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The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

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The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 11:30 am

Buddhist Churches of America is one of the oldest, as well as one of the most reputable, Buddhist organizations in the United States. By reputable, I mean that it hasn’t been associated with, as far as I know, any major scandal in its 100+ year history. BCA is the American branch of Jodo Shinshu, the largest sect of Buddhism in Japan.

While articles one finds on the internet typically suggest that BCA is in membership decline, that might at least partially be due to the way that membership is counted in BCA. Membership has traditionally been counted per family, rather than per person. Also, regular attendees of BCA services who don’t make yearly pledges for donations are not counted as official members.

While the BCA is rooted in the teachings of Shinran Shonin, there isn’t a hard line taken about how strictly one should interpret traditional Jodo Shinshu teachings. Also, while BCA is traditionally majority-Japanese, English-speaking is a regular part of their services. For these reasons, BCA is a good place for someone new to Buddhism, who will hopefully find a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Because of the BCA’s roots in Shin Buddhism, in which one relies entirely on Amida Buddha instead of one’s own efforts to attain enlightenment, you are unlikely to encounter people at BCA temples who have an exaggerated sense of self-importance or an unrealistic belief in their own spiritual attainments.

There’s also a tolerance for a diversity of interpretations, because having to get your beliefs exactly right is itself a form of self-power. While some BCA members believe that Amida is a literal flesh and blood Buddha from ten kalpas ago, others have a more Zen-like interpretation of Amida as non-dual from our own Buddha-nature.

The primary practice is reciting the Nembutsu, Namu-Amida-Butsu. There are different interpretations in Mahayana Buddhism as to the Nembutsu’s meaning. While some interpret it as calling out the name of Amida Buddha, as an external being, to provide us salvation, others interpret Amida as Buddha-nature itself and the Nembutsu as a method of awakening to our Buddha-nature.

As a side note, the BCA has been performing gay weddings since the 1970s. Because of the teaching that Amida accepts us just as we are, as well as the legacy of Japanese internment, the BCA is less likely to discriminate as other religious organizations.

Image
Last edited by Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 1:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby partofit22 on Fri Aug 04, 2017 1:15 pm

Beautiful post -- thank you- A quote from one of their sites:

"Pure Land Buddhism might suggest an otherworldly orientation, but its primary focus is on the here and now. Not the here and now grasped by the controlling ego-self but the here and now cherished as a gift of life itself to be lived creatively and gratefully, granted us by boundless compassion. The bountifulness of great compassion makes possible our liberation from the iron cage of our own making."

- Taitetsu Unno
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 1:17 pm

Please keep in mind, for anyone who might respond to this thread in the future, that I started this thread to provide general information, so that maybe others can draw connections between paths. I have no intent on proselytizing whatsoever or getting into a sectarian argument.
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby partofit22 on Fri Aug 04, 2017 1:18 pm

:hugs:
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 1:21 pm

partofit22 wrote:Beautiful post


Thank you. I have a strong appreciation for the BCA, though I'm not an official member or representative. I consider it an important part of America's history and religious landscape.
Last edited by Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 4:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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"Reciting the name of the Buddha constantly... His own body is the limitless body of Amida, the treasure trees of seven precious gems, the pond of the eight virtues." - Hakuin Ekaku

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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby partofit22 on Fri Aug 04, 2017 1:40 pm

You're welcome, Boatman- I'm not a member either- I do read Tricycle from time to time- This statement from Tricycle resonates with me:

"Our readership includes longtime practitioners, those who are curious about Buddhism or meditation, and those who do not identify as Buddhist but value the teachings of wisdom and compassion that Buddhism has to offer."
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 2:40 pm

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote: By reputable, I mean that it hasn’t been associated with, as far as I know, any major scandal in its 100+ year history.


I'm sorry if I gave the impression that no one in BCA has ever done anything wrong or improper. By major scandal, I was thinking about the problems some other Buddhist organizations in the United States have encountered involving well-publicized stories of alcoholism and sexual infidelity in the priesthood. Nobody's perfect, but these scandals might discourage people new to Buddhism from getting involved in these organizations, or disillusion those who ultimately learn about them.
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby desert_woodworker on Fri Aug 04, 2017 3:13 pm

Photo shows they're "tolerant" of variations of robe-colors, too. ;)

And, even of wearing footwear in the shrine. Is this a degeneration of the tradition since its coming to "the West?" Or, an accommodation to the ways of the new place that the tradition finds itself in?

