- Written by: Super User
Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple was established in 1926 by Japanese immigrants. The current temple building was constructed in the late 1930s and the classrooms and social hall were built in the 1960s. Our temple celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2016. Today our Sangha welcomes people from all walks of life.
Some Major Dates in Temple History:
- Written by: Super User
Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple is affiliated with the Higashi Honganji temple in Kyoto, Japan, which is also called Shinshu Hombyo and is headquarters of the Shinshu Otani-ha denomination of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. The main temple traces its roots back nearly 750 years. At that time, Shinran Shonin began propagating a form of Buddhism that was accessible to all people, especially those for whom the traditional path of Buddhist monastic life was impossible to follow. Today, Jodo Shinshu is the biggest sect of Buddhism in Japan. About 400 years ago, the Honganji organization split into two separate organizations, which became known as Higashi (East) Honganji and Nishi (West) Honganji.
Today, Higashi Honganji temples are located in Japan, Brazil, Hawaii and in the continental United States. Berkeley is part of the Higashi Honganji North America District, which includes other California temples in Los Angeles, Newport Beach and West Covina. In addition, there are five Higashi Honganji temples in Hawaii.
For more information: HigashiHonganjiUSA.org
- Written by: Super User
Services are generally held every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., consisting of incense offering, chanting, gatha singing, and a Dharma talk. In addition, children and teens of all ages are invited to attend our Dharma school classes, in which younger children participate in arts and crafts, skits, and other fun activities. Older students participate in discussion groups.
Once a month, there is a monthly memorial service, called “Shotsuki,” which is a service in memory of all those who passed away in that month, regardless of year. This service is combined with the regular family service and Dharma school. It is usually held on the second Sunday of the month.
We also hold special services throughout the year to observe the New Year, the Buddha’s birthday, the Spring and Fall equinox, Obon dance and service, Shinran’s memorial, and the day the Buddha was enlightened (Nirvana Day).
Holidays and Major Services
New Year’s Day Service (Shusho-E) — January 1
New Year’s Day is an important observance, not only under Japanese customs, but for Buddhists as well. It is a time to start the year with a fresh mind, to greet old friends, mark the passing of time, and listen to the Dharma with a renewed sense of commitment.
Eitaikyo (Perpetual Memorial Service) — February
This service is a general memorial service for the departed members and friends of the temple. In particular, we honor those whose names have been placed in the Eitaikyo Register, and thus, we hold a service in memory of those people “in perpetuity.”
Nirvana Day (Shakyamuni Buddha’s Memorial Day) — February 15
The day Shakyamuni Buddha passed away is observed on this day. The teaching of the Dharma sprung from Shakyamuni, who lived 80 years before passing into Nirvana.
Spring Higan (Spring Equinox) — March
The equinox is a time when day and night are the same length, thus symbolizing the delicate balance of the universe, before we cross over to the next season. Thus, Higan also means crossing over to the “Other Shore of enlightenment.” Higan is a universal Buddhist observance and an important time to listen to the Buddha’s teachings.
Hanamatsuri (Shakyamuni Buddha’s birthday) — April 8
“Hana” means “flower” and “matsuri” means “festival.” Thus, we decorate the altar with lots of flowers, which represents Lumbini Garden, where Shakyamuni Buddha was born 2,500 years ago in northern India. It is said sweet rain fell from the sky that day, so we observe this service with a sweet tea ceremony, in which we pour sweet tea over a statue of the baby Buddha.
Shinran Shonin’s Birthday (Tanjo-E) — May 21
Born near Kyoto, Japan, in 1173, Shinran experienced many hardships before realizing the essence of Buddhism, which he shared with many people. Thus, we consider Shinran our teacher and the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Traditionally at this service, we reflect on the meaning of our birth and life through Shinran’s experiences and words.
Obon and Obon Odori — July
Obon is a time when we remember all of our loved ones who have passed away. It is said that Shakyamuni Buddha instructed a disciple to hold a service for his mother to deal with his unresolved feelings, thus beginning the tradition of memorial services. Afterwards, the disciple felt such peace that he danced. Thus, the night before the service, we remember those loved ones by doing Japanese dance. Families who have lost loved ones during the past year observe their first Obon service for them, called “hatsu-bon.”
Fall Higan — September (First day of Autumn)
We once again observe the equinox, this time when summer turns to fall, using this time to reflect on our lives and live by listening to the Buddha’s teachings.
Kaikyo-ki — October
This gathering is a memorial for the ministers who have served at our temple.
Ho-onko — November 28
Hoon-ko is the most important service throughout the year for all of us who follow the Nembutsu path. “Ho” means “to return” or “to express.” “On” means “virtue” and “Ko” means “gathering.” Hoon-ko is a gathering to express our appreciation to Shinran Shonin for showing us the teaching of the Nembutsu. It is an occasion and memorial service to reflect on our defiled life and awaken to eternal compassion and perfect wisdom.
