To promote a greater understanding and appreciation of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism and to continue to live the Nenbutsu as a warm and friendly, family-centered temple.
The statement that I am quoting is the Mission Statement of the Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. I wanted to begin this month’s article with this quote because I thought that this year’s Obon Festival demonstrated all the wonderful attributes of our temple. Some of these things were seen directly in the smiles and laughter of all those who came, but as with most things some of the more significant things happened in the background. These are the things that cannot be seen by the eye but, at the same time, are the things that helped to support all the smiles and laughter that was generated. It is also the stuff that helps someone feel a sense of “pride” in being associated with the Venice Hongwanji.
Here is some of that background story. For some time, our temple has become increasingly sensitive to the aging of our membership. It is partially for this reason that we have worked to develop our Venice Hongwanji Senior Outreach Program. Having these programs is wonderful, but as with most things being able to support this kind of programming requires funding. Fortunately, the temple has assumed most of these costs, but in order to accomplish this the temple has to rely, to a significant degree, on its fund-raising activities. The largest, the most labor intensive, and the event that we rely upon the most to generate funding for the temple is our Obon Festival. But, as mentioned earlier, our membership is also getting older. Because of this, for over a year now, under the stewardship of Dr. Tom Yamaguchi, the temple and its leadership has been meeting regularly to try to find ways to make it easier for our members to participate in and contribute towards our most important fund-raising event. The Obon Festival, however, is not only significant because it is our largest fundraiser. It also has religious significance for our members and is tied together with our Obon & Hatsubon (first Obon) Special Memorial Service. It is especially because of this that it becomes important for us to try to make participation in this event as broad as possible.
The reason why I wanted to spend so much time talking about the background story is because all of this activity began because of one simple thing. It began from caring. It began from caring about another person. Obon is a season that reminds us to reflect on how much care we have received from those who have gone before us, and how much we still care and think about them. But, it is also a time where we can care for each other, and consider the well-being and comfort of those we share our lives with in the here-and-now. This, too, I think is the spirit of Nenbutsu. For a Jodo Shinshu follower, the Nenbutsu is what lays in support of being warm and friendly. To the degree that it does, we know that what is manifested in our daily lives, through things like our smiles and laughter, is true and real. And when it is, that’s when we become a family. That’s when we become the temple we wanted and knew we could become: a temple that cares, not just about one’s self, but for others as well.
Rev. John Iwohara