The Cleveland Buddhist Temple is a Buddhist organization located in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The temple operates in the Shin Buddhist tradition, which is a school of Pure Land Buddhism. The current leader is Reverend Ron Miyamura. The temple offers a variety of programs, including a weekly Dharma Study Group, bimonthly Buddhist services, a Buddhist twelve step program designed as a complement to traditional variations of such programs, and various holiday celebrations and musical performances. The temple traces its roots to a 1945 association of Japanese Buddhists who settled in Cleveland after being released from the World War II internment camps and is still predominantly Japanese. However, there is some racial diversity, and the temple is very “come as you are”. It does not demand or expect any strong Buddhist devotion.
The Reverend Ron Miyamura is the head religious instructor and supervisor of the Cleveland Buddhist Temple. Mr. Miyamura is also affiliated with the Midwest Buddhist Temple (located in Chicago) and the Twin Cities Buddhist Association. He studied Shin Buddhism in Japan after graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in American History. Before becoming the leader of the Cleveland Buddhist Temple, he was an analyst at United Airlines.
Shin Buddhist Beliefs
Shin Buddhism is a school of Pure Land Buddhism. It is the most widely practiced type of Buddhism in Japan, which makes sense given the Cleveland temple’s origins. Pure Land Buddhism is a distant branch of Mahayana Buddhism that revolves around the worship of the Buddha Amitabha.
Pure Land Buddhists believe that by venerating Amitabha- in particular, by repeating his name over and over and over while meditating, and by thinking about him as much as possible while they go about their lives- they can gain access to the “Pure Land” upon their eventual death and rebirth. In their own words:
Bodhisattvas hear about the Buddha Amitābha and call him to mind again and again in this land. Because of this calling to mind, they see the Buddha Amitābha. Having seen him they ask him what dharmas it takes to be born in the realm of the Buddha Amitābha. Then the Buddha Amitābha says to these bodhisattvas: “If you wish to come and be born in my realm, you must always call me to mind again and again, you must always keep this thought in mind without letting up, and thus you will succeed in coming to be born in my realm.”
In the Pure Land, many obstacles to enlightenment that exist in our world are no longer present, and as such, everyone who goes there is able to attain enlightenment. Pure Land Buddhism can be thought of as being roughly analogous to branches of Christianity that hold that faith is sufficient for salvation, such as Catholicism.
Shin Buddhism was founded by the monk Shinran in the 1200’s. Like other Pure Land schools, it holds that reciting the nembutsu (i.e. a rote affirmation of one’s faith in Amitabha) over and over is a key religious practice. However, unlike other Pure Land schools, Shin Buddhism does not believe that this is actually a means of entering the Pure Land. One’s acceptance into or denial from the Pure Land is already predetermined, and those who say the nembutsu are simply those that Amitabha has chosen. Furthermore, when they say the nembutsu, it is really Amitabha speaking through them. With this doctrine of predestination, Shin Buddhism can be thought of as being analogous to Calvinism.
Speaking from a secular, Westernized point of view, Shin Buddhism- and Pure Land Buddhism in general- seems somewhat cultish. Many of its doctrines appear to be the sort of things one might come up with if one were attempting to optimize a religion’s memetic potential: “Do this one thing that anyone can do, and you will be saved forever. Or on second thought, perhaps it is that the sort of people who do this one thing are the sort of people predestined to be saved.” Regardless, the only thing the religion really asks of you is that you do the thing that helps it spread. Being a good person or challenging yourself to explore your mind in the present- these things are hard and unnecessary. They might drive you from the religion, so don’t worry about doing them. Just praise Amitabha.
I find it a little unnerving, personally. (Or maybe you need to learn more about it…)
Sangha and Dharma
That said, the Cleveland Buddhist Temple does not appear to take the above all that seriously. The organization’s doctrine seems to pay at least as much attention to Siddhartha Gautama as it does to Amitabha, and it does not really emphasize the predestination aspect of Shin Buddhism. Instead, the Cleveland Buddhist Center’s teachings seem to center around being a Buddhism for the modern, busy masses. From the website:
Cleveland Buddhist Temple was founded in the Jodo Shinshu, or Shin, Buddhist tradition. Jodo Shinshu is the path of gratitude and humility. While other schools of Buddhism seek to “attain” or “realize” enlightenment, the Shin Buddhist path is one of simply listening and opening one’s heart to receiving it. The pursuit of enlightenment can become something like chasing after a mirage in the desert: You think you have arrived, only to find it has disappeared.
Trying to grasp at or attain enlightenment can be like trying to grab a snowflake that falls. Once you grab it, you have crushed it. But if you open your hand and allow the snow to gently fall into your hand, the snowflake becomes yours, without any effort in grasping.
Rather than pursuing enlightenment, we simply listen to the Dharma and receive it.
My interpretation of the above is that the Cleveland Buddhist Center preaches a type of Buddhism that makes very few demands of its practitioners. This is typical of the Pure Land school, in that practitioners are not being asked to engage in rigorous meditation or structured analysis of the dharma. But there doesn’t seem to be very much emphasis on praising Amitabha over and over either. Though there are a couple mentions of nembutsu in the newsletter, there is much more emphasis on acceptance of the world and of the self, on cultivating a mindset of gratitude, and on the community that the temple fosters. Even by the standards of Buddhism, it does not seem like a particularly religious approach to religion- but it does seem like perhaps an effective way of helping guide community members through life.
Relationships with Other Buddhist Organizations
As mentioned earlier, the Reverend Miyamura is affiliated with two other Buddhist institutions- the Midwest Buddhist Temple and the Twin Cities Buddhist Association. Also, the Cleveland Buddhist Temple is a member of the Buddhist Churches of America association (BCA). On the whole, the Cleveland Buddhist Temple seems to enjoy a healthy relationship with the wider Buddhist community, at least within the West. No information was available about the temple’s relationship with Asian Buddhist communities- but Rev. Miyamura’s Buddhist education in Japan indicates that there is likely at least some connection.
Harrison, Paul. McRae, John. The Pratyutpanna Samādhi Sūtra and the Śūraṅgama Samādhi Sūtra. 1998. pp. 2-3, 19
Griffin, David Ray (2005). Deep Religious Pluralism. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-664-22914-6.