Honolulu Buddhist Temple
About Honolulu Myohoji by Joy Gold, Member
Our Temple began with what seems to be a coincidence, which Buddhists believe does not exist. It is said that all things are interconnected and lead to a spiritual path. That path began in December 1930, when Bishop Nisshu Kobayashi, a minister of Kenpon Hokke-shu and a member of the Education Ministry of Japan, stopped in Honolulu on his way to Japan after taking emigrants to Brazil. He first stayed with Mrs. Hibino, also a believer of Kenpon Hokke-shu.
On January 30, 1931, Bishop Kobayashi gave the first lecture on Hokekyo in the home of Mrs. Tatsuo Hasebe, which drew more than 60 people. In a short time, the following outgrew Mrs. Hasebe’s home,
and a cottage was bought for $15,000 on Laimi Road in Nuuanu. By October 6, 1931, it was registered with the state as “Hawaii Hokekyoji Kyodan.”
During the years that followed, it seems Bishop Kobayashi already had visions of a Peace Tower. In 1936, Mr. Takahata, then living in Rangoon, India, offered the Busshari to Bishop Kobayashi, with the intent to enshrine it in the Peace Tower on Nuuanu Street. The Busshari is the sacred relic of Gautama Buddha.
Now called the “Hokekyoji Mission of Hawaii,” the Temple sent two nuns, Chiryu Oishi and ChimyoNishimura, to India on May 29, 1936, to escort the Busshari back to Honolulu. This was an act of confidence that the Peace Tower would someday enshrine it. Contributions of five cents each from the public---333,333 persons---were sought to defray the cost of bringing back the Busshari and for building the Peace Tower at 2767 Nuuanu Street to house it. The number 333,333, according to the teachings of Buddha, means infinity. The names of all contributors would be recorded and preserved in the Peace Tower. The Mission hoped that the tower would contribute to world peace, be a tourist attraction, and a mecca for people of the Buddhist faith. (Source: Honolulu Star-Bulletin/Star-Advertiser)
The peace tower to be built by the Hokekyoji sect of Buddhists in Hawaii is of Indian style. Heigo Fuchino is the architect. (Source: Honolulu Star Bulletin/Star-Advertiser)
Members of the Mission volunteered to donate according to the practice of Ichiji Isseki, one kanji character for one rock or one dollar for each stone. This was based on the 28 Chapters of the Lotus Sutra. For example, Chapter 1 may have 4,182 characters, Chapter 2 may have 4,929 characters; and Chapter 16 may have 2,032 characters. A donor choosing Chapter 16 would write each character on a stone and donate a dollar. The total Chapter 16 donation would be $2,032. By December 31, 1937, $73,115 was donated.
On May 29, 1936, Chiryu Oishi, Chimyo Nishimura, and Bishop Nisshu Kobayashi embarked on an ocean liner from Honolulu to India. At Mr. Takahata's offering of the Busshari, the Temple sent them to India to receive the Busshari, the sacred relic of Gautama Buddha, also known as Shakyamuni Buddha.
Five months later, on October 19, 1936, they arrived home on the President Taft from Japan. They carried the Busshari in a silver miniature of the Rangoon Pagoda. Rangoon was still considered part of India under the British Empire at that time. The Rangoon Pagoda or the Shwedagon is Rangoon's most sacred Buddhist pagoda. It is believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present kalpa. These relics include the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa, and eight strands of hair from the head of Gautama Buddha.
Photo and info credit of Honolulu Star Bulletin/Star Advertiser
Nichiren-Shu followers announced a procession for the nuns and Bishop Kobayashi's day of arrival. Led by the Royal Hawaiian Band for most of the way, the parade would leave Pier 8, march up Bishop Street to Beretania Street, take Fort Street and proceed along School Street to Nuuanu Avenue to the Temple at the corner of Laimi Road. The nuns join the procession by riding on a white elephant.
A few weeks later, on November 4, 1936, a Lantern Parade with five floats marked the safe arrival of the Busshari with the two-day celebration of the Hokekyoji mission, the ancestral origin of Honolulu Myohoji. The route began at Banyan Street, Palama, went waikiki along King and Beretania Streets and turned mauka on Nuuanu Avenue to the Temple grounds on Laimi Road. Chiryu Oishi and Chimyo Nishimura led the parade riding on a white plaster elephant and wearing robes given to them by a high priest in India.
White elephants and elephants are considered auspicious and guardians of Buddhists. There is a legend that Queen Maya, who ruled northern India, now Nepal, over 2,500 years ago, dreamed of a white elephant entering her womb. Queen Maya believed that this meant her baby would be a powerful leader. An understatement because she gave birth to Prince Siddhartha, who later became the Enlightened One.
At our Temple's altar, Boddhisattva Fugen, one of the original attendants of Shakyamuni Buddha, sits on a white elephant. He is often depicted on a white elephant with six tusks, representing overcoming the attachment to the six senses. The first five senses are commonly known---seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. The sixth sense is complex. Briefly, it is consciousness and leads to judgment and actions.
The elephant symbolizes that all obstacles can be overcome through Buddhism. Fugen made ten vows for practicing Buddhism and protects all those who teach the Dharma. Fugen represents action and behavior are equally important as thought and meditation.
In 1939, the daily newspaper wrote about the old religious treasures in the Hokekyoji Temple. Among those mentioned was a piece of stone carving from an ancient temple estimated to be 2,500 years old. Although the circumstance of how the Temple received this carving is unknown, it is thought to be from Bodh Gaya, India, one of the holiestBuddhist sites where Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment under the sacred Bodhi Tree and became the Buddha.
At the top of our altar, another Busshari looks over us. It is said that this Busshari is one of the 9 grains of Buddha's bone. India's President Nehru presented it to the Venerable Rev. Nittatsu Fujii with the request to revive Buddhism in India. Venerable Fujii was a renowned peace advocate. On April 8, 1954, it was received by our former President Yoshio Arai at the distribution ceremony at Hanaokayama Peace Pagoda in Kumamoto, Japan.
From its travel from India to Honolulu in 1936, the Busshari in its silver Rangoon Pagoda graces the altar of Honolulu Myohoji. We are grateful that we are in the presence of two Shakyamuni Buddha relics which are part of the pure essence of the holy being. Worshipping the Buddha's relics is the original practice of faith for Buddhists.
By July 1939, the Peace Tower site was not yet selected, and the building fund was not completed. The intent to build the Peace Tower in 1940 at an estimated $60,000 held firm.
Special thanks and acknowledgment to Rev. Eijo Ikenaga for his historical account of the Temple, which came from his review of memorandums between Charter Members Mr. Heigo Fuchino and Mr. Koichiro Miyamoto, and discussions with senior members.