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From ‘First Timer’ to MA: Monterey’s David Correia Describes Nembutsu Path

Ten years ago, David Correia had never heard of the words “Dharma” or “Sangha,” and had never set foot inside a BCA temple, much less attended a Sunday service.


Fast forward to the present, and Correia is now a Minister’s Assistant with the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple (MPBT), and his wife and young daughter are active Sangha members, too.


In the intervening decade, Correia described all of his “first timer” experiences — the first time he heard the word “Dharma,” the first time he attended a Sunday service at MPBT, and the first time he heard the word “Sangha.” And he spoke about how Jodo Shinshu Buddhism has transformed his life. He now considers the Sangha part of his own family.


Correia and Orange County Buddhist Church (OCBC) President Jo Ann Tanioka spoke about the benefits of being part of a Sangha during the BCA National Council Meeting’s Town Hall on “The Benefits of Following the Shin Buddhist Path.” The online event was held Feb. 18.


Correia, a U.S. Army veteran who served as a M-1 A-1 tank crew member with the famed and historic 1st Calvary Division, works at Walter Colton Middle School in Monterey as a community liaison, where he also teaches leadership and yearbook classes.


His Nembutsu path began with an interest in martial arts.


“Around 2013, I had wanted to start doing martial arts,” he said. “I was trying to find a martial arts program for me and my daughter Isabel, so I start looking online and I came across this martial arts program and it’s called Shorinji Kempo. That looks pretty cool, and it turns out that it’s at the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple.”


Correia contacted Shorinji Kempo Monterey Branch Master Kazuki Arita, a 7th degree black belt, who told him he was welcome to come and watch a class.


“I show up and I started watching,” he recalled. “It was really cool because after they warm up, they do basics, punches and kicks. And then after they warm up, they started to read something in Japanese. Wow, this is pretty awesome. It turned out what they were reading was part of the “Diamond Sutra” (a Mahayana Buddhist sutra, and one of the most influential Mahayana sutras in East Asia and prominent in Zen Buddhism).


“After they were done reading, they sat down, and then they began to meditate,” Correia said. “I’m sitting here and I’m thinking, ‘How is this martial arts? What exactly is this?’ This is really, really cool.


“After that, they get up and finish reading more of the ‘Diamond Sutra,’ and then they sit down in front of the chalkboard,” he said. “Arita Sensei stands up and he has a talk about the Buddha and the Dharma. And once again, I’m thinking, ‘Is this martial arts?’ So, as I’m listening to him, I was really confused, but at the same time, it was really catching my attention — this kindness to others, why we don’t throw the first punch, and all these other things.


“But I knew all about this stuff,” he said. “I knew who the Buddha was. The Buddha was that fat dude that you see in the restaurant that’s for good luck. That’s who the Buddha was. I knew all these things, but what’s this ‘Dharma’ thing? I’ve got to find out what this ‘Dharma’ thing is.”


Correia was sold on the martial arts. After the class, he told Arita Sensei that he wanted to join.


When Correia attended a Shorinji Kempo Monterey class for the first time, he was “expecting all these egos. Once again, I’m judging everyone to have an ego and here I have one. So, I’m listening. I’m watching, but I was wrong. Everybody was so nice to me. They all approached me — ‘Welcome to Shorinji Kempo.’ Nobody bowed, they all gasshoed.”


It’s required that everyone cleans at Monterey Shorinji Kempo, regardless of rank. “I started to realize that no matter what their rank was, no matter who the person was, they were all equals,” he said. “And that’s when I began to learn.”


Every time he came to class, he would hear — and learn — more about the Buddha and the Dharma.


“And I found out that I was wrong about who the Buddha was,” Correia said.


“My senses were alive with the smells of the Buddhist temple, and just how beautiful it was,” he said. “There’s one thing about Monterey temple with the wood — I’m sure it’s like that at a lot of temples — there’s just this smell and a sense of something amazing that gets you and won’t let go.”


