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Maui Health Talk Dharma Centers in Hawaii

Dharma Centers in Hawaii

Hawaii is home to people of many faiths and spiritual beliefs.

Buddhism is found in Hawaii in many forms and languages.   Here is a brief introduction to history of Buddhism in Hawaii, and a list of organizations, fellowship, meditation centers and teachers.


  • Buddhism originated in India. It based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, usually called the Buddha, who taught a way of life in which humans are freed of suffering through mental disciplines including meditation, right conduct and reducing attachments and aversions to material things, events and desires.

    The "Four noble truths" are fundamental tenets of Buddhist living.
    They are:
  • To exist implies suffering
  • Suffering is caused by desire
  • Relief from suffering is possible
  • The key to relief of suffering is embodied in the Eightfold Path

    The Eightfold Path is :
  • Right Understanding : Recognition of the Four Noble Truths
  • Right Thought: Seeking a state of mind which includes calmness,
    patience, and compassion.
  • Right Speech: Avoid speaking negatively about others and lying.
  • Right Action: This includes not taking the life of other beings, not stealing and avoiding exploitive and irresponsible sexual conduct.
  • Right Livelihood: Refusing to earn ones living in an occupation that violates these principles.
  • Right Effort: Cultivation of a state of mind conducive to the happiness of all.
  • Right Mindfulness: Awareness of sensations, emotions, thoughts.
  • Right Concentration: Ability to focus a calm mind. Meditation

    Aiea Hongwanji Mission
    99-186 Puakala Street, Aiea, HI 96701
    Tel: (808) 488-5685
    Web site: www.webspawner.com/users/AieaHongwanji
    Tradition: Jodo Shinshu, Pure Land
    Affiliation: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii (Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha)
    Spiritual Director: Rev. Alan Urasaki
    Resident Minister: Rev. Hiromi Kawaji

    Aloha Sangha
    2601 Ferdinand Avenue
    Honolulu, Hawaii 96822
    Contact person: Tom Davidson-Marx
    Telephone: 808.393.6342
    Email: tomdavidson@earthlink.net
    Web site: www.alohasangha.com
    Tradition: Theravada Buddhism
    Affiliation: affinity with teachings of Ajahn Cha
    Teacher/s: more like a coach--Tom Davidson-Marx
    Comments: offer weekly sittings, occasional day-long retreats, and extensive lending library--always free!

    The Amicus Foundation
    4217 Waipua Street, Kilauea, HI 96754
    Tel: (808) 826-7044, Fax: (808) 828-0119
    Email: info@amicusfoundation.org
    Web site: www.amicusFoundation.org
    Tradition: Tibetan welfare organisation
    Founder: The late Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche

    Buddhist Group Maui
    Contact: Todd Semmerling
    P.O. Box 791424 Paia, Hi 96779-1424
    Tel: (808) 2836849
    Email: Maui@diamondway-center.org
    Web site: www.diamondway.org
    Tradition: Tibetan, Karma Kagyu, Diamond Way
    Spiritual Director: the 17th Karmapa Thaye Dorje
    Director: Lama Ole Nydahl

    Chan Khong Monastery
    International Meditation Association
    1105, Hind Iuka Drive, Honolulu, HI 96821
    Contact: Ven.Thich Thong Hai
    Tel: (808) 373-4608, (808) 222-0909
    Email: chankhongtv@aol.com
    Tradition: Vietnamese (Non-denominational)
    Spiritual Director: Ven.Thich Thong Hai

    Daihonzan Chozenji
    International Zen Dojo
    3565 Kalihi Street, Honolulu, HI 96819
    Tel: (808) 845-8129, Fax: 841-5977
    Tradition: Rinzai Zen
    Teacher: Taiken Yokoyama

    Dharma Friends
    Contact: Arnie Kotler and Therese Fitzgerald
    P.O. Box 795 Kapaëau, HI 96755
    Tel:(808) 889-6123
    Email: DharmaFriends@aol.com
    Tradition: Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hahn
    and the Order of Interbeing
    Affiliation: Community of Mindful Living

    Ewa Soto Mission - Sotoji
    1137 Hulili Street, EWA, HI 96706
    Tradition: Soto Zen
    Teacher: Rev. Ooyama
    Affiliation: Soto Zen Mission

    Haleiwa Shingon Mission
    66-469 Paalaa Road, Haleiwa, HI 96712
    Tel: (808) 637-4423, Fax: 637-3311
    Web site: www.koyasan.org
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Hawaii Buddhist Cultural Society
    100 N, Beretania St. Cultural Plaza #216 Honolulu, HI 96817
    Tel/Fax: (808) 545-1183
    Emails: fgsamus53@fgs.org.tw or hbcs@ixpres.com
    Tradition: Mahayana, Humanistic Buddhism
    Affiliation: Fo Guang Shan
    Spiritual Director: Ven. Master Hsing Yun

    Hawaii Buddhist Women's Associations
    1727 Pali Hwy., Honolulu, HI 96813
    Tel: (808) 522-9200, Fax: (808) 522-9205
    Email: bwa@honpahongwanji.org
    Web site: www.honpahongwanji.org/BuddhistWomens/bwaindex.htm
    Tradition: Mahayana, Pure Land, Shin Buddhism
    Affiliation: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii
    Contact: President Rose Nakamura

    Hawaii Tendai Mission
    23 Jack Lane, Honolulu HI 96817
    Contact: Rev. Jion Prosser
    Tel: (808) 595.2556
    Web site: www.tendai-lotus.org
    Tradition: Tendai Buddhism
    Spiritual Director: Archbishop Ryokan Ara
    Teachers: Rev. Jikan Saso, Rev. Jion Prosser

    Hilo Zen Circle
    Emails: info@hilozencircle.org
    Web site: http://www.hilozencircle.org/