Zen Buddhism has accommodated somewhat in its new home(s), too. Yes, for example, you don't find much Amida-recitation, ...but some (all's well).

I see one fellow at the left in sneakers wearing a rakusu. I suppose he is a transplant or visitor from a Zen Buddhist sangha (maybe even a Teacher, as the rakusu appears to be brocade).

--Joe
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 3:36 pm

desert_woodworker wrote:Photo shows they're "tolerant" of variations of robe-colors, too. ;)


It was an ecumenical meeting. You might notice Bhikkhu Bodhi in the picture's center. May you be happy and well.
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby desert_woodworker on Fri Aug 04, 2017 4:15 pm

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:It was an ecumenical meeting.

Interesting! Yes, that's bound to draw-in rara avis, as well as birds-of-a-feather.

The use of wood in the shrine is appealing, and harks-back nicely to the old-country (if it was not photographed in Japan). --Joe
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby desert_woodworker on Fri Aug 04, 2017 4:32 pm

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:Because of the teaching that Amida accepts us just as we are, as well as the legacy of Japanese internment, the BCA is less likely to discriminate as other religious organizations.

I doubt this unfortunate inference. "Other religious organizations" may not perform such weddings because they are not authorized in the state of their 501(c)(3) registration to do so. It's not proper to term that "discrimination".

All Buddhist organizations "accept us just as we are", even though, upon joining, we may not know who or what we are. That's what practice is for. Rest assured,

--Joe
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 4:58 pm

desert_woodworker wrote:I doubt this unfortunate inference. "Other religious organizations" may not perform such weddings because they are not authorized in the state of their 501(c)(3) registration to do so.


You might not be familiar with the laws in the United States, but the BCA was performing gay weddings decades before any state in the United States recognized same-sex marriage. These marriages were recognized by the BCA, not government officials.

It was pretty radical, very innovative, for any religious organization in the 1970s to be tolerant and accepting enough of gays as to perform gay weddings, whether officially recognized by the state or not. May you be happy and well.
I mean no disrespect to forum members on my ignore list. Gassho. __/\__

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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby desert_woodworker on Fri Aug 04, 2017 5:04 pm

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:You might not be familiar with the laws in the United States,...

Never yet been arrested in the Lower 48, nor in Alaska or Hawai'i.

--Joe
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 6:02 pm

desert_woodworker wrote: Yes, for example, you don't find much Amida-recitation, ...but some (all's well).


The term Nembutsu originally meant “mindfulness of the Buddha.” Mindfulness or recollection of the Buddha falls under right mindfulness and right concentration in the Eight-Fold Path, a practice which dates from the beginning of Buddhism:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... otion.html

The difference is that, in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, one usually practices recollection of the Buddha with Amida Buddha, rather than Shakyamuni Buddha, in mind. Since Mahayana Buddhism teaches that all Buddhahood is one, there’s no conflict seen between mindfulness of Amida Buddha and mindfulness of Shakyamuni Buddha.
I mean no disrespect to forum members on my ignore list. Gassho. __/\__

"Reciting the name of the Buddha constantly... His own body is the limitless body of Amida, the treasure trees of seven precious gems, the pond of the eight virtues." - Hakuin Ekaku

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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby bokki on Fri Aug 04, 2017 6:09 pm

LOL joe LOL JOE im now ur fan! and i thought ur just 2 free... me, i tought of u,, lol.
And, even of wearing footwear in the shrine. Is this a degeneration of the tradition since its coming to "the West?"

and this is a percent of what u offer...lol joe
keep it up and ill subscribe!!!
and seen ur other words... i like like like lol joe
ur some desert work...................!
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby bokki on Fri Aug 04, 2017 6:11 pm

Never yet been arrested in the Lower 48, nor in Alaska or Hawai'i.

lol joe cant type no more lol
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby Caodemarte on Fri Aug 04, 2017 6:35 pm

bokki wrote:LOL joe LOL JOE im now ur fan! and i thought ur just 2 free... me, i tought of u,, lol.
And, even of wearing footwear in the shrine. Is this a degeneration of the tradition since its coming to "the West?"

and this is a percent of what u offer...lol joe
keep it up and ill subscribe!!!
and seen ur other words... i like like like lol joe
ur some desert work...................!


