Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple
Members of the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple practice Shin Buddhism. As such, this community conducts itself in alignment with the Western Pure Land school, placing staunch faith in the figure Amithaba. Through his worship, members of the school seek to facilitate a rebirth which enables them to practice Buddhism to its fullest extent, beyond the obstructions presented by a particular birth in the delusional realm. In other words, members of this faith desire rebirth into a world constructed by Amithaba himself, catered to honing one’s karma and ultimate merit. This achievement, to practitioners, presents itself upon the consistent recitation of a chant, particularly one that refers to their patron: “I am calling Amida Buddha” (Hart 1). As well as aligning to the Buddha’s sutras, members of the Western Pure Land school invest significant faith in Amithaba himself, whose name means “infinite light” and whose Mahayana doctrines are said to precede those even of the historical Buddha.
This school of Buddhism, especially in Japan, accounts for a great portion of Buddhist practice around the world. It makes sense, then, that Western Pure Land would spread into North America from a migratory perspective alone. Additionally, other features of the Western Pure Land tradition attest to this sect’s prominence on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Despite being just one of two in all of Oregon, this Shin temple strives to promote those tenets which originated in Japan 758 years ago, and as a constituent of the Buddhist Churches of America, boasts, “a place where the people know and trust one another and where there is social harmony; it is harmony that gives life and meaning to every community” (Buddhist Churches of America 1).
History & Scope
While preserving a centuries-long tradition, the Idaho-Oregon Temple developed against a backdrop heavily contextualized by events of the second world war. Formally dedicated on April 13, 1947 in Ontario, Oregon, constituents of this temple congregated after relocating from the Pacific Coast to Ontario in May 1942. The relocation was forced upon the members as a result of the United States’ effort to place Japanese-Americans into labor camps during the war. Presented as an alternative to the camps, some Japanese-American farmers already working in the Ontario area made an appeal that laborers on the coast would instead be brought to Oregon and help farm the land. As a result, Japanese-Americans found a concentrated presence in this new community, and (since many of this demographic were first generation, or “Issei”) expressed cultural values which they had taken from their native Japan. Some of these values, of course, were expressed through the practice of Shin Buddhism, and before long a decision was made to form a proper congregation.
That there was Issei presence in Ontario prior to interment is noteworthy, as they provided the means through which a sizable Buddhist community could take shape. In fact, this community actually started laying the foundation for its growth in the interwar period, with the construction of a community center which allowed Japanese-American youth to participate in athletics and social activities in the 1930s. Eventually, through this smaller community’s intervention in labor camp relocation, the Japanese-American and, subsequently, the Buddhist communities in Ontario established themselves to become a larger hub for Shin Buddhist practice in the Western United States.
Despite this particular temple springing from unique ties with American history, the Idaho-Oregon Temple is still connected to the international Buddhist community as well. As previously stated, the temple is a member of the Buddhist Churches of America as part of the northwestern district, and is overseen by Reverend Jerry Hirano, who is based out of the Salt Lake City Buddhist Temple, and oversees the Idaho-Oregon Temple’s minister assistants. On its website, the temple lists its affiliate organizations, other Buddhist temples local to the northwestern United States. Furthermore, the temple maintains ties with Japan as well, as the community’s mother temple resides in Kyoto. This mother temple “provides leadership worldwide” for the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji (the sect’s formal name) tradition of Buddhism (Idaho Oregon Buddhist Temple 1). Communications between the two institutions ensure the perpetuation of authentic Shin Buddhism, which has been effectively maintained for more than half a millennium.
Teachings & Practices
The mother temple, the Nishi Hongwanji, provides essential teachings, discussed to some extent in this report already, which comprise the Shin doctrine. Jodo Shinshu, the teaching’s proper name, espouses faith in the three Pure Land Sutras (The Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, The Sutra of Contemplation of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, and The Sutra of Amida Buddha) delivered by Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha. The Sutra of Amida Buddha describes that Buddha’s world of pure bliss where one can do nothing but focus on the three jewels, an ideal world. Writings by founder Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) effectively offer a path toward that world by way of Nembutsu, the frequent practice of chanting Amithaba’s (or in other spellings, Amida’s) name. Other religious practices include walking meditation, demonstrated in a video below:
Chanting as a means of focus is unique amongst Shin Buddhists, and differs from traditions such as the Theravada which seeks enlightenment through meditation on the concept of no-self and nonexistence. Nevertheless, in line with the tradition of loving-kindness, Shin Buddhists seek entrance into the Western Pure land only so that they may attain Buddhahood and, upon doing so, return to the delusional world to guide others toward enlightenment. Thus, the Western Pure land is not exactly analogous to the heaven depicted in puritanical Christianity. It is interesting, though, that Western Pure Land has gained such notoriety in the United States. Perhaps to those unfamiliar with the nuances of the doctrine, Western Pure Land presents a more digestible conception of the world, as some elements reflect, at least to some extent, the heaven-earth construction present in Christianity.