    Honokaa Hongwanji Shin Buddhist Temple
    45-5016 Plumeria St., (PO Box 1667) Honokaa, HI 96727-1667
    Contact: Rev. Eric Matsumoto
    Tel: (808) 775-7232, Fax: (808) 775-0594
    Email: dharma@aloha.net
    Web site: www.aloha.net/~horaku
    Tradition: Mahayana Pure Land Shin Buddhist
    Affiliation: Honpa Hongwanji MIssion of Hawaii

    Honolulu Mindfulness Community
    Contact:Ernestine Enomoto
    2040 Nuuanu #1405, Honolulu Hawaii 96817
    Tel:(808) 521-9012
    Tradition: Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hahn
    and the Order of Interbeing
    Affiliation: Community of Mindful Living

    Honmon Butsuryushu of Hawaii
    3001 Pali Highway, Honolulu HI 96817
    Tel: (808) 595. 2611
    Tradition: Nichiren Daishonin. Nissen Shonin

    Honomu Henjyoji
    Box 97 Honomu, HI 96728
    Tel: (808) 963-6308, Fax: 963-6268
    Tradition: Mahayana
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Hsu Yun Temple
    Location: Honolulu, HI 96822
    Email: info@hsuyun.org
    Web site: www.HsuYun.org
    Tradition: Chinese Ch'an
    Abbot: Ven. Master Jy Din Shakya
    Affiliation: Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun

    Kagyu Thubten Choling (Kauai Dharma Center)
    6458-B Kahuna Road
    Kapaa, Hawaii 96746
    Contact-person: Lama Tashi Dundrup
    Telephone: (808) 823-0949
    Website: www.kauaidharma.org
    E-mail: info@kauaidharma.org
    Tradition : Tibetan/Karma Kagyu - Rimay
    Affiliation : All Kalu Rinpoche's centers worldwide
    Spiritual Director : Lama Tashi
    Teachers: Lama Tashi, visiting Lamas from all Tibetan lineages
    Comments : Kauai Dharma Center has a full-time resident Lama and provides a place to study, and practice Vajrayana Buddhism through weekly dharma teachings and regular retreats. The center's retreat facility is located in the hills of Kapaa , on the East Side of Kauai. All visitors and inquiries are welcome.

    Kailua Shambhala Buddhist Meditation Center
    Aikahi Park Shopping Center
    25 Kaneohe Bay Drive, Suite #205, Kailua, HI 96734
    Contact: Ka'ohulani McGuire
    Tel: (808) 262-8352
    Email: info@ksbcenter.org
    Web site: www.ksbcenter.org
    Tradition: Non-sectarian Tibetan Buddhism and Shambhala Training
    Affiliation: Shambhala International
    Spiritual Director: Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
    Teachers: Lopon Sonam Bumdhen, Dean Nelson,
    Chris Zorn, Jaynine Nelson

    Kamuela Hongwanji Shin Buddhist Temple
    P.O. Box 367 Kamuela, HI 96743
    Contact: Rev. Eric Matsumoto
    Tel: (808) 885-4481, Fax: 775-0594
    Email: dharma@aloha.net
    Web site: www.aloha.net/~horaku
    Tradition: Mahayana Pure Land Shin Buddhist
    Affiliation: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii

    Kanzeon Sangha Affiliate - Wahiawa
    P.O. Box 29606 Honolulu, HI 96820
    Tel: (808) 622-0096
    Tradition: Soto/Rinzai Zen
    Lineage: Taizan Maezumi
    Teacher: Genpo Merzel
    Affiliation: Kanzeon Sangha
    Contact: Mark and Nancy Shigeoka

    Kanzeon Zen Center Affiliate - Hawaii
    225 Hakuone Street, Wahiawa, HI 96786
    Tel: (808) 622-0096
    Tradition: Soto/Rinzai Zen
    Lineage: Taizan Maezumi
    Teacher: Genpo Merzel
    Affiliation: Kanzeon Zen Center, Salt Lake City
    Contact: Mark and Nancy Shigeoka


    Kapaa Hongwanji Mission
    1170 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, HI 96746
    Tel: (808) 822-4667, Fax: 822-4667
    Email: ktakata@hawaiian.net
    Web site: www.hawaiian.net/~ktakata
    Tradition: Mahayana, True Pure Land
    Affliation: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii
    Contact: Rev. Koho Takata

    Karma Rimay O Sal Ling (Maui Dharma Center)
    9 Hikina Place, PO Box 1029, Paia, Maui, HI, 96779
    Tel: (808) 579-8076, Fax: 575-2044
    Email: krosl@maui.net
    Tradition: Tibetan, Karma Kagyu
    Affiliation: All Kalu Rinpoche's centers worldwide
    Teacher: Lama Tenzin
    Contact: Georgiana Cook or Theresa Cristan

    Kauai Soto Zen Temple - Zenshuji
    P.O. Box 248 Eleele Kauai, HI 96705
    Contact: Mark and Nancy Shigeoka
    Tel: (808) 622-0096
    Tradition: Soto Zen
    Affiliation: Soto Zen Mission
    Teacher: Rev. Niyoshi

    Koboji Shingon Mission
    1223-b n. School Street, Honolulu, HI 96817
    Tel: (808) 841-7033, Fax: 845-1064
    Tradition: Mahayana
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Kohala Hongwanji Shin Buddhist Temple
    P.O. Box 272, Kapaau, HI 96755
    Contact: Rev. Eric Matsumoto
    Tel: (808) 775-7232, Fax: 775-0594
    Email: dharma@aloha.net
    Web site: www.aloha.net/~horaku
    Tradition: Mahayana, Pure Land Shin Buddhist
    Affiliation: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii

    Kohara Koboji Mission
    Box 265 Kapaau, HI 96755
    Tel: (808) 889-6453
    Tradition: Mahayana
    Web site: www.koyasan.org
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Ko Ko An Zendo - Diamond Sangha
    2747 Waimao Road, Honolulu, HI 96816
    Tel: (808) 946-0666
    Tradition: Soto/Rinzai Zen
    Lineage: Yamada Koun, Robert Aitken
    Teacher: Nelson Foster
    Affiliation: Diamond Sangha Zen Buddhist Society

