Buddhist Church of Oakland

A post on The Nenju pointed me to a wonderful article about the Buddhist Church of Oakland. Through interviews with members, Stinson shows how Japanese American history remains relevant to the congregation today—and also how they are moving forward to embrace a new generation in the twenty-first century.

BCO has existed throughout the last century as a spiritual place for worship, but also an important Japanese cultural and community center during a time when Japanese-Americans faced great discrimination. The Issei (first generation) intended for it to be a place to pass Japanese traditions down to new generations.

Matsui and her husband had two children and made sure they attended services and the Japanese language classes that were once offered at BCO on Saturdays. John Minamoto was from one of the few Japanese-American families that lived in Chinatown in the 1950s; he also attended Japanese language classes and watched samurai movies on a big screen in the church’s social hall. His two daughters, now in their twenties, spent weekends throughout their youth playing on the church’s thriving basketball team that competes in a Bay Area league. “There’s this element of community and an element of spiritual practice. The athletic practices, that’s all part of it. All part of the deal,” said Minamoto, adding that the church has acted as a safe haven for Japanese-Americans, a place to socialize, and a space for marriages and funeral services.

Check out the article when you get the chance—it comes with embedded sound and black-and-white photos!

Buddhist Church of Florin

My apologies for broadcasting this announcement so late. The Buddhist Church of Florin celebrates!

The Buddhist Church of Florin celebrated its 90th anniversary on Oct. 25 with the theme “Remembering the Past and Embracing the Future.”

Over 200 people attended the event. Through old photographs, maps and newspaper clippings, attendees reflected on the people and efforts that made the temple what it is today.

You can check out the photos on the church website. (You can also check out Florin!)

Guadalupe Centennial

Guadalupe Buddhist Church celebrates its centennial, but not forgetting the trauma of the concentration camps.

“Today says a lot about what the Issei (first-generation Japanese-American) and Nisei (second-generation) went through before, during and after the war,” said Mike Furukawa, Buddhist temple president. “We, the Sansei (third generation) are trying to carry on for them.”


At the centennial celebration Saturday, members of the Buddhist church held a moment of silence for the Issei, for the parents and grandparents who gave birth to the church and quietly suffered so that their children might prosper.

As Shin Buddhism moves forward into its second century on American soil, we must neither forget nor ignore the scars inflicted by a government that treated its own citizens as enemies simply because they were Japanese.

Is Mindfulness the Same Thing as Meditation?

Yesterday, Shambhala SunSpace featured Rev. Gibbs of the Oregon Buddhist Temple talking about the nembutsu or “saying the name of the Buddha of Limitless Wisdom-light.”

I am a Jodo Shinshu minister. Mine is the Pure Land school of Mahayana Buddhism, founded in Japan in 1224. (I trained both here and in Japan.) In my school of Buddhist spirituality we often say we don’t meditate.

However, our practice of saying the name of the Buddha of Limitless Wisdom-light and Endless Life may strike some of you as meditative. We, as do hundreds of millions of Buddhists in various streams of tradition, say aloud or hold silently to Amida Buddha’s name. The most common form worldwide is “Namo Amida Butsu” — literally, “I rely on Amida Buddha” or “I rely upon the Awoken source of limitless wisdom light and endless life.”

It’s always good to see Shin Buddhists with the opportunity to write in the high profile Buddhist publications. I always learn something new about a tradition that I am (geographically) very, very close to. Hopefully others will also pick up something new about one of America’s oldest Buddhist traditions.

Are Only Asians in the Pure Land?

Perusing a paragraph brimming with parochial perspectives on Buddhist Asian Americans, my attention was drawn to a single question pointed at those of Japanese heritage:

So would a Jodo Shinshu sangha in a Japanese neighborhood alter their appearance or layout easily because a few White folk (or any person of color) don’t feel comfortable?

