The Central Pole of the ‘Big Tent’
My vision for the Shin Buddhist Sanghas is that of a “big tent” supported by the central pole that is Buddhist in nature. For the first hundred years of Shin Buddhism in North America, the nature of the central pole was largely ethnic. Common ethnicity kept the central pole strong and firm to hold up the tent. This meant that virtually everyone under the tent were Americans or Canadians of Japanese ancestry, who founded the temples to serve their religious but also their cultural and social needs.
So, what is needed is to change the center pole to be Shin Buddhist in nature. In this way, the pole will welcome people of any ethnicity to come under the tent, since, in my view, all true religions foster compassion, equality and interdependence. This will also permit people with varying interests, regardless of ethnicity, to join the temples to gather under the tent.
Numerous Types of ‘B-Buddhists’
It is the nature of religious organizations in North America to attract people for various purposes. So, there will be numerous types of “B-Buddhists,” such as Bazaar Buddhists, Basketball Buddhists, Bingo Buddhists, Book Buddhists, Burial Buddhists, Bon/Obon Buddhists and Board Buddhists.
Despite this diversity, they can agree on the core unifying mission and value of the Sangha, the Dharma. In so doing, everyone regardless of interests and ethnicity will be welcomed under the big tent.
This does not mean that in the near future the importance of Japanese culture and ethnicity would be disregarded. I can see that this need will remain even among the fourth-generation Americans of Japanese ancestry who attend the temples, especially given the recent spike in anti-Asian harassment and violence. And they should also be given a space under the big tent to be addressed.
However, if the cultural and ethnic concerns supersede other needs to cause disharmony under the tent, then I believe everyone must join together in affirming the center pole to prioritize the Dharma. If the temple functions are guided by Dharma, all the different B-Buddhists would be welcomed under the tent to pursue their respective interests. And the Dharma will help to nurture greater wisdom, authentic individuality embraced in wisdom and compassion, and social engagement among the members. The members, then, will be better able to transcend differences and treat everyone under the tent as spiritual or Dharma family.
Speaking of “family,” I wish to conclude with one of my favorite inspiring lines attributed to Shinran in the “Tannishō,” which Dr. Ty Unno translated as follows:
“I, Shinran, have never even once uttered the nembutsu (only) for the sake of my father and mother. The reason is that all beings have been my fathers and mothers, brothers, and sisters, in the timeless process of birth-and-death.”