May 2013 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
Thank You Mom…from Cleveland
I started this article in early April as I was listening to heavy rain drumming on our rooftop in the early hours of the day. This was just a week after we’d had a string of dry sunny days that seemed to be announcing the arrival of spring in Western Washington. I’m adding to this article from Cleveland, just about when the article is due, after attending the Eastern District Council (EDC) meeting on April 20. While at the EDC we couldn’t avoid talking about the weather. Washington D.C. reached a record 90-degree high on April 10, the Chicago area had 8 inches of rain in a 36-hour period just two days before the meeting, parts of Minnesota had a foot of snow on the day of the meeting, and we saw light snowfall in downtown Cleveland on the same day.
Susan Bottari, one of our BCA vice presidents, joined me at the EDC meeting where we reviewed ongoing BCA activities and were accorded time to meet with delegates from each of the five temples – Cleveland, Ekoji, Midwest, New York, and Seabrook, as well as from the Twin Cities Buddhist Association Sangha – to learn about their wellness and issues, and to answer their questions. Much like our other BCA temples, the EDC temples are unique, but it was revealing to all of us how our BCA temples face many similar issues. One distinct challenge the Eastern District faces is the distance between temples. The Midwest Buddhist Temple is about 800 miles from both the New York Buddhist Church and the Seabrook Buddhist Temple (New York and Seabrook are the closest temples with 130 miles between them) compared to a 790-mile driving distance from the Buddhist Church of Marysville (northernmost of the Northern California District) to Arizona Buddhist Temple (southernmost of the Southern District). Susan and I were very encouraged to hear about the positive outlook expressed by each of the representatives. In turn, the temples learned about the potential for reaching out to their surrounding communities that grew out of the discussions held during the three days. We enjoyed meeting with everyone and wished we had more time to spend together. We thank EDC President, Dr. Erick Ishii, for allowing us to attend the meeting and providing time for us to visit with individual groups. We also appreciate the large amount of work Rev. Ron Miyamura put forth in helping coordinate the weekend. On a side note, out ofconcerns previously expressed about BCA spending, Susan and I personally paid for all our own expenses to attend the EDC. We both thought it was well worth the effort.
I’ve heard the expression that life is a gift. If so, I hope it’s a gift that everyone can appreciate and have gratitude for being given such a special opportunity. If you haven’t recently thanked your parents for your life, then Mother’s Day is certainly a good reminder to express our gratitude. With Mother’s Day in mind, I hope you take time to say thank you to your mother, whether or not she’s still living. Through the passing of time I better understand how much my parents, and particularly my mother, worried about me and all four of us children in our family. It’s not fair to say my mom was a worrier. However, she was such a kind-hearted person that her compassion seemed to extend to everyone she knew and the sufferings of others caused her great pain. Despite how I look on my own life, I know I caused my mother concern. It wasn’t until my wife and I had children of our own did I understand the worries parents face. Even in the best of times we still may worry; how much more so when our own children encounter difficulties in their lives.
We don’t choose to be given life and life can seem difficult, but hopefully you wouldn’t want to give back such a gift. Perhaps our greatest challenge is deciding what to do with it. Thank you, Mom, and thank you to all those who have treated me as part of your own family. Mothers seem to have unlimited compassion for their children much as we have heard about Buddha’s compassion for all beings.
My wife, Karen, and I visited several friends in the last month and two of them are longtime family friends who we often think of but haven’t had an opportunity to see for some time. Both are among the steadiest people we know, always maintaining good attitudes and showing resolve to keep their physical ailments from affecting their positive nature. Mrs. Iwai had fallen several months ago and had broken a vertebra in her neck. After four months of care in a nursing home she moved to an assisted care facility in Seattle. Mrs. Maekawa also still lives on her own but hasn’t been able to get out much due to weakness in her knees. Both provide us with much happiness by being positive and cheerful despite their health concerns. We’ve missed seeing both women at our temple but are encouraged by their nature and wish them well.
In mid-April Karen and I were able to attend a Hanamatsuri Service at the Enmanji Buddhist Temple in Sebastopol, California where we enjoyed listening to their guest speaker, Rev. Dr. William Masuda, Minister Emeritus. I appreciated the drive from Berkeley to Sebastopol, passing among rolling hills and green fields into a more rural part of the Bay Area. The Enmanji temple itself is a treat to see with its colorfully painted walls and ceilings and framed depictions of events in Shakyamuni Buddha’s life. There’s much history in the temple and Rev. Masuda provided a captivating talk describing his own upbringing in San Francisco and the changing nature of the neighborhood where he was raised. We visited with friends we first met during the 2002 National Council Meeting held in Tacoma, Washington, and talked with several new acquaintances. While we shared time with many people, I’d like to thank Dr. Kent Matsuda, Ray Yamasaki, and Clare Shimizu for introducing us to their members, providing historical information about Enmanji, and making sure we were well taken care of. I also noticed several people who wanted to say hello but whose shyness seemed to keep them from saying more than a quiet hello. Please don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to Karen and me. We enjoy having the opportunity to meet and visit with everyone.
April 2013 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
I apologize for the delay in getting the March Wheel of Dharma to you. Publication of last month’s newsletter was set back about two weeks to allow a report on the National Council Meeting to be included. The meeting itself ended on March 2nd and the responsibility is mine for not having the report completed sooner.
Our goal of paying off the Jodo Shinshu Center (JSC) bank loan was bolstered by the decision from the National Council to allow use of up to about $800,000 of the Zaidan fund toward the loan. Several individuals with financial expertise have been enlisted to help determine the best options for paying off the bank loan while keeping in mind our other financial obligations. Paying off the bank loan will be a tremendous achievement for BCA and a relief for many. We made great strides in reducing the loan from $3.2 million to $1.5 million with the fundraising effort conducted from 2011 to 2012 and we’re now on the verge of closing out the loan. Even though we’ll be continuing with two ongoing JSC construction loans from the Endowment Foundation (EF), paying off the bank loan will help us refocus on our primary mission of Buddhist education. In addition, as we pay off the EF loan most of the payments will go back into building up funds that support our programs. As part of this plan we’ll begin working to establish an agreement between BCA and the EF for restructuring of the loans that will be beneficial for both organizations.
One prominent aspect of this year’s National Council Meeting was the courtesy and positive attitude that was evident all during the sessions. Many different views were expressed and the end results show the value of having heartfelt deliberations to convey opposing positions on issues. This year’s meeting also identified areas we need to address to improve future meetings. I appreciate the feedback already received and will work to improve communications throughout the year. An important aspect of this is getting responses from temple leaders when an exchange of ideas is needed to help provide a complete picture on any issue.
I believe we’re making steady progress on getting through some of the most difficult ongoing issues we’ve had to face. Our progress has been slower than I thought it might be, but in this case slow has meant moving cautiously with a goal of long-term results that are best for the long term.
One particular area we need to improve is how donations are acknowledged. An outcome of the second BCA capital campaign was providing a single year-end letter to acknowledge donations made throughout a year. This approachis now unacceptable since we have the means (primarily using e-mail) to provide acknowledgements quickly once donations are received and entered into a software database. Fortunately the process is straightforward but diligence will be required to respond to incoming donations in a timely manner. There’s still much to do and we’ll continue trying our best on behalf of all members.
