As I prepare to begin serving as the Resident Minister at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple on October 1, I would like to take this opportunity to share a little about my background and how I discovered my path as a minister in the Buddhist Churches of America.
Before I begin my self-introduction, I want to thank the San Mateo Buddhist Temple Sangha for your warm welcome and generous support for me, my wife Shoko, and our son Ryoma as we settle into our new life in San Mateo. I am deeply grateful for this encounter with all of you and look forward to growing together the Buddhadharma in the years to come.
Since I began my ministry in the BCA at the Oxnard Buddhist Temple and Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara in April 2010, there is one question that I have frequently been asked: “How did a Norwegian-American who grew up surrounded by the vast cornfields and dairy cattle of Minnesota come to be an ordained minister in the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition that traces its roots to Japan?”
My first encounter with Asian religions occurred during my Senior Year of high school, which I spent as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in the city of Chennai in southern India. Having grown up in a uniformly middle-class small town about 45 minutes west of Minneapolis, the striking disparity between the rich and poor in Indian society made a strong impression on me and awakened many doubts in my mind. I found myself wondering, “Why must the laborers I see toiling under the hot sun and the people who populate the slums that I walk by on my way to school live in constant struggle and grinding poverty? Why have I been privileged to live a life of comfort and given every opportunity to fulfill my dreams?”
As I pondered these questions, I began to explore a wide range of philosophies and religions looking for answers to the problem of human suffering. In the course of my reading, Buddhism was the teaching that stood out among all the others as a source of wisdom that spoke directly to questions in my heart. The teaching that our self-centered thinking is the root cause of suffering was a particularly powerful insight for me.
As an undergraduate at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, I continued to explore the Buddhism through reading and visits to Zen Centers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. During my Junior Year at St. Olaf, I spent a semester at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan. I was living near Kyoto at that time, and had the opportunity to explore the richness of Japanese Buddhism while taking part in meditation retreats at Zen temples. It was during that time in Japan that I first became interested in becoming a Buddhist minister.
After graduating from St. Olaf and spending a year teaching English in Taiwan, I decided to pursue a life of studying and sharing the Buddhist teachings as a scholar and academic teacher. I enrolled in a graduate studies program at the University of Michigan and continued my study of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. I learned many valuable skills for studying Buddhism at the University of Michigan, but realized along the way that I was interested in Buddhism as a source of wisdom and guidance for our daily lives, as opposed to an object of scholarly research.
I left graduate school after receiving a Master’s Degree in Buddhist Studies and spent one year working at freight forwarding company in Seattle before moving to Miyazaki, Japan to work as Coordinator for International Relations through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. While in Miyazaki, I encountered the warmth and compassion of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism through services and Dharma lectures at the Shineiji Temple in Miyazaki City. In the writings of Shinran, the 12th century founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, I discovered elegant solutions to many of the problems I had encountered in trying to practice the Buddhist teachings of non-self in daily life.
After completing my employment contract in Miyazaki, I spent three months traveling around the United States visiting BCA temples and participating in events before returning to Japan to begin my ministerial studies in Kyoto. While in Kyoto, I spent two years at the Hongwanji Seminary Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin, where I received a thorough ministerial education enhanced by the school’s carefully cultivated Jodo Shinshu Buddhist culture. Each student is accepted as they are and encouraged to realize their full potential. Starting each day with a morning service that fostered mindfulness of the Buddha, my studies at Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin gave me a taste of what it means live a life illuminated by the wisdom and compassion of awakening.
I am deeply grateful to have been welcomed into this Sangha, and I humbly ask for your patience as I learn the ropes here at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple. I am most fortunate to be receiving excellent support and guidance from the members of the Sangha, Temple Board, the Buddhist Women’s Association, and many other groups.