Los Angeles Buddhist Catholic Dialogue

August 6, 2003

Higashi Honganji Temple

Present: Amie McCampbell, Rev. Kusala, Dickson Yagi, Marcus Darilag, William Briones, Diana Akiyama, Rev. Noriaki Ito, Kenshi Ise, Michihiro Ama, Yadamini Gunawardena, Daiun Iba, Sr. Thomas Bernard, Ven. Walpola Piyananada, Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith, Rev. Cintamani, Lucy Palermino, Ven. Karuna Dharma, Nobuko Miyoshi, Leila Kerze, Michael Kerze.

Rev. Ito: provided a brief history of Higashi Honganji. The first temple was founded in 1904, the present building in 1976. The roots of the community were originally in Boyle Heights. In Southern California, there are three temples, the one here in downtown Los Angeles, the others in Newport Beach and West Covina. There is a branch in Berkeley, an affiliate in Chicago, branches in Hawaii, Brooklyn, and 30 temples in Brazil. Higashi Honganji say Namu Amida Buddha. Namo is said by the brother organization, the Nishi Honganji.

Nori described a week long trip to Japan with a group of young people he made this summer: The last three days were in Nagasaki. A temple in the center of downtown has a huge monument with 4 characters – He, Kaku, No, Sen: Here no war. When the bomb was dropped, those at the center perished and no one could take care of the corpses. The US army needed a place to build an airstrip so they bulldozed the area including the bodies. Those from outlying areas came in. Buddhist groups collected the bodies to be properly cremated, and the ashes and bones were put in boxes on both sides of an altar, now under the temple, a vault with the remains of 10-20,000 people. These bones are very dark because of radiation. These students, Japanese Americans, had ancestors in Japan. A priest said the monument said: no nukes, no war, but not “anti” because that means you are on one side and they are on the other side. Not: “You should not engage in war” but “I should not engage in war.” One young person asked: why can’t we hate what America did? I responded, we should share grief and suffering of those who died.

Ven. Piyananda: At Hiroshima, there was a Buddhist statute near where the bomb was dropped. It was in pieces and people tried to put it back together because you have to walk with the Buddha’s mind, legs, heart; you have to care for each other.

Fr. Alexei: I had a similar experience, The archdiocese with the Catholic schools and the Anti-Defamation League put together a one week seminar on how to teach the holocaust. We went to the Holocaust Museum and saw photographs of Catholic bishops making Nazi salutes. We bear personal responsibility for our actions.

Rev. Kusala: I’ve come to understand Buddhists have an easier task than Christians for Buddhists say: the world will always be unsatisfactory, there will be war, it cannot be made perfect. The only way to do perfection is with our hearts and then, perhaps, take it outside. You have to save yourself before you save the world.

Sr. Thomas Bernard: There is the old maxim: Physician heal thyself. Our society seems overwhelmingly violent – it makes us feel helpless. We have to begin with the self: how am I violent, disrespectful.

Rev. Cynthia Shimazu: When I was reading the minutes, I was struck by Dr. Siddiqi’s statement that “Jihad is a blessed struggle.”“ Many times spiritual struggle is portrayed as being warlike. Should we use different symbols? People can use “struggle” and similar words to justify what they want to do. If you use different symbols, they might be able to be used by fanatics.

Rev. Kusala: At a one week dialogue with Sr. Meg Funk on the Rule of Benedict, I had to stop singing the psalms. They were so violent about war, aggression – versus the Dhammapada saying that hate is to be overcome by love. The psalms were very tough to read.

Fr. Alexei: They chanted some of the more violent psalms. They were hymns from Judaism and they cover the gamut of human emotion in relation to God. There is the Good Shepherd psalm but also Psalm 33: smash babies’ heads against rocks if you forget Jerusalem. Those violent ones are not helpful.

Sr. Thomas Bernard: It’s a mixed bag. The diminishment of violence might come from interest in the care of the earth, environmentalism, stewardship. It might spill over into care for one another.

Rev. Kusala: Stewardship means you are in control which is different than the Buddhist emphasis on being connected to the earth.

Michael Kerze: Stewardship actually means working in collaboration with rather than control over. For example, there are Benedictine monastery lands in Europe that have been continually farmed for over a thousand years – that is stewardship, working with the environment rather than controlling it. In the Genesis story, Adam and Eve were placed in the garden to tend it, care for it, make it grow.

Rev. Ito: Stewardship depends on how you define it: caretaker versus controller. Our first abbot was called the “Caretaker” of the temple.

Dickson Yagi: The Bible speaks of winning and losing. When the Jews were conquering Palestine they went in with a religion of winning. They would lose if someone did something wrong. They lost the war against the Babylonians and were taken into exile. A winning religion lost everything. In the theology of exile, they became a losing religion. The prophets asked: don’t you hear God crying with the losers, not celebrating with the victors. Jesus chose “losing religion” in the crucifixion and resurrection. Mother Theresa – that’s the model. Another type of Christianity is into winning. The Bible message is: “Winning by losing.”