When being interviewed by a high school student I was asked about the subject of the decline of the Buddhist’s traditions in Hawaii and the measures that I am taking to prevent this. I answered by saying, “This temple is not declining, it is growing.” The students seemed puzzled by my response. It is a fact that the problem of the decline of the Buddhist’s traditions in Hawaii also became a large article in a magazine the other day. It is a fact that ninety percent of the students of a single public high school class are Christian, and to have a single Buddhist student is on the good side. I have even heard youngsters tell me that they are ashamed to say that they are Buddhists. I asked a youth, who attends the Aikido class at our temple: “Except for you the students in your class are all Christians. Why is it that you did not become a Christian?” The youth answered: “Even if all my friends were Christians, I know the power of the Odaimoku. That is why I am proud to be a Buddhist.” I was most encouraged to hear this. America is a Christian nation and Hawaii is great country of True Pure-Land Buddhism. There is probably only a small percentage of the population that is chanting the true Odaimoku. Yet, even if the number is very small, there are people who know the blessings of the Odaimoku and are being saved by it.
Yet, it can be said that many people of today do not seek salvation from their suffering through religion. Having entered the 21st century, we are in a good age where the microcosm of what is needed for the world remains and the unneeded decreases and vanishes is obvious. Therefore, if we are able to give what is good, what gives dreams to others and makes them happy, we ought to be able to remain in society. This means to do things that answer the needs of society, and perhaps what is above all needed is to create temples that are essential to society. However, every church has activities based on a polished strategy to win over followers. The fact is that in Hawaii, not only we Buddhist temples, but even Christian churches are being plagued by decreasing followers. Small Christian churches are closing one after another. But if we only seek followers, those followers will not come. People gather where there is energy and they are seeking some kind of healing, good human relationships and a friendly environment. While keeping the Japanese Buddhist traditions, we should engage in our activities from the viewpoint of the people of Hawaiian society. This might be completely English propagation, cleaning the roads, bazars and Bon dances. Yet these are being done by other temples. We must do what can only be done by the Buddhist religious body, the Nichiren Order. That is to have each person chant the Odaimoku daily and guide the people of society to happiness through its power. If it is for the sake of disseminating the Odaimoku, we must use whatever methods that we can.
Hawaiian society is composed of various ethnic groups and each are believing in their unique religion. We do not hear of confrontation in the religious views of Hawaiian society. Moreover, it is probably true that very few people understand the difference between the Buddhist sects. While they may have a religion that is inherited from their ancestors, if they feel happy with their religion or sect, that is fine no matter what it may be. On the other hand, if they are not happy with that religion or sect, regardless if it is an ancestral tradition, they will discard it. This is a simple reason why many followers went to Christianity and other faiths from the traditional Buddhism of Hawaii. This also means that propagation that holds fast to traditional religious formalities with strong cultural practices are behind the times. What then is necessary? It is to propagate by placing at the forefront the religious element that transcends cultural practices and is common to all religions and sects. That would be a meditation that induces mindfulness, traditional yoga, and to explain, based on secular ethical views, kind deeds to others and so forth. At the recently held a followers’ seminar, centered on meditation and yoga, a large number of local youth, who were not followers, attended. They did not come for the purpose of believing in Buddhism, but they went to the temple to heal their daily stress through meditation and yoga. If we continue this type of propagation, I feel that the Honolulu Myohoji will somehow survive through the 21st century.
From the edition of Hawaii Pacific Press. Translated by Mr. Dean Makinodan.