Bodhi Day (Shakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment day) — December 8
This service is in commemoration of the enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha. It is an occasion to reflect on the meaning of what it means to be awakened.
Year-End Service (Joya-E) — December 31
On New Year’s Eve, we gather to express our gratitude to Amida Buddha and our Dharma friends for the kindness we have received throughout the year.
(Note: The actual observances of the above events are usually held on the closest Sunday.)
Please check the calendar for exact dates of special services and to confirm weekly family services and Dharma school.
Buddhist rituals and symbols
Gassho: In Jodo Shinshu, “gassho” is the time we place our hands together in a “prayer position,” which symbolizes “oneness,” such as the oneness of ignorance and wisdom, life and death. Together with reciting “Namu Amida Butsu,” gassho expresses our gratitude and appreciation.
Nenju: Also referred to as “ojuzu,” the nenju is the Buddhist prayer beads used in Jodo Shinshu. They are placed around the hands for “gassho,” symbolizing many Buddhist teachings, such as the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, as well as the oneness of life. The nenju always is carried in the left hand. We use the nenju when reciting the Nembutsu (thus, the name “nen” ju)
Hoji: Hoji is any activity in which people may hear the Buddha’s teachings (Dharma), although often times it is used to describe memorial services.
Memorial Services: Buddhists observe many memorial services. Extended members of a family, and sometimes close friends, will gather at a temple or home in memory of a deceased member of the family. Following the service, the family may share a meal. An important result of this custom has been the reinforcing of family ties with members beyond one’s immediate family and a sense of continuity from generation to generation, which teaches lessons about interdependence and karma.
Buddhism has many rituals and services associated with death. There’s the makurakyo or pillow service, performed immediately following a person’s passing. There’s a funeral, followed by a seven day memorial service, then a 49 day memorial service, a one-year service, and services observing the third year anniversary, seventh year, 13th year, 17th year, and 33rd year. There’s even a 50 year memorial service and services every 50 years afterwards. We also have the hatsubon service held during our annual Obon service for families who have experienced a loss within the year, and our monthly Shotsuki memorial service for families observing the passing away of loved ones in that month.
According to the traditional way of counting, the yearly cycles begin with the Meinichi or death dates as 1. One year later then would be cycle 2, two years later would be cycle 3, etc. The isshuki does not refer to the year but to the first round or circuit from Meinichi to Meinichi. Thereafter, the term is “kaiki” or cycle memorial. In other words, the 3rd cycle Hoji is observed on or near the meinichi two years after the death of a person, the 7th cycle six years after death, etc.
A long time ago, people believed there was a “life energy” that remained after a person passed away. This energy had a kind of life cycle of seven days. Thus, there was a belief that services had to be held seven times every seven days in order for this energy to come to rest, which resulted in the 49 day service (seven times seven days). Another belief held that after 49 days, somehow it was decided whether the dead person went to a Buddhist heaven or Buddhist hell, so family members held a service to wipe out any bad karma and to create good karma in hopes of creating the most favorable outcome.
However, these beliefs don’t follow what the Buddha taught. One of the great truths of Buddhism is that all things are impermanent, that nothing lasts forever, and that the universe is constantly changing. This truth dispels the notion that there is a soul that is unchanging and lasts forever. Also, Shinran realized that it is impossible for human beings to accumulate good merit that somehow determines what happens to people after they pass away, let alone accumulate merit for someone else, such as a family member. These ideas are considered mistaken beliefs or superstitions, which Shinran warned people against, which was a revolutionary idea 750 years ago and even today.
We continue to follow the Buddhist tradition of observing memorial services for very personal reasons. They are a time for remembering loved ones who have been a part of our lives. They are a time for reflecting on our own lives, especially given how our lives have been affected by a great loss. It is also a time to take a break from our busy, everyday world and to ponder the greater meaning of our lives. It is a time to listen to the Buddha Dharma, the Buddha’s teachings. In Buddhist terms, we say the Dharma provides a light which helps us find our way in life on a sometimes darkened path. Memorial services have become a time when families and friends come together to share their lives, gain some greater perspective about themselves and move forward to live more fully, with more awareness, and with gratitude.
So you see, these rituals and services help us deal with our innermost feelings associated with great pain and suffering, helping to awaken us to the wonderful world around us.
Schedule of Memorial Services
Thereafter, every 50 years.
- Written by: Super User
The Buddha’s teachings, or “Dharma,” exist to help people deal with the afflictions of life—feelings of sorrow, loneliness, emptiness and frustration. Indeed, birth, sickness, old age and death in our lives cause great suffering. Since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical teacher who lived 2,500 years ago, Buddhism has survived, thrived and has been passed on to us.
