How did a nice Jewish girl from Chicago end up in a place like the Vista Buddhist Temple? I was the proverbial seeker and investigated and tried a number of religious and spiritual practices, unable to find anything that truly touched my heart.
Then, at a time when I had stopped searching, I experienced the sound of the taiko drum. I was immediately mesmerized. The sound, the vibrations and reverberations reached me emotionally and physically. I wanted to experience that again.
Fortunately, I live in San Diego and was excited to find and attend many of the festivals at the Vista Buddhist Temple, where there was always a taiko performance. At the end of one of the performances, I asked a player if they ever gave classes. To my delight, the temple had a workshop starting soon. I immediately signed up.
I thought I was just going to learn to be a drummer, but something happened along the way. I began learning about Buddhism.
As much as the beat of the drum touched my soul, the friendliness, softness, support and acceptance I experienced from the taiko players touched me even more deeply.
When the workshop ended, I learned that I would need to become a member of the Vista temple in order to continue playing with the group. I didn’t have to think twice. I wanted to be part of the whole thing.
My religious, cultural and ethnic background is different from the majority of the Sangha members and I had to figure out where and how I fit. I had read about Buddhism, but I didn’t really know what Buddhism was in general, or what Shin Buddhism was in particular.
I also didn’t understand what part of the rituals and Dharma was Buddhist, and what part was Japanese. I loved all of it, but I was confused.
In 2015, I traveled to India with a number of members from my temple. The trip was a tour, or rather a pilgrimage, called “In the Footsteps of the Buddha” and traveled from city to city where the Buddha had lived and taught.
The emphasis on the historic Buddha helped me to understand the beginnings and basis for all of Buddhism. Two years later, I traveled to Japan as part of a group arranged by Rev. Dr. Mutsumi Wondra of the Orange County Buddhist Church. This trip focused on the life and teaching of Shinran Shonin, founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. We visited many cities and innumerable temples. I’m sure that the trip meant different things to each traveler. What it meant for me was that it gave me the connection from Buddha to Shinran, from India to Japan.
Those two trips helped me to see that Honen Shonin and his disciple, Shinran Shonin, combined the core principles of Buddhism with birth in the Pure Land and the chanting of the Nembutsu. This was and is a uniquely Japanese style of Buddhism, created for ordinary people from all cultures, just like me. I now understand that this isn’t just a Buddhist temple that happens to have a largely Japanese American Sangha, but that the Japanese Americans here, most of whom have become my friends, embody and hold sacred the teachings I have come here to learn.
Over the years, I have listened to Dharma messages, taken many of the Buddhist education classes and have joined many of the temple groups, but I continue to learn the most from my fellow Sangha members.
Sometimes it’s during a conversation, sometimes it’s watching or experiencing actions, but I am always amazed and in awe of how simply and naturally Sangha members live Buddhism.
I aspire to that and know that this is where I belong, where I fit. I continue to practice and love taiko, which for me has become a practice of both music and meditation. The beat of the drum drew me here, but there is so much more that makes this my spiritual home.