Every so often I’m asked what my vision is for the Buddhist Churches of America. Occasionally I’ve responded by saying it’s difficult to have a vision when there’s so much I see needing to be done today, while in comparison a vision is a future goal. Still, a vision can help provide guidance in shaping Jodo Shinshu in America. A vision is about what may be possible. My personal vision is to have the Nembutsu Teaching be a significant influence on the lives of everyone we’re able to reach, no matter what their religious or personal beliefs may be today. As long as we strive to help others, that influence will be a positive one whether or not others choose to follow the Jodo Shinshu path.
March 2013 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
During the last half of January my wife and I were each faced with the passing away of an uncle. Karen’s Uncle John was the second oldest of eight siblings while my Uncle George was the seventh oldest of eleven. Karen’s uncle was predeceased by his wife while my uncle was survived by his wife. Each of our uncles had been active members of the Tacoma Buddhist Temple most all of their adult lives, participating on the temple board in their earlier years and always helping with fundraisers, events, and temple maintenance, as well as being regular donors. Uncle John was 96 and hadn’t shown any signs of distress until the day he passed away. Uncle George was 90 and had been healthy all but the last few months of his life. Despite being very different in personality from each other, both uncles were friends to many but they themselves had to endure the death of friends and relatives who had passed away in the preceding years. Their passing will continue to be a very grieving experience for some. Karen and I are appreciative of their friendship and generosity and the wisdom they imparted to us. Their deaths were made easier to bear by the many fond memories we have of them from throughout our lives. In Jodo Shinshu we learn the value of life through death and we also understand that no matter how much we may want our friendships to continue, the passing of life is natural and inevitable. However, our uncles are certainly still with us as they’ve become part of what we are today.
I mention these two people because they are representative of temple members throughout the Buddhist Churches of America who are dedicated, dependable, and enduring. Each of them contributed to the temple in special ways but just as importantly they helped as much as possible when jobs needed to be done, without need for recognition. They were important threads in the fabric of the temple. Their deaths affect us all through what we come to understand as the interdependence of all lives.
During the second week of February our BCA treasurer, Alan Kita, and my wife and I were very fortunate to participate in the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii Gisekai. This 101st Annual General Meeting is similar to the BCA National Council Meeting that was held recently at the beginning of March. A report on the Giseikai will be included in next month’s Wheel of Dharma so details will be provided at that time. A day after the Giseikai concluded, all three of us joined the Moiliili Hongwanji Mission in Honolulu for their regular Sunday service. We were able to spend time with resident minister Rev. Earl Ikeda as he thoughtfully spoke on many topics, and listened to an inspiring Dharma message from Blayne Higa, temple president, Director of Development & Community Relations for the Pacific Buddhist Academy, and recently named PBA Assistant Chaplain having received his Tokudo ordination in the last half of 2012. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of Moiliili members who took time to say hello and offer words of greeting when we first arrived. Only a couple of these sangha members were aware we had been BCA representatives to the Giseikai. Thus their welcome was from the heart rather than a sense of responsibility or obligation and it was very evident from their sincere kindness.
The weekend after attending the Hawaii Kyodan Giseikai, Karen and I were privileged to attend the 66th Annual Northwest Buddhist Convention hosted this year by our own White River Buddhist Temple. This year our convention committee was headed by three co-chairs: Kelsey Asato, Valerie Chun, and Melissa Komoto. All are recent college graduates who made time in their busy schedules to do a great job in planning and carrying through with an exceptional convention. Many of our White River members volunteered their time, energy, and financial support to help ensure we had a worthwhile convention. The convention theme, “Where am I?”, served as a wonderful reminder for all of us to mindfully reflect upon where each of us is on our journey through life.
February 2013 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
The Necessity of Change
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
While Charles Darwin referred to adaptation of the species, his words are just as applicable to our Buddhist Churches of America as we face declining membership. I think many people generally agree that any substantial growth will need to come from non-traditional members and that we will need to conduct business in significantly different ways. However, enacting these changes cannot be accomplished without also changing our own patterns of behavior.
This is certainly not the first time you’ve heard these ideas and it will likely be an often repeated message since it’s a message that needs repeating. Just as with stories that convey the Buddha Dharma, these messages are repeated because the inherent truth behind them takes time to be truly absorbed. They’re repeated because as listeners we’re not necessarily the same people with the passing of time; we change as we age, mature, or find ourselves in different circumstances. A new mindset and perspective may allow us to find personal meaning from the same message.
It is our nature to be comfortable with our own existence and that causes us to resist change in a changing world. It can be difficult, even very stressful, trying new things and some of that is due to a fear of making mistakes and the fear of the unknown. Change can also threaten the social structure in a temple since it may affect our established relationships and consequently threaten our comfort level. Thus, any change must be approached thoughtfully in order to help maintain a needed sense of balance.
In addressing our declining membership we should be careful not to change core Jodo Shinshu values, but we can change the way we think about these values. Rather than merely keeping these values in sight, we should have them at the forefront of our thoughts. We should be working toward sharing the Nembutsu teaching with all people with the intent that everyone can gain a sense of peace and harmony and live a life of gratitude. Sharing the teaching is the fundamental reason our temples exist. We can do a better job at letting people know who we are and the tremendous benefit the Nembutsu has to offer.
One common trait in our temples throughout the United States is a heartwarming kindness that goes beyond courtesy. This kindness is a strength that is essential to our future; how fortunate it would be for all concerned to extend this kindness to everyone who walks into our temples. Of course some of us will need to go beyond our comfort level to meet and greet newcomers but this is made easier by focusing on the wariness and fears that newcomers likely experience rather than thinking about our own discomfort. We should understand that people come to our temples for many different reasons and be responsive to their interests.
It is one thing to have ideas but something completely different to put the ideas into practice. Most ideas take a substantial amount of effort to implement. Perhaps the changes we need to make will start with the efforts of just a few people but significant change takes the combined efforts of many. It’s easiest if we all can commit to an idea in both heart and mind. Each of us can help our temples respond to meet the challenge of change. Individually the task seems overwhelming but we have tremendous potential for survival by working together.
Winter is upon us and most of the continental United States has been hit by colder than normal weather. Washington State has been no exception having endured subfreezing nighttime temperatures the last three weeks. Fortunately an experience at the end of December offered a welcome contrast to the cold spell. Our nephew, Daniel, and his family, members of the Orange County Buddhist Church in Southern California, were in our area for the winter holidays. One of Daniel’s sons, Kyle, had chosen to team up for the video game Mario Kart with our son-in-law, BJ. Despite being only 5 years old, Kyle showed his concern for BJ by bravely explaining to him, “We’ll be partners when we play but I won’t be able to sit next to you. I’m going to be sitting next to my dad since he’s my best friend.” What heartwarming and inspiring words to hear!
January 2013 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
A New Year’s Welcome
Welcome to 2013! On behalf of the Buddhist Churches of America I extend a warm Happy New Year greeting to each of you. The beginning of each year brings forth hopes and aspirations, both of which provide benefit by giving our lives a sense of purpose.
As 2012 ended, Allan Fukumoto, our BCA Accounting Officer, announced his retirement effective at the end of December. Allan will continue to provide support as needed on a contract basis during the transition period at the start of 2013. Allan has served BCA for twenty years and has been a long time member of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. I extend our thanks to him for his dedicated service and wish him well in his retirement.
December brought mixed emotions for my wife and me during our visits with many different friends and relatives. Several of the people we visited were coping with various health issues, some fairly serious. Lives can follow difficult courses and it can strongly affect us whether we’re on that journey ourselves or it involves people we deeply care about. There’s certainly a sense of frustration when we aren’t able to change the situation and sometimes the best we can do is offer our sympathy and moral support. At times like this it helps to reflect on our viewpoint since it can make a tremendous difference in the way we see the world. That viewpoint can also give us the best chance to help fulfill the dreams we carry forward.
