Jenny Setsuko Nishimura

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The Story of India

Worth watching! The landmark six hour, six part mini-series, "The Story of India" is a fantastic journey through the history of India. Michael Wood is your engaging and articulate guide who brings you along on a whirlwind tour of the country and its history.

Especially don't miss episode two, "The Power of Ideas." The series spends some time under the Bodhi Tree telling the story of the Buddha.


A Sense of Community

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Buddhist Leader Retires

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Buddhism in a Global Age of Technology

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Hanamatsuri Celebrates Buddha’s Birth

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True Compassion

The following is a letter sent to the White House in 2001, stating the feelings of all Higashi Honganji ministers regarding the World Trade Center tragedy and their future American foreign policy.

September 24, 2001

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. on September 11th have brought tremendous confusion and suffering. We, the followers of Shin Buddhism, express our deepest condolences to the victims, their families and friends. This tragedy reminds all of us how helpless we are in the face of such a catastrophe where only sadness, pain, and anger remain.

However, while we do not accept any act, terrorist or otherwise, in which the dignity of human life is ignored, we cannot condone any retaliatory acts that can lead to war. Such actions will only result in spreading more hatred and violence throughout the world and lead to the suffering of innocent victims. We therefore urge you to seek a course of non-violent action to detain and bring before a world forum of justice, those who may be responsible for the acts of September 11, 2001. We further urge you to seek a way of building bridges of understanding and reconciliation with all those who have harmed us. In addition, we ask that you do everything possible to defend the safety and rights of citizens here in the United States who may be targeted because of their ethnic or religious background.

Six years ago, in June 1995, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, our Headquarters, Shinshu Otani-ha of Kyoto, Japan, issued an Anti-War Statement which reaffirmed that all followers of our tradition should do our best to work for world peace and walk the same path as all people, regardless of their ethnicity, language, culture, and religion. Buddhism is a religion to free oneself from sufferings, one of which is the attachment to one’s own views and the imposing of it on others. This attachment hinders true dialogue.

The terrorist attacks and the probable American retaliation reconfirm the urgent need for our pledge to be practiced. The primary wish of all humanity, past, present, and future, is to live peacefully in a world free from discrimination. Only through realizing this universal wish, may all human beings be united as one.

It is our fervent hope that America display her greatness by looking deeply into the nature of all suffering and showing true Compassion.


Ministers of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temples
(North America and Hawaii Districts.)

Shinran Shonin - A Symbol of Peace

On the anniversary of 9-11, we looked for a symbol of peace and harmony. We found this video taken at the New York Buddhist Temple. In such a big and busy city, it is interesting to see Shinran standing there all alone. The statue of Shinran Shonin survived the bombing of HIroshima. It was brought to New York as a symbol of peace. The person who posted it says that children usually leave paper cranes at his feet.

The New York Buddhist Temple is led by Sensei Nakagaki. He has been called upon to lead the lead the Buddhist and interfaith community during the memorials of 9-11.

Sensei Nakagaki and Socho Ogui at the 9-11 ceremony, 2002

Every year, since 9-11, the New York Buddhist Temple has Memorial Floating Lanterns Ceremony. It is an ancient Japanese custom of floating lighted lanterns in waterways. It symbolizes respect for the lives of people who have gone before us (Obon). It is a quiet and serene ceremony that provides a place to reaffirm our commitment to building a peaceful future and to pay respect to the lost lives at the World Trade Center.

9-11 Memorial Floating Lanterns Ceremony in New York

READ MORE about Sensei Nakagaki in this article by the New York Times Magazine.

Jodo Shinshu In Montreal

For an interesting historical look at Jodo Shinshu and how it came to Canada, here is a report conducted by students at McGill University. The Montreal Religious Sites Project was set up to give the public an understanding of our multicultural society in Canada. They did this by documenting the religious sites of the ethnic and religious minorities in the city of Montreal.

The project was conducted by Prof. Victor Sogen Hori, who was ordained in Japan as a Zen monk in 1976. He is a professor of Japanese religions in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University. Hori was the guest speaker at the Buddhist Churches of Canada annual general meeting in 2006.

The reports were done by students as part of a course in Religious Studies. In most cases, several students studied a single religious site. Moarco Ovolio reported on the Montreal Buddhist Church.

