and the temples’ longstanding openness to reach out to the local community. If you’re in Chicago or Sacramento and enjoy whiling your time kvetching about “insular Asian Buddhists”—please visit your local bazaar, grab some lunch or dinner and then leave me a comment to relate these temples’ insufferable refusal to be involved in the greater community!
Unfortunately, however, the attempts by women in Japan today to remake Buddhism from a feminist perspective are little known, if at all, in Europe and America. A growing number of women in recent years, largely in America, have looked to Buddhism for a spirituality to replace Judaism and Christianity. Some of them have given up on Asian Buddhism, finding it spoiled by gender discrimination, and made the colonialist maneuver of proclaiming Western society to be the driving force for a new Buddhism.
Tomorrow marks the celebration of Lord Buddha’s birthday, by modern Japanese reckoning. You may also hear this holiday referred to as Hanamatsuri (花祭) or “Flower Festival.” Here’s a nice Hanamatsuri postfrom a Seattle blogger. Not knowing the typical greetings for this holiday, I’ve invented my own below.
If you happen to know of a customary Hanamatsuri greeting—or if you have a fun alternative—I’d love to hear from you. You can learn a little more about the holiday here.
Already, Hanamatsuri, the celebration of the Buddha’s birthday is right around the corner. This year’s Los Angeles Buddhist Church Federation’s Hanamatsuri will be held on Sunday, April 11 from 1 p.m. at the Jodoshu North America Buddhist Missions at 442 East Third Street in Little Tokyo. The theme of this year’s celebration is Buddhism and Compassion.
The celebration will begin at 1 p.m. with a special performance of by Kinnara Gagaku of Senshin Buddhist Temple. The visually stunning Bugaku, the classical dance that accompanies Gagaku music will be the featured part of this year’s performance.
The Hanamatsuri Service conducted by over ten priests of the federation temples will begin at 1:20 p.m. The traditional chanting of the priests will be enhanced by the music of Gagaku. An awards presentation for the winners of this year’s Children’s Art and Photography contests will take place immediately after the service.
This year’s highlight will be the commemorative lecture on Buddhism and Compassion delivered by Dr. Glenn Webb, Professor Emeritus of Pepperdine University and one of our country’s leading Buddhist scholars.
In addition to the celebration on April 11, the annual Hanamatsuri Golf Tournament was held on Friday, March 26 at California Country Club. The funds raised at this event will go towards maintaining the annual LABCC Buddhist Summer Camp program.
The Hanamatsuri Children’s Art and Photo exhibition will be on display at the Jodoshu North America Buddhist Missions from April 11 through April 19.