There are people who see the best of life despite their own difficulties and I’ve seen their positive attitude spread to improve the quality of life for everyone around them. I’m always impressed and thankful for people who can brighten the world with their presence, whether it’s with sympathetic eyes, a warm smile, or kind and encouraging words.
This year for BCA we’ll continue to work toward building a solid base for propagating the Jodo Shinshu tradition. This means striving to provide the resources necessary to train ministers and minister’s assistants for our temples, and developing and nourishing programs through the Center for Buddhist Education that will benefit all of our BCA Sangha.
Looking back at the June and December National Board Meetings, one of the most notable achievements was the availability of financial reports covering the first two quarters of our 2012/2013 fiscal year. It wasn’t too long ago that standard financial reports weren’t available to help us understand the financial workings and health of BCA. As mentioned at the meeting, we’re still on track to have our first ever formal financial audit around June 2013. This audit of the fiscal year 2012/2013 will become the baseline year, leading to our first full audit the following year. Doing well on the audit requires much more than having financial reports available. It also includes continued work updating and documenting our procedures and making sure we’re using good accounting practices. Having accurate reports and appropriate background materials is an important step toward financial accountability. It takes expertise and unending diligence to properly implement the accounting for BCA and we’ll continue to make this one of our highest priorities.
We’re also progressing in having the BCA Endowment Foundation (BCAEF) assume the primary responsibility for fundraising for BCA as is consistent with their bylaws. The Ad Hoc Joint Strategic Development Committee, chaired by former BCA President Dr. Billy Saeki, has developed options for a joint strategic development/fundraising plan for BCA, the BCAEF, and the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS). BCA, BCAEF, and IBS are in the process of reviewing the proposed plans with emphasis on defining the responsibilities of each organization. Dr. Saeki has drafted memorandums of agreement to help document the plans and provide additional details for the recommended development structure. A target goal is to have the ad hoc committee complete its responsibilities in the April 2013 timeframe and to have the separate organizations coordinate their efforts from that point.
During the same weekend as the December National Board Meeting, those of us on the Executive Committee enjoyed spending time with seven Kyoshi aspirants before we saw them off in the early morning of December 1st for their final “Kyoshi Shurai” training session at Nishiyama Betsuin in Kyoto, Japan. The seven include Kenji Akahoshi (San Jose), Bill Dearth (Orange County), Christine Marr (Spokane), Roy Mayhugh (Walnut Grove), Lynn Sugiyama (Arizona), Diana Thompson (Tri-State/Denver), and Jon Turner (Orange County). I felt very privileged to be able to visit with this dedicated group of aspirants at shared meals and during the brief breaks in their demanding schedule as they worked through their final training before their journey to Japan. We can be very proud of this group as all received their Kyoshi certification. Rev. Kuwahara, Center for Buddhist Education Co-Director, will be providing more details in an article for the February Wheel of Dharma. One lasting message from their training session at the Jodo Shinshu Center is that their religious education will be a lifetime journey, which is true for all of us on the Nembutsu path.
In December my wife, Karen, and I were able to attend several services and functions at White River Buddhist Temple, our home temple in Auburn, Washington. Due to travel for BCA I haven’t been able to attend each service at White River and I even had to miss our major Obon Festival fundraiser last July. Fortunately our White River members have been very understanding and accommodating. I’m very appreciative of the encouragement they’ve shown all of us from the temple who’ve served at the district and national levels. I’ve also learned during my travels that many people don’t realize White River is not the name of a town but only applies to our temple and a nearby river. However, many people have asked me how Rev. Koshin Ogui and his wife, Mayumi, are doing since they know he became our minister after completing his duties as Socho. We’re very fortunate to have them with us and I appreciate hearing Rev. Ogui’s Dharma messages as well as having the opportunity to get to know his family better. Rev. and Mrs. Ogui were joined for a time by their dog, Howie. Howie had serious health issues for many years but seemed to gain energy by being here so it was a shock when he died suddenly in mid September. It was a heartbreaking loss, especially for Mrs. Ogui, but we were comforted by having seen Howie enjoy his time running on the grass and feeling the fresh breeze surround him. I know the Oguis still miss Howie but I also know they’ll always have fond memories of him as a source of happiness and comfort.
December 2012 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
The Gift of Being There
As 2012 comes to a close, I give my heartfelt thanks to all those who strive to make BCA better. From long-time members to newcomers, we wouldn’t be able to make the Jodo Shinshu tradition available without the dedicated effort and sacrifice of thousands of supporters.
By the time this article is printed, the winter holidays will nearly be upon us. It’s common to hear people say that time passes by more quickly with each year, and oftentimes particular events and holidays are sharp reminders of the fleeting nature of time.
December can be filled with mixed emotions as we find ourselves reflecting upon the past year while also looking with anticipation toward the new year. December lends itself to family traditions and fond memories as well as raised expectations, especially for children. The childhood anticipation for special events, even small ones, is usually accompanied by a desire to have days pass by faster, much the opposite of how we feel as we progress into adulthood.
As we get further away from childhood, our enthusiasm often shifts from our own feelings to those of children around us. For many, seeing the excitement of younger generations during the holidays brings great enjoyment.
December can also be a difficult time because we do reflect upon the year, sometimes heightening problems we may have encountered or are still on our minds. For some, this includes the stresses of jobs or the absence of work, dealing with illness or misfortune, or even the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately December can make those issues loom larger since it’s also supposed to be a time of togetherness and positive feelings. Times of greatest enjoyment for some can be particularly difficult for others.
Recognizing our struggles doesn’t mean we have a gloomy view of life, but rather these misfortunes can help us understand such difficulties are part of life’s truths – the Buddha Dharma. This is where both our Jodo Shinshu tradition as well as our personal caring can make the biggest positive difference in someone’s life.
Please take time to reach out with your friendship and care. Sometimes it just means sharing a smile, lending a sympathetic ear, or letting people know how important they are and how much they mean to you. Individually we can’t help everyone but working together we can certainly help many more and they, in turn, can help lift our own spirits.
Thank you for your encouragement and support. Karen and I look forward to meeting more of you in 2013 and continuing the friendships we’ve been privileged to make in 2012 and throughout the years.
November 2012 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
A Message of Thanks
Thank you for your generous response to the recently completed Debt Relief request. At the 2011 National Council Meeting, lay leaders and ministers directly addressed the Jodo Shinshu Center construction loans by initiating and approving a plan to completely pay off the bank mortgage, thereby allowing us to better focus our energy on working toward our fundamental goals. The Debt Relief effort was initiated in May 2011 with active solicitation ending in May of this year. We give our sincere appreciation to the approximately 3,800 individuals who contributed a total of about $967,000 to this endeavor. $770,000 of this total as it was received was combined with available BCA Campaign II funds to have two $500,000 pay-downs of the bank loan, thereby reducing the bank-debt balance to slightly over $2 million with a reduction in monthly payments from $19,904 to $13,502. These two pay-downs allow us to avoid paying approximately $715,000 in loan interest. The balance of the Debt Relief collection is expected to soon be used for another paydown of the loan that will allow us to avoid an additional $334,000 in loan interest.