Ovolio writes in his conclusion:

The difficult situation that the MBC (Montreal Buddhist Church) finds itself in today is largely a consequence of the fact that the experience and function of Jodo Shinshu in North America has been more or less the opposite of other Buddhist schools that migrated here in the twentieth century, such as Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. Where others were welcomed by and opened up to affluent North American culture, Jodo Shinshu was the focal point of an oppressed, alienated and far from wealthy demographic. Even its Christianization, paradoxically, was part of the effort to preserve a Japanese national consciousness. However, with this experience receding further from the present reality for Japanese Canadians and turning more and more into history, Jodo Shinshu temples and churches no longer need to function as the anchors of their communities’ social life and culture. If the Montreal Buddhist Church and others like it are to survive, they will have to shed the skin of their former functions and discover a new niche in North American society.

It's something to think about as we continue into the future.

Prof. Hori is currently working on a major exhibit at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, titled "Buddhism in Canada."

Copying Sutras to Boost Brain Power

This article by Jeff Wilson was found on the Tricycle Blog:

One aspect of aging that many Japanese greatly fear is memory loss. To combat this scourge, a number of Buddhist options have appeared. A popular one is pillow covers blessed by Buddhist monks to ward off dementia. These items are purchased at temples and taken home to be put on your bed pillows. As you sleep on them, the power of the Dharma helps ward off senility and other mental problems. Perhaps this is the religious equivalent of students putting their textbooks under their pillows so they'll pass a test the next day.
The Japan Times carried a story about another strategy. Some temples, such as Honjuin, a Tendai temple in Tokyo, offer Sutra copying to visitors in order to prevent memory loss. This is an ancient practice: laypeople have been sponsoring the copying of Sutras or doing it themselves for centuries in an effort to bring about all sorts of results, medical and otherwise. But now there seems to be some science to back the practice up. Dr. Kawashima Ryuta of Tohoku University discovered that copying Sutras promotes brain activity in senior citizens.

Want to try it out yourself? You don't even have to go to temple. Higashi Honganji, one of the largest Buddhist denominations in Japan, offers English-speakers the chance to copy a holy text online. Technically, it's a commentary, not a Sutra, though the text itself (Tannisho) is revered above many Sutras in the Jodo Shinshu tradition. Higashi Honganji doesn't promise memory retention, only that it can help settle your mind.

Jeff Wilson is a contributing editor to Tricycle magazine and the web site, Killing The Buddha. A Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he is dual-trained in Buddhist Studies and American Religious History. Jeff is a certified Lay Teacher in the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition.

Another Wonder

Here is an e-mail received this week:

I would nominate the Elora and Ajanta caves in India as potential Buddhist wonders of the world. There is a Hindu element there as well, but you can't really escape that in India. I've been there and have been in awe of what these stone carvers have done. It's all made of one rock and has been carved into the cliff. Nothing was brought in. The other interesting feature is that is shows a transition in Buddhist thinking where originally the depiction of living beings was forbidden, and then later approved and utilized.

A first-hand account is always good. Thanks for your e-mail.

Seven Buddhist Wonders

On July 7, the New Seven Wonders of the World will be announced in Lisbon, Portugal. Only one of the ancient wonders of the world (pyramids of Giza) still survives, so history lovers are being invited to choose a new list of seven.

But what about a list of the Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World? What would you nominate? If you want to make a suggestion click on the "Comments" below the posting. Here are seven choices in no particular order:

1. Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet, China
This was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India after a failed uprising in 1959. Today the Potala Palace is a state museum of China. It is a popular tourist attraction, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. Lumbini's Garden, Rupandehi District, Lumbini Zone of Nepal
The birthplace of the Gautama Buddha, Lumbini, is the Mecca of every Buddhist, being one of the four holy places of Buddhism. Lumbini is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The holy site of Lumbini has ruins of ancient monasteries, a sacred Bodhi tree, an ancient bathing pond, the Asokan pillar and the Mayadevi temple, where the precise place of birth of Buddha is located.

From early morning to early evening, pilgrims from various countries perform chanting and meditation at the site. It is said in the Parinibbana Sutta that Buddha himself identified four places of future pilgrimage: the sites of his birth, enlightenment, first discourse, and death. All of these events happened outside in nature under trees. While there is not any particular significance in this, other than it perhaps explains why Buddhists have always respected the environment and natural law.

