Paul Vielle was raised Catholic, by a Catholic family who assumed he was going to become a Catholic priest. Vielle joined the military and upon his return, he left his Catholic faith and found Buddhism.
“I just couldn’t buy it anymore,” Vielle said. “It just didn’t make any sense.”
Vielle went to Japan and became an entry-level ordained Shin Buddhist priest.
“In Buddhism you’re never asked to believe something because it’s written in a sacred book,” he said. “Buddha advises to listen, understand and apply it to your life.”
Now, Vielle is one of three minister’s assistants at the Spokane Buddhist Temple.
Established in 1945, the temple is home to Sunday morning services, centered around the Japanese Shin branch on Buddhism.
“Shin Buddhism is the emphasis on congregational participation and appreciation of teaching,” Vielle said, unlike Zen Buddism, which is more of an individual endeavor. “(Shin) has more to do with gratitude.”
As for Celeste Sterrett, 10-year member and vice president of the temple’s board of directors, Buddhism is simply a common sense of values.
“Be nice to one another and think about someone other than yourself,” she said. “Think about how life might be for someone else and just try and live your life with gratitude for what you have and for being here … I’ve learned that this constant striving for something else is not where it’s at. You need to accept what you have and be grateful for that.”
As part of the temple’s Japanese Shin service, members ring a “calling bell,” called a Kansho which signifies the beginning of service and meditation. At the general Sunday attendance members — about 50 people — chant Sutras in unison and recite “Namo Amida Butsu” which means, “I take refuge in Buddha Amida.”
Members often sing a Gatha — Buddhist teachings in verse form — and recite the Three Treasures, or affirmations, of Buddha. The service ends with the burning of incense and members bow to signify the oneness of Buddha. The temple also accepts Gokifu, or donations, as it is their only revenue source.
Just like the minister’s assistants take turns leading services, members volunteer to take turns sharing duties in the temple.
“People who have read and understand what Buddhism is and can see what Buddhist teachings are in their lives, they’ll give a Dharma talk,” Vielle said. “Sunday duties, like ringing the opening bell, greeting … are all volunteer (work) and it rotates through the Sangha.”
Without a full-time minister, Sterrett said guest ministers give Dharma Talks about once a month. She said Rev. Don Castro, supervises the assistants from the Seattle area.
For those who are new to Shin Buddhism, Vielle teaches monthly introductory Buddhism classes.
“Most people in the West come to Buddhism as adults and they bring their adult inquiring mind and questions,” Vielle said. “They’ve been raised in a Christian religion or any religion for that matter, and there’s a certain find to make Buddhism fit in the common frame — with what they’re familiar with.”
His said many of inquirer’s questions are the same.
“(They might wonder) is Buddha kind of like God?,” he said. “What does Enlightenment mean? What happens after you die? Do you have a soul? How does a Buddhist consider the origin of everything? What constitutes salvation? What’s the goal of Buddhism?”
Vielle said even after his 10 years in the religion, he still feels like a beginner.
“It’s a process of listening and reading and discussing,” he said. “And gradually if you stick around, your understanding deepens and you begin to see the value of it. It’s an ongoing life process. It’s more of an attitude you cultivate. And Buddhism is a teaching of impermanence.”
The temple also offers Dharma School for children, and many outside events — the temple just served Japanese crackers last weekend at the Perry Street Fair and are planning their early August Obon celebration that recognizes deceased ancestors.
“So many people are worried that they don’t know enough about Buddhism to come to the temple,” Sterrett said. “There’s no special rules. You don’t have to know anything or do anything special — just come listen.”
Spokane Buddhist Temple services are at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at 928 S. Perry St. on the South Hill.
Where we Worship is a new SpokaneFAVS feature that profiles different houses of worship in the Spokane area. To have your organization featured email Tracy.Simmons@ReligionNews.com.