“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” – A Buddhist Saying
Many people who visit the Hawaiian Islands, including Maui, consider this place to be a tropical paradise. Many consider it to be the same, however there is another reality that lies just beyond our pristine shores and swaying palm trees. Like other places in the world, Maui residents struggle with stressful situations like the high cost of living, job insecurity, and community inequities. But while visitors come here to escape the pressures of their everyday lives, where can Maui residents go to find peace and solace in these times of conflict and uncertainty? One local place, the Wailuku Hongwanji Mission is hoping to be the answer.
The Wailuku Hongwanji Mission is one of more than thirty Jodo Shinshu temples located throughout the Hawaiian Islands and they have been here for a long time, quietly spreading their message of Buddhist teachings, bringing spiritual comfort and providing needed social programs. They have a Japanese language school, a pre-school, a judo training facility, host Boys and Cub Scouts, provide a place for the community to gather, visit local nursing homes and support local food banks. Yet with all they do, they have plans to do much more.
The year 2019 marked Wailuku Hongwanji’s 120th year of service to Maui’s residents. As part of their Vision 2030 mission initiative they are exploring ways to serve this community for another generation. But just how they complete this task may be challenging, especially since self-promoting is contrary to Buddhist teachings.
So what can the mission provide the residents of Maui and how can they help be a respite from the cares of daily living? A clue may be in their mission statement
“The mission of Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii is to share the living Teachings of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism so that all beings may enjoy lives of harmony, peace, and gratitude.”
Many might say harmony, peace, and gratitude in their lives would be great, yet the means to achieve these things may be more complicated, especially when it comes to religion. According to The Global Religious Landscape | Pew Research Center, a comprehensive demographic study conducted by Pew Research Center, eight-in-ten people worldwide identify with a religious group, yet only 7% were Buddhists.
So what can the Mission do to expand its reach into the Maui community and what is Buddhism anyway? According to History.com’s website on religion, “Buddhism is a faith that was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (“the Buddha”) more than 2,500 years ago in India with about 470 million followers.”
Buddhism, while believed to be a religion, follows a different tenet than most other world faiths. Followers don’t acknowledge a supreme god or deity. They instead focus on achieving enlightenment—a state of inner peace and wisdom. When followers reach this spiritual echelon, they’re said to have experienced nirvana.
One thing that the Wailuku Hongwanji Mission has going for it is that they’ve been in Maui a long time. It was founded in 1899 and served as a spiritual and social gathering place for first generation Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii seeking better opportunities. Their site states that their spiritual pursuit is: “Attaining the “entrusting heart”–awakening to the compassion of Amida Tathagata (Buddha) through the working of the Primal Vow–we shall walk the path of life reciting Amida’s Name (Nembutsu). At the end of life, we will be born in the Pure Land and attain Buddhahood, returning at once to this delusional world to guide people to awakening.”
This might be a little more complicated to understand than their previously stated goal of sharing so that “all beings may enjoy lives of harmony, peace, and gratitude.”
As I spoke with Sharon, a staff member at the mission regarding their 2030 vision and how they can bring more awareness to the Maui community, she paused before replying.
“We are a wonderful place where the community can come together and learn and share” She then invited me to make an appointment to speak further with Reverend Shinkai Murakami, the resident minister to get information on their teachings. She also offered me a list of books that would be helpful.
“He can provide more on the spiritual teachings,” she said hesitating. “I’m just a staff member.”
One thing is for sure; as a busy, full-time student and volunteer juggling a life of varying responsibilities and demands, that harmony, peace, and gratitude thing is something I constantly need. Maybe I’ll make time to stop in and take a closer look.