Where We Gather: Spokane Buddhist Temple
Where We Gather is a project to tell the stories of our many spiritual practices in the Pacific Northwest through words and pictures. Any group that would like to be part of the project can contact Rev. Gen Heywood at email@example.com.
By Gen Heywood
On Sunday, June 27, for the first time since the Covid-19 closures, the Rev. Melissa Opel and the two Minister’s Assistants (MAs) Chad Donoho and Eric Kerkove, a Minister’s Assistant Aspirant (MAA) Amanda Goodwin, Board President Becca Opel, and Celeste Sterrett prepared the Hondo (main hall) at the Spokane Buddhist Temple for their service.
Like so many slowly reopening places, the temple ministers could be heard asking, “Is this the way it’s supposed to be?” and others would answer with “I don’t remember for sure….” and “I hope that’s accurate.”
Even in the midst of some uncertainty, the Onaijin (similar to an altar area) was prepared. The Amida Buddha, “a symbol of infinite Wisdom and Compassion which pervades the universe and animates all life,” (from the Welcome to the Spokane Buddhist Temple flier) receives reverence, not worship at the Spokane Buddhist Temple. Sterrett placed flowers from her garden. Kerkove helped adjust the placement. An orange was offered, a fresh candle was added, and a review of the order of the service discussed which prompted Goodwin to remark, “Oh, yeah, music! Remember? We used to do music, guys!” There was laughter, relief to be together, and a genuine respect for the sacred space.
This day was planned as the first where the entire Sangha (community) could return to the building. However, a record breaking heat wave kept many from coming into the temple, so a virtual service was made available.
Virtually sharing the services from the Hondo (main hall) had only been done once before. After preparing all the details for a meaningful program, the steps to connect virtually created difficulties. Rev. Opel and Becca Opel generated creative work arounds and found ways to make the need programs work. Finally, the community (although virtually) was together in the Hondo for the first time.
With the candle lit and coals added to the Koro (incense burner), the Hondo (main hall) turned quiet before the ringing of the Kansho.
With Kesa, (robes) and Wagesa (a minister’s ceremonial textile around neck), the minister for sharing the Dharma and the Chosho, (chant leader), came forward during the ringing of the Kansho (a bell that calls the Sangha together). Board President, Becca Opel could almost be seen monitoring the computer from the floor as she kept others from the Sangha present by virtual means.
Once Rev. Opel and the Chosho (chant leader) had taken their seats, Goodwin welcomed all who had gathered in person and virtually. She gave an opening statement about the “founding of the temple in 1945 by the late Rev. Terao and his family. During many uncertain years, his leadership and the dedication of the Japanese American community has provided for us an example to follow through our own uncertain times.” She recognized that the reasons for each individual being present were many, and noted that, “Our actions do impact others. For this reason, we try our best to act in gentleness, kindness, and gratitude.” After these words, she introduced the first chant.
The opening chant, Vandana Ti-Sarana, was followed by reciting the Golden Chain, an affirmation that all people live as links in a golden chain of kindness and love. The Jodo Shinshu Creed united the Sangha members in striving for a life of gratitude after the example of the Buddha.
As Opel came to the podium to share the Dharma, she paused to offer gratitude and respect to Amida Buddha. She smiled at the Sangha while speaking about the emotional experience of being in the Hondo with the community again and said, “There is something very special about the temple and this space.”
She read words from Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism, about how the world is filled with fire and each person finds their own way to live the spiritual path when facing hardship. She shared how the discipline of learning and living the Dharma is spiritual journey unique to each person.
When it came time to read the Three Treasures, Donoho described how he was ” Feeling a little rusty” with the practices of leading the service. The ways that had been familiar before the pandemic were now uncertain due to the long absence from the Hondo. The Three Treasures are: the treasure of the Buddha (an enlightened being), the Dharma (the way that leads to enlightenment), and the Sangha (the community).
Announcements followed which included the date and time for a small, public Obon celebration, plans to have in person services after the heat wave passes, and news of the death of one of the members.
Rev. Opel share the sad news of the loss of a member. With honor and gratitude, she read a translation of “White Ashes” the original text came from Rennyo’s Letters.
White AshesAs we deeply observe the transient form of human life, we realize that in this world, from the beginning to end, what is momentary and passing is the illusory course of human life. Thus, we have not heard of anyone receiving human form which lasts for ten thousand years. The course of life ebbs very rapidly.Can any one preserve their body for a hundred years at the present time? Not knowing whether it will come today or tomorrow, those who depart before us are as countless as the drops of dew. Therefore, in the morning we may have radiant health and in the evening, we may be white ashes.When the winds of uncertainty strike, our eyes are closed forever. When the last breath leaves our body, the healthy color of the face is transformed and we loose the appearance of radiant life. Loved ones may gather around to lament , but to no avail.When such an event occurs, the body is sent into an open field and cremated leaving only the white ashes. Thus, we see what we cannot control, if the passing away of the young and old alike. therefore we should all look toward our future life and with faith in Amida Buddha, repeat the name.. With reverence I remain.
This was followed by repeating “Namo Amida Butsu” three times, then silence before closing the service with Oshoko, an offering of incense.
The Chosho, Donoho, led the closing practice of offering incense in gratitude for the teachings of the Dharma. He was followed by Rev. Opel, and the other MAs. Each person took a moment to pause in honor and gratitude before leaving the Hondo. The Sangha on Zoom had an up close experience of the offerings with the computer set near the Koro, the incense burner.
Rev. Opel stepped up to the computer camera after all had made their Oshoko. She encouraged those in the virtual space to keep safe through the heat wave and meet again in that space next week. As the livestream ended, there was laughter and joy at the completing of the first service back in the Hondo. Sterrett seemed to voice everyone’s feelings when she said ”It feels so good!”
The REC, Religious Education Committee, met directly after the service to make plans for the next two months. This all volunteer ministry team looked at where they could best fit into the calendar while being intentional to take time off. Rev. Opel strongly supported each person to find ways to build the team, support one another, take time off, and avoid burn out.
Four-year-old Mocha made her rounds before and after the service. There was a moment where it seemed that she, too, made a bow before Amid Buddha. She certainly added to the feeling of community and joy.
Obon Festival Honoring our Ancestors
July 25th – 5 pm – 7:30 pm – Free – All Ages Welcome
Includes a Hatsubon (remembrance) Service and Bon Odori Dancers
To suggest a place or event for the We We Gather series send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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