Sometime in the mid 1990’s Dr. Victor Hori, a professor (now retired) at McGill University and a Zen Buddhist priest, paid a visit to Karuna Tendai Dharma Center (now Tendai Buddhist Institute). I was pleasantly surprised to meet him. He had heard about our then fledgling village Buddhist temple and was on his way to New York City, if I remember correctly, and stopped by to see what a Tendai Buddhist temple in North America would look like. He also carried with him a message.
The message was simple and insightful. He encouraged me, us really, to start and keep an archive. Which we have done. Sometimes consciously and other times, unconsciously. Thank you, Dr. Hori, for your recommendation.
He did not know at the time, we did not know at the time, that we would become The Tendai-shu New York Betsuin, a branch temple of Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei, (head Tendai temple in Japan), and the head temple for North America.
Conscious archives, refers to those materials that are formally placed in containers and kept in a safe place so that sometime in the future our descendants have a way of recalling events, large and small in a temple’s life. These are items like the booklets from our Rakkeishiki (temple consecration ceremony), minutes from Board of Director’s meetings, and photos of the Truth and Reconciliation picnic we held at Tendai Buddhist Institute with Rohingya people from a mosque in Albany. Unconscious archives are items like the Shingi newsletter, brochures from retreats, and recordings of our Wednesday Evening Virtual Gatherings.
Archives are intended for the future. In real time today everyone sees the events occurring weekly, monthly, and seasonally by reading the Shingi. What about that which occurs that goes largely unmentioned? There are many events, small and large which the sangha seldom hears or reads about. Some of these events Shumon, the temple assistant, or I do on behalf of the temple. This starts with the daily Gongyo which is done on behalf of the sangha, for remembrances and memorials of people who have passed away as well as for all sentient beings.
There are people who drive by, stop in, and wish to see what we do here. Most wish to see the interior of the hondo and often sit quietly in the Hondo in meditation for a time. This occurs once or twice a week. Sometimes, about ½ dozen times a year, leaders from other Buddhist traditions stop by and wish to share a few minutes. Every New Year’s Day there is a Korean family who drives all the way from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to go into the hondo spend about 15 minutes, doing full prostrations and praying, and then go on their way. That is their New Year’s observance. They have been doing that every year for many years, except this year because of the pandemic, so they stopped by last Friday.
There are people in crisis, a family member may be dying, or ill. They need a few minutes of reflection in a welcoming place and a sharing of their grief with a priest. Not uncommonly a person from a different Buddhist sangha, or even a totally different religion, or no religion, stops by because they are visiting in the area and would like to spend time in a sacred place.
Last year there was an elderly Japanese woman living in Virginia, whose father was a Tendai Buddhist priest in Japan, who died years earlier. She had collected many items, including ink paintings, poetry, wagesa, letters, etc. from Japan and she has held them all these years. She wrote to us explaining, being elderly she wished the materials be preserved or disposed of respectfully before she died. So she sent them to us and we are taking care of them properly.
You will see an ornate Japanese household Butsudan in our hondo that was bought in Asia in the 1930’s brought back to the states and when the owner was preparing to go to an extended care facility, his relatives wished it to be reverently treated and asked if we would take possession of it. Which we did.
On average I am asked to do interviews for radio, podcasts, YouTube, newspaper articles, and other media, participate in ceremonies and observances, about once a month, or more often. This may seem like me personally participating. However, in these cases I am not doing so as Monshin the person, but as the representative of Tendai Buddhist Institute, and Head Priest of Tendai Buddhism in North America.
There is also the function of Tendai-shu New York Betsuin as a training center for people who are not able to train in Japan, because of language and/or cultural issues, who train to become Doshu and Soryo. They go on to establish sangha around the world. This is a vital function for Buddhism, to have well trained people who are capable of leading sangha.
As the head Tendai temple in North America it also involves overseeing administration of the various Buddhist sangha in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. There is more to that than many people imagine. It is no less important because people do not see results of it directly.
There are weddings, funerals, memorial services, house blessings, and other events, in which our hondo becomes the venue, and as a soryo (monk/priest) I am asked to officiate. The persons involved in the event may have no association with the temple directly, except that it is the closest Buddhist temple, and they feel a connection. Some of these people feel they are members, though we may never see them for the Gongyo/meditation service.