    Koloa Jodo Mission
    3480 Waikomo Road, Koloa, Hawaii 96756-0457
    Contact: Rev. Kosen Ishikawa
    Tel: (808) 742-6735, Fax: (808) 742-9246
    Email: KosenIshikawa@hotmail.com
    Tradition: Mahayana, Pure Land, Jodo Buddhism
    Affiliation: Jodo Mission of Hawaii

    Kona Daifukuji Soto Mission
    P.O. Box 55, Kealakekua. Kona, HI 96750
    Tradition: Soto Zen
    Web Site: www.daifukuji.org
    Tel: (808) 322-3524
    Teacher: Rev. Jiko Nakade
    Affiliation: Soto Zen Mission

    Kona Koyasan Daishiji Mission
    Box 424 Holualoa, HI 96725
    Tel/Fax: (808) 324-1741
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Kula Shingon Mission Shofukuji Temple
    Kula, Maui, HI 96761
    Tel: (808) 878-1833
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Lahaina Shingon Mission
    Box 176 Wailuku, Maui, HI 96761
    Tel/Fax: (808) 661-0466
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Lihue Hongwanji Mission
    P.O. Box 1248 Lihue, HI 96766
    Contact: Rev. Yukiko Motoyoshi
    Tel: (808) 245-6262, Fax: (808) 245-6262
    Email: yukiko@hawaiian.net
    Tradition: Jodo Shin Buddhism
    Affiliation: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii

    Liliha Shingon Mission
    1710 Liliha Street, Honolulu, HI 96817
    Tel: (808) 533-3929, Fax: 534-3929
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Maui Mantokuji Soto Mission
    253-C Hana Highway, PAIA, Maui, HI 96779
    Tradition: Soto Zen
    Teacher: Rev. Ueoka
    Affiliation: Soto Zen Mission

    Maui Zendo
    3823 L. Ho'Piilani Road, #110 Lahaina, HI 96761
    Tel: (808) 669-7725, Fax: 669-7735
    Tradition: Soto/Rinzai Zen
    Lineage: Yamada Koun, Robert Aitken
    Teacher: Nelson Foster
    Affiliation: Diamond Sangha Zen Buddhist Society
    Contact: Patti Burke

    Mindfulness Meditation Sangha
    Contact:Michael Donenfeld
    Location: Hilo HI 96721
    Tel: (808) 933-9696
    Tradition: Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hahn
    and the Order of Interbeing
    Affiliation: Community of Mindful Living

    Moiliili Hongwanji Mission
    902 University Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96826
    Contact: Minister
    Tel: (808) 949-1659, Fax: (808) 942-1154
    Tradition: Pure Land Shin Buddhist

    Molokai Guzeiji Soto Mission
    P.O. Box 366 Kaunakakai, Molokai, HI 96748
    Tradition: Soto Zen
    Teacher: Rev. Morita
    Affiliation: Soto Zen Mission

    Naalehu Shingon Mission
    P.O. Box 413
    Naalhu, HI 96772
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling, Wood Valley Temple and Retreat Center
    1 Temple Road, Pahala HI 96777
    Contact: Marya Schwabe
    Tel: (808) 928-8539, Fax: (808) 928-6271
    Email: nechung@aloha.net
    Web site: www.nechung.org
    Tradition: Tibetan, Gelugpa
    Affiliation: Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling Monastery
    Spiritual Director: H. H. the Dalai Lama

    Nichiren Mission of Hawaii
    33 Pulelehua Way, Honolulu, HI, 96817
    Tel: (808) 595-3517, Fax: 595-6412
    Tradition: Nichiren Shu

    Paauilo Hongwanji Shin Buddhist Temple
    P.O. Box 104 Paauilo 96776 HI
    Contact: Rev. Eric Matsumoto
    Tel: (808) 775-7232, Fax: 775-0594
    Email: dharma@aloha.net
    Web site: www.aloha.net/~horaku
    Tradition: Mahayana, Pure Land Shin
    Affiliation: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii

    Paauilo Kongoji Mission
    Box 223, Paauilo, HI 96776
    Tel: (808) 776-1474, Fax: 776-1474
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Palolo Zen Center - Diamond Sangha
    2747 Waiomao Road, Honolulu, HI 96816
    Tel: (808) 735-1347, Fax: 735-4245
    Tradition: Soto/Rinzai Zen
    Lineage: Yamada Koun, Robert Aitken, Roshi
    Teacher: Nelson Foster
    Affiliation: Diamond Sangha, Zen Buddhist Society

    Rangjung Kunchyab Rime Ling
    P.O. Box 10840, Hilo, HI 96721
    Contact Person: Shelley Ham
    Tel: (808) 895-1563
    Email: drshell@hawaii.rr.com
    Tradition: Rime, emphasis on Kagyu teachings
    Spiritual Director: Nyungne Lama

    Shantideva Center (FPMT)
    HCR 4660, Keaau, HI, 96749
    Tel: (808) 966-6877, Fax: 934-7400
    Tradition: Tibetan, Gelugpa
    Affiliation: Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition
    Contact: Dan & Molly Laine

    Shingon Shu Hawaii
    915 Sheridan Street, Honolulu, HI 96814
    Contact Person: Dcn. Reyn Yorio Tsuru
    Tel: (808) 941-5663, Fax: (808) 946-7900
    Email: contact@shingonshuhawaii.org
    Web site: shingonshuhawaii.org
    Tradition: Mahayana Shingon Buddhism
    Spiritual Director: Reyn Yorio Tsuru
    Teachers: Rev. Sumitoshi Sakamoto

    Soka Gakai International-USA, Hawaii
    2729 Pali Hwy, Honolulu, HI 96817
    Contact: David Peelman or Bert Kawamoto
    Tel: (808) 754-3479, 595-6324
    Fax: (808) 595-6378
    Email: webmaster@buddhisthawaii.com
    Web site: www.buddhisthawaii.com
    Tradition: Mahayana Nichiren Daishonen
    Affiliation: Soka Gakkai International
    Spiritual Director: Daisaku Ikeda
    Teacher: Lay Buddhist General Director Danny Nagashima

