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New Podcasts Raising Tough Topics

When National Public Radio broadcast an interview with Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji on the subject of Bodhi Day — the brief, five-minute segment marked a milestone for the BCA and Shin Buddhism in the United States.

It was tacit recognition by a national media organization of the Pure Land sect — and the seeds that led to the NPR show were planted with Rev. Dr. Miyaji’s podcasts that he began in March 2020 when the pandemic was just beginning to take hold as the new reality.

The two podcasts were “Shin Buddhist Sangha Services,” which included his Sunday services at the Tacoma Buddhist Temple, and “No Doubt: A Shin Buddhist Approach,” the other, ambitious podcast that explores topics like doubt and evil.

“The producer was looking for someone who could talk about Buddhism and they came across my podcast,” Rev. Dr. Miyaji said, a professor at the Institute of Buddhist Studies and Resident Minister at the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church. “That’s how they found out about me.”

Rev. Dr. Miyaji’s podcast is the latest among a small but growing list of BCA ministers and churches and temples with podcasts. There’s “Welcome Matts” in Sacramento that’s entering its third season with Rev. Matthew Hamasaki of the Buddhist Church of Sacramento and Sacramento Sangha member Matt Nitta-Tokeshi, and Orange County Buddhist Church’s “The Weekly Wheel,” which began offering its taped services in English and Japanese in 2019 and has an assortment of original programming.

The Midwest Buddhist Temple’s podcast on Dharma talks dates back to 2006, and features the Sunday services by Rev. Ronald Miyamura. Other longstanding podcasts include “Dharma Realm” by Rev. Harry Bridge of the Buddhist Church of Oakland and IBS Dean of Students Dr. Scott Mitchell, which has compiled more than 100 episodes in 10 years, and “The Dharma Lantern” by Rev. Henry Adams of the San Mateo Buddhist Temple. “The Dharma Lantern” began a decade ago when Rev. Adams was at the Oxnard Buddhist Temple and Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara.

The IBS has its own podcast, and there’s also the Buddhist Church of Parlier’s “Everyday Buddhism: A Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Podcast” that features visiting ministers and dates back to 2017.

Rev. Dr. Miyaji wanted to go beyond the Sunday services to explore the tough issues of the Jodo Shinshu doctrine. He said he got the idea about the podcasts after a March 2020 conversation with his brother, Atsushi Miyaji, who encouraged him to do a podcast that people could listen to during their commutes.

“There’s a lot of issues you can’t talk about in the regular Sunday services and I felt that there needed to be a platform that I can address issues that are more complicated,” Rev. Dr. Miyaji said. “Because, with Sunday services, you have a wide demographic — you have everything from children to older people and everything in between. Also, everyone has different interests. There are people who are interested in the philosophy, and there’s others who aren’t there for that, but want more of the community aspect of temple. So, the Sunday services are really difficult to navigate through. You have to get the median — you have to get the average of what everybody wants and then talk about that.

“With this podcast, I would be able to hit more difficult issues in the doctrine. For example, we can talk about the issue of evil in Jodo Shinshu. I think evil is really something hard to discuss at the Sunday services. Keep in mind, there are also first-timers coming to the service, so you can’t exactly be talking about Shinran’s notion of evil to people who are coming to this tradition for the first time. That’s like asking a young child who has never learned math before to suddenly learn calculus …. Shinran has a specific definition of evil among many other topics, and I think with the podcast, we can sit down and focus in on these issues that are a little more involved.”

Rev. Dr. Miyaji said his IBS master’s thesis was on the issue of doubt.

“You can’t talk about that at Sunday services as well — it’s too heavy of a topic to hit. But we need to talk about it at some point because it’s the crux of Jodo Shinshu. If you look at the ‘Kyōgyōshō Monrui’ (Shinran Shonin’s major work, “The True Teaching, Practice, and Realization of the Pure Land Way”), he talks about shinjin all throughout the book. If you don’t talk about shinjin, that’s a huge chunk of the Jodo Shinshu tradition that’s not getting talked about to the general audience. Essentially, they are being deprived of the central part of the Jodo Shinshu teaching. Buddhism is a lot more than just about interdependence and impermanence. It’s high time that we start emphasizing what makes Jodo Shinshu the fascinating and profound tradition that it is.”

Rev. Dr. Miyaji said the general public has several misunderstandings about what Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is.

“Jodo Shinshu has a lot of issues it has to deal with first,” he said. “It has to deal with people’s general notions of what they think Buddhism is. Our school is different from the other schools of Buddhism, so that’s another hurdle to clarify. Of course, there’s always the issue of translation that we have to keep in mind, which a lot of people don’t realize just how difficult that can be. There’s also the problem of what popular culture tries to tell us what Buddhism is supposed to be and us buying into that. Don’t buy into that. We have a rich history as it is. We should be proud of where we come from.”

Rev. Dr. Miyaji said that the general public’s misunderstandings of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism include the belief that Amida Buddha is a god and that “when we say Nembutsu, that it is some kind of petitionary prayer. This is not correct. Saying the Nembutsu is an affirmation of being embraced in true reality. Amida Buddha isn’t a god. Amida Buddha is portrayed as having anthropomorphic features, but that is only to get us to understand what true reality is. True reality is infinite wisdom and compassion which then takes the form of the Buddha to awaken us and let us know that it exists and that we are embraced.”

He said other misconceptions include the belief that Jodo Shinshu Buddhists don’t have a practice and “that we’re ‘lazy Buddhists.’

“We’re not ‘lazy Buddhists,’ “ he said. “We have a special understanding of how to approach this life and that means that we live as we are doing, right now, as doctors, teachers, accountants, etc. We don’t have to be mendicant monks who live in the mountains. We don’t have to be monks who shave our heads and go through extremely difficult ascetic practices to be able to understand the Buddha-Dharma. The Buddha-Dharma is provided for all sentient beings. We do not grasp truth; truth grasps us. When we come to terms with that, our outlook on life completely changes.”

At first, Rev. Dr. Miyaji continued with the two podcasts. But he decided to drop the Sunday service podcast and make them available on the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church YouTube Channel. He also cited his additional time and work demands — not only is he the resident minister of SACBC, he’s a new faculty member at IBS.

As for the “No Doubt” podcast, he plans to update it every three months. He said feedback has been “positive,” with about 2,000 downloads since the podcast began. He’s heard from audience members in Seattle, Los Angeles and as far away as Germany and Japan.

“When I transferred from Tacoma to SACBC, a few months went by and I didn’t put out any new episodes, and I got a couple of emails asking me, ‘Are you going to continue on this podcast because we were having study groups on your podcasts.’

“I was really happy to hear that. If I can get the ball rolling on the discussion of what it means to be a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist here in America, and share with others the spirit of Shinran Shonin’s joy in Amida Buddha’s Great Compassion, I have done my job,” he says enthusiastically.


1 Comment

You forgot about the Seattle Buddhist temple dharma recordings from many years ago. It brought me into the tradition. In gassho

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