If you are familiar with the history of the largest Buddhist group in the US, you will note that
BCA was organized with the specific purpose of "Americanizing" their form of Japanese Buddhism and make it look as much as possible like an upper and middle class Protestant church with similar services while helping new immigrants of that sect assimilate. (This is not a knock by the way).

BCA has had the same problems or scandals as any other church or religion just like Thai, Khmer, Korean, Theravada, Tibetan or any other temple or organization. Or that matter plumbers or doctors have. It is a human problem.
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 6:39 pm

Caodemarte wrote:If you are familiar with the history of the largest Buddhist group in the US, you will note that
BCA was organized with the specific purpose of "Americanizing" their form of Japanese Buddhism and make it look as much as possible like an upper and middle class Protestant church with similar services while helping new immigrants of that sect assimilate. (This is not a knock by the way).


This was a hundred years ago, when people of Japanese descent weren't eligible to become naturalized American citizens. The word "church" was used as to avoid persecution. At the local level, they are now referred to as temples rather than churches, though the national organization has kept its historical name. Almost everything else about the BCA, however, is similar to what you'd find at a Jodo Shinshu temple in Japan, and the BCA is still under the jurisdiction of the Japanese Nishi Honganji.
I mean no disrespect to forum members on my ignore list. Gassho. __/\__

"Reciting the name of the Buddha constantly... His own body is the limitless body of Amida, the treasure trees of seven precious gems, the pond of the eight virtues." - Hakuin Ekaku

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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby desert_woodworker on Fri Aug 04, 2017 6:48 pm

bokki wrote:LOL joe LOL JOE im now ur fan! and i thought ur just 2 free... me, i tought of u,, lol.
joe wrote:And, even of wearing footwear in the shrine. Is this a degeneration of the tradition since its coming to "the West?"

and this is a percent of what u offer...lol joe
keep it up and ill subscribe!!!
and seen ur other words... i like like like lol joe
ur some desert work...................!

It might tickle funny-bones, but I'm entirely serious in my asking about the possibility of degeneration of the tradition, or an accommodation to suit the new place that the tradition has landed in, taking its new name, to boot.

BB had been critical in earlier posts of changes he or she believes he or she perceived in Zen Buddhist practice in Western places, as if accommodations and gracious conformance are not natural when one is at first a Guest in a new place... .

So I ask(ed) about the shoes in the temple, or shrine-room. A major "accommodation", it would have to seem!

Hail! to all pioneering Teachers, who brought -- and bring -- the Dharma to where it's needed. And to their welcoming accommodations and modifications of (some) "alien" ways in the new place. Most Compassionate and Wise.

bokki wrote:and this is a percent of what u offer...lol

Maybe 12 1/2 percent, I'll risk. Fully one-eighth, let's say.

Not to make everything and everybody into a laughing-stock, I'll aver, ...but it's better, I find, not to be humorless and sterile (I'm not indicating anyone in present company, of course; heaven forfend!).

Thanks for your kind reply;

See you further down the Calendar,

--Joe
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Re: The Buddhist Churches of America: An Overview

Postby Boatman Bodhisattva on Fri Aug 04, 2017 6:53 pm

desert_woodworker wrote:A major "accommodation", it would have to seem.

Boatman Bodhisattva wrote:This was a hundred years ago, when people of Japanese descent weren't eligible to become naturalized American citizens. The word "church" was used as to avoid persecution. At the local level, they are now referred to as temples rather than churches, though the national organization has kept its historical name. Almost everything else about the BCA, however, is similar to what you'd find at a Jodo Shinshu temple in Japan, and the BCA is still under the jurisdiction of the Japanese Nishi Honganji.


You can watch Youtube videos of Jodo Shinshu services in Japan, and they are almost indistinguishable from BCA services in the United States.

:hugs:
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"Reciting the name of the Buddha constantly... His own body is the limitless body of Amida, the treasure trees of seven precious gems, the pond of the eight virtues." - Hakuin Ekaku

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