    Soto Mission of Aiea
    P.O. Box 926, 99-045 Kauhale Street, Aiea, HI 96701
    Tradition: Soto Zen
    Teacher: Rev. Asayama
    Affiliation: Soto Zen Mission

    Soto Mission of Hawaii
    c/o Shoboji
    1708 Nuuanu Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96817
    Tradition: Soto Zen
    Teacher: Rev. Matsuura

    Still Life Sangha
    HCR2-Box 9542, Keaau, HI, 96740
    Tel: (808) 966-5057
    Tradition: Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hahn
    and the Order of Interbeing
    Affiliation: Community of Mindful Living

    Taishoji Soto Mission
    275 Kinoole Street, HILO, HI 96720
    Tradition: Soto Zen
    Teacher: Rev. Aoki
    Affiliation: Soto Zen Mission

    Vajrayana Foundation Hawai'i
    P.O. Box 6780, Ocean View, HI 96737-6780
    Tel: (808) 939-9889, Fax: 939-8490
    Email: vfh@ilhawaii.net
    Tradition: Tibetan, Nyingma
    Affiliation: Vajrayana Foundation, Santa Cruz
    Contact: Lama Yeshe Wangmo

    Vipassana Hawaii
    P.O. Box 240547, Honolulu, HI 967824
    Tel: (808) 396-5888
    Email: retreats@vipassanahawaii.org
    Web site: www.vipassanahawaii.org
    Tradition: Insight Meditation, Theravada
    Teachers: Steven Smith and Michele McDonald-Smith

    Vipassana Metta Foundation
    P.O. Box 1188 Kula HI 96790-1188
    Tel: (808) 573-3450
    Web site: www.vipassanametta.org
    Teachers: Kamala and Steve Armb
    Tradition: Theravada

    Wailuku Hongwanji Mission
    1828 Vineyard Street, Wailuku, HI 96793
    Tel: (808) 244-0406
    Tradition: Jodo Shinshu, Pure Land
    Affiliation: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii,
    Hongwanji-ha (World Headquarters)

    Wailuku Shingon Mission
    C1939 North Street, Wailuku, Maui, HI 96793
    Tel: (808) 244-3800, Fax: 242-5618
    Affiliation: Shingon Buddhist International Institute

    Waipahu Soto Zen Temple
    P.O. Box 65, Waipahu Street, Waipahu, HI 96797
    Tradition: Soto Zen
    Teacher: Rev. Ooyama
    Affiliation: Soto Zen Mission

    Wat Buddhajakramongkolvararam
    872-A Second Street, Pearl City, HI 96782-3342
    Tel: (808) 459-4176, Fax: 455-1808
    Email: watpearl@pixi.com
    Tradition: Theravada, Thai, Maha Nikaya

    Wat Dhammavira of Hawaii
    87-1109 Iliili Road, Waianae, HI 96792
    Tel: (808) 668-7367, Fax: 668-2799
    Tradition: Theravada, Thai, Maha Nikaya
    Affiliation: Thai Bhikkhus Council of USA

    West Kauai Hongwanji Pure Land Shin Buddhist Temple
    4675 Menehune Road, Waimea, Hawaii 96796
    Contact: Sensei. Hojo Tone
    Tel/Fax: (808) 338-1537
    Email: hongwanjh001@hawaii.rr.com
    Web site: home.hawaii.rr.com/hongwanji
    Tradition: Pure Land Shin Buddhism

    Wild Ginger Sangha
    Contact:John Balaam
    P.O. Box 2079, Kamuela, HI 96743
    Tel: (808) 885-5585
    Tradition: Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hahn
    and the Order of Interbeing
    Affiliation: Community of Mindful Living

    Zen Center of Hawaii
    P.O. Box 2066, Kamuela, HI 96743
    Tel: (808) 885-6109, Fax: 885-2009
    Email: zch@aloha.net
    Web site: www.peacemakercommunity.org
    Affilation: Zen Peacemaker Order
    Lineage: Taizan Maezumi, Tetsugen Glassman
    Director: Sensei Robert Joshin Althouse
    Email: joshin@peacecom.org

    Tradition: Soto/Rinzai Zen


    Shin Buddhism in the American Context


    Dr. Alfred Bloom
    Professor Emeritus - Department of Religion, University of Hawaii

    It was during the mid-nineteenth century that Buddhism initially became known to the intellectual and literary world in the United States through the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. The Theosophical Society founded by Madame H. P. Blavatsky and her associate, Col. Henry Steel Olcott, then further introduced Buddhism to Americans. In 1879, the first major treatment of Gautama Buddha's life appeared in the very popular book The "Light of Asia" by Edwin Arnold. In 1893, as result of the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, Paul Carus, publisher of the journal Open Court, became deeply interested in Buddhism as a basis for resolving the conflict between science and religion. In editing the journal, Carus enlisted the aid of the youthful D.T. Suzuki who later became the foremost propagator of Zen Buddhism in the West.

    While Buddhism was thus beginning to permeate the more cultured classes, albeit in a fragmentary and noninstitutionalized way, Japanese migrating to Hawaii and North America were bringing with them their Buddhist traditions. These immigrants provided the basis for the establishment of Buddhist institutions in a Western context and a foundation for a broader effort in propagating Buddhism in American society. Although various Buddhist sects took root in Hawaii, the United States and Canada, by far the largest and best organized were the Honganji branches of the Jodo Shinshu sect, commonly called Shin Buddhism in English. [1]

    Buddhism in America was also part of the reawakening of Buddhism in Japan as the various denominations, and particularly Jodo Shinshu, sent clergy to care for the needs of the immigrants who had come to work in Hawaii and the United States. The first Japanese immigrant group arrived in Hawaii as contract laborers in June 1868, the first year of the Meiji era. Accordingly, the members of this initial group came to be called "Gannenmono," meaning people of the first year of Meiji. This group and those who followed as contract laborers were also referred to as "Kanyakuimin" (contract labor immigrants.)