He saw the temple and thought: “I have to learn more about what this Buddhism thing is.”


Correia was nervous about going to the temple, so he emailed MPBT Resident Minister Rev. Jay Shinseki and asked him several questions beforehand.

“Rev. Shinseki tells me, ‘Don’t worry about it, David — come as you are, you’ll be fine, and everybody will help you out.’ I still remember that email — and I still have it.”


The big day comes — Correia’s first day visiting the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple for a Sunday service.


“So I go over there,” he recalled. “I get out of my car. I start walking toward the temple. I’m like, ‘This is so dumb. I’m not going to do this. I can’t do this.’ I didn’t know what I’m doing. I turn around and start walking to my car and all of a sudden, I hear, ‘Oh, excuse me, are you new to the temple?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I am. I’ve never been here before. I don’t know what I’m doing.’


“She says, ‘Oh, that’s cool. You can come sit with me and my family.’”


Correia was amazed by the entire experience — being introduced to other Sangha members, listening to Rev. Shinseki’s Dharma talk, and hearing the chanting.


“It was just amazing how nice someone could be to someone,” he said. “She didn’t even know me. She didn’t care about the tattoos I had. She didn’t care about the fact that I was Hispanic or I was out of place. It didn’t matter. The people at the temple were focused on something else.


“What’s so different about this place? I started to figure it out when this thing called a three-fold refuge was right — ‘I look to the Buddha for guidance, I look to the Dharma for guidance, I look to the Sangha for guidance.’


“Here’s another word I need to figure out,” he said, referring to “Sangha.”


One thing led to another. The MPBT Sangha asked Correia if he would like to bring his daughter to Dharma School, and he agreed.


“I am just so grateful for how they treat her and she just thinks the world of it,” he said. His daughter eventually ended up joining Monterey Sorinji Kempo, too.


“I have this craving — and I know craving can be bad,” he said. “However, I felt that this was a good craving. Something that you know wasn’t going to harm me or do me wrong. I love learning about Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. I love this feeling. I love the fact that I was becoming a new person.


“These people at this temple were no longer just people I would run into,” he continued. “These people were now my friends. These people were now my family. These people were now my Sangha. So they began to guide me and my daughter, who was coming more often with me on this new path, so I was learning more about myself every day.


“These people are part of my journey, as I am now a Minister’s Assistant,” he continued. “This journey is not done alone. It’s impossible. Anybody that says, ‘I want to go on this path all by myself. I can do everything by myself.’ No, you are totally mistaken on that. We need each other to get on that path. You need these people to guide you. That is how we learn to become better people.”


Correia said he had dinner with a friend in Los Angeles and then the conversation turned into a revealing talk.


“I’m sitting there talking to them and they’re just staring at me and they’re like, ‘Hold on, David. Can I say something? I need to be straightforward. You have changed so much.’


“I started to realize — ‘Wow, I really have changed.’ I just didn’t see it because it was just becoming part of who I was,” he said.


He talked about the Sangha when the Watsonville temple was flooded on New Year’s Eve 2022, the result of a nearby levee break. The Hondo was left intact, but the rains damaged the parsonage garage and storage under the kitchen and gymnasium.


“I was hoping there’s going to be enough people to help out,” Correia recalled when he and his family arrived at the temple on New Year’s Day. “That is an understatement about what I saw. There were all these people there. There was water, mud and muck. It was still raining and it was everywhere. But no matter what, people were still helping. People even had smiles on their faces.


“So this is what was earlier confusing to me about what the word ‘Sangha’ was — but I knew, in my heart, now what a Sangha truly is,” he said. “It is the people at the temples, all the temples, not just Monterey, Watsonville, and Salinas, all of the temples. It is these people that continue to show love and kindness, wisdom and compassion.


“These are the people that are the heart of Buddhism, the heart of the Dharma. They are my Sangha. They are my family.”


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