Reprint Wheel of Dharma
Over 100 years ago, two ministers came from Japan to San Francisco in response to a request from Japanese immigrants living in the United States. They came to help fill a void in the hearts of Buddhists living in America – a void created by the need to hear the Dharma and to touch the heart of the Buddha. This event was the start of what is now the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA). The mission of the Buddhist Churches of America then and now continues on into the 21st Century.
The BCA, with headquarters in San Francisco, California, is a non-profit religious corporation. BCA currently has over 60 independent temples and a number of Fellowships and Sanghas with approximately 16,000 members throughout the United States. Organizationally, these temples and Sanghas are part of one of eight District Councils -Bay, Central California, Coast, Eastern, Mountain States, Northern California, Northwest, and Southern and together, these constitute the service population of BCA. The main temple of our sect is Ryukoku-zan Hongwanji (Nishi Hongwanji) located in Kyoto, Japan. The BCA is part of its international propagation effort that includes Hawaii, Canada, South America, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Nepal, and Europe. His Eminence, Koshin Ohtani, who is a direct descendent of Shinran Shonin, is the head priest of Hongwanji, spiritual leader, and presides with the Japanese title of “Monshu”. The Bishop (Socho in Japanese) is the religious leader of the Buddhist Churches of America. He directs the BCA’s efforts and the efforts of all of us in a variety of programs to achieve our objectives.
Although the focus of temple life emphasized Japanese Buddhism and Japanese culture, there was a very limited outreach to non-Japanese Americans who were interested in Buddhism. A few Caucasian (hakujin) members were admitted into BMNA temples, and a notable few, such as the Rev. Sunya Pratt of Tacoma, Washington, and Rev. Julius Goldwater (a relative of Senator Barry Goldwater) from Los Angeles, even became ordained in the Shin tradition in the U.S. prior to World War II. In 2006, Dr. Gordon Bermant, from Ekoji Buddhist Temple, became the President of the Buddhist Churches of America, the first non-Japanese-American to hold this position.
In the United States, BCA priests may be addressed as either sensei (“teacher”), “Minister,” or “Reverend.” BCA ministers have historically been all male and ethnically Japanese, but there is now a substantial number of female, and non-Japanese, ministers. BCA minister’s dress or koromo includes the full-length black fuho, which is the everyday priest’s robe, and wagesa, a type of stole which is said to symbolize the original Buddhist robe worn by the historical Buddha. Additional, more formal robes include the kokue, a heavier black robe with longer sleeves and pleated skirt, hakama, and gojo-gesa, a colorful five-paneled apron which is draped over the kokue. These are worn for major services such as Obon or Hoonko. In Japan, Jodo Shinshu priests typically wear a white hakue, or undershirt, under their robes, and tabi, a traditional split-toe sock, but this is usually not worn in America. BCA ministers also carry an ojuzu, a string of beads with tassels said to symbolize a person’s bonno or “evil passions” which one must be mindful of. They are similar to the mala in other Buddhist traditions. Jodo Shinshu Buddhism does not have monastic vows (vinaya) so priests may marry: priests’ spouses are called bomori, an archaic Japanese word which may mean “temple helper.” Bomori are very active in temple activities, and may also be ordained and assist in rituals and services.
It would be nice of more temples where propagated and that the BSC would have a bachelors program in Buddhism. To find a wonderfully reasonable religion is a rare thing. Admittedly, JSS could use a bit more of a Social Consciousness as the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhist does, but there are many activists. On Democracy Now! The sijolovada Sutra and Way of Sovereign Sutra goes recommended. There also a tale on how the Buddha rejected the Caste system and welcomed a out caste into the Monkhood. Shinran himself had no problems with transmitting Dharam to common people no matter what walk of life. Jodo Shinshu has a real future in The USA.