    The first immigrant group to settle in California arrived a year after the first Hawaii group, in June 1869, and established what was to become known as the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony at Gold Hill in Eldorado County. In Canada, the first immigrants did not arrive until 1885 and settled largely in British Columbia where they engaged in fishing. 

    Although accurate data on the movement of Japanese to Hawaii and America apparently does not exist, the available data indicates that only a few tens of Japanese migrated to Hawaii and the United States each year until the mid-1880s, numbered only in the hundreds each year from 1884 to 1890, and in the thousands only from 1891 (reaching a peak of over 10,000 in 1900.) [2] According to Wilson and Hosokawa, the cumulative total of Japanese immigrants to mainland America through 1919 was 237,121, but those who either returned to Japan or died numbered 155,783, showing a net gain of only 81,338. Nevertheless, the 1920 census shows 110,010 "Japanese" in the U. S. mainland, including 29,672 Nisei who were American citizens by birth. [3]

    American Shin Buddhism is generally an extension of Shin Buddhism as it had developed to that point when it arrived in the islands in 1888 and on the mainland in 1899. The American situation of Honganji differs from the situation of Honganji in Japan due to the position of the Japanese immigrants in American society. As a minority group experiencing various forms of discrimination and pressures, it was necessary for the immigrants to hold on to the customs, faith, and loyalties which they brought with them. Buddhist temples became social centers and the teaching a source of consolation for those undergoing the hard life of the plantations, farms or cities.

    Honganji In Hawaii

    The Japanese who came to Hawaii assimilated completely into Hawaiian society. Formal immigration began with an agreement between the Japanese and Hawaiian governments in 1885. The Contract Labour Agreement permitted large numbers of Japanese to seek their fortunes on the developing sugar plantations of Hawaii. They provided the social and religious basis for the development of Shin Buddhism in Hawaii.

    Soon after February 1885 the first large contingent of immigrants arrived. However, it was not until 1889 that the first Jodo Shinshu priest came to establish Shin Buddhism in the Christian-oriented islands. Rev. Soryu Kagai set up a small temple in Hawaii and then returned to Japan. Lay people carried on services until the next missionaries came in 1897. Rev. Hoji Satomi established a Shin Buddhist temple on Fort Street. He was accompanied by Rev. Yemyo Imamura who served the Hompa Honganji Mission until his death in 1932. Bishop Imamura was a creative leader and spokesman for Buddhism in the islands and had a stimulating effect on the development of Buddhism. He was held in high respect by the entire community as a religious and social leader through his activities in connection with the sugar strikes.

    In the face of the dominant Christian society, Buddhist temples in Hawaii developed their educational and cultural programs. They also attempted to adapt their services to meet the needs of the new environment, manifesting the flexibility that had characterized the spread of Buddhism through Asia. Buddhist temples in Hawaii early on employed organs, pews, hymns, sermons, Sunday school classes with English services and Language schools. Much of the adaptation was pioneered by Bishop Imamura, who believed that Buddhism was a universal faith and should be accessible to those outside Japanese culture.

    Despite efforts at adaptation, the Buddhist efforts to pacify laborers were initially welcomed. However, the support given strikers aroused strong opposition and criticism from the general community, while the language schools came to be viewed as a threat to the American way of life. Christian evangelists frequently stressed that Buddhism and Americanism were contradictory. Great efforts were made by Buddhist missionaries to give spiritual direction and consolation to the immigrants from Japan in their many problems as a minority people. 

    However, the social environment of its followers placed Buddhism in the American scene in a defensive posture. It had to help maintain an awareness of, and respect for, Japanese tradition among people who were not permitted to become American citizens. In Hawaii particularly, it came to the aid of laborers who were being exploited. It was confused with Shinto by outsiders, and it incurred the resentment of Christians who found Buddhists resistant to conversion. Because of the confusion with Shinto, there were suspicions as to the loyalty of Buddhists. Both traditions were viewed as foreign religions in America. This feeling escalated as World War II began, and temples were shut down and ministers arrested.

    Honganji in the States [4]

    Although there had been other Jodo Shinshu visitors to the United States as early as 1872, Rev. Dr. Shuye Sonoda and Rev. Kakuryo Nishijima were the first Jodo Shinshu ministers sent as missionaries to the United States by the Hompa Honganji. They arrived in San Francisco on September 1, 1899, and began laying the foundation for what became the Buddhist Mission of North America (BMNA) in 1914 and is now the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA). Rev. Dr. Sonoda had been head of the Academy of Literature of the Hompa Honganji, which later became Ryukoku University. Rev. Nishijima had been a student of Rev. Dr. Sonoda.

    Revs. Sonoda and Nishijima had been preceded the year before (1898) by Revs. Eryu Honda and Ejun Miyamoto who had been sent to America by the Honganji on a fact-finding and study mission. (Rev. Miyamoto had taken a similar trip to Hawaii just the year before.) Revs. Honda and Miyamoto were sent on their mission in response to a request by some young Japanese immigrants that Honganji send missionaries to the United States. And, as a direct result of the visit by Revs. Honda and Miyamoto, a Young Men's Buddhist Association (Bukkyo Seinen Kai) had been established in San Francisco. This organization, formally established on July 30, 1898, was the precursor of what is now the Buddhist Church of San Franciso.

    Revs. Honda and Miyamoto stayed in San Francisco only a few weeks, then traveled on to Sacramento and to other areas of sizeable Japanese population, including Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia. And, on their return to Japan, the two ministers recommended that the Hompa Honganji initiate missionary activity in America. In the meanwhile, the San Francisco Young Men's Buddhist Association, which had been gaining members slowly, sent a formal plea to the Lord Abbot of the Hompa Honganji setting forth the plight of the followers of Shinran Shonin in the United States who were unable to hear the lessons of the Buddhadharma and were cut-off from the enlightenment offered by the teaching of Jodo Shinshu.