3. Bamyan Buddhas, on the Silk Road in Afghanistan
In March 2001, the Taliban destroyed the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world. The statues were embedded in a mountain on the famous Silk Road. They claimed that they were false idols contrary to their Islamic beliefs.

In the summer of 2006, Afghan officials were deciding the timetable for the re-construction of the statues. While they wait for the Afghan government and international community decide whether to rebuild them, a $1.3 million UNESCO-funded project is sorting out the chunks of clay and plaster, ranging from boulders weighing several tons to fragments the size of tennis balls.

The government has also approved the proposal of the Japanese artist Hiro Yamagata to mount a $64 million sound-and-laser show starting in 2009 that would project Buddha images at Bamiyan, powered by hundreds of windmills that would also supply electricity to surrounding residents.

Bamyan was the site of several Buddhist and Hindu monasteries, and a thriving center for religion, philosophy, and Greco-Buddhist art. It was a Buddhist religious site from the second century up to the time of the Islamic invasion in the ninth century.

The site was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with surrounding cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamyan Valley.
Read BBC Report, "Artist to recreate Afghan Buddhas...

4. Borobudur Temple, near Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia
In 1814, the British Lieutenant Governor of Java sent a survey team to verify reports of an impressive monument located at the center of the island of Java. For six weeks, a crew of 200 men labored to clear away the soil, volcanic ash and vegetation that buried the said sanctuary, unearthing what turned out to be one of the greatest archaeological finds of the modern era.

The largest Buddhist temple in the world comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.

Evidence suggests Borobudur was abandoned following the fourteenth century decline of Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms in Java, and the Javanese conversion to Islam. It was rediscovered in 1814 by Sir Thomas Raffles, the British ruler of Java.

The monument is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Borobudur is still used for pilgrimage, where once a year Buddhist in Indonesia celebrate Vesak at the monument, and Borobudur is Indonesia's single most visited tourist attraction.

5. Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan
Among 20 locations short listed for the worldwide vote for the new Seven Wonders is the the Kiyomizu Temple.

Although Kiyomizudera was founded in 780 AD, the present buildings date from 1633. Kiyomizudera's architecture has been imitated by lesser temples all over Japan and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

The expression "to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu" is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression "to take the plunge." This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive jumping from the terrace, one's wish would be granted. This does appear plausible: the lush vegetation below the platform might cushion the 13-meter fall of a lucky pilgrim, though the practice is now prohibited. 234 jumps were recorded in the Edo period and of those, 85.4% survived.

6. Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple), Kyoto, Japan
Acutally covered in gold, this Zen temple was formally known as Rokuonji. In 1397, construction started on the Golden Pavilion as part of a new residence for the retired shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Kinkakuji was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimitsu's death in 1408.

The Golden Pavilion functions as shariden, housing sacred relics of the Buddha and is covered in gold leaf. The present building dates from 1955 as the pavilion was burnt by a fanatic monk in 1950.

7. The Giant Buddha of Leshan, China
The tallest stone Buddha statue in the world was carved out of a cliff face by an 8th-century monk in southern Szechuan province, near the city of Leshan. The Giant Buddha lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers. It faces the sacred Mount Emei (with which it shares its World Heritage status), with the rivers flowing below his feet.

Construction on the Giant Buddha began in 713 AD. It was the idea of a Chinese monk named Haitong, who hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels travelling down the river.

The construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were altered by the statue, making the waters safe for passing ships as the monk had hoped. There are still some vicious currents where the three rivers meet - but none that threaten the tourist ferries.

It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
sources:,, Sacred Destinations Travel Guide

Temples of the Whale

Great report by the BBC on whaling in Japan. The article tells us how Jodo Shinshu Buddhism explains the tolerance for this act which some Westerners find inhumane. It also helps us to understand the love, compassion, and reality, we face in our daily lives.

The writer goes to the Koganji Temple in Nagato, Japan. He speaks to Buddhist monk, Kensai Matsumura to explain the history of whaling and Buddhism in this fishing village.

This tells a story concerning Shinran Shonin (the founder of the sect). "He was in a fishing village in 1207. A fisherman and his wife approached him and told of their worries, saying 'we live on catching fish and eating them and selling them - would we go to hell after we die?' "And monk Shonin said, 'if you thank them and give proper service to them, praying for the resting in peace of those fish, then there will be no problem at all'. The husband and wife listened and cried with relief on hearing this."