This is a significant step in getting us past the bank mortgage and easing our cash flow. At the same time, we’re actively considering alternatives to address the remaining loans from the BCA Endowment Foundation. While we gain immediate benefits from the Debt Relief effort, the real benefits will continue on to future generations and to people who find their way to our Jodo Shinshu tradition.
Fundraising requests are an essential part of non-profit organizations and we realize individuals and temples have their own needs to meet. In looking back at 2011, during a substantial period of the Debt Relief solicitation effort BCA members simultaneously contributed to the Japan earthquake and tsunami relief effort with more than $1.4 million donated through BCA. We’re very thankful for both efforts and can be very proud of these achievements as they reflect the caring and resolve of our members. I also give a special note of thanks to the following temples for their exceptional levels of contributions both in terms of member participation and dollars donated: Buddhist Church of Florin, Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple, Buddhist Temple of Marin, White River Buddhist Temple, Buddhist Church of Fowler, Buddhist Church of Parlier, and Dinuba Buddhist Church.
In a future issue of the Wheel of Dharma we’ll be including a list of all donors to Debt Relief. Posting the names not only recognizes the contribution of many individuals but is also part of our effort to improve how we acknowledge donors. We’re appreciative of inquires we’ve had this year regarding donation acknowledgements and we’re resolved to improving the timeliness of providing acknowledgements.
Our BCA Executive Committee met in early October to discuss the Executive Director job description that was posted in the October Wheel of Dharma. Unfortunately the final version of the job description that had been prepared was not the one posted, but it gave us the opportunity to review the job description to make sure it was aligned with our bylaws and needs, especially considering other planning efforts that were implemented during September. The revised posting includes a change in the position title to Chief Administrative Officer and is better aligned with both our bylaws and duties that will be performed by our Bishop. We’ve already had interest shown in the initial job posting from excellent potential candidates and we expect this interest will continue on to this current job description.
In late September Karen and I attended a regular Sunday service at San Mateo Buddhist Temple to hear Rev. Ryuta Furumoto’s Dharma message. I’ve had a favorable impression of Rev. Furumoto since he began as a BCA minister but hadn’t previously been able to listen to him as a speaker. During the service Rev. Furumoto talked about the recent full moon and the Rabbit in the Moon story from the Jataka Tales, and further explained different fall time traditions from around the world. Karen and I were very impressed by his preparation to provide a captivating message for all those in attendance. We had a wonderful time during our short stay at the temple. I hadn’t given notice to the San Mateo members of our visit but I realize I should have. Even though it was a personal visit I still should have made arrangements to speak to the sangha to thank them for their actions to help their temple and the BCA, so I hope to work this in as we visit other temples.
Thanksgiving has always been one of the most enjoyable US holidays and meaningful times for me. We get to enjoy delicious foods that we rarely seem to have during the rest of the year and we share the meal with people who have made a positive difference in our lives and about whom we care deeply. Most importantly perhaps is the message of thankfulness conveyed by partaking in the Thanksgiving meal in appreciation for every benefit we’ve been accorded. I wish the best to each of you at this special time of year.
October 2012 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
A Glimpse of the Midwest
At the start of September my wife, Karen, and I caught a glimpse of the Midwest during a personal trip we took to Bloomington, Minnesota to attend the 2012 Eastern Buddhist League (EBL) Conference hosted by the Twin Cities Buddhist Association (please see the detailed article by Connie Tsuchiya in this Wheel of Dharma). The Twin Cities Buddhist Association Sangha is a fellowship affiliated with the Midwest Buddhist Temple of Chicago, and the Eastern Buddhist League is an association of several Jodo Shinshu temples (including the Higashi sect Buddhist Temple of Chicago) and sanghas in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. This year’s EBL conference was special since their three guest ministers are native to Minnesota and the conference had the warmth and elements of a family reunion.
Even though we attended the conference as members of the White River Buddhist Temple, I also wanted to attend to have an opportunity to talk to various members of the participating temples and sanghas to get a better understanding of the concerns and expectations of the individuals from our eastern BCA temples. It proved to be a very worthwhile opportunity since the conference included members from each of the Eastern District temples – Cleveland Buddhist Temple, Ekoji Buddhist Temple, Midwest Buddhist Temple, New York Buddhist Church, and Seabrook Buddhist Temple – as well as the Twin Cities Buddhist Association Sangha. Even though we share many of the same issues throughout our BCA organization some of the most significant issues are unique to individual groups, even within the same district. It’s much more difficult trying to understand these issues by reading about them rather than talking directly to the peopleinvolved. From this aspect alone the trip was worthwhile for me.
I’ve written about how each temple I’ve visited seems to have its own general personality and this certainly seems true with the Twin Cities Buddhist Association. The members are very capable, considerate, and generous. I’m honored to have started friendships with them and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be among them and to share in the EBL conference.
During our stay in Minnesota, Karen and I had an unexpected but very meaningful time talking with a local sales clerk in downtown Minneapolis who came to the United States from Kyrgyzstan. By her appearance I had mistakenly assumed the clerk was from a different country but this largely pointed out my ignorance of Kyrgyzstan, particularly its location and possible ethnic ties. Our meeting made me aware of possible problems immigrants might have in trying to assimilate into American culture. Even though this clerk came to the United States about nine years ago to join her son who had received his college education in the US, she still doesn’t feel welcome in the “melting pot” of America. I was surprised to hear she didn’t feel comfortable living in a local community when she described the local population still treating her as a foreigner, despite her being very personable. Her husband passed away about 12 years ago which is part of the reason she decided to emigrate. It was very sad to hear her description of our American population as being many individual groups, often divided ethnically, resulting in living among yet apart from each other. It made me wonder if I unknowingly treat people in a similar manner despite how long they’ve lived in the US. I’m very thankful this chance meeting came about since it helped open my eyes to struggles people can encounter in what is still considered to be a land of opportunity. In addition, some of these observations also seem to apply to our interactions within our temples.
In mid September Karen and I were in Southern California to visit relatives who we don’t get to see very often. Even though we’re physically distant we’ve remained close as relatives and friends. During our trip we took advantage of the opportunity to visit Rev. Lee Rosenthal at the Pasadena Buddhist Church and Rev. Patti Usuki at the San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. We’re very appreciative of the hospitality and time accorded by both ministers. We were given tours of the temples and learned about temple history and current activities. While at Pasadena Buddhist Church (on a Tuesday), we met with one group of members volunteering their time to maintain and improve the yard and another group involved in making and organizing craft items to sell during an upcoming event. My impression is that these people are dedicated temple members who volunteer without expectation of recognition but simply work to fulfill what needs to be done to support the church. I consider people such as these to be the core of our temples. Pasadena Buddhist Church has picked up new members from the local community within the last few years while San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple has made great strides to increase its membership from both the community and from younger generations of existing members. Both situations are certainly due to the dedicated efforts of their ministers.
After this article is due for printing but before the end of September, Karen and I will have joined the Mountain View Buddhist Temple for their 50th anniversary celebration. Congratulations to Mountain View for celebrating this significant event. Even though the temple might be considered one of the “younger” BCA temples its beginnings go back to well before the temple founding date and were brought to fruition only through the perseverance of many dedicated founders who will be justly honored during the anniversary celebration. Karen and I express our sincere thanks to the temple for inviting us to this special event to help represent the BCA.
As part of our BCA administrative responsibilities, the Finance & Budget Committee, chaired by BCA Treasurer Alan Kita, is in the midst of budget preparation for the fiscal year that starts in April 2013. Being on this committee is perhaps the fastest way to get a picture of the many successful BCA programs and efforts, and at the same time the issues we face to fund the programs and BCA in general. This budget effort and the associated fundraising endeavors are certainly among the most challenging tasks we face in working to support our mission of Jodo Shinshu propagation.
