A Place for Awakening

This past month the San Mateo Buddhist Temple had the honor of hosting a tour group from the San Francisco Foundation that was visiting sites in North Central San Mateo to learn more about the history of our neighborhood, how it is changing, and the current challenges faced by its residents.  The tour organizers were eager to include SMBT on the tour to highlight the important role that the Japanese-American Buddhist community has played in our neighborhood over the past 120 years.

During the visit, our guests heard from four SMBT Sangha members and longtime residents of North Central about their memories of life in the neighborhood and their hopes for the future.  Each shared a moving story of how their family had overcome challenges to establish meaningful lives here in San Mateo.  I’d like to share one of those stories, as I find it particularly relevant as we prepare to observe our Bodhi Day service on Sunday, December 1, 2020, at 9:30 a.m., in celebration of Sakyamuni Buddha’s realization of enlightenment seated beneath the Bodhi Tree:

The most significant event that happened as a child was the U.S. evacuation order in Feb. 1942.  I was 6 years old then and vividly remember the black-out drills the city had where all lights in the homes and streets had to be turned off until the all-clear sirens would go off and curfews were set at 8:00 PM. 

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Giving Thanks

During this month of November, we have some special opportunities to express our gratitude for all the precious gifts we receive in our lives.  On Sunday, November 17, we will observe our Eitaikyo Service, which is dedicated to grateful remembrance of those temple members whose families felt inspired to donate to the temple Eitaikyo Fund, which exists to ensure that the San Mateo Buddhist Temple will continue to be a place where we can gather to hear the Dharma and joyfully recite the Nembutsu.  On Sunday, November 24, we will hold the Shichigosan Observance at the temple for the families of children ages three, five and seven to express our gratitude and wishes for continuing healthy growth of the children.  On Thursday, November 28, many families and friends will also come together in their homes to celebrate the wonderful American holiday of Thanksgiving.

While gratitude is a theme that we return to throughout the month of November, living in the Nembutsu, we find that gratitude is a daily practice that brings peace and joy to our hearts.  One of the ways in which we cultivate gratitude in our daily lives is by pausing to join our hands in gassho and utter the word “Itadakimasu (I humbly receive)” before beginning a meal, and “Goshisosama deshita (It was feast created through great effort)” at the conclusion of the meal. 

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The Real McCoy

At the San Mateo Buddhist Temple on Sunday, July 7, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. we will observe our annual memorial for the past Bishops of the Buddhist Churches of America.  Throughout the history of the Buddhist Churches of America and its predecessor, the Buddhist Mission of North America, our bishops have responded to the challenges of their times, showing courageous leadership and empowering the Sangha to work tirelessly to share the joy of the Nembutsu in this land.  One of the greatest challenges faced by the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist community in North America was the mass incarceration of persons of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War.  Following the Imperial Japanese Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, organizations like the Buddhist Mission of North America that had close ties to Japan and were led by immigrants from Japan were subject to severe suspicion and hostility.

Following the mass relocation and incarceration of the Japanese American community on the West Coast in makeshift camps in desolate inland areas of the United States, an emergency Buddhist National Conference was convened in 1943 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  At that time, the decision was made to file articles of incorporation with the State of California for a new organization called the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) that would succeed the Buddhist Mission of North America.  In American Sutra, Duncan Ryuken Williams’ recently published history of Buddhism in the Japanese-American community centering on the World War II incarceration, Dr. Williams describes how a group of 47 American-born nisei leaders were chosen to sit on the board of directors that would run the BCA (p. 146).  With the support of Bishop Ryotai Matsukage, the American-born Rev. Kenryo Kumata was chosen to head the board of directors.

Under the leadership of Bishop Matsukage, Rev. Kumata had been charged with actively ministering to the younger generation of English-speaking Japanese-Americans.  He also served as the English-language spokesman for the Buddhist Mission of North America during the critical time-period at the outbreak of the war.  Bulletins and Dharma messages written by Rev. Kumata were widely distributed across the various incarceration camps, bringing comfort and guidance to those who took refuge in the Nembutsu in the midst of tremendous adversity.

