When we meet, we will smile

Each year during our Obon and Hatsubon Service, I am reminded of the power of the Buddhadharma to provide guidance and support for us as we navigate our feelings of grief.  As school for my sons usually begins a few days after our San Mateo Buddhist Temple Obon Observance, I have come to associate our Obon with the end of summer.  Opening the freezer at the temple to put away the Obon service manju for an occasion when we can all enjoy them together, I noticed three large bags of frozen hamburgers.  I was suddenly reminded of the delicious hamburgers grilled at the temple picnic and all the experiences that we did not get to have this summer: bazaar—which marks the start of summer in my mind, the annual BWA service at the Japanese Cemetery in Colma, followed by brunch with BWA members at Denny’s in South San Francisco, a family trip to Japan, our summer Terakoya day camp, spam musubi at Obon Odori practices, and chanting together with a Hondo full of attendees at our Obon and Hatsubon service. 

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Memories of San Mateo Buddhist Temple’s First Obon

By Susan (Kawakita) Kwong

Hearing my mom reminisce of how she and a handful of her friends started Obon at San Mateo Buddhist Temple, it quickly caught my attention and found it my mission to contact her friends and listen to their stories. Wish I had known years earlier since I was only able to obtain a few people’s memories. Was quite interesting and wanted to share this story since our Obon is around the corner. Thank you, Mrs. Wada, Mrs. Hashimoto, and mom for reminiscing about San Mateo Buddhist Temple’s first Obon.

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Obon and Hatsubon Service

August 9, 2020

Guest Speaker (English)

Rev. Harry Gyokyo Bridge

Buddhist Church of Oakland

Learn more about Rev. Bridge





Obon music video by Rev. Bridge

Under these extraordinary circumstances, we invite you to join us from the safety and comfort of your own home for an online Obon & Hatsubon Memorial Service via the Zoom Meeting internet program on Sunday, August 9, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. during which we will remember our loved ones who have crossed over to the Other Shore.  Please do not come to the temple in person.

8:30 a.m. Shoshinge Gyofu Chanting
9:00 a.m. Taiso Morning Exercise with instructor Juliet Bost
9:30 a.m. Obon and Hatsubon Dharma Service with English Language Message by Rev. Harry Gyokyo Bridge
10:30 a.m. 日本語法話 桑原淨信先生 Japanese Language Dharma Message by Rev. Kiyonobu Kuwahara

To join us for this online Obon & Hatsubon Service, CLICK HERE to sign up for “Live Broadcast of Services”.



ご参拝したい方はここにクリックして、”Live Broadcast of Services”に登録してください。

(SMBT Obon lanterns photo by Aiko Chikaba)

The Lantern of Wisdom

I always leave one high-efficiency LED light on in the hallway and open the door just a crack when I go to bed.  At some point in middle school, I stopped sleeping with my Snoopy nightlight, and for many years, I tried to make my room as dark as possible before going to bed.  Even a little bit of light in the room would make it hard for me to get to sleep.  That habit changed suddenly for me one night almost ten years ago, shortly after my wife and I moved to Oxnard, California, where I had received my first assignment as a minister in the Buddhist Churches of America.  We were settling into life in California and getting used to living in a spacious single-family home after having spent a couple of years in a tiny downtown Kyoto apartment.  Our entire Kyoto apartment would have fit inside the kitchen of our Oxnard house.

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Shared Ancestors

As summer vacation draws to a close we prepare to welcome the Autumn Equinox with our Ohigan Service on Sunday, September 23. Looking back on the lively season of temple activities that we enjoy between our bazaar in late June and our Obon in mid-August, I fondly recall the week of our Summer Terakoya Buddhist summer camp, when the sound of joyful children’s voices could be heard all day long at the temple.