    Thus, while a newspaper (San Francisco Chronicle) account of September 13, 1899 on the arrival of Revs. Sonoda and Nishijima stated that they had "come to establish a Buddhist mission at 807 Polk Street and to convert Japanese and later Americans to the ancient Buddhist faith," [5] their efforts and that of the other Jodo Shinshu ministers who followed were directed primarily towards serving the religious and social needs and interests of the Japanese immigrants who were already (at least nominally) Buddhists and preponderantly of the Jodo Shinshu sect, which after all was the largest Buddhist sect in Japan.

    Although Rev. Sonoda was recalled to Japan to further serve the Honganji after some 15 months, he was succeeded initially by Rev. Tetsuei Mizuki, then Rev. Kentoku Hori, and finally Rev. Koyu Uchida who served from 1905 to 1923 as the Kantoku (Director) and later as the Socho (Bishop) of the Hompa Honganji's missionary effort in the United States. And, in the first decade following the arrival of the Sonoda-Nishijima mission, Jodo Shinshu congregations were organized or established in about nineteen areas outside of San Francisco. [6] 

    As in San Francisco, most of these congregations were started as young men's associations (Seinenkai), several as offshoots of the San Francisco Seinenkai. Use of the name Seinenkai may suggest that these early congregations were comprised of only single men. However, all of these congregations soon after their establishment rented or bought property which could be used as meeting places and eventually as temples, churches and/or Japanese community centers. And, as the Seinenkai became Bukkyokai (Buddhist churches), Buddhist Women's Associations (Bukkyo Fujinkai) comprised of the wives of the male members of the congregations were established to be what amounted to Ladies' Auxilliaries of the respective churches and temples. Another institution established at some point by most of these congregations was a Japanese language school to provide Japanese language training to the Nisei (2nd Generation) children of the immigrant Issei (1st Generation) Japanese.

    Unlike the experience of the Japanese immigrants to Hawaii (which was annexed by the United States in 1898 just before the Honganji's missionary activities in America were begun in earnest), the Japanese on the mainland United States, including the born-in-America Nisei, were not readily assimilated into American society. Coincidentally with the enlargement of the Honganji's activities in America, anti-Japanese attitudes and actions by Americans (particularly those with vested economic interests in the west coastal States) intensified -- to the point that further immigration from Japan was stopped by the Japanese Exclusion Act of 1924. Alien land laws of, among others, California, Oregon and Washington States, which were designed to prevent the acquisition of land by Japanese, complicated the acquisition of property for use as churches or temples by Jodo Shinshu congregations.

    In the face of the evident anti-Japanese trends in those very areas in which Jodo Shinshu congregations were taking root and growing, the churches/temples they established came to serve not only the religious needs of the immigrants, but also their social and cultural interests and needs and an institutional means of perpetuating their Japanese traditions.

    In the 1920s and 1930s, activities designed to meet the needs of the English speaking Nisei members of the temples were established and expanded. Sunday schools (now called Dharma schools) became an essential feature of the temples for imparting Dharma lessons to school age children in English. Various kinds of youth organizations, such as Young Men's Buddhist Associations and Young Women's Buddhist Associations (YMBAs and YWBAs), were also established to provide the youths with additional devotional opportunities as well as social and athletic opportunities and outlets. As these youth groups became organized into regional and national associations, they enabled inter-community networking by the young people of the respective Japanese communities.

    It was also in the late 1920s and early 1930s that there was increasing awareness of the need for English speaking Jodo Shinshu ministers. In 1929, the delegates to the Ministers and Lay Representatives [of the Buddhist Mission of North America] Meeting in San Francisco approved the establishment of the Hokubei Kaikyo Zaidan ("Foundation") to support the propagation of Buddhism in America. One of the objectives of the Zaidan (now called the BCA Endowment Foundation) given in its prospectus is "Training of Buddhist ministers among second generation and other Americans." By 1931, there were 33 churches and a number of branches affiliated with the BMNA, but few of the ministers were fully proficient in English. Thus, Rev. Kenju Masuyama, formerly a professor of Ryukoku University who had arrived in 1930 to head the BMNA as its Socho (Bishop), gave great emphasis to finding suitable candidates among the Nisei to enter into training to become Buddhist ministers. However, except for tutorial type of training that might be given at BMNA Headquarters (as it was to a few individuals), ministerial aspirants had to go to Japan to receive formal training that would qualify them for ordination by the Hompa Honganji. Ironically, successful completion of such training necessitated proficiency in the Japanese language.

    Perhaps the instructional program begun in San Francisco by Bishop Masuyama might have grown and become more firmly rooted had it not been for the advent of World War II, during which all persons of Japanese ancestry (including United States citizens) living on the West Coast were removed from their homes by the U. S. Government and interned in camps called "relocation centers." However, even before the Japanese Americans were removed from their homes, many of the Buddhist ministers had been taken into custody by the FBI immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and placed in detention camps because, as leaders of their respective Japanese communities, they were considered to be potentially "dangerous enemy aliens."

    Since the Japanese American residents of San Francisco were incarcerated in the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah, the headquarters of the BMNA was established in that camp. Here, in April 1944, it was decided to rename the BMNA as the Buddhist Churches of Amerca (BCA) and to incorporate the entity in the State of California. The BCA's articles of incorporation were drafted by the BMNA Board of Directors interned at Topaz and approved by the representatives from the various camps and other communities who attended the Ministers and Lay Representatives Meeting held at the Topaz Buddhist Church on April 28-30, 1944.

