Our Image in Canada
The Canadian Magazine, Maclean’s of May 4, 2009 , presented an article with the title,  “What Canadians think of Sikhs, Jews, Christians, Muslims….” 

Buddhism was indeed mentioned in the article. Although it was only mentioned in the title by “…..” , there was some important information about the image of our religion contained in the material. There is much for us to learn about ourselves as reflected in the attitudes of others.  

With regards to violence in religion, only a small 4% think of Buddhism as encouraging violence. 86% claimed a good basic understanding of Christianity. This is understandable since that religion is the dominant faith of the country. But 32% said they had a good basic understanding of Buddhism! This is something our founding elders could never have envisioned when they were young couples building our temple.  

Apparently the media image of Buddhism is good. All the movie stars espousing Buddhism, the meditation crazes of Zen and Mindfulness all make a positive feeling for Buddhism more widespread. Also the events in Burma with Nobel Prize Buddhist, Aung San Suu Kyi, simply called “The Lady”, unfold we will find Buddhism much in the news.  Her quality as a human being and as a Buddhist add to even more  expectations to Buddhist behaviour and attitudes.  

Buddhism is a fast-growing religion that has, so far, managed to avoid rubbing people the wrong way in Canada. It has grown 84% in the last decade. Now it has a 57% approval rate, which means even though people have never met a Buddhist, they feel positive about it.  

When it comes to marrying outside ones faith, Christianity was most widely accepted, Judaism was second and our own faith, Buddhism was third. It means that members of these three faiths intermarry more readily with each other than with other faiths. The truth of this has already been directly experienced in our own Winnipeg community. 

Finally, the hopes of the laypeople of the minority religions echo our own most recent discussions at the national and local levels in the Jodo Shinshu temples in Canada; namely, that the local leaders must better understand the West, that they engage their groups in issues of youth, poverty, employment and the treatment of women and children and that they could do better than  the constant re-hashing of theological issues supported with an over-kill of quoting the holy books from memory. 

Here we can see that all faiths share common problems - which suggests common solutions? Thus, the article gives us a firm idea about our own image as a peaceful, proactive faith with a socially worthwhile presence. I  remember that when I ‘caught by Amida’s Vow’ in 1964, I fully expected Buddhists to live up to their talk—to walk their talk as the popular jargon says. I fully expected the average member of a Jodo Shinshu temple to live up to the teachings of Shinran and the Buddha. This was of course a bit overly idealistic. After I was disabused of this idealism, I found some very human but still admirable people doing their best to live within the fold of Buddhism as well as they could. This was a wonderful discovery---we (and now I must use the ‘we’) are only too human. The reminder that through the Vow we become Buddhas by being our everyday selves has become very comforting.  

Nevertheless, whenever a self-proclaimed Buddhist is racist, sexist, rightist or leftist or elitist (or whatever “ ----ist” is in vogue these days) they greatly disappoint—not just other Buddhists but all the Canadians who have a good image of our religion.  

We are nearing the time in Canadian history where people feel that a Buddhist temple is good to have in their community and that Buddhism is good for Canada. What a change from the years 1943-53 when the temple was built!! At that time Buddhism was thought to be as best a simplistic nature worship whose members were just waiting for a chance to abandon its inferiority.  Or Buddhism was thought of as a satanic cult. How our image has changed since the first 2x4 was nailed in place!  

Buddhism will continue to be much in the news in the coming days. It will be much on people’s minds. The data provided by social scientists for the Maclean’s Magazine has shown us a positive foundation upon we can build for the future. Let’s not lose our bearings as we have an ever increasing number of chances to plant the roots of the Dharma deeply into Canadian soil! 

Sensei Ulrich
May 24, 2009