There are neighbors, non-Buddhist in our, or in nearby towns, who have the same needs as the ones above, and we are asked to assist them. Our temple also has a columbarium which is open to Buddhist and non-Buddhists from the local environs. We have been active for over 20 years in identifying our temple lands as being on the lands of indigenous people’s (Muh- he-con-neok – Mohican). We did this during the Zoning and Planning board meetings in the Town of Canaan. We undertook a preliminary archaeological survey at the time of renovating our hondo. Going so far to meet with the State Archeologist to review our findings.
The interfaith and ecumenical activities in which our temple takes part are numerous. This is an important component in the life of the temple. These activities contribute to the wellbeing of the community, as well as the sangha, one can perceive important for the earth.
As an engaged temple we are actively engaged in anti-racist, stop the hate, gender, sexual and economic equality, environmental, and other activities that promote social justice causes and participate in a reckoning of past wrongs. I will not enumerate all the groups and activities now; it will be the subject of a separate Shingi article.
It is normal to think of the ways the temple may assist you personally and not think of how your temple functions in the larger world. I hope this gives you at least a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.
Again, thank you Hori sensei for providing the nudge to document the functioning of a Tendai Buddhist temple in North America originating at the end of the 20th century.
Beginning in April 2020 most in-person Jiunzan Tendai-ji and Tendai Buddhist Institute activities were suspended due to the COVID 19 pandemic. We held an outdoor memorial service in June and a monthly in-person Gongyo/meditation service, with social distancing and masks starting in July that ran until the weather became too cold to leave all the windows and doors open, in October. We tried to hold Wednesday evening virtual gatherings only with Sunday in-person gatherings on Sundays in May 2021 – but it didn’t work out very well. So, we are eliminating those gatherings. The new schedule is intended to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of a meta-sangha.
The following is the new schedule. Several things to pay special attention to: when the gathering on Wednesday evening are ZOOM ONLY, they begin at 7 PM, when the gathering on gatherings on Wednesday evening are HYBRID IN-PERSON AND ZOOM, They begin at 6 PM.
1) First and third Wednesdays of the month will be a Zoom gathering only. These gathering begin at 7 PM, all times are Eastern Time.
2) Second and Fourth Wednesdays will be an in-person gathering with the discussion portion of the evening on Zoom as well as in-person. The Zoom portion will end after the discussion, questions, thoughts and comments. The in-person elements, (Gongyo, meditation, etc.) will continue in the hondo. The gatherings begin at 6 PM and there will be a potluck dinner in the kuri those evenings.
3) There will be no gathering on the fifth Wednesday for the months that have a fifth Wednesday.
4) Sunday gatherings are discontinued.
5) Monthly Sutra Class will be an in-person / Zoom hybrid. In-person will begin at in the hondo with morning service at 8:30 AM, the class itself, will begin at 9 AM in the kuri and on Zoom.
6) The Tuesday Tutorials will be Zoom only, 9:30 – 11:00 AM.
Another factor that relates to the in-person gatherings. Anyone can attend, vaccinated or non-vaccinated. This is following the CDC and New York State guidelines. The reason we can do this is that over 90 percent of the people who will attend the in-person gatherings are vaccinated. That means that the chances of a COVID spread in that environment are close to 0%. The medical literature indicates that a COVID-19 infection that spreads to a vaccinated person does not replicate in that person at a rate in which the vaccinated person will become ill, nor will that person infect someone else. The viral load does not reach a critical mass causing further illness or spread of infection. We suggest a non-vaccinated person wear a mask. Thus, there is little possibility of spreading COVID 19 at Tendai Buddhist Institute in-person functions.
It may seem complicated. It will at least take some getting used to. The other option is to make gatherings Zoom only or in-person only. That would leave a significant number of people out of the offerings. There are people who can only do Zoom and others who cannot tolerate Zoom, they can only do in-person. Then there are the time conflicts when we moved the in-person to Sunday after establishing Wednesday evenings as our gathering time for over 26 years. As mentioned earlier we are looking for the most harmonious way of making our offerings available to the largest number of people. Who would have guessed when we stated as a small village temple over 26 years ago we would have such concerns and such reach.
Love and Gassho . . . Monshin