The life of Sakyamuni Buddha
The Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautama, a prince in a kingdom in northern India. Chosen to be the future king, his father gave him all that he desired in education, training, and luxuries of the palace. His father also sheltered him from the unpleasant experiences of life.
Wandering outside the palace gates one day, Siddhartha discovered that people were subject to sickness, old age and death. He wondered, “Why are we born into human life only to suffer from one painful experience to the next?”
One day, he encountered a monk searching for life’s answers. Siddhartha felt he too must follow a similar path. At age 29, he set out on his search, leaving behind a wife, a son, his parents, and all the comforts of royalty.
He entered a forest and began following severe spiritual disciplines, including long periods of meditation and fasting. After six years of grueling practices that left him emaciated and weak, he felt on the verge of death.
Reflecting on his life, he realized the virtue of the middle path, rather than the extremes of self-renunciation or luxury. With firm determination, he sat under a tree and entered a deep meditation, vowing not to move until he came to a great understanding about life and himself.
Under that tree, Siddhartha Gautama attained supreme Enlightenment. Thereafter he became known as the Buddha, the Awakened One. He is referred to also by the names Sakyamuni Buddha and Gautama Buddha.
In his first sermon, the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths:
- Life is suffering
- Suffering is caused by ignorance
- Overcoming ignorance transcends suffering
- The life that transcends suffering reflects the Eightfold Noble Path: correct views, thoughts, conduct, speech, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and meditation.
He realized that life’s great events are its greatest suffering: birth, sickness, old age and death. Suffering also takes other forms: not getting what one wants, separation from loved ones, anger, delusion, greed and the incessant craving for wealth, status, possessions and love.
The Buddha taught that life is transitory and impermanent. No matter how hard we try to hold on to our health, we become ill, no matter how hard we try to hold on to our youth, we grow old, and no matter how hard we try to hold on to people we love, death brings separation and ultimately our own demise.
The Buddha saw that we suffer because we don’t see life clearly. Rather, we live in a world clouded by our passions and ignorance, driven by a desire to please this “self” of ours. We divide the world into yours and mine, good and bad, happiness and sadness, life and death, with this self at center. We fail to see the Oneness of life.
The Truth is that all life is interdependent and interconnected. Everything exists because they are inter-dependent and caused by other things. All things spring forth from innumerable causes and conditions, which in turn, are inter-dependent with innumerable causes and conditions. Nothing exists by itself, nor arises by itself with a fixed, permanent existence. Thus, the Buddha spoke of “no-self” and the inherent emptiness of things we crave but which ultimately never bring us happiness.
The Buddha shared this wisdom with other people for the next 45 years. Over that period of time, he gave many sermons and instructed many people using various words, means, practices and actions.
Sakyamuni Buddha passed away at the age of 80. After his death, his followers compiled a record of his life and sermons, which became the Buddhist sutras, or scriptures. From those sutras over the proceeding several centuries, various schools and sects of Buddhism emerged. Out of that stream came a path which opened the way for anyone, anywhere, to encounter the light of the Buddha’s teachings. That path is called Jodo Shinshu.
A thousand years after Sakyamuni Buddha passed away, Buddhism had traveled from India, through China to Japan, where it began to flourish. Over the next several hundred years, Buddhism evolved in different ways, focused on specific practices and sutras. By the 13th Century, Buddhism had become a state-sponsored religion and its temples had become powerful and wealthy.
The life of Shinran Shonin
Shinran Shonin (1173-1262) was born during those times. Separated from his parents, he entered a Buddhist monastery at age nine. He spent twenty years as a Tendai priest on Mt. Hiei near Kyoto immersed in studies and strict practices, but felt restless and unfulfilled. In frustration, he left the temple in search of solace. He eventually met a teacher, Honen Shonin, who encouraged him to find meaning in his life through the story of Amida Buddha, which symbolizes infinite wisdom and compassion.
Long-established temples that saw such teachings as heretical and a political threat, pushed the government to separately exile Honen and Shinran, forcing them to live a harsh existence in the countryside.
In seeing the miseries of the common people and in confronting his own suffering, Shinran looked deeply within himself and saw his true self. As human beings, he saw that we are filled with passions and delusions. Traditional practices of trying to tame the ego and overcome this “self” were fruitless.
Truth lay in seeing that we are such people, and in accepting ourselves as imperfect, ego-filled beings full of shortcomings. In coming to such acceptance, we come to realize that the light of Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion always shines on us, wherever we go and in whatever we do. Thus, there is no “practice” to follow. Living is enough.
The words in Jodo Shinshu that express a profound gratitude for this Truth are: “Namu Amida Butsu.” These words are referred to as the Nembutsu.
Jodo Shinshu liberated Buddhism from the idea that it is a path limited only to people who can meditate, follow precepts, fast, or follow a particular discipline. By listening to the Dharma and living our lives as best we can, we may walk on the path opened to us by Sakyamuni Buddha long ago.