Despite a fire that damaged the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple, Sangha members throughout the Northwest persevered and held a hybrid Northwest Convention with a celebration of IOBT’s 75th anniversary on Sept. 16-18.
With the theme of “Reflecting on the Past, Looking to the Future,” the convention connected the IOBT’s historic anniversary while looking ahead to the future of the temples in the Northwest.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to bring people together in-person again,” said IOBT Co-President Mike Iseri. “It was well received and successful.”
In all, an estimated 100 people attended in-person at the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, Oregon. It marked the first time the NW Convention used the hybrid format.
BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, whose home temple is IOBT, was the keynote speaker at the convention. He shared his memories of past Northwest conventions and the role of the Northwest District to “pass the baton” of the Dharma to future generations.
"Growing up at the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple, I have so many memories of the conventions and of the temple,” Rev. Harada said. “When I was in YBA, we used to take two buses to the NW convention. One bus was just for the YBA kids, and the other bus was for the adults. Others drove in their own cars on top of that.
“Given the fact that they just had a major fire in the temple basement, it was admirable that the members there went ahead with the convention and temple anniversary as planned,” Rev. Harada continued. “It would have been easy to have canceled it, but they put on a wonderful convention and temple anniversary in hybrid format."
Highlights of the convention included: a workshop on the legacy of the Nisei soldiers that was given by former Sangha member Stuart Hirai; a workshop on yoga and mindfulness by IOBT Sangha members Debbie Tanaka and Megan Cook; and Sangha Taiko member Michelle Sadamori led a Bon Odori virtual workshop with Minister’s Assistant Rev. Dr. Carmela Javellana Hirano. Sadamori was also a taiko drum workshop leader.
Ministerial workshops included: Rinban Rev. Katsuya Kusunoki (Seattle Betsuin) and Rev. Tadao Koyama (Tacoma Buddhist Temple), who presented a workshop on chanting and gagaku music. IOBT Supervising Minister Rev. Jerry Hirano provided an introduction to Buddhism and Jodo Shinshu.
Also, Rinban Rev. Kusunoki and Rev. Yuki Sugahara (Oregon Buddhist Temple) presented a workshop in Japanese, outlining the chanting and ritual for Shinran Shonin’s 850th birthday in 2023.
Two of the IMOP ministers, Rev. Yukari Torii and Rev. Hiroya Sato, participated in a Japanese language Dharmathon. Amanda Goodwin (a Minister’s Assistant aspirant from Spokane Buddhist Temple), Minister’s Assistant Rev. Rosalie May (Seattle Betsuin) and assistant minister Rev. Anne Spencer (IOBT) presented talks in English during another Dharmathon.
Since Ontario, Oregon, is an agricultural town, a farm tour was offered to those interested in learning where their food comes from. They visited a local farmer who was harvesting sugar beets, and later, were given a tour of an onion packing facility.
Meanwhile, Iseri noted that progress is being made at IOBT after the July 8 fire caused extensive damage to the basement and smoke damage to the Hondo, Onaijin and Nokotsudo. A faulty electrical outlet was blamed as the cause.
Iseri said asbestos abatement, cleaning, and prep work for repainting the upstairs is being done. The kitchen remodel work in the basement has yet to begin, and the boiler system and piping need to be removed downstairs.
“Things are progressing,” Iseri said.
The IOBT has temporary space to hold Sunday services and for the Sangha Taiko to practice. The Sangha Taiko had been practicing in the basement before the fire.
The beginnings of the IOBT date back to the 1930s, when first-generation Japanese Americans, or Issei, living in the Ontario, Oregon, area, decided to form a local Buddhist congregation. They built a community hall in the late 1930s to have a place to hold athletic and social activities.
In 1946, a planning committee was established, and with help from Rev. Tesshin Shibata, the previous minister at White River Buddhist Temple in Auburn, Washington, a budget to build a temple was prepared. A plot of land was acquired and construction began in late 1946 to build a residence for the Shibata family and a temporary place for temple services.
On April 13, 1947, a temple on Butler Boulevard was dedicated and the IOBT was officially added to the list of the Association of Buddhist Churches of America. Members came from Boise, Nampa, Caldwell, Emmett, Weiser, Payette, New Plymouth, Fruitland, Vale, Nyssa, Ontario, and the Oregon Slope.
In 1949, plans to enlarge the temple were discussed, and on Feb. 9, 1958, a dedication service was held for the new temple at 286 S.E. 4th St., its current location. A statue of Amida Buddha, the central piece of the altar, was a gift from Nishi Hongwanji Temple in Kyoto.
Currently, the temple is served by Supervising Minister Rev. Jerry Hirano, and assistant ministers Revs. Anne Spencer and Kathy Chatterton.
“As we celebrate our temple’s 75th anniversary, this fire gives us the opportunity to reflect on our past,” said Rev. Spencer in the IOBT video shown at the convention. “As we repair and rebuild, we need to think about what the next 75 years will bring. What changes have happened over the past 75 years? What will happen in the next 75?
“The teachings of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism tell us that the infinite wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha fill the universe and support all living beings unconditionally,” Rev. Spencer said. “The Buddhist teachings also acknowledge that human life is difficult and often painful. And yet, even in these difficulties, there is an inherent value in all beings. Amida Buddha’s compassion is directed toward each of us regardless of our actions, our religious beliefs, occupation, ethnicity or social situation.
“We believe that this compassionate teaching of Buddhism is just as meaningful now as it was for our temple’s founders and ancestors,” Rev. Spencer continued. “And we believe that these teachings can be an important part of the growth of a compassionate and diverse society in Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho.
“As we look to the future, our hope is that our temple will be able to offer cultural and religious activities that are meaningful, fun, and inspirational to people in the Treasure Valley and beyond. We hope that our temple continues to be a vibrant part of the community and that we can both share our teachings with others as well as being open to learning from and collaborating with those of other faiths and backgrounds.”