What is the Temple For?

This year’s 75th Northwest Buddhist Convention theme of "Reflecting on the Past, Looking to Our Future" focuses our attention on the relationship between our history and our future.   Since we are also celebrating the 75th Anniversary of IOBT, we are also thinking about our own temple’s past and future. We might ask ourselves what the purpose of the temple is today as compared to when it was founded 75 years ago.  [NOTE: Idaho-Oregon Buddhist temple will be hosting this hybrid convention in Ontario Oregon and online Sept 16-18 (registration and sponsorship information will be posted soon!)]

In the past 75 years Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple has served many purposes beyond a spiritual one. After World War II and the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese-Americans, the temple served as a place to socialize as the  Issei/1st generation and Nisei/2nd generation found their way back into American society. It was a place to gather with other Japanese, eat familiar foods, sing songs, speak the Japanese language, dance odori, do flower arranging, and enjoy other Japanese cultural pursuits. It was also a place to practice Buddhism with the familiar sutras being chanted and Howas/Dharma Talks delivered in the Japanese language by priests from Japan.

The Sansei/3rd generation, like me, were brought to the temple for Sunday School/Dharma School classes so we could learn about Buddhism and have a chance to interact with other Japanese-American kids. We attended Northwest conventions to play basketball, volleyball, have dances, and meet other Northwest young people.

Japanese-American Teenage and Young Adult basketball players pose in uniform

Basketball!!!  (who do your recognize?)

However, as the Sansei and Yonsei/4th generation became more integrated into American society, the temple became less important as a social gathering place. We could participate at high school and college in band, choir, athletics, and various clubs. Since most of the temple service was done in Japanese, we felt less connected to the temple. Many young people drifted away from their Buddhist roots.

Five young Japanese American woman pose in formal dresses
Young Buddhist League Queen Contestants 1951 (who do your recognize?)

If the temple is no longer the hub of our social life or even our spiritual life, we have to ask ourselves, “What’s the temple for?” We can look at the temple as a place where there are opportunities for the community to learn about Japanese culture and food through Japan Nite/Obon Festival, Sangha Taiko, and the bazaar. 


3 historic pictures of Japanese Obon Dancing

Picture: Snapshots from past Obon festivals

Despite its many purposes and its value as a community center, it essential the temple remain a place where we share the Dharma/Buddhist Teachings.
The Three Treasures (he Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha community) should be a guide to understanding our temple’s purpose. In “The Teaching of Buddha” by BDK (Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai), it states, “We speak of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha as though they are three different things, but they are really one. Buddha is manifested in the Dharma and is realized by the Sangha. Therefore, to believe in the Dharma and to cherish the Sangha is to have faith in the Buddha, and to have faith in the Buddha means to believe in the Dharma and to cherish the Sangha.”

As individuals, we may have our obutsudan/home altar where we can have a simple service, gassho/place our hands together, and say the Nembutsu. We may meditate.  We can choose from many books available on Buddhism to read and study. We can attend retreats, seminars, and virtual webinars where we can hear respected teachers and professors talk about Buddhism. However, the only place where we can experience the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha is at the temple. 

When we attend the temple, we are surrounded by symbolism reminding us of Amida Buddha and the Nembutsu. We can hear the Dharma through the chanting of the Sutras and the Howa/Dharma Talk. Most importantly, we are in the company of the Sangha, the community that supports us on our path. These are like-minded people who question us and who answer our questions. They reassure us, letting us know that we are accepted, just as we are.

Three Buddhist ministers in robes holding a smiling child while standing in front of a Buddhist altar

The temple is a welcoming community for all ages. 

The temple’s purpose, then, is to allow us, as a Sangha, to practice together by offering incense/oshoko, chanting the Sutras, listening to the Dharma Talks, working side-by-side at temple events, mourning the loss of Sangha members, and even eating and drinking together. The temple becomes the place for us to be immersed in the Three Treasures. In return, it is our privilege to support the temple as our spiritual home.

 

Namo Amida Butsu, 

Rev. Kathy Chatterton

Female Buddhist minister in Buddhist robes

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