I hope you’ve had a chance to see the names of many of our Buddhist Churches of America leaders that are now being listed in the Wheel of Dharma. These people carry important responsibilities and are among the most knowledgeable about our national organization. Please take time to thank them for their efforts and feel free to ask them about BCA.
September 2012 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
In Appreciation of Those Who Teach
August is historically the warmest month in western Washington while September often brings very pleasant changes, with peacefully warm days and cooling nighttime temperatures that occasionally create pockets of low-lying morning fog. Since childhood, it’s also a time I remember as being synonymous with expectations and hopes carried by the start of a new school year. School experiences can significantly shape our lives, especially when we encounter inspirational teachers whose influence lasts throughout the years.
Outside of regular schooling we also encounter teachers who give of themselves to share their knowledge and skills to improve our everyday lives. Some teach us by being great personal examples and others provide their personal touch to help us improve. There are many people we know as teachers, including those who help us to learn both practical and recreational skills that can lead to self-sufficiency and enjoyment. There are also those who strive to show us a path to peace and contentment by understanding life’s truths, improving self-awareness, and gaining acceptance and appreciation for life as it is. Foremost among these types of teachers are our temple ministers who dedicate their lives to sharing their understanding of the Jodo Shinshu teachings. In addition, we’re fortunate to have dedicated Minister’s Assistants, Dharma School teachers, and others involved in helping sangha members of all ages.
On the national level we’re fortunate to have the heartfelt guidance of Rev. Umezu in his role as Bishop. Rev. Umezu has made a concerted effort to remind us of the need to work together as a team to achieve the BCA mission of propagating Jodo Shinshu through programs and by providing ministers to serve our BCA sangha. Rev. Umezu has implemented innovative plans while conscientiously working to reduce our expenses in the interest of lessening the financial burden on our BCA members. We appreciate his extraordinary efforts as well as those of Reverends Marvin Harada and Kiyonobu Kuwahara, in their leadership as Co- Directors of the Center for Buddhist Education for their positive spirit and tireless work ethic that they devote to developing programs and materials for our benefit.
While teachers possess many talents and traits, the most influential teachers for me have been patient, skilled, innovative, caring, dependable, and selfless, and have retained a passion for deepening their own knowledge and skills. Knowing the importance and dedication of our teachers and how they’re at the core of our mission to propagate the Nembutsu teachings, let us work together to nurture and support these individuals.
We encounter many teachers in life and I’d be remiss in not mentioning parents. For many people I’m sure their parents are among the first to come to mind when thinking about teachers. Ironically it seems these individuals who are closest to our lives are sometimes overlooked for the love and devotion they provide in striving to help us through life. It’s humbling to think about what our parents give up in their own lives for our welfare. Like many people I’m fortunate that my parents are among the best teachers I’ve had. While both my father and mother have passed away, I feel they’re still part of my everyday life.
Hooray for those who teach!
August 2012 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
Hardly a day goes by where I don’t spend some time on BCA responsibilities and most days are dedicated largely to BCA tasks with occasional personal and temple diversions. My time as BCA President has been particularly busy, even more than I expected. Much is due to the slow pace at which I work, although I just tell myself I work deliberately. In addition, BCA is very broad-ranging so there’s always more on my plate no matter what progress is made. I expect this is true of most everyone who has taken on this role.
Much of our day-to-day BCA activity involves taking care of administrative responsibilities. The responsibilities are important and require substantial attention so I’ll mention a few activities in this article. These tasks may not hold much interest for some readers but they’re necessary for improving our organization and helping us meet our goals and I feel it’s worthwhile for our BCA sangha to have some awareness of them.
Individual temple boards and district councils have been notified that we’re in the process of making sure each of the boards and district councils, along with their affiliated organizations, are using their own federal Employee Identification Numbers (also known as Tax Identification Numbers). Kevin Arakaki, working with Ken Tanimoto, one of our Board Vice Presidents, recently released guidelines and directions to assist the local groups. Compliance with the guidelines will help us prepare for a financial audit that is slated after the current fiscal year is closed.
We’re working on filling the position of an Executive Director to help oversee all BCA employees and be responsible for the day-to-day operations of our staff. Rather than looking for a direct replacement we’re examining all of the functional needs for an administrative staff and are looking at options that may improve our efficiency, thus increasing performance and/or reducing the cost of administering BCA. Our two Board Vice Presidents, Susan Bottari and Ken Tanimoto, are heading up this task with assistance from President-elect, Dr. Kent Matsuda, and myself. The role of an executive director may also change depending on the results of a plan just initiated to work out a strategy for meeting the financial needs of our entire BCA organization.
The push for strategic financial planning came in late May and has delayed implementation of Dharma Offering, an annual giving plan intended to provide additional support for BCA programs, ministers’ benefits and training, and outreach and social welfare efforts. Since the start of the Dharma Offering program will be delayed, solicitation requests for the Sustaining Membership, Social Welfare, and CBE 500 Club will continue as in previous years for at least 2012. Eventually we intend to combine these three financial requests into a coordinated request to support various programs.
At the end of June in the midst of attending BCA meetings, my wife, Karen, and I attended the Buddhist Temple of Alameda bazaar. In the Puget Sound area of Washington our unpredictable weather keeps our food fundraisers inside, other than our summer Obon festivals, so we were pleasantly surprised to see food service and game booths lined up outside and to be able to eat while sitting in warm sunshine moderated by cooling winds. We came across several familiar faces and Rev. Zuikei Taniguchi greeted us with his usual welcoming smile and words of greeting that have been a consistent enjoyment since we first met perhaps 20 years ago. I didn’t realize bazaars could be so filled with entertaining stories and laughter. Among other delicious foods, we had the pleasure of eating the famous Terao rice curry (the family recipe supported the Spokane Buddhist Church in the 1950s) as well as visiting with Terao family members and many others at the bazaar.
We haven’t had many days filled with just-for-fun activities so we welcomed the thoughtful invitation from the Tacoma Buddhist Women’s Association to join them for a bus trip around Puget Sound at the end of June. We had several stops along the way to stroll through small towns while catching up with many friends from Tacoma. We were also entertained by the bus driver, an often requested Norwegian-American, fluent in Japanese, who acted as our tour guide. Karen grew up as a member of the Tacoma Buddhist Temple and we both have relatives and close friends there so it always feels like returning home for us when we go to the temple and we always look forward to these types of activities.
July 2012 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
Taking Time to Visit
It’s been a busy month for BCA activities and responsibilities but fortunately there was time to spend with family members, relatives, and friends. Some of our get-togethers were to celebrate special events and others were somewhat regular days on which we could be grateful that everyone’s health was good enough to allow us to be together.
One special day in May was set aside for catching up with a long-time friend. I hadn’t seen John for more than a year – my visits with him are dependent on how he feels on any particular day since his health issues can make it difficult for him to even sit in a chair – so I was thankful to hear he felt well enough to have me stop in. When John was healthier I would see him occasionally at temple services but my favorite time was during setup and cleanup for fundraisers since he would regularly be there to help. We always found time to exchange a few words, not too many since neither of us is a talker, but I was surprised at how well he kept up on temple events and news. John would also provide well thoughtout suggestions on ways to improve our temple and he and his wife were consistent supporters of the temple. John’s wife has since passed away and now his two daughters trade off days to be with him. On the day we got together I was pleased to see him in relatively good health. Since he hadn’t been able to attend our White River Buddhist Temple centennial celebration I had brought him the event program and a DVD of personal remembrances and comments from several temple members that had been prepared for the centennial celebration. It was great to see him smile while watching the video and afterwards we talked about temple members who attended the event as well as others who weren’t able to attend. Just like our days working on fundraisers, John knew more about our temple members than I did so it made for a very enjoyable and memorable day to exchange information and catch up on each other.