    The Japanese Americans were not allowed to return to their West Coast homes -- and their temples -- until 1945. Bishop Ryotai Matsukage returned to San Francisco and re-opened the headquarters of what was now the Buddhist Churches of America in August 1945. In most cases, the temples and any affiliated Japanese language school buildings, had to be used as temporary shelters for the returning evacuees. In many areas, the temples had been used to store the personal property of the evacuees. And in the absence of the members, many of the temples had been vandalized. Nevertheless, by the mid-1950s, most of the temples were well on the road to recovery from the set-backs of the war years and looking to the future with plans for refurbishing old facilities as well as building new facilities. In addition, because of the movement of significant numbers of Japanese Americans from the various relocation centers to areas east of the Mississippi during the war years, by 1960 new Jodo Shinshu congregations had been formed in: Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Seabrook, New Jersey; Minneapolis, Minnesota and Washington, D.C. In 1941, there were 44 temples affiliated with the BMNA, and by 1989, there were 61 temples and 7 Sanghas (Fellowships) affiliated with the BCA.

    As indicated above, the initiation of any concerted program for training English speaking Jodo Shinshu ministers was forestalled by the events of World War II. But in 1949, Bishop Enryo Shigefuji began conducting study classes in Berkeley, California. Rev. Kanmo Imamura, resident minister of the Berkeley Buddhist Church further developed the program and the study class was moved to the Berkeley Buddhist Church. And when the new church building was completed in 1955, the BCA Study Center was established in it. In 1956 the BCA established a Special Projects Fund which among other things was to provide funds for the Study Center's library and to cover certain expenses of ministerial students who were to attend. Then it was decided in 1957 to increase the amount to be raised for the Special Projects Fund to support a Ministerial Training Center to be established in Kyoto, Japan in 1959 to train English-speaking ministers from among the students in Japan. However, it was later concluded that it would be more effective to train English-speaking ministers in the United States and the program was transferred to the Berkeley Study Center.

    Then, in 1966, the BCA National Council decided to establish what is now the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) and the property at 2717 Haste Street in Berkeley was purchased for that purpose. The Institute was officially started on October 1, 1966, and eventually became affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) as a graduate school and seminary in 1985. Following its affiliation with GTU, the Institute enlarged its facilities greatly by acquiring its Addison Street building in Berkeley in 1987 with BCA Endowment Foundation funds which had been raised through the BCA's Campaign for Buddhism in America capital fund drive. The Campaign was initiated in 1982 with a goal of $15 million to aid in advancing the propagation of Buddhism in America.

    As a final note on the historical development of Jodo Shinshu institutions in North America, the first Honganji missionary sent to Canada arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1904 and the first church was built there in 1911. Until 1933, the Jodo Shinshu churches established in Canada under Hompa Honganji auspices were placed under the jurisdiction of the BMNA in San Francisco. In 1933, the Canadian churches were removed from the jurisdiction of BMNA, but remained under the guidance of the BMNA Socho in San Francisco. Then in 1936, Rev. Zenyu Aoki (who had served under the BMNA since 1915) was appointed as the first Socho of the Buddhist Mission of Canada. After World War II, the Canadian Mission was reorganized and renamed the Buddhist Churches of Canada with its headquarters co-located with the Toronto Buddhist Church in Toronto, Ontario. As of this writing, there were 16 Jodo Shinshu churches in Canada.

    Japanese Cultural Influences on Jodo Shinshu in America

    It is interesting that Ruth Benedict wrote her study, "Chrysanthemum and the Sword based on studies of Japanese Americans," which in the absence of direct observation of Japanese in Japan, provided the best situation for such a book. At that time, their basic ethical orientation had come out of the Tokugawa-Meiji period, when the first Issei immigrants came to America.

    "On" or "giri" -- duty or obligation -- has operated among the Japanese Americans as a basic ethical foundation for human relations. This on-giri relationship is essentially conservative. It can be stultifying in personal groups, especially when one sees it in the context of a status society and within a close family situation. What happens in the psycho-social functioning of these principles is that the individual must be more conscious of his external relations rather than what one may perceive in their inner awareness. There is a tendency to be conformist, unquestioning, and prudent. The good is always determined by others to whom one has obligation.

    Such an ethical basis for individual relationships and attitudes, together with the net result of all historical and social factors, has left Honganji (the contemporary order of Shin Buddhism in Hawaii, North and South America) with a variety of problems which it must face. The first of these is ethnocentrism; the second is the relation to western culture and the third is, what message does Shinshu have for Americans? While each of these problems also face other institutions and religions, they have a peculiar intensity in Buddhism.

    As an illustration, I would refer to the issue of ethnocentrism. In one of my classes at the University of Hawaii several years ago, a young student, who was a member of Honganji on one of the outer islands of Hawaii, explained to her fellow students that her parents had told her she would be disowned unless she married a Japanese. When I inquired a bit among some acquaintances, I came to realize that the universalism of Buddhism is thwarted by such attitudes in the family situation as it has been maintained among the Japanese in the islands. 

    Despite the popularity and seeming interest in, and attraction to, Buddhism by non-Japanese, Buddhist temples in Hawaii tend to have few members of other races, far fewer than is the case among other religious traditions in island communities. Racial homogeneity, reinforced by language and culture, makes it difficult for outsiders to enter the heart of the Buddhist tradition in Hawaii. This is certainly true in the more outlying rural communities of Oahu and the neighbor islands. Since most Buddhist ministers in Hawaii are recruited from Japan, a large percentage of them have problems speaking or relating easily in English and are often ill at ease in the ways of western culture.

    From this situation there emerged a string of problems. In what way is the Order to relate to western culture? Is Buddhism only a Japanese religion, as the appearance of its membership might indicate? Or is it, indeed, a world religion as indicated by its historic process of spreading from India through all of Asia. Somehow, in America, Buddhism must develop its own distinct form as a part of western culture, as, in Japan in the sixth century, it began to develop its own distinct form as a part of Japanese culture. Though twentieth century Buddhism in America is indebted to Japanese sources and inspiration, it should not be entirely controlled from that source. The inspiration rather must become the wellspring of refreshment, change and renewal.