We can better understand how Shin Buddhism has evolved in wake of its spreading onto the American continent by observing, in our example, the ways in which members organize and present themselves to the larger local community. Rather than identify by the term “venerable” as we might expect, temple leaders, such as Jerry Hirano, go by the title “reverend”, not unlike those who hold similar positions within Methodist and Presbyterian communities, for example. Adapting Christian elements into their organization reflects a desire to reflect certain western values so as to appeal to a larger American population.
Furthermore, worship services and activities take place on a weekly basis every Sunday, aligning with the Western notion that this day be reserved for the spirit. These services, as well as the ceremonious events that take place throughout the year, are open to all who wish to participate and do not require temple membership. For those who desire to, “practice locally”, The Boise (their designated term for Sangha) meets weekly on Tuesday at a local Methodist church, and like all other meetings, is open to the public (Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple 1). The open-door policy, so to speak, further affirms the notion that the communally-oriented Idaho-Oregon Buddhist temple has ambitions to maintain accessibility on a great scope so that it may diffuse its doctrine thoroughly around the world, particularly on the North American continent.
The temple’s membership/community primarily hails from eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho. Under the particular circumstances which saw to this community’s formation, one would expect to see a significant percentage of Issei (or Issei descendants) within its congregation. Still, Sunday services are given in English and the temple’s open-door policy indicates that English speakers are often in attendance for those services at least.
As we’ve discussed in our course, Buddhist communities in the west do not necessarily vie for total conversion to Buddhism. Those individuals interested can pick what resonates with them and adapt it so that it can fit within a person’s belief system. The Idaho-Oregon temple promotes individuality, as well. This is evident from the fact that membership is not required for participation in religious events. Reverend Hirano himself attests that there are thousands of paths towards enlightenment and that the individual must choose which one would best serve him or her. Thus, Buddhist ideals can manifest in unique ways to coincide comfortably with the individual’s life.
Open-mindedness extends beyond the topic of religion in this Buddhist community as well. This past November’s installment of a monthly bulletin published by the temple reflects on election season and the divisiveness it can bring into our worlds. Through Buddhist teachings, one must acknowledge the poisonousness of voting and still acknowledge the poisonousness of apathy. One should do his or her best to vote with a morally good conscious, to “humbly and honestly consider what is best, not just for ourselves, but other people in our region, around the region, and the world” (Anne Spencer 1). Not only does this serve as another example of members contemplating western society with a Buddhist outlook, but also expresses a tolerance for differing opinion within the Idaho-Oregon Temple community. Indeed, Assistant Minister Spencer acknowledges such diversity in the community at the beginning of her discussion. Overall, present in this community are values of open-mindedness, tolerance, and shared pleasure taken from pursuing the Amida Buddha’s Western Pure Land, and at the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple, people from all over are welcome to share in this endeavor.
Buddhist Churches of America. Web 4 December 2018. http://www.buddhistchurchesofamerica.org/
Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple. Web 4 December. http://www.iobt.org/reverendsprofile.html
Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji. “The Essentials of Jodo Shinshu- My Path” Web 4 December 2018. http://www.hongwanji.or.jp/english/teaching/index.html
Hart, Sean. “Shin Buddhism: Namo Amida Butsu.” The Argus Observer, 3 March 2010. Web 4 December 2018. https://www.argusobserver.com/news/us/shin-buddhism-namo-amida- butsu/article_5f92ccc3-9f6a-541c-9393-bf7f4f51f365.html
Spencer, Anne. “Politics and Buddhism.” IOBT Bulletin November 2018. Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple. Web 4 December. http://www.iobt.org/pdfFiles/iobtNov2018.pdf