Who are you? I've heard you refer to the New York Betsuin (branch Temple) as a "village" temple. What do you mean by that? Why didn't you start a retreat center?
A village temple is a place for all interested in developing their Buddhist faith, study and practice. It is our fervent desire that all who wish to partake of our offerings should do so with no hesitation or requirement on our part. At the same time, there is the recognition that we are a Buddhist community, following a root tradition, and we must in our own way adhere to the primacy of the Three Jewels and the Precepts we take.
While Monshin Naamon, our abbot, was not the first Tendai priest to come and teach in this country, he was the first to set up a practice center in North America based on a village temple model and provide programs to meet the spiritual needs of a wide variety of practitioners, from the casually interested to the deeply committed.
The New York Betsuin is also a training facility for future monks, male and female. Previous Tendai teachers in North America have taught (and continue to teach) individual students only. A central part of Monshin's vision was to provide the opportunity for Tendai Buddhism to be more widely disseminated. To extend the teachings beyond that which could be done by a single person, and to insure that they would continue to be taught and develop in his absence, it was necessary to institute a Doshu program, leading to tokudo (ordination) and continuation of the lineage, training others to take on leadership and development roles in the larger Sangha.
Why do you retain so many of the Japanese customs?
Tendai comes to America with a 1200 year Japanese heritage. For us to discover that heritage and interpret it in a Western context requires that we first investigate it deeply on its own terms. To do this we must set aside personal and cultural prejudices, learning and practicing the tradition to the best of our abilities. Only after we have experienced it in this manner will we be prepared to develop a suitable form for this new culture. If we attempt to decide beforehand what teachings and practices we will accept and what we will reject, we have no way of knowing if what we are disposing of might have been of value if only we had been more open to it. Therefore, every aspect of the teaching and the practice must be actively engaged in: what are the texts used in Japan and how do we choose to interpret them (or do we leave them in Japanese)? Do we find alternate texts from the sutra that better express our understanding and aspiration? What does chanting sound like in Japanese and how do we choose to chant in English in a way that is effective and pleasing? How can Western arts express Buddhadharma as the Asian arts have done? What are the needs and aspirations of the American Sangha as it develops and how can we meet them? For every area of the Dharma we can and must investigate it in this fashion.
Do I need to learn Japanese to practice Tendai Buddhism?
No. Many of the meditations and other practices carried out at The Tendai Buddhist Institute are in English and only a few simple practices are performed in Japanese. Additionally, The Tendai Buddhist Institute is the only official organization for publication of Tendai practice materials and the only authorized translator of other Tendai practice liturgy. Our translation material undergoes a rigorous review process before it is officially approved by Mt. Hiei (the International Headquarters for Tendai Buddhism) and therefore we do not advise, recommend or sanction the use of other English-language Tendai practice material.
Do I have to be a priest/monk to learn meditations? What practices are available for laypersons to study and engage?
No, you don't have to go through any form of ordination to learn meditation. There are a number of practices available to Tendai lay-followers:
Meditation forms the heart of our practice. It is through the varieties of meditation, concentration and contemplation, that the practitioner develops insight into ‘things as they really are', grinds away his own impurities, and gains the ability to speak and act skillfully unhindered by obscuration. A practitioner meditates to deepen awareness and insight and also to directly experience in a personal way the integration of all the other practices. Tendai has a number of broad, well developed, and a great variety of meditations. Some of the meditations are listed below:
Engaging in art practice means that the art is of service to others. It might involve creating iconographic images that will be used in meditation or interpreting the manifestations in fresh and culturally appropriate ways. To create such images requires a profound meditation practice wherein one engages directly with the manifestations. This practice will require familiarity with Buddhist iconography to link the present with the past. Art practice may also serve to communicate an essence of the dharma and the heart-mind that is not amenable to words. For this to occur, the practitioner, again, must have a developed personal practice and encounter reality in a direct manner. The art he produces is communicated through him and not by him.