This year our theme for Terakoya was Buddhist Holidays from around the world that commemorate important events in the life of Sakyamuni Buddha.
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The Dance Comes to Us

The first time my parents came from Minnesota to California for a visit during Obon season, I was headed out the door one evening and said to them, “See you later! I’ll be back after the dance practice finishes.” My father adjusted his hearing aids and said, “Wait, did you say you are going to dance?” To which I replied, “Of course, dancing is one of my duties as a minister.” He got up from his chair, grabbed his camera and said, “This I’ve got to see.”   I always cringe when I see someone pointing a camera in my direction during Obon dancing. I have seen many beautiful photographs of Obon dancing posted on Facebook and Instagram over the years. One that stands out in my memory features a harmonious line of dancers making elegant halfmoon shapes with their arms up around their head. There I am at the center of the frame with my hands spread wide and low down near my waist like a baseball umpire calling “safe!”

When I stepped into the circle and joined the dance for the first time, I discovered that no-one was judging my dancing. As I struggled to keep up, one of the more experienced dancers kindly came over to dance alongside me and walk me through the steps. Momentarily forgetting my embarrassment and my pride, I encountered the joyful liberation of simply dancing. If the purpose of Buddhist practice is to let the ego fall away and realize liberation from attachment to “me” and “mine,” then I am hard-pressed to think of a better ground for this practice than Obon dancing. Obon dancing is not a show; it is a Buddhist tradition through which the Dharma transforms our lives quite outside our own efforts.

The people of Santa Barbara love a good dance party, so attendance at my first time dancing at the Santa Barbara Obon far exceeded my expectations. As the dancing was about to begin, our dance instructors dressed in beautiful summer yukata gathered in a small circle at the center of the church parking lot. A crowd quickly gathered around them. About half of the crowd was made up of regulars on the Southern California Obon dance circuit who had come to join the dancing. However, it was many of the attendees’ first encounter with Obon dancing, and not knowing what to expect, they jostled their way toward the center in anticipation of a performance by those beautifully dressed dancers.

Those who had come to dance were interspersed throughout the crowd, some close to the center near the instructors, some on the outer edges, and many in between. There was a beautiful moment when the music started. The assembled dancers took their cue from the instructors at the center and began the dance, forming concentric rings of motion rotating around a common axis at the center of the instructors. Those who thought they had come as spectators suddenly found themselves right in the middle of the dancing. Some stood startled for a moment before making a panicked dash for the outer edge of the parking lot where they could stand on the sidelines and watch the dance. However, a few of those who unexpectedly found themselves in the middle of the dance were delighted by the dancers all around them. Noticing that the movements of the dance were simple and repetitive, they opted to joined the dance rather than flee to sidelines. In joining the dance, they were able to taste the liberating joy of Obon dancing for themselves.

In the life of Other Power nembutsu, we let go of our calculating mind that attempts to impose our ideas of how things should be on the situations we encounter in life. The following passage from the Tannisho elegantly expresses this character of Other Power nembutsu:

The nembutsu, for its practicers, is not a practice or a good act. Since it is not performed out of one’s own designs, it is not a practice. Since it is not good done through one’s own calculation, it is not a good act. Because it arises wholly from Other Power and is free of self-power, for the practicer, it is not a practice or a good act.

(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 665)

We think we can control when it is time to dance and when we get to sit back and watch, but the truth is that that’s not how life works. In life, the dance comes to us, sometimes quite unexpectedly. It may be the birth of a child or the start of a new relationship. It may be a serious illness, the loss of a job or the passing of a loved one. When we struggle against the flow of life, thinking “I will decide for myself when I am ready to dance,” we have an uncomfortable time. When we bravely step into the circle, we find that a world of joy and companionship opens up to us as we dance.


Namo Amida Butsu

The Buddha’s Light Shining in the Heartland

In our Buddhist tradition, Obon is a time when we reflect on the lives of those loved ones who have crossed over to the Other Shore. This month as our observance of Obon on August 12 and 13 draws near, I am gratefully remembering my grandmother’s older brother, Earle Kenyon, who crossed over to the Other Shore on June 22, 2017.

