Of my experiences on my long spiritual journey, one of the most surprising has been my encounter with the European Shin Buddhist Conference (ESC), particularly those held at Eko Haus in Dusseldorf, Germany.
I feel a personal connection with Eko Haus, which was founded by Rev. Dr. Yehan Numata in 1988. He was a friend of my grandparents in Los Angeles in the early 1900s. My grandfather and grandmother helped nurse him back to health after he fell ill while serving as a houseboy.
My grandfather taught Mr. Numata to drive, so that he could work as a chauffeur rather than just as a houseboy. Once he recovered from his illness, he moved on to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated from and later founded Mitutoyo Corp, which is the benefactor of Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (BDK).
When I arrived in Japan in 1983 to begin my studies, a kind, elderly gentleman greeted me at the Hongwanji International Center.
I didn’t know who he was until he explained that my grandmother had written to him to say I would be studying in Kyoto. He not only met me at the International Center, but he also came to my school, Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin (Chubutsu), to formally introduce me as a family friend.
The head of the school took me to the side and asked, “How do you know him?” I replied, “I don’t, he’s my grandparent’s friend.”
Mr. Numata would continue to meet me during my four years there when he was in Kyoto. He asked me to live and work with him during my summer breaks and would become my sponsor. I was advised by then Bishop Rev. Dr. Seigen Yamaoka that I should not accept.
However, Mr. Numata would continue to give me money on occasion to take the foreign students to dinner. During these short visits, he explained how he was planning to set up chairs in Buddhist studies at the major universities around the world and about his dream to propagate Buddhism throughout the world.
When I see Eko Haus, a magnificent Japanese Cultural Center and Temple in Dusseldorf, I can feel his spirit. The spirit of Shinran Shonin as expressed in the passage I began with from “Kyogyoshinsho.”
Eko Haus is like a beautiful Japanese temple village that miraculously appeared in the center of this otherwise industrial centered city. It consists of a large bonsho (temple bell), beautiful garden and grounds, main temple hall, museum, conference hall, day care and kindergarten.
On Sept, 4-6, the 20th European Shin Buddhist conference (ESC) was hosted by Eko Haus. Our Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) was well represented: Rev. Kodo Umezu represented the Jodo Shinshu International Office (JSIO president), Rev. Kiyonobu Kuwahara, JSIO director, and Rev. Takashi Miyaji of BCA and Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS).
Revs. Kuwahara and Miyaji both gave lectures on Jodo Shinshu and the translating of Buddhist texts into English. I gave an introduction of our Center for Buddhist Education (CBE) programs, not only online, but also Minister’s Assistant Program (MAP) and Buddhist Youth Retreats (BYR).
Rev. Tatsuya Aoki, Bishop of Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada was also present.
In the past, the Zenmon sama or Gomonshu sama, was present. This year, Gomonshu sama was there for the 30th year celebration of the opening of Eko Haus, but had to leave before the ESC.
There were video welcome messages by Zenmon sama and Rev. Mitsuya Dake of Ryukoku University.
This was my third ESC. My wife Carmela and I first went to the ESC in 2018 at the encouragement of then Bishop Rev. Umezu. He had told me; “You must see first hand the care and respect for Jodo Shinshu in Europe.”
The first conference I attended was in Antwerp, Belgium. However, before the conference, Rev. Kuwahara had asked me to speak at the Jodo Shinshu Correspondence Course seminar at Eko Haus.
Eko Haus is what most strongly fills my memories.
Jodo Shinshu in the United States and Canada are heavily influenced by our Japanese American culture. Europe did not have the diaspora of Japanese immigrants as did the United States and South America.
Jodo Shinshu in Europe does have a Japanese cultural component. However, it is largely independent of the cultural attachments of food bazaars, taiko, Bon Odori, martial arts, etc., we find here in the United States and Canadian temples.
It is the teachings of Shinran Shonin and Hongwanji that is directly influencing Europe.
Europe has no Kaikyoshi or Kyoshi level ministers, other than Rev. Dr. Hisao Matsumaru and Rev. Hironobu Shouju of Eko Haus. Rev. Esho Sasaki of Japan has been a long-time benefactor and supporter of the European Sangha, as had Rev. Dr. Hisao Inagaki before him.
In 2024, Europe will have two Kyoshi ministers in the United Kingdom: Rev. David Quirke-Thornton and Rev. Dr. Enrique Galvan-Alvarez. Both have had some training at our BCA CBE seminars.
At the conference, I was so happy to hear from so many of the European attendees of how our BCA CBE seminars have deeply influenced their understanding of Jodo Shinshu.
Almost all European Buddhists understand English, and very few speak or read Japanese. This has reinforced my belief that BCA is the vehicle that will allow Jodo Shinshu to be spread throughout the English-speaking world.
Yes, we have a responsibility to never forget where we came from. Our roots within the Japanese American community are 125 years deep. The Issei (first generation), Nisei (second generation), Sansei (third generation) and now Yonsei (fourth generation), etc. have sacrificed a lot to get BCA to where it is.
However, our potential is much larger. We Japanese Americans have had great difficulty in our journey in America and should deeply appreciate those who helped us. It is a tree of spiritual life, the roots in Shakyamuni Buddha, Shinran and Rennyo with the trunk of our overseas Sanghas.
Europe is from that same tree, and we can help it flourish. This is our chance to give back. We are in the position to pass that Dana forward and share it with the world, as Shinran expressed, “in order that the process be made continuous, without end and without interruption, by which those who have been born first guide those who come later, and those who are born later join those who were born before.” Namo Amida Butsu.