A New Beginning
Shimmon Kojun Ohtani, the next Head Minister of the Hongwanji-ha
In preparation for the
750th Memorial for Shinran Shonin observance at
Hongwanji (Kyoto, Japan) this year, the overseas
districts including mainland U.S. (Buddhist Churches
of America, BCA), Hawaii, South America, and Canada
have each conducted the memorial in their respective
district. The overseas memorial observances wrapped
up last year in Canada, where special services were
held at each of the four local districts.
In September, the British Columbia district observed its memorial observance with the attendance by Shimmon Kojun Ohtani, the next Head Minister of the Hongwanji. With the older members who had overcome great hardships, as well as newcomers just beginning to learn more about Shinshu and Buddhism, coming together for the Memorial, it is hoped that this will be the start of a new beginning.
As the first Japanese immigrants landed on Canadian soil in 1877, it was said that many of the hardships were overcome through the spiritual support of the Nembutsu. Coming from areas in Japan where Jodo Shinshu had been flourishing, many of the men who eventually became fishermen or farmers were supported by their religious faith. However, without a temple to go to the Japanese felt a void and sent a request to Hongwanji for a minister. In 1905, Hongwanji dispatched Rev. Senju Sasaki as the first minister to Canada district and a lodging facility in Vancouver was renovated into a temple.
A century has passed since overcoming the many hardships along the way including the confiscation of the temple building during WWII and forced removal of the Japanese from the coastal region sending them further inland where harsh living conditions were waiting. Having lost their jobs, personal possessions, and property, it took many of them awhile before being able to return to the west coast. Despite being offered only low paying jobs, they worked hard and pulled together in rebuilding the Vancouver Buddhist Temple and a new temple in Steveston.
With the memorial for Shinran Shonin conducted once every fifty years, members of Canada district gathered at the Steveston Buddhist Temple on September 29 for the district’s observance of the memorial. The chanting was officiated by Shimmon Kojun Ohtani. A youth gathering was held on the 28th in conjunction to the observance.
With the increase in interracial marriages and Christianity as the basis of the public education system, the foundation of the Japanese community in Canada is on the verge of crumbling. In the midst of these transitions, propagation work must now be able to adapt and cater to both the needs of the Japanese and non-Japanese membership.
With the BCA youth study programs as a hint, the Young Buddhist Association (YBA) of Vancouver Buddhist Temple has been conducting a program educating the temple youth on Buddhist and Shinshu teachings for the past four years. Resident minister, Rev. Tatsuya Aoki comments “There is never a better time than now to learn (about Buddhism and Jodo Shinshu).” In addition to the weekly study sessions, Aoki and neighbouring Steveston Buddhist Temple resident minister, Rev. Grant Ikuta, are currently putting together an overnight mini retreat program that is scheduled to be offered twice annually, focusing on Buddhist rituals and liturgy.
Austin Fisher, who commutes by bus for an hour and a half to the temple shares, “My parents are Christians. But in reflecting on world peace, I found the way that Buddhism teaches the importance of respecting the lives of one another to be appealing.”
Vancouver Buddhist Temple member David Ohori comments, “To my grandfather and great-grandfather, the temple was important to them as if it were their own life.” Ohori and his mother, Junko are glad to see the youth coming to the temple and learning about the teaching.
The Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada is faced with a shortage of ministers as the four local districts of British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and Eastern district currently consisting of twelve temples are being overseen by ten ministers.
The truth is, whether it may be the temple or people interested in learning about Buddhism, it is difficult to cater to everyone’s needs with the shortage of ministers. There is hope for our future if members from our youth program become ministers, new temples become established in this vast area of Canada, and more people can come to appreciate the Nembutsu, Aoki said.
It was one hundred thirty-four years ago that the first Japanese travelled across to Canada. Today, third and fourth generation Japanese Canadians with an interest in Buddhism gather at the temple. The Nembutsu is also beginning to grow within the non-Japanese who until now had no encounter with Buddhism.
Aoki closed by saying, “With the memorial observance as the opportunity, the Nembutsu torch of our forefathers is now being passed on to the next generation.”