    When, for example, such Buddhist leaders as Bishop Yemyo Imamura sought to adapt Buddhism to the new setting of Hawaii, and prepare for a wider mission to all people in the islands and beyond, the effort was carried forth only piecemeal and superficially. Change and adaptation were limited to alterations in church services, music, hymnology, pews, and temple construction. The crucial internal adaptation in thought and communication with the broader culture of the island or American community is only now beginning to occur. Conditions of earlier times simply did not permit this. The heavy dependence on Japanese clergy and the religious perspective of the members inhibited serious efforts in this direction. Few striking interpretations or applications of Shin, by persons raised within the tradition itself, had been developed within the American context.

    The sign posts of Shin history, the ethnocentrism of Japanese Buddhism now call for the adaptation of Buddhism to American society in a serious way. The initial step requires that each individual consider why he or she is a Buddhist. It appears to me that Buddhists have adapted to American society and its lure of success at the expense of their Buddhism. 

    In my short experience, I have heard very little of why anyone ought to be Buddhist except that it is part of one's family and tradition. I have so far seen little on what is the true role of the clergy, other than ritual concerns, or why it is important and meaningful as a vocational choice. It seems unclear why people should become Buddhist priests. It is generally held that interest in Buddhism and serving the Dharma must begin with deep personal motivation and commitment. Consequently, there has been no systematic effort to encourage youth to consider this life-option. As a result, it seems unclear why a person should become a Buddhist minister. Although the need is great, the recruitment of young people is slow and difficult.

    I believe, however, despite its past experience and history, Buddhism in America stands at the threshold of a new era. In becoming aware of its legacy of history and tradition, in assessing itself deeply and realistically in relation to the surrounding culture, Buddhism -- and in particular Shin Buddhism -- has the opportunity to become free, to chart new paths for those who are Shin Buddhist by inheritance, as well as those who are attracted to the teachings, thought, and the existential meaningfulness of Shinran Shonin.

    That existential meaningfulness is rooted in the life story of Shinran, of his personal, spiritual struggle which bears such strong parallels to the deep personal struggles, the alienation and sense of loss and failure of modern men and women.

    Multiple Choice Questions

    1. For the Japanese who immigrated to America, Buddhism served many functions. Which of the following is one of them? It:

    a) helped the Japanese become westernized b) freed the Japanese from their ethnocentrism c) helped preserve the culture and traditions of the immigrants and was a source of consolation to them

    2. Through the writings of such persons as Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, Buddhism was introduced to the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. At that time, to which of the following groups did it have the most appeal?

    a) Japanese immigrants b) the intellectual and literary circles c) American scientists

    3. The social environment of the Japanese immigrants placed Buddhism in a defensive position because it:

    a) helped maintain an awareness of and respect for Japanese tradition among people who were not allowed to become American citizens b) had to compete with the Shinto religion in Hawaii c) was banned by the U.S. government

    4. It is difficult for outsiders to enter the heart of the Buddhist tradition in America because:

    a) it is still primarily a Japanese religion b) one must understand Japanese in order to join the religion c) outsiders cannot understand the teachings

    5. Of the various Buddhist sects that took root in Hawaii, which was the largest and the best organized?

    a) Nichiren sect b) Soto Zen sect c) Jodo Shinshu sect

    6. The first Japanese immigrated to Hawaii in order to:

    a) seek higher education b) work on the sugar plantations c) propagate Buddhism

    7. A key figure in the development of Buddhism in Hawaii was the Bishop Yemyo Imammura. He believed that:

    a) Buddhism should remain a Japanese religion in every aspect b) Organs and pews did not belong in Buddhist temples c) Buddhism should adapt itself to the new environment and be accessible to those outside Japanese culture

    8. Which of the following statements best describes the on-giri relationship that served as the basic ethical foundation in the lives of Japanese Americans? It:

    a) is essentially conservative, based upon one's obligation to others b) promotes assertiveness and self-reliance c) stresses the importance of the individual over the group

    9. Which of the following has hindered the development of Buddhism in America?

    a) the adaptation of American models b) ethnocentrism and a heavy dependence on Japanese clergy c) a desire for growth and change

    Thought Questions

    1. In the process of institutionalization how can the followers of a religion lose sight of its founder?

    2. What message do you think Shinshu has for Western people?

    3. In this chapter, the author writes: "It appears to me that Buddhists have adapted to western society and its lure of success at the expense of their Buddhism." What does he mean by this? Do you agree? Disagree?

    4. Although Buddhism in America is indebted to Japanese sources, it must somehow develop its own distinct form as part of western culture. Now that you understand the development of Buddhism in Japan, as well as its early role in America, what are some of the problems Buddhism is facing today as it encounters western (American) culture? What do you think can be done to aid in this transition?


    "Buddhist Churches of America, Buddhist Churches of America, 75- Year History 1899-1974," 2 Volumes

    Honpa Honganji Mission of Hawaii: "A Grateful Past, A Promising Future: The First 100 Years of Honpa Honganji in Hawaii"

    Hunter, Louise: "Buddhism in Hawaii. Its Impact on a Yankee Community"

    Kashima, Tetsuden: "Buddhism in America"

    Tuck, Donald R. "Buddhist Churches of America: Jodo Shinshu"


    [1] The Jodo Shinshu sect is structurally divided into 10 branches: the Hompa (main branch) Honganji; Otani-ha Honganji; Takada-ha; Kibe-ha; Bukkoji-ha; Kosho-ha; and the four branches in Echizen (Sammonto-ha, Yamamoto-ha, Joshoji-ha, and Izumoji-ha.) The Mother Temples (Honzan) of the Honganji Branches are located adjacent to each other in Kyoto, Japan and are commonly called Nishi (West) Honganji (with respect to the Hompa Honganji) and Higashi (East) Honganji (with respect to the Otani Honganji).

    [2] Robert A. Wilson and Bill Hosokawa: "East to America," pp 28-36

    [3] Ibid., pp. 56-57

    [4] "Buddhist Churches of America, Buddhist Churches of America, Vol. I, 75-Year History 1899 to 1974," p. 43 et seq

    [5] Ibid., p. 47



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