Looking back at the June 2 National Board Meeting I can appreciate the attention to the business at hand put forth by the attendees to help us efficiently work through an ambitious agenda.
There were many first-time district representatives at the meeting and several got a head start by asking questions in advance via email while others let me know of last minute changes in their schedules that affected their attendance. A large majority of the Board members and committee chairs have regular jobs but they made time to attend and provide written reports in advance of the meeting.
These same individuals are often among the busiest participants of their home temples and districts so I’m very appreciative of the sacrifices they’ve made to support our national activities.
On the day following the National Board Meeting and Accession Ceremony my wife, Karen, and I returned to the Buddhist Church of San Francisco to attend their regular Sunday service. It was a great comfort for me to sit in their hondo since their onaijin projects calmness and strength. We enjoyed renewing friendships, some made long ago, and meeting many new faces.
From an outsiders perspective I had the impression the church is in transition based on how many of the attendees were spread throughout the hondo rather than in clusters. It could be a common occurrence for San Francisco since the temple is in the midst of an urban area and is prone to having visitors, but it is a situation I previously had not seen to this extent.
While it provides challenges for the temple I take the transition to be a very positive one since it offers the opportunity for more people to gain an appreciation of Buddhist teachings. The number of interactions we had with the sangha was very encouraging. We appreciate that many people introduced themselves and took time to visit with us, and we look forward to visiting again.
June 2012 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
A Debt of Gratitude to the Issei and Nisei
The founding and much of the history of our BCA temples and churches is due to Japanese Issei (the first generation from Japan) immigrants and their Nisei children (the second generation). No matter what our heritage, knowing at least some of that history is important to both our current and future BCA sangha since our opportunity to share the Jodo Shinshu tradition in America is due to the dedication and sacrifices of many people, but particularly the Issei and Nisei.
On January 14, 2012, I was privileged to experience a regional Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony in Seattle honoring Japanese American members of the World War II 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion, and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). As a whole these three groups received more than 18,000 individual awards from September 1943 to September 1945, including 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars and over 4,000 Bronze Stars, 9,486 Purple Hearts, and seven Presidential Unit Citations.
Since its inception with the first medal bestowed upon George Washington, the Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded less than 145 times. The following list of some of the previous recipients strongly conveys the high esteem of this award: the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, Doctor Jonas Salk, Robert Frost, Roberto Clemente, Robert Kennedy, the American Red Cross, Harry S. Truman, George Gershwin, Jesse Owens, Andrew Wyeth, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Jackie Robinson, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Rev. Peter Inokoji-Kim touched on the unprecedented courage and sacrifices made by the Nisei soldiers in the February Wheel of Dharma. I also think about their families, especially their Issei parents who remained in internment facilities across the nation at the same time the Nisei soldiers helped win the war in Europe and shortened the war with Japan. However, it wasn’t until just recently I began to understand that BCA temples might not even exist except for the efforts of both the Issei and Nisei. Furthermore, I doubt many of us from succeeding generations would have had the opportunities we did in education, employment, and public service without their personal valor. We would be shortsighted to think our achievements are mainly due to our own efforts rather than through the benefits we gained from the trials of these two generations. I wonder how many Jodo Shinshu temples and churches would even exist today without the initiative and fortitude of the Issei and continued support and wartime experiences of both the Issei and Nisei.
In regard to founding most of our temples and churches, the Issei were by no means wealthy. Most of the Issei immigrated to the United States largely because of financial hardship and a dim future had they stayed in Japan. Their life in America, especially their first thirty to forty years, was one commonly filled with hunger and a meager existence. Many Nisei, in turn, had to deal with discrimination, lacking the opportunity for higher education and better paying jobs. Most did not have the choices we may take for granted today, but they did their best with what was available. Despite these difficulties, the Nisei as a whole have been able to lead lives filled with notable achievements of which we are very proud.
If a goal of these the Issei and Nisei was to provide a better life for their children, then they certainly succeeded.
On behalf of all of our BCA sangha and supporters, I express our heartfelt appreciation to the Issei and Nisei, knowing we have a debt of gratitude we can never repay but that we can honor by also trying to do our best with the opportunities we have.
In May, on the same weekend as the deadline for this article, I joined the White River Buddhist Temple in Auburn, Washington for their Centennial celebration.
White River is the home temple for my wife and me. The temple was born by a modest farming community in the early days of immigration from Japan, centered in the midst of a fertile valley protected to the east and west by forested hillsides. Today the once numerous farms have given way to warehouses but Mount Rainier stands to remind us of simpler and quieter days.
Events like centennials are a time to remember in gratitude our founding ministers and members and succeeding supporters for their sacrifices to initiate and keep alive the Jodo Shinshu tradition in America.
May 2012 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
We often find inspiration in things that appeal to our senses like art, music, and nature. However as the years have passed I find myself being inspired most profoundly by people and their actions, especially actions of an unselfish nature dealing with extraordinary circumstances. While there are many stories to relate, I’m focusing this article on a family that has provided me inspiration by demonstrating true compassion in their everyday lives that are now dominated by difficult challenges.
Grant, the son of my cousin, Lois, and her husband, Jeff, was involved in a life-changing roll-over car accident last September that caused serious injury to his brain. After being extracted from his car, Grant was flown to a trauma center where it was touch-and-go for several days. He was in intensive care for two weeks, much of the time in an unconscious state, while doctors worked at keeping him alive while balancing pain medications against the need to promote normal body functions, like breathing and having a regular heartbeat. After spending several weeks at a long-term acute care facility, Grant was transferred to a sub-acute rehabilitation facility where he now resides.
Grant is progressing, albeit very slowly. He continues to receive nutrition through a feeding tube and both Lois and Jeff work hard each day to find a reliable way of communicating with him since he’s not able to speak and has very limited movement of his neck and limbs. It’s difficult to project the outcome when brain injuries are involved, and even though Lois and Jeff know the healing process may take many years, they are hopeful for Grant’s recovery. To them, each positive change, however small, is a welcome sight.
While Grant continues to have the benefit of many capable health care professionals, he’s benefitted greatly from having an amazing family to care for him. From the time of Grant’s accident at least one family member has been in close proximity to him and for the four weeks immediate after the accident, Lois, Jeff, and their daughter, Laurel, were with Grant 24 hours a day. Through the help of friends they’ve been able to be housed near the care facilities located about 50 miles from their home.
Laurel has returned to her job in the Philippines and Lois and Jeff have altered their work schedules so at least one of them can be with Grant each day of the week, even though it means Lois and Jeff see each other for just a few hours each week. Their care giving includes providing massages to help loosen knot- ted muscles and stretching immobile limbs with range-of-motion exercises, and stimulating his senses through pictures, talking, reading, music, and touching. It’s difficult to imagine any parents spending so many hours with their child, especially when there’s the added burden of traveling and living away from home.
When I was able to visit them recently I saw a Myogo and small bell set close by Grant to help him relate to his past involvement in Jodo Shinshu activities. I was greatly moved watching Lois ring the bell, putting Grant’s palms together as best as she could, and reciting Namu Amida Butsu for him.
