Over 120 members of the Eastern District participated in the 78th annual Eastern Buddhist League conference on Feb. 11, a virtual event that was truly a cross-country event of sharing, fellowship and the Dharma.
This year’s theme was “Nembutsu as Living” and featured guest speaker Rev. Kurt Rye of Ekoji Buddhist Temple and keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. David Matsumoto, president of the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS).
The pandemic forced changes in how our various temples conduct activities. How events and services are conducted has been a primary target. But, with change comes opportunity, and for the Eastern District, the change presented an opportunity for shared coordination of this annual conference.
Before the pandemic, the conference would rotate between temples, but as memberships dwindled, the coordination was beginning to have adverse impacts on Sangha volunteer capacity. Forced to go virtual in 2020, EBL is now a shared planning event with each temple or Sangha assuming a role both in the planning of and with activities on the day of the conference.
EBL kicked off with a service conducted by representatives from all Eastern District temples. Beginning with a pre-recorded ringing of the Kansho bell by a representative from Seabrook Buddhist Temple, the conference proceeded to a guided meditation by Minister’s Assistant Shakutake Eli Ryn Brown from Midwest Buddhist Temple. Rev. Patti Nakai, of Buddhist Temple of Chicago, read the “Hyobyakumon” as the first of two readings while the other was read by Cleveland Buddhist Temple. New York Buddhist Church provided a recording of several Minister’s Assistants chanting “Sanbujo” followed by Rev. Yoshimichi Ouchi leading the conference attendees in the chanting of “Juseige.”
Rev. Kurt Rye, currently the virtual minister to Ekoji, presented the Dharma message from his home in California. The BCA and Bishop’s Office agreed on a pilot program establishing a virtual minister where Rev. Rye provides weekly services from his remote location, conducts Dharma-related programming and even hosts office hours for Sangha members to talk with him as needed, all in a virtual capacity.
Rev. Rye’s Dharma message was personal and impactful as he talked about the passing of his life partner, Daniel, in the summer of 2022. He talked about how during this difficult time of loss, he would stand in front of the Butsudan, reciting the Nembutsu, to feel the oneness with Amida Buddha. He also shared that it was during this time that he never felt alone because the Dharma is always here with each of us. The message was well-received and emotionally impacted the participants.
Closing the beautiful service, Rev. Chiemi Onikura Bly from Midwest Buddhist Temple, recited the “Gobunsho” followed by Rev. Tanis Moore from Manitoba Buddhist Temple, who read it in English. The Albany Buddhist Sangha had several of its Dharma School youth recite the Golden Chain, closing a beautiful service with the members of our future. There was no better way to end the service and open the floor for Rev. Dr. David Matsumoto’s keynote address.
Rev. Dr. Matsumoto presented an hourlong, moving and impactful presentation following the conference’s theme, “Nembutsu as Living,” and said: “Like Shinran before us, we must choose the Nembutsu as the practice of our lives that we choose at the risk of our very selves.” Rev. Dr. Matsumoto provided the conference attendees with a presentation that was thought provoking, personal and engaging.
EBL 2023 was filled with many high points. Thanks must go to Rev. Todd Tsuchiya of Midwest Buddhist Temple for facilitating a successful EBL Conference, as well as to each presenter and the more than 120 participants who made sharing our day together memorable as well as impactful.