Despite the torrential rains that blanketed the Bay Area and the start of Daylight Saving Time, a crowd of about 300 people packed the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple (PABT) on March 12 for the BCA Bay District’s special service celebrating the 850th birthday of Shinran Shonin and the 800th anniversary of Jodo Shinshu teaching.
The in-person gathering had an energetic, feel-good vibe about it — drawing on the synergy of Sangha members from the nine Bay District (BD) temples. The occasion marked another step to the pre-pandemic ways, even if the crowd wore masks.
For those who couldn’t attend, the joint celebration was livestreamed on Zoom, and an additional 130 people signed in to watch.
The joint celebration also was a success for the BCA’s Dharma Forward campaign, which received the donations to the event as well as the Osaisen.
BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada served as the officiant, and after the Kansho, the ministers entered the Hondo with court music performed by the Berkeley Buddhist Temple’s Gagaku group.
Aside from Rev. Harada, the Bay District ministers in the procession were: Rev. Henry Adams (San Mateo and San Francisco); Rev. Harry Bridge (Oakland); Rev. Dennis Fujimoto (Alameda and Enmanji); Rev. Dean Koyama (Palo Alto); Rev. Kiyonobu Kuwahara (Berkeley and Marin); and Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji (Southern Alameda County).
With Revs. Koyama and Miyaji leading the chanting of the “San Bu Jo” — the chant inviting the Buddha to enter the Hondo — the Sangha scattered paper flower petals in the air with every chant of “San.”
Freddie the Frog
And Rev. Harada’s Dharma message — aimed at the Dharma School students — took a decidedly lighthearted tone with his friend, Freddie the Frog, which led to good-natured laughs and smiles from the audience.
Freddie told the crowd he liked cooking “gourmet pizza” like “sashimi — just raw pizza,” but his “very favorite is natto — slimy Japanese beans that look like boogers.”
Rev. Harada said: “That’s one way to describe natto.”
He told Freddie it was a special occasion — Shinran Shonin’s 850th birthday — and Freddie replied, “850th? Wow. How old are you?”
Rev. Harada said: “I’ll be 70 this year.”
Freddie: “So, if I do the math, you only have 780 more years to go.”
Rev. Harada taught Freddie how to say the Nembutsu — Namu Amida Butsu.
Freddie: “Now that I can say it, what does it mean?”
Rev. Harada: “That is a good question. Well, Freddie, the best answer is, ‘Only you can find yourself.’”
Freddie: “Are you saying you don’t know the answer to what it means?“
Rev. Harada: “No, I’m not necessarily saying that, but that’s a question for each of us. Everyone of us, as a Nembutsu follower, we have to keep asking ourselves, ‘What does Namu Amida Butsu mean to me?’ And in the course of your lifetime, you’ll have deeper and deeper meanings of it.”
Freddie: “Does it mean like, ‘Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit?’”
Rev. Harada: “I don’t think it’s the same as ‘Ribbit,’ but people who follow the path of the Nembutsu can become awakened, become Buddha through this path.”
Freddie: “OK, I’ll keep trying to say it.”
Rev. Harada: “Basically, let me give you this answer, Namu Amida Butsu means ‘Thank you.’
Freddie: “‘Thank you?’ That’s pretty simple.”
Rev. Harada: “Think of it as meaning ‘Thank you.’”
Freddie: “‘Thank you’ to who?”
Rev. Harada: “‘Thank you to my parents.’ ‘Thank you to my teachers.’ ‘Thank you to the living beings that sustain my life.’ ‘The earth, the air, the water.’ Everything that nurtures and sustains my life. We can say ‘Thank you’ through Namu Amida Butsu.”
Freddie: “Oh, I think I can understand that.”
Rev. Harada: “That’s a good way to start. You’ll continue to say it, hear it, and deepen your own appreciation of Namu Amida Butsu.”
Following the service, the audience members split up into various Dharma gatherings: Dharma School students met at the classrooms; Jr. YBA students went to the temple’s mini chapel; English discussion was held in the Hondo; and Japanese discussion was in the Issei Hall.
The English discussion speakers were Rev. Dennis Fujimoto, Rev. Dean Koyama, and Rev. Harry Bridge, who shared how they came to encounter Shin Buddhism and how they appreciate it. The Japanese section speakers were Rev. Henry Adams, Rev. Kiyonobu Kuwahara, and Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji.
After the Dharma discussions, the attendees reconvened for a delicious bento lunch in the temple gym next to the Hondo.
During lunch, the festivities continued with a donation drive that netted nearly $2,000 via a “Jan Ken Po” challenge. A representative from each of the nine temples and Rev. Harada had five minutes to collect as much cash from attendees in the gym.
Each of the representatives and Rev. Harada were paired up for a Jan Ken Po challenge, with the winners taking the money. The challenge went on until there was only one winner left with a handful of cash. Minister Assistant Rev. Keisuke Lee-Miyaki won $1,855 for the Dharma Forward campaign on behalf of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco.
The idea of holding a Bay District joint celebration came from a Bay District minister, and the Bay District Ministers Association played an integral role in organizing, coordinating, and implementing various facets of the service.
Ministers’ Key Role
The ministers took care of all the details for the service, including developing and printing the program, advertising, and covering the orei to the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple and to those individuals who were asked to participate such as the Berkeley Buddhist Temple Gagaku group, the pianists, and others.
And it was the Bay District ministers who determined that the donations would go toward the Dharma Forward campaign.
The Bay District ministers also invited the former Bay District ministers, their spouses and widows who retired in the Bay Area. Among the invited guests were BCA Ministers Emeriti Revs. Eijun Kujo, Zuikei Taniguchi, LaVerne Sasaki, and Kodo Umezu. Mrs. Kayoko Fujimoto and Mrs. Misaye Abiko also were in attendance.
A heartfelt appreciation of gratitude go to all of the Bay District temples and organizations who contributed to the success of the joint celebration: Buddhist Temple of Alameda; Berkeley Buddhist Temple; Enmanji Buddhist Temple; Buddhist Temple of Marin; Buddhist Church of Oakland; Palo Alto Buddhist Temple; Buddhist Church of San Francisco; San Mateo Buddhist Temple; Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church; Bay District Jr. YBA; Bay District Dharma School Teacher’s League; Bay District Buddhist Womens’ League; and the BCA Bay District Council.
A special note of thanks goes to Palo Alto Buddhist Temple for hosting the wonderful event and for the temple’s warm hospitality in welcoming all the Bay District Sangha members.