Bodhi Day unites Buddhists
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Christians understand the concept of ecumenism, a movement to promote unity among different denominations. And Buddhists get it, too — especially in Hawai'i.
Here, the Japanese Buddhists have formed a Hawai'i Buddhist Council. and the Hawai'i Association of International Buddhists casts an even wider net for sects across the globe, including Thai and Chinese Buddhists.
The Hawai'i Buddhist Council for more than 50 years has sponsored a Bodhi Day service, called Jodo-E in Japanese, for the major Buddhists sects here from Japan, on the weekend nearest the date, Dec. 8. The event celebrates the birth of Buddhism, when Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment as the Buddha (fully awakened one).
The council comprises the Higashi Hongwanji Mission, Honpa Hongwanji Mission, Jodo Mission, Nichiren Mission, Shingon Mission, Soto Mission and Tendai Mission.
With such a diverse group, some might think the differences would be hard to overcome.
"Actually, we find more similarities than anything else," said the Rev. Shugen Komagata of the Soto Mission. "(We have in common the) historical Buddha. Every Buddhist accepts Buddha's teaching that we are born with the special quality, the Buddha nature. We are all potential Buddhas."
The Rev. Al Bloom, professor emeritus of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's religion department, said it's a day to "put aside brackets." He'll be the guest speaker at tomorrow's event.
It's not as easy as all that — different sects have different Buddhas who are their major focus, Bloom points out.
"They have these distractions, but when they come together (for Bodhi Day), they set aside sectarian issues and focus on the eternal Buddha, coming together to recognize the cosmic Buddha nature," Bloom said.
And, he said, it's even a bigger reach for unity. While Christians can all point to their Bible, different sects emphasize different scripture, or sutras: "You can't just quote freely across all of them," Bloom said.
Komagata, the Soto minister, explained that for Bodhi Day, the host temple chooses the reading of the Buddhist scripture. Afterward, he will be heading back to Wahiawa in time to lead his own temple's Bodhi Day service.
This, he said, is also a time to look inward.
"Bodhi Day is time for us to contemplate upon the positive qualities of life we have," Komagata said. "In order for us to recognize this, we need to make an inward movement. Basically, we don't need to go out to listen to a superior being outside of us."