In addition to this tireless devotion, it’s just as inspiring to see the positive encouragement both parents provide to all staff members and other patients. This encouragement is well received and it benefits all involved.
Lois and Jeff always express their appreciation for the support they’ve received from their temple members and the surrounding community, as well as many friends and relatives. They’re also deeply grateful to Grant for teaching them about patience, the importance of living each day, having gratitude for all they have, and appreciation for family. Each of them is making a better world through their love for one another.
At the first of April, Char Grinolds and I had a very enjoyable visit with the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Church sangha. We were generously accorded time to speak on behalf of the Buddhist Churches of America and took the opportunity to show our appreciation and present a slideshow on the Jodo Shinshu Center facility and programs. Similarly, my wife and I had a wonderful time joining the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple in Ontario, Oregon for their Hanamatsuri Service on April 15. We heard a thoughtful Hanamatsuri message from their guest speaker, Rev. Katsuya Kusunoki, and we were able to continue our friend- ship with his wife, Ayano. Over the years Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple has been a home-away-from-home for me and I’m very grateful for their special friendship and support.
In these articles I’ve mentioned visits to several temples and churches on be- half of BCA. My wife and I are fortunate to be able to pay the travel, transportation, and housing expenses for both of us. While we’re normally responsible for my wife’s expenses, I don’t want to financially burden our national organization with my share of the costs. I appreciate the concern each person has about unnecessary expenses and for sharing their interest in the welfare of BCA.
April 2012 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
I express our sincere thanks to Socho Koshin Ogui who at the end of March completed his second and final term in the Office of the Bishop. As noted in the March Wheel of Dharma, the banquet dinner at the February National Council Meeting was dedicated to honor his retirement and praise his leadership. Two of the most daring and successful programs created and championed by Socho Ogui are the Minister’s Assistant Program and the Youth Minister’s Assistant Program, created as ways to help address our need for ministers. From the beginning of his first term Socho Ogui challenged us to try new things, not to be afraid of making mistakes, and to learn from our mistakes. In addition, he reminded us to smile and not to take things too seriously. At the same time Socho encouraged us to work on settling our differences by talking to each other as a way of promoting understanding and finding common ground, even among our differences. May we all remember and benefit from his advice. We wish Reverend and Mrs. Ogui the best of health and happiness as they begin their next adventure in life.
Buried in the numerous events of February was a much quieter but just as profound a change. Henry Shibata, BCA Administrative Office Executive Director, stepped down from his position on February 29 after serving tirelessly for 22 years at National Headquarters, initially as Administrative Officer. Henry had largely served in the background of BCA but was a familiar voice for those who telephoned the headquarters office. Visitors were likely greeted by his smiling face, bright eyes and soft voice. Henry dedicated many hours of his life to BCA, steadfastly working to further the BCA mission. He handled a wide variety of responsibilities needed to support various meetings and conferences including selecting, transporting and selling bookstore materials and fulfilling last-minute requests and tasks. To put Henry’s employment into perspective, he has helped serve eleven BCA presidents during his career. National Headquarters was certainly a second home, so his absence will be long missed. On behalf of all of us, thank you, Henry, for your sincere dedication to BCA. We wish you well. You have my deepest respect and appreciation for your selfless service.
Our congratulations to Bishop Kodo Umezu on being confirmed as the next Bishop of the BCA during a Shinju Shiki ceremony conducted by His Eminence Monshu Koshin Ohtani at the Hongwanji in Kyoto on March 22. Bishop Umezu took office on April 1 after serving as the Director of the Center for Buddhist Education (CBE) since its inception in 2006. There’s a great sense of expectancy in having Bishop Umezu in the Office of the Bishop due to his nurturing of existing and new CBE programs. He has been the recognized heart of CBE and we look forward to him applying his energy and sense of care to the Bishop’s Office.
This article is being completed about three weeks after the National Board officers were installed. Key activities since then have been getting an Ad Hoc committee started on a search for a manager for the National Headquarters office, working with chairpersons on committee lay member assignments, coordinating with BCA employees on near- term plans, supporting transitioned tasks, continuing support of fundraising activities, and planning for the June National Board Meeting. In addition, committees have been actively working on existing responsibilities and new projects.
In April and May you’ll see appeals asking for contributions to the Debt Relief program aimed at paying off the bank mortgage for Jodo Shinshu construction. Temple and church leaders left the February National Council Meeting with a shared understanding of the importance for this effort and a strong commitment to see it through. I encourage you to donate to the Debt Relief program, especially if you haven’t participated in Campaign 21st Century. It’s important for each of us to look toward our own interest and commitment in helping make a better world through Jodo Shinshu in America.
March 2012 President’s Message by Ron Murakami
The history of this President’s column is relatively short-lived. As told to me by Rev. Ron Kobata, our Wheel of Dharma editor, Dr. Gordon Bermant started this column in 2006 soon after he began his term as Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) president, to provide a vehicle for sharing his thoughts with our BCA Sangha on a wide variety of subjects. Since inception the president has exercised a great deal of freedom with the contents and we’ve proceeded with no written guidelines, but have relied on common sense.
Fortunately we’ve retained that spirit of individuality, which is appropriate because this article has come to reflect the personality of the person in office and thus offers a unique perspective with which we can communicate our thoughts.
Using the term BCA Sangha is a liberty I’ve taken to express the feeling I hope all of you will adopt as a way of seeing BCA members and supporters as part of the greater collection of Jodo Shinshu followers. We stand to benefit by recognizing our common endeavors rather than feeling we’re primarily a part of an individual temple or church within the collection of Jodo Shinshu organizations spread throughout the continental United States.
My personal feeling is that as BCA president I have a great responsibility to see that my submissions for the President’s Message includes mention of national activities that may be of significance to all, information that may help our temples/ churches, and words and thoughts that hopefully are inspirational at least in some small way. I hope to instill a sense of comfort and even pride in being part of our Jodo Shinshu tradition. As I’ll be telling our National Board members, we place a stamp on what we do that will reflect our stewardship of maintaining the critical elements of BCA and improving those parts that will make for a better future. I hope this awareness is felt by all who aspire to help share Jodo Shinshu within the United States and even beyond our national borders.
Jodo Shinshu is a world Buddhist tradition, open to all, that leads us to responsibility for our actions and compassion for all living things. Together we are making a world of peace and mutual respect through the understanding of our true nature and the oneness of all lives, leading to a life of gratitude. This is the kind of world we want to help create and leave for our families, friends, and future followers.
On another note, my wife and I had a wonderful time visiting three Southern District temples in mid February, largely to thank their members for their support of BCA and their individual temples, and to provide updated information on the Debt Relief effort for reducing the Jodo Shinshu Center construction bank loan. Thank you to the members of Oxnard Buddhist Temple, Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara, and Vista Buddhist Temple for their warm welcomes and hospitality. We hope to visit more of our 62 BCA temples and churches and encourage others to take advantage of opportunities to do so. Each local sangha seems to have its own unique personality which makes each visit a treat. We enjoyed sharing time with fellow sangha members and discovering ways in which our lives are linked.
Just prior to submitting the draft for this article, my wife and I also took part in the 65th Annual Northwest Buddhist Convention during the weekend of February 17-19. Thank you to Spokane Buddhist Church for hosting an informative and inspirational convention and for providing a comfortable venue to visit with friends and new acquaintances.