The last time I met my Uncle Earle in this world he had driven his motorhome up from Kansas City to my parents’ house in Minnesota to join us for a family gathering to celebrate the birth of our son, Ryoma. He parked his motorhome in the driveway and came into the house where he gave me a big hug and greeted me, saying, “It’s great to see you, Henry! Since I became a Buddhist, I’ve been looking forward to sitting down with you to hear about your studies in Japan and discuss the teachings of the Buddha.” While I am certain in my belief that the teachings of the Buddha speak a truth that illuminates the lives of all people without exception, I have to admit that I did not expect my 84-year-old great-uncle living in Kansas City, Missouri to become the only other Buddhist on my side of the family.

In the course of our conversation, Uncle Earle described the peace of mind that practicing meditation and attending services with a community of Buddhists in Kansas City brought him while he was navigating his grief following the passing of his wife of 60 years, whom he had cared for as she faced the challenges of living with Alzheimer’s disease. He told me about how the teachings of the Buddha gave him the strength to discover moments of gratitude in the midst of sadness and the insight to treasure each day of this precious human life.

I remember visiting Uncle Earle and his wife Willa at their previous home in San Antonio, Texas, when I was boy. As my second-cousin (Earle’s grandson) Caleb and I ran in and out of their house playing games, he kindly cautioned us to make sure to check our shoes for scorpions before putting them on. During that trip, Caleb and I became great friends. When I think back on that visit, the atmosphere of caring and kindness that Earle and Willa cultivated in their home stands out in my memory as the circumstance that made that joyful time possible.

Wisdom and kindness ran through Uncle Earle’s life, so it strikes me as quite natural that he would discover a refuge for his big welcoming heart in the Buddhadharma. Shinran Shonin writes:

The light of wisdom exceeds all measure,
And every finite living being
Receives this illumination that is like the dawn,
So take refuge in Amida, the true and real light.

(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 325)

My great-uncle Earle’s life affirms the truth that the light of the Buddha’s wisdom truly does shine brightly throughout this world, dispelling darkness like the dawn and brightening countless lives in the heartland.


Namo Amida Butsu

Dharma School Teacher Interview: Mrs. Yuko Suruki, San Mateo Buddhist Temple

This interview by Rev. Ryuta Furumoto originally appeared in the Japanese section of the Wheel of Dharma BCA Newsletter in September 2016. Rev. Adams translated it into English so that our English-speaking readers could enjoy hearing from one of our most energetic Sangha members.


For this month’s interview I spoke to Mrs. Yuko Suruki, a Dharma School teacher at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple.

In this interview, we hear from a Dharma School teacher who is working to share the Buddhadharma with the children who will carry the Buddhist Churches of America into the next generation. I was particularly interested in Mrs. Suruki’s perspective as an English-Japanese bilingual Dharma School teacher who knows the cultures of both the United States and Japan.


Where were you born?

Toyama, Japan


Toyama is known as a place where Jodo Shinshu Buddhism thrives. Does your family in Japan belong to a Jodo Shinshu temple?

Yes, my father is the second son of a temple priest, so our family is Jodo Shinshu Buddhist. My father worked as a school teacher and did not become a priest, but I recall that whenever I visited the temple where my father grew up I would run around in the temple and the grounds playing with my cousins. However, I wasn’t a very serious student of the Dharma back then and wouldn’t chant the sutras every day at home.
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Konnichiwa Namo Amida Butsu Sayōnara

The poem above was composed by one of our Dharma School students during the San Mateo Buddhist Temple Summer Terakoya Program that was held from July 25 to 29. This poem was composed in the Japanese haiku format of five syllables (Ko-n-ni-chi-wa), seven syllables (Na-mo-A-mi-da-Bu-tsu), five syllables (Sa-yo-u-na-ra). In just seventeen syllables, a Haiku brings us deep into the mind and heart of the author. The moment I heard this Haiku, I felt that it perfectly captured the spirit of our Summer Terakoya Gathering.
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