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Random Thoughts

This year we are celebrating and observing the 125th anniversary of Jodoshinshu in the continental United States.  One of the issues that is facing all our temples is declining membership and declining participation especially by young people.  This concern has materialized itself in many ways.  New service formats, dynamic speakers, relevant topics creative activities etc. 


The presentation of ‘traditional’ Buddhist teachings and rituals needs to first of all be understood clearly before we proceed ahead with innovations which may alter the true nature meanings and significance that is part of the ‘traditional’.  We must ask ourselves, “is our understanding so thorough that we may outwardly alter the nature of the ‘traditional’ Teachings and rituals?”  Are we able to fully realize, through experience  the significance and meaning of the ‘traditional’?


In no way am I denying that there is currently a great need for change in the manner in which the Buddhist Teachings are being presented.  All of us, from ministers to members must be flexible and willing to change.  And that will determine the future of the Buddhadharma in America.  But in our haste for change, we must be wary of looking for something new.  We must be careful that what might be new becomes an excuse for not being familiar with the traditional. 


We must be aware that the Buddhism we are experiencing today is the result of not just the 125 years of Jodoshinshu in America, but is the result of centuries of tradition and spiritual experience in India, China, Korea and Japan.  It is essential given the short time of 125 years that we fully understand and experience the essence as developed within the ‘traditional’. 


Throughout the history of Buddhism, it has adapted itself to the many cultures it found itself in.   As the Buddhadharma began to acculturate into different societies, many socio-cultural developments occurred.  However, throughout the centuries, the essence of the Buddha’s teachings has not changed but remain relevant and true today as they were 2,500 years ago. 


My intent is neither to negate the trend towards new approaches nor establish the ‘traditional’ as unchangeable.  Rather, given the circumstances of our modern times it is hoped that we reexamine the ‘traditional’ within the framework of our American culture.  Today we have at our disposal more literature expounding the Buddha’s Teachings.  With the advent of the World Wide Web there are countless articles and essays on Buddhism.  There are many positive aspects, but also many dangers which may unconsciously mislead and cause drastic deviations from the teachings. 


I believe that the teachings of the Buddha and Shinran Shonin will acculturate to American culture accordingly.  I also believe that the Nembutsu teaching will rise up and answer the dilemma that many Americans feel today.  The malaise that many Americans feel can be cured with the Buddhadharma.   Over the past 125 years of the Buddhist Churches of America, the essence of Buddhism has remained the same. 


The Buddhist way of life is to experience, and to truly experience is to have understanding.  This experience applies  to all practical aspects of our daily life, and must be realized.  Here we ask ourselves, are we able to fully realize, through experience, the significance and meanings behind the ‘traditional’? 


If one were to point a finger toward the moon, the object is to see the moon, not the finger. The finger is only the means or vehicle to see the moon (Truth).  By attaching oneself to the finger, the Truth shall never be seen.  The finger, or means change with times and conditons, but the Truth, or Teachings, never change.




Rev. Hosei Shinseki

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