Monday, November 30, 2009

Higashi Honganji

"The Los Angeles Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple has served the Buddhist community since the turn of the 20th Century. In 1904, Rev. Junjyo Izumida established the first Japanese Buddhist temple in Los Angeles, located at 229 1/2 East Fourth Street. The temple was relocated several times, to San Julian Street in Little Tokyo (1907), to Savannah Street (1911), and, in 1926, the temple was moved to 118 North Mott Street in the Boyle Heights area of East Los Angeles, where it remained for the next fifty years. The present temple, built in 1976, marked the return of the Higashi Honganji to its roots in Little Tokyo."

The name Higashi Honganji actually refers to one of two dominant sub-sects of Shin Buddhism in Japan. It was established in 1602 by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu when he split the Shin sect in two (Nishi Honganji being the other) in order to diminish its power. Shogun's were always doing things like that.
Shin Buddhism actually refers to a school of Pure Land Buddhism. It was founded by the former Tendai Japanese monk Shinran Shonin. Today, Shin Buddhism is considered the most widely practiced branch of Buddhism in Japan.
Pure Land Buddhism is part of a broad branch of Mahayana Buddhism and currently is one of the most popular schools of Buddhism in East Asia, along with Zen, which I have studied, and one could say practiced (by meditating) for a good deal of my life.
I'm not going to go a whole lot into the tenets of the Buddhist philosophy. That is beyond the scope of this post. Look it up if your interested. I will tell you that as a teenager I studied all of the major religions that exist in the world, and a few of the smaller ones, and Buddhism is the only one that remotely made any sense to me.
Anyway, as part of my new found effort to make some constructive changes in my life, part of which is getting out of my box more often and meeting new people, I had decided to attend the Sunday service at the Los Angeles Temple of Higashi Honganji.
Why this particular temple? Well it would have been great if there were a Zen facility nearby. Or maybe not. Zen Centers literally will have you sitting around and meditating all freaking day, and that currently does not fit into my busy schedule. I've been to Higashi Honganji before, six or seven years ago, and the services resemble those of a regular Catholic or Protestant Sunday service... and hour, hour and a half, and your good to go. Enlightenment on the cheap.
And it's within walking distance. Right at Third and Central. I practically walk by it four times a week going to and from the VA.
As for the temple itself it was "Built in 1976. The temple’s architecture includes a traditional roof with over 30,000 tiles imported from Japan, lanterns which adorn the ceiling of the main chapel, and a magnificent statue of Amida Buddha on the altar. The temple reveals itself as a magnificent repository of Buddhist art and architecture. The beautiful Japanese garden was landscaped and continues to be maintained by temple members. Today the Higashi Honganji houses the Lumbini Child Development Center, a licensed pre-school and fully accredited kindergarten with a full capacity of 74 children in its care."
I arrived there at about nine forty five, fifteen minutes before the service was scheduled to begin. A kindly, little old, bent over, Japanese lady opened the door for me and I went into the Main Hall, or Hondo, and took a seat. I was surprised that I was the first to arrive considering it was so close to ten o'clock.
Soon the doors were opened fully and a beautiful young Japanese woman entered and began fiddling with things. She was wearing traditional Japanese dress and was one of the two female Buddhist reverends who would be taking part in the day's service. The other one was pretty cute too!
"Is this your first time here?" she asked me, her accent slight.
"What was that?"
"Is this your first time here?"
"No. I've been here before, but a long time ago... five or six years..."
"Oh, well welcome back," she said smiling with her little, beautiful smile, then made her way up to the alter (Naijin) and continued preparing for the service.
The kindly, little old, bent over, Japanese lady who had let me in entered and took a seat near the front. Another Japanese lady, about my age came in and took a seat near me. Four young Hispanic kids entered and... four Hispanic kids! What the hell!? Well, they sat in the back.
A little after ten the gong began to sound signaling the start of the service. Soon about thirty people were seated, a mixed crowd. My friend Michael had asked me earlier that morning if there was mixed crowd at these services, and I told him with me there there was. It seems racial integration had progressed nicely since I'd been away.
The beginning of the service was marked by the appearance of the three reverends appearing up on the alter, two female, and the older, bald man I remembered from services past. They took their seats, and a middle aged, Japanese civilian approached the microphone and recited some interesting poems dealing, I believe, with our powerlessness over others, and other things, then the reverends began chanting.
They were very good at it. We were told that at this time we could come and give our offerings.
Unlike the Salvation Army and Catholic services I've attended in the past, this Buddhist service got the offerings (money) right at the beginning of the service before you had a chance to escape. Very wise I must say.
I entered the line and followed those before me. When it was my turn I bowed before the main urn in front of the alter, placed a dollar bill in the plate, bowed again, placed a small amount of incense in the urn where there was some already burning, bowed again, stepped back, bowed again, then returned to my seat. Simple.
The reverends continued chanting for awhile before stopping abruptly. The older reverend stood before the alter, we all stood and recited the Three Treasures, the first part which is sung, first by the reverend, then the rest of us, then the reverend recites a passage, then we do, then everybody does, then we sit down.
Then we stood up again and sang a song in English. Always with the songs. Public announcements were made. Then we were told we would be split up into two groups. Those who wished to continue in English were to move to the conference room, those who wished to continue in Japanese would stay right were they were.
Nineteen of us moved to the small conference room and sat around the table they had in there. The Japanese Americans outnumbered us honkies by one, plus the four Hispanic kids. Those numbers reflect the two reverends that came in to facilitate, the elderly man, and the other pretty lady I had not talked to. When she finally did speak it was in such a rich, thick lovely Japanese accent that I almost fell in love right then and there. Unfortunately I discovered she was married with two kids, and with my luck the husband would turn out to be the last samurai.
We went around and introduced ourselves, then the elderly reverend passed around handouts which were reproductions of a story that had been printed in the Buddhist Review, by Mark Epstein, M.D. It was about him driving around while listening to a talk radio station, an interview with a man talking about his childhood, how his parents had perhaps mistreated him while he was growing up, but also about how he had accepted that past and got on with his life vowing not to repeat the mistakes that his parents had made, and doing a remarkable job rearing his own children. It turned out the man speaking was Bruce Springsteen.
This was all very interesting to me. I remember the past times I had attended this service when the one reverend would recite a sermon in the main hall in English, then repeat the very same sermon in Japanese. This was much better.
I don't wish to be critical, but this is so Buddhist. Talking about things that matter in a practical way in daily life, rather than try to interpret what an ancient scripture may or may not have said, or meant, and how it affected us personally in the modern world.
Anyway, we discussed this fully for about an hour. Then one of the men talked about his recent visit to Kyoto, and the main Higashi Honganji Temple, which had just been renovated.
"I believe it is the largest wooden structure in the world," the elderly reverend remarked. I immediately began to wonder if they have termites in Japan.
At eleven thirty we were done, and I walked back to my box to type this up while watching "Knocked Up," and eating a Bologna and cheese sandwich, with creamed corn. I felt pretty good, although I think the Bologna was a little rancid. I ate it anyway. No cigarettes since Wednesday, and I don't feel like killing anybody. Quite the opposite.
Right now it's three fifty one in the afternoon, Sunday, November 29th, real time. I'm going to Santa Monica in about a half hour to go to another church service. Odd behavior for an avowed atheist, don't you think?
I'd meet a woman named Patrice who gave me the old eye.
I'm a babe magnet.
I'll talk to you latter dear readers.
Be good.

No comments:

Post a Comment