February 2012 President’s Message by Everett Watada
Dear Sangha members,
As I recount some of the events over the course of my two-year term as President of the Buddhist Churches of America, I am actually reminded of a conversation I recently had with my sons. We have to remind ourselves that life is short and that it is important we follow our passions.
Our conversation led me to thoughts about my favorite past time, gardening. I realize that I have fewer and fewer seasons left to experience the joys of gardening. Every year I begin in spring with hope and anticipation as I prepare the soil for the sowing of seeds. As spring warms to summer, the combination of sun and water lead me to exhilaration and wonder as my once bare soil transforms to rows of mosaic green stalks and kaleidoscopes of reds and purples. The fall harvest brings delight as much by my neighbors’ visits to my garden as by the boundless selection from nature waiting for me on my table. The end of fall and start of winter bring determined tilling and yearning for spring.
Although gardening involves continuous time and dedication, its results–that is my garden’s remarkable transition during the year—also brings me tremendous joy. Similar to tending to my garden, I have strived to make the most of my time as President with the hope that I could be proud of what we have accomplished. The past two years have been a tremendous experience for me personally— your devotion to Jodo Shinshu has been an inspiration to me. For the Buddhist Churches of America, we have a come a long way. I am absolutely honored to have represented the Buddhist Churches of America and our members in the international community.
I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude to the Executive Committee, the members of the various committees, the Board of Trustees, the BCA Endowment Foundation, the Institute of Buddhist Studies and the staff at the Buddhist Churches of America Headquarters and Jodo Shinshu Center—your friendship, commitment and vision have kept us focused and moving forward. To our friends and family across the country and around the world, thank you for your generous commitment of time, energy and thought—you are the reasons why we have and will continue to have strong traditions and social and spiritual networks.
Thank you again – I have thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to serve you.
January 2012 President’s Message by Everett Watada
We closed 2011 with a New Year’s Eve Joya-E service reflecting on the events of the past year, concluding with the traditional ringing the temple bell 108 times. Now we welcome 2012 aspiring to move forward by seeking the right balance between the BCA’s religious, administrative, cultural and social purposes and responsibilities.
March 11, 2011 will be remembered for the devastating earthquake in Japan followed by the tsunami affecting many of our friends and family. The loss of life and suffering is a tragedy beyond our comprehension. The damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant continues to be a serious concern for the long term effects. We as members of Buddhist Churches of America and friends responded very generously with monetary contributions, and some temples provided needed goods and services to aid in the recovery and rebuilding efforts.
On May 15, many BCA members and friends joined Shin Buddhists from other overseas districts and throughout Japan at Shinran Shonin’s 750th Anniversary Memorial Service held in the newly restored Goeido (Founder’s Hall) at our Hongwanji mother temple in Kyoto. In conjunction with this special observance the World Federation of Buddhist Women’s Associations convened their 14th world convention at the Kyoto Trade Fair Center on May 16-17, attended by many BCA BWA delegates.
The Jodo Shinshu Center celebrated its 5th anniversary on December 4. Since it opened its doors in the fall of 2006, the JSC has gained international recognition as a major center for religious education, ministerial training, and social engagement of the Shin Buddhist community in the west.
This wonderful accomplishment is the result of generous contributions from our membership and supporters. This historic venture will play a key role in spreading the Buddha Dharma and the development of Jodo Shinshu in America.
Although we are currently seeing a decrease in our membership rosters, and it is projected that within the next ten years over half of our current ministers will have retired or be eligible for retirement, we can be encouraged by the potential to improve our situation being demonstrated by the growth and vitality of activities developed out of the Jodo Shinshu Center through the Center of Buddhist Education and Institute of Buddhist Studies.
Buddhism will continue to grow as a major faith tradition in the United States. The Buddhist Churches of America will strengthen itself through the involvement and inspiration of a joint effort of ministers and members who are committed to sharing their appreciation of Jodo Shinshu teachings with a more diverse and changing community.
In tribute to the Issei and Nisei generations of Shin Buddhists who constructed the foundation for the Buddhist Churches of America network of temples it is now our responsibility to ensure that the spiritual legacy they followed in the footsteps of Shinran Shonin is transmitted to future generations of fellow travelers on the Nembutsu path from all walks of life.
By continually reminding ourselves of the meaning and spirit of the Three Treasures: I put my faith in Buddha – I put my faith in Dharma – I put my faith in Sangha – Namo Amida Butsu, we affirm Shinran Shonin’s aspiration: “May Peace and Tranquility Prevail, and the Buddha Dharma Spread!”
Best wishes and a Happy New Year!
Challenges and Opportunities by Everett Watada
The BCA Administration is a bridge between practitioner activities: religious, cultural and social; and those of logistics: financial, operations and administration. The BCA administration recognizes the importance of finding the right balance between these two groups of activities. Pertinent to this balance are some near-term opportunities and challenges that, in many ways, will define several important aspects of Jodo Shinshu in the United States in the future.
The future of Jodo Shinshu in the United States is bright for the following reasons:
- We have strong ministry leadership. The ministers of the BCA are headed by Bishop Koshin Ogui in San Francisco. Bishop Ogui has presented a persuasive vision for the practice of Jodo Shinshu throughout the United States. We are inspired by his vision, touched by his compassion, and compelled by his teachings and strong leadership. Under Bishop Ogui’s guidance, the BCA’s ministers throughout the United States have been well received in the communities where they serve. Each minister actively participates in their local chapter activities and traditions, and as well, ensures patient and compassionate delivery of Buddhist traditions and messages. We should all look forward to the further realization of Bishop Ogui’s vision.
- The Jodo Shinshu Center is committed to the teachings of Shinran Shonin. Recognizing that in order for Buddhism to continue to grow as a major faith in the United States, one must recognize that tradition also has a responsibility of finding its place in the changing needs and lives of practitioners.
The Jodo Shinshu Center is comprised of many prominent religious and educational institutions, including the Institute of Buddhist Studies and Center for Buddhist Education . These wonderful institutions are helping to guide Buddhist traditions into the future. We should look forward to future student bodies and the many new programs and opportunities offered through the Jodo Shinshu Center.
Challenges that the BCA administration is preparing for:
- We must strengthen the financial health of the BCA. The BCA organization is solely focused on reducing the substantial debt incurred in order to make the Jodo Shinshu Center possible. We are actively searching for creative ways to enhance our financial position, while also continuing existing financing efforts, including the BCA 21st Century Campaign . The BCA 21st Century Campaign is entering its sixth year with an objective to raise $30,000,000. Success of campaign activities will go a long way towards the continuity and growth in the many annual activities and traditions that we have made a part of our lives.
- We must continue to focus on growing membership. We believe that by promoting successful programs and innovating and introducing new programs that connect with members’ interests will help to reestablish membership strength. Our goal is to optimize the number and impact of BCA committees, programs and offerings. To this end, we request your help and feedback regarding any committees, programs or offerings that you feel are beneficial or could be improved.
I am excited to see the opportunities for Jodo Shinshu coming to fruition, and simultaneously, encouraged by our preparation to address the challenges that lie ahead. Our administration is here to facilitate the practice of Jodo Shinshu by our members. We want to ensure that programs and offerings continue to meet your needs. Please continue to actively participate in your communities. Your messages and support will be received at the national organization. Let me close with a special thank you and appreciation to everyone that attended and helped prepare for the Shinran Shonin 750th Memorial commemorative, which took place in San Jose on Feb. 27 and 28, 2010. The event was an enormous success and significantly more people attended than were expected.