A general problem with rhetorical questions, such as the title of this post, is that in practice they are often more fatuous than illuminating. This homespun musing suffers from several questionable premises. For example, there is the tacit lumping of Japanese American cultural groups, regardless of the stark cultural differences, say, from issei all the way down through yonsei. This point is pertinent as the mores of yonsei+ are often characterized as more in tune with the average non-Japanese American. And exactly which hypothetical Japanese neighborhood are we talking about? Keep in mind I live in one of the most Japanese neighborhoods in North America, and there really aren’t that many Japanese here. As for what the Shin temples here would do—they have done what just about every Shin temple in America has done. They have brought up the issue of accepting more non-Japanese into their congregations and wrestled with what that entails. In fact, I’d love to know if there’s any American Shin temple that’s managed through the past ten years without confronting the issue of expanding membership diversity. I won’t deny that there are individuals who have resisted Shin Buddhism becoming less “Japanese”—but they still have taken on the issue of diversity, albeit reluctantly. And there aren’t just “a few” white folk involved or interested in Shin Buddhism. That’s a whole ’nother post. Underneath all my nitpicking with the terminological inexactitude, my real gripe is with an even more troubling premise: that the comparison between Asian and white American sanghas is even a fair one. I’m talking about white privilege. When we start making the claim that white sanghas and white Buddhist publications are no more segregated than Asian temples and Asian-language Buddhist newsletters, we are jumping straight into the camp of separate-but-equal. You might as well have your white Buddhist country club while you’re at it.

Hongwanji Place

While walking down San Pedro to the newly-opened multeepurpose café in Little Tokyo (where I am typing this post) I happened to spot the new Hongwanji Place nested in the Teramachi housing complex.

SDDSTL Hongwanji Place is a non-profit organization sponsored by the Southern District Dharma School Teachers’ League. It was formed in 1985 (initially as SDDSTL Special Projects) to provide Jodo Shinshu and other Buddhist traditions materials, such as books, Obon odori media, gifts, nenju (ojuzu), nenju (ojuzu) repair, butsudans and novelty items to the Sangha.

I assumed it had closed and it was quite nice to see it’s still there. It’s a great place to buy a Dharma gift whether in person or by correspondence. As gifts go, I’m generally one to buy my friends a simple nenju.

Buddhist Stuff

I’m trying to catch up on all the posting I neglected this weekend. This past Friday I got the chance to visit the Jodo Shinshu Center for the first time. Very cool indeed. Here are some highlights. It’s really hi-tech. Asian Americans abound! It’s a Buddhist resource right at the foot of UC Berkeley. Anglais se parle. They’ve got a huge bookstore with Buddhist stuff! On that last point by “Buddhist stuff” I mean to say that in addition to books, the bookstore has a great inventory of the sorts of things you’d need to set up your own shrine or to buy as a Dharma gift for a friend! If you happen to be in Berkeley, I strongly encourage checking it out.

What is Obon?

The West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple has posted a wonderfully well-written and informative article by Rev. Patti Usuki on American Obon festivals.

In Japan, Obon has been held since 657 CE. It is observed in July or August. A commonly held belief among people in Japan is that the disembodied spirits of the dead return to visit at this time of year. This belief is not supported by Jodo Shin Buddhists, who consider such a belief to be an unfounded superstition

Most Japanese-American Buddhists belong to the Jodo Shinshu school (including the sangha of West LA Buddhist Temple), so it is important to understand the history and significance of our Obon Festival. It is not, as some mistakenly believe, to welcome back the spirits of the dead. Instead, it is a time of gratitude, giving, and joy in the Truth of Life. Hence, it is also known as Kangi-e, or the Gathering of Joy.

I searched around the Buddhist blogs for other mentions of Obon and sadly found only a single post by Rev. Danny Fisher with a couple links he plucked out of his daily news scan. Obon is a major holiday for Japanese American Buddhists, and by extension one of the longest held Buddhist festivals in North America. This weekend, you can catch the Revs. Usuki at West LA Buddhist Temple’s Obon festival. You’ll find me there and also in downtown LA at Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple’s 50th annual Obon festival!