I recently came across the following message written by Rev. Kumata that was circulating in October 1943 and recorded in the Denson YBA Bulletin, a publication of the Young Buddhist Association at the incarceration camp in Jerome, Arkansas:

 

DENSON YBA BULLETIN, Vol. I, No. 2, Oct. 3, 1943

Hidden Qualities

Many of us can find agreement in saying that “tempura” is indeed a tasty dish. Once in a while, the enjoyment lies in guessing what is covered by the “koromo”* and in the anticipation of finding your guess come true.  But the “koromo” itself does not constitute the whole of the meal; the essence lies in what is underneath.  Just so, no matter how glittering and beautiful a trinket may look, it is still a trinket, a bauble, and may not be classed as a jewel unless the innards are of the same quality as the surface.  In other words, it must be “solid”, or “sterling”.  Superficial education, sophistication and all may pass for the “real McCoy” once in a while, but cannot compare with true wisdom and humility; qualities which are endowed upon those with Faith in the spiritual guidance of the Buddha. —Rev. Kenryo Kumata

http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/jarda/ucb/text/cubanc_35_1_00261330ta.txt

*koromo: a batter coating; koromo may also refer to robes and clothing, often used to refer to the robes worn by Buddhist priests.

 

Reading Rev. Kumata’s words over 75 years later, I am in awe of his ability to provide a profound and impactful Dharma message with striking economy of language.  Writing messages for wide distribution at a time when paper and printing would have been precious resources for his community, he was able to make every word count.  He manages to evoke the comfort and fond recollection of delicious food and family gatherings for readers who were likely subsisting on cafeteria-style meals that lacked the flavors of Japanese home-cooking and the intimacy of the family dinner table.  Writing in the vernacular of the youth of his day, incorporating everyday examples and slang expressions like the “real McCoy,” Rev. Kumata’s message conveys the penetrating depth of Buddhist faith, or shinjin, which is the essence of Shinran Shonin’s Nembutsu teaching.

The tireless efforts of wise and dedicated leaders like Bishop Matsukage and Rev. Kumata created the circumstances for me to hear the Nembutsu here in the United States.  Thanks to their leadership, we enjoy a thriving BCA Sangha and the San Mateo Buddhist Temple continues to be a place where we gather to encounter the Buddha’s heart of great compassion in our daily lives.  Reflecting on their legacy, I can only join my palms in gassho, bow my head in gratitude, and say “Namo Amida Butsu.”

 

How like the voices of the Buddha

At the San Mateo Buddhist Temple, October is the month in which we celebrate Buddhist women of the Nembutsu, including Shinran Shonin’s wife Eshinni and their youngest daughter Kakushinni, who worked tirelessly to ensure that the joy of the Nembutsu would be passed on to future generations. During our Sunday Services this month we will be learning about important women poets of the Nembutsu, including Mrs. Wariko Kai and Mrs. Misuzu Kaneko, who were active in Japan during the early part of the twentieth century.

Mrs. Tomoe Tana, the wife of Rev. Daisho Tana who served as the first assigned minister to the San Mateo Buddhist Temple from 1952-1955, was an inspiring poet of the Nembutsu writing here in the United States. Mrs. Tana was born in Hokkaido in 1913 as the daughter of a Buddhist priest. She married Rev. Tana in 1937 and moved to the United States in 1938, where they lived in Berkeley and then Lompoc.

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The Seed of the Buddha

On April 8, 2018, we warmly welcome you to join us for our Hanamatsuri Service, a joyful celebration of the Birth of Prince Siddhartha Gautama 2,641 years ago in Lumbini, Nepal.  After realizing awakening seated under the Bodhi Tree at age 35, Siddhartha dedicated the rest of his life to teaching the path to liberation from suffering.  From that time, down to the present he has been revered as Sakyamuni Buddha, the Awakened One, Sage of the Sakya Clan.

Sakyamuni Buddha is a great hero to all those whose lives are guided by the wisdom and compassion of the Dharma he taught.  His teachings have provided the strength and clarity needed to face great challenges for people of all walks of life through the generations.  When I reflect on the difficulties we face in our world today, I am guided by those who, inspired by Sakyamuni Buddha’s presence here in our world, have walked the path of the Nembutsu before me.

Rev. Daisho Tana, the first full-time minister to be assigned to our San Mateo Buddhist Temple is one of my heroes.  Tana Sensei was living in Lompoc on the Central Coast of California in December 1941 when the United States declared war on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

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Ohigan 1942

Last month we observed the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, authorizing the forced evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack. As we recall these important events for our Nembutsu community here in the United States, I have encountered precious insights in the diaries of Rev. Daisho Tana, who was serving the Japanese Buddhist community in Lompoc, California when the war broke out.   In later years, Rev. Tana was assigned to the San Mateo Buddhist Temple, where he cared for our Sangha from 1952 to 1955.

On February 24, 1942, FBI agents accompanied by three local police officers went to Rev. Tana’s home to investigate his activities.  When they arrived at his door, he asked them straightaway if he was to be taken into custody.

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