Bishop Thomas Okano (15th Bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii), Hawaii Kyodan President Mr. Alton Miyamoto, Special Guests from the Buddhist Churches of America, Mr. Everett Watada and Ms. Judy Kono, State Ministers’ Association President Rev. Kevin Kuniyuki, Officers, Directors, Advisors and Retired Ministers of Hawaii Kyodan, and Fellow Delegates and Observers to this 99th Legislative Assembly (of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii), Good Morning!
In the presence of Immeasurable Life and Infinite Light, and all of you here today, I, Horaku/Dharma-Pleasure, humbly accept this honored role that has been conferred upon me by your confirmation. I can only be in awe as I reflect on the innumerable causes and conditions, at minimum over the past 51 years that have resulted in today. If I had to pin point a date as to when my life took a turn in relation to the ministry, it would be 27 years ago in 1984, when I traveled to Japan, more specifically to Ryukoku University (History Department as a Special Foreign Student) through the auspices of The Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship and met some Ministerial Candidates from Buddhist Churches of America, but if at that time you were to say that one day I would be in the Office of the Bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, I would have flatly denied it. Who would have thought that a rural country boy who grew up in the coffee fields of Kona would one day assume this position at the head of the largest Buddhist denomination in our Island Home. Not I!
I have been truly blessed by the kindness, generosity, support and confidence of so many people from my family and friends, all my educators/teachers from Grade school to Graduate School and including you, the Members of the Hawaii Kyodan, who generously provided me with a scholarship which enabled me to study and experience the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in Japan for 5 years (from 1987-1991). But my indebtedness goes beyond Hawaii as I received so much support from the Jodo Shinshu Sangha in Japan too. I still wonder “How could one person be so fortunate!” But most of all, to have encountered Amida Buddha’s Great Wisdom and Compassion, of which no amount of stringing words together can convey the Joy and sense of Happiness that I experience and even as your Bishop, my most basic wish is for even one more person to be able to experience this Great Wisdom and Compassion (Namo Amida Butsu). Please join me in this aspiration! If I may quote our Mission Statement it would be “To share the living Teachings of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism so that all beings may enjoy lives of harmony, peace and gratitude.”
Of course, as an organization, we have many other goals too, many of which are outlined in the Strategic Plan under Goals and Objectives and includes Projects like the establishment of Pacific Buddhist Academy that we adopted as part of our Shinran Shonin’s 750th Memorial Observance in Hawaii. In addition, we need to continue to support our other worthy endeavors like Project Dana, Living Treasures of Hawaii Program, Peace Day, Social Concerns, and our Buddhist Education and Youth Programs. However, we do know that we face many challenges especially in this time of declining membership and economic difficulties. I will work together with our Kyodan President and the Board of Directors, the Chair of the State Ministers Association and Ministers and all of you in trying to revitalize our organization by becoming a more nurturing Sangha, revisiting our current rituals and programs, having the larger community come to recognize even more the value of the Hongwanji, and fulfill our promises to ourselves and the Larger Community. But this is not something only one person or even a few persons can accomplish it will take the combined effort of all of us. I ask you to please lend your strengths and for your cooperation.
In all of our efforts, what are most important are WA or harmony and our going to the Buddha-Dharma for guidance as espoused by Prince Shotoku. The Sangha by its very definition should be harmonious and centered on the Dharma. Let us strive for true harmony within the Hongwanji as well as in our World Community as we cooperatively work together for the common good of all people and all beings. It is a difficult thing to do, maybe an impossible thing to do, but something we must do. As insight and encouragement, I would like to partially share a quote “When we look at the present world crisis confronting us, there seem to be many problems to be solved politically, economically, socially, in the realm of religion. No matter how much we try our best to compromise, forgive and reconcile with each other, unless we recognize…our ego-centric tendencies by realizing the Oneness of All Life, we shall never solve the problems now or in the future.” (From the site, www.buddhanet.net Part III: Toward the Future) I envision these coming years as one of mutual consultation and collaboration as we both minister and lay, men and women, young and old, Buddhists and non-Buddhists gather together with mutual respect and appreciation for one another to work towards making our world a safer and more meaningful place for all of us. But we must all come together! We are not separate entities. It has always concerned me that many people refer to Headquarters or Hawaii Kyodan as “them” or “they” and not “we.” We all are Hawaii Kyodan and we must be willing to help each other. And at Headquarters, we will try to find ways in which we may be of more assistance to you, the temples so the Dharma can spread and Sangha can grow.
And towards this end, I stated in my essay as a candidate for Bishop that I would like to visit every temple to meet with the members and have us connect with each other in the true spirit of Sangha. As our Kyodan President and I started some preliminary discussions about the future I was delighted to know that he shared the same thought that we need to reach out and come together. Yesterday I was touched by your generosity in increasing the Bishop’s PR Fund which will now allow Headquarters to proceed with these visitations with the aim of bringing all of us closer so that we can communicate with not only written words, but personally from heart to heart. On these particular visitations I do not expect any personal honorariums and will try my best to keep costs to a minimum. However, I will need your help, the leadership, ministers and lay leaders, at the temples, especially in asking the membership to come out for these gatherings.
Further, I would also like us, the Hawaii Kyodan, to work even more closely with the other community organizations including other Faith Traditions. Networking with others is an important component of being able to effectively help others and vital to our future, I feel. We cannot remain only unto ourselves and remain as isolated pockets. We must become more visible and an integrated part of our larger community. I would like Hawaii Kyodan to continue sharing Buddhist perspectives of equality, interdependence, non-violence and compassion for all with both members and non-members. In these troubled times of increasing violence and unrest around the world and with government cutbacks in both funding and services on the rise locally, the spirit of respecting and helping each other has once again become crucial. Increasingly, I feel that the realization of the 750th Memorial theme is closely connected to our every day life. If there is going to be peace in our world we need to address the suffering and issues that people are facing and experiencing in their daily life. Peace does not happen way up here somewhere in a vacuum. We need to meet the needs of people everywhere. Let us, as a Kyodan/Sangha and as individuals, be guided by Wisdom and inspired by Compassion. I believe the life of Shin Buddhist is a life of responding in gratitude to Amida Buddha’s Great Wisdom and Compassion embracing the wish for a better life for all peoples of the world. In the words of Shinran Shonin, “May there be peace in the world and may the Buddha-Dharma spread.”
I would like to close by expressing my appreciation to the Bishop Selection Committee which was initially to be chaired by the late Mrs. Lois Yasui and later chaired by Mr. Fred Nonaka and now all of you for your vote of confidence and I look forward to all of us, collaboratively working together in harmony guided by the Buddha-Dharma. Truly “May Peace and Tranquility Prevail throughout the World!” Thank you.
Namo Amida Butsu
Entrusting in the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Infinite Light