While I was visiting Japan, my wife, kids and I visited old friends and neighbors a lot. We do this every year, and we enjoy keeping in touch with people. One family we keep in touch with is a nearby Jodo-Shinshu temple family in the neighborhood. My wife has grown up with their kids, and now they watch our kids grow up. :) In Japan, you see a lot of urban “parochial” or parish temples which are owned by ordained priests, but otherwise living a semi-worldly lifestyle. This is in contrast to dedicated “monastic” temples that also exist in Japan.
Anyhow, the temple family lets us walk around the inner-sanctuary of their temple, and my daughter is now old enough to understand things more. So, she asked me a lot of questions like “what’s that picture” or “who’s that buddha?” and such. I explained things in my simple Japanese, rather than English, since everyone else is listening. But at the same time, I felt a really, nice familiar feeling that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
Jodo Shinshu temples have a very consistent setup you can see anywhere in the world. The temple here in Seattle has a very similar altar to what you see in Kawasaki or any temple. So, that setup is very familiar to me. Walking around the temple’s inner-sanctuary, explaining the different pictures and decoration, it really felt like coming home in a spiritual sense. Also, it was fun to explain to my daughter. The temple family seemed a little impressed too.
It reminded me years ago when I was trying to get ordained as a Jodo-Shinshu priest here in Seattle. Most readers probably don’t know about that because it was almost 5 years ago. This is a photo I took in 2010 during my second-attempt:
I tried to get ordained at the local temple in 2008 or so, but this did not succeed because I hadn’t been a member of the temple long enough, and I think culturally there was some resistance too because the temple was a bit insular at the time. I hear things have changed since. Anyhow, I was bitter, but I tried again in 2010, and made good progress, but I had personal doubts about Pure Land Buddhism,1 and also was very busy raising kids. Further, on-call work at my company was so intense, I couldn’t keep up with training. So, I quit shortly after that picture was taken. I kind of regret it now, because it’s not good to quit something halfway, but oh well.
But, five years later, I kind of really miss it. Being at that temple in Japan, explaining all those things to my daughter made me realize that I truly enjoy teaching Buddhism and Buddhist culture. I don’t want to just teach meditation; that’s too narrow. I like sharing the culture to people because there’s much beauty and truth behind it. I guess that’s a big reason why I started this blog, and I guess I still love it.
So, I’ve been researching how to get ordained again. With help from my wife, I am looking at how to get ordained directly from Japan though. There are a lot of temples here in Seattle, but I think there are challenges with them. Based on limited, personal experience some temples are resistant to Asian Buddhist culture, or at least very selective about what they are interested in. Other temples focus on a particular community, so they’re either resistant or just indifferent to people outside that community. There are a couple of Japanese Buddhist temples here (including Rissho Kosei Kai, which I visited recently), so if training from Japan doesn’t work, I still have that option.
But my idea is to go directly to Japanese Buddhist institutions if possible and get ordained there, then, maybe start my own temple that will share the beauties of Asian-Buddhist culture, but to a wider audience. I have seen other temples in the US do this, though it’s rare.
Of course, this is actually a huge challenge because I am not Japanese, and I don’t live there. Based on research so far, it looks like some Buddhist seminaries in Japan require routine retreats, or some kind of lengthy time-commitment, which is sensible. But I have family and work here and can only get a tourist-visa to Japan (90 days maximum), so this probably won’t work. Still, other seminaries in Japan do seem to have distance-learning options with shorter commitments in Japan. I can definitely travel to Japan and train for a little while, but not for too long. :)
Five years ago, when I was training at the Jodo Shinshu temple, one of the Japanese ministers encouraged me to consider training through a place like Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin, which is a big Jodo Shinshu seminary. At the time though, I couldn’t really read or communicate in Japanese, so I thought it was impossible. However, now I can read fairly comfortably, and my conversation skills are a little better than before, so now it’s feasible at least. Not easy, but feasible.
Anyhow, nothing specific yet, but I definitely am researching more. I still might consider training and getting ordained through a temple in Seattle. There are still good temples here, so even if the distance-learning option doesn’t work, I’ve got options. :-)
Time will tell.
1 My attitude has gradually changed over time but it’s too long to explain here.