Devotional practice serves to take the practitioner outside the ego. By dedicating one's practice to the Buddha and bodhisattva manifestations, as ordained practitioners realize in esoteric ritual practice, other aspects of the practitioner's mind apart from the cognitive are engaged. Offerings, chanting and prostrating to the manifestations are common forms of devotional practice and are effective in generating positive emotions such as joy and gratitude. While in Asia devotional practice is considered ‘basic', especially well-suited for those without the time or ability to devote to other practices such as meditation, in America, practitioners generally come to devotion with hesitation. Setting aside this natural skepticism allows for practitioners to experience the benefits of this engaging practice.
STUDY AND SCHOLARSHIP
Intellectual activity and scholarship provide a firm foundation for all these practices. Through study and investigation of the past, we discover the many ways the dharma has been practiced, understood and manifested in different times and places. Using this information provides insight into one's own practice and helps to provide guideposts for the shaping of the dharma in an American form. While awakening may not be achieved through scholarship alone, it does provide information on the discoveries of those who have traveled the path previously and allows us to
How did you develop the materials used during your daily practice?
A formal translation project was initiated a number of years ago by Taisho University, Ichishima-sensei and the Tendai-shu New York Betsuin, for the translation of Tendai exoteric and esoteric materials. Already completed by Shoshin Ichishima and Monshin Naamon and are the Daily Services Handbook (Gongyo), Segaki, funeral, wedding, refuge, Tokudo and (with Koshin Covell, scholar at Western Michigan University) Juhachido, other ceremonies as well as many Shomyo materials. Currently in process are the Taizo, Kongo and Goma portions of the mikkyo materials. The NY Betsuin has had a Japanese Tendai practitioner/scholar, Gojun Terada in residence for the purposes of the translation project, assistance in daily matters as well as assistance in both lay and ordination training. Terada-sensei was formally assigned to the Betsuin by Tendai-shu several years ago. He has a graduate degree in Tendai Studies from Taisho University. He is a monk from Futagoji a 1300 year old Mikkyo temple in Oita, and 67th in his lineage. The process of translation involves a preliminary translation by scholars at the Tendai Buddhist Institute, which is then sent to Ichishima Sensei, a professor at Taisho Daigaku and former editor at Bukkyo Dendo Kokai, for orthography and comment. It is then returned to the Betsuin where, Shumon Naamon, and Monshin-sensei reviews the changes and work on readability and contemporary English usage and meaning. It is then returned to Taisho, where the final English is reviewed by scholars. It is then approved by Tendai-shu on Hiei-zan. Shumon Naamon is a professional translator/interpreter (graduate degree in Cultural Geography from a University in the U.S), Managing Director of the Betsuin, and a priest. Her Tokudo was performed at Sanjusangendo in Kyoto under Nishoka-sensei, Ichishima-sensei is her Shisho. Monshin-sensei is the Jushoku (Abbot) and recently appointed full professor of Asian Studies at Simon's Rock College of Bard.
This procedure was established to assure the integrity and consistency to the original materials, as well as insuring that the language is consistent with modern convention. Any translations outside of this process are suspect and not reliable because they have not been verified by Tendai scholars and practitioners, both Japanese and Western.
I'm interested in learning more about Tendai buddhism, where do I begin? (Do you have DVDs or books available I can read and study?)
The Tendai Buddhist Institute is working on a Tendai Manual, which will introduce the reader to the history, beliefs, and practices of Tendai Buddhism. We will post chapters of this book online as they are completed. A more extensive list of resources is available online at http://www.tendai.us It is important to recognize a western habit. We tend to study, read, and research things exhaustively and while this scholarly interest is important it is much more important to practice and that is what we encourage you to do.
How will you share Tendai Buddhism with the West? Are there other places I can study? Who is authorized to have students?
Please visit www.tendai.us for a list of legitimate Tendai-shu sangha, temples, and teachers.
I wish to study Tendai further; must I dedicate myself fulltime to the practice? What about my job and family? Do I need to move to NY?
There is no need to uproot and relocate to New York to further your study of Tendai Buddhism. The Tendai Buddhist Institute and the New York Betsuin host retreats throughout the year; additionally, students are welcome to visit the Betsuin at any time, and there is no requirement for residency for serious study. Many Doshu (junior Priests) travel from Europe as well as throughout the United States to train in New York. TBI has begun an online course/discussion program for their distant students as well as the local sangha members in an effort to support the efforts of sangha members who live away from the Betsuin.