By REV. MARVIN HARADA, Bishop of BCA
The other day, I had the privilege of giving a lecture for the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University. They asked me to speak on the topic of the past, present, and future of the Buddhist Churches of America.
I very much enjoyed speaking there and we had a wonderful question-and-answer session after my lecture.
I shared some of our early history of our BCA, how it started in 1899 when two ministers from Japan were sent by the gomonshu at that time, Myonyo Shonin. In our early years, many churches and temples were established in major cities, like Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose, Fresno, and Seattle.
By 1914, 25 churches were established. In 1931, there were 33 churches, 59 ministers, and 11,000 members. During World War II, growth of the BCA came to a halt as Japanese Americans and ministers were sent to internment camps. During those camp years, Buddhist services were held in camp, and when the war ended, new Japanese communities were formed and our churches began to flourish again.
By the time that the BCA observed its 75th anniversary in 1974, the BCA had grown to 55 churches, 62 ministers, and 20,000 members. Perhaps that was our heyday.
Since then, we have seen a gradual decrease in membership and in recent years, it has become more acute. In the past 10 years, we have lost 28% of our membership. Presently, we number 58 churches, 35 ministers, and 10,000 members.
Clearly, we cannot continue our trend of decreasing membership and it is my goal as bishop to turn our membership decline around and to grow our sanghas.
As part of my lecture at Stanford, I showed a map that showed how Buddhism spread across the Asian continent over the course of the past 2,500 years. Starting from Northern India, Buddhism spread in two directions, to the north to Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan, and to the south to Southern India, and across to Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam.
I stated that this map shows me the future of Buddhism in America. Over the past 2,500 years, no matter what country Buddhism has entered, in time, it has become the predominant religion in that country. That is what gives me the confidence to know that someday, Buddhism will be the dominant religion in this country.
It might take 200 years or 300 years, but eventually, although this country is 95% Judeo-Christian, I have no doubt that this country will be predominantly Buddhist.
I would love to see what that will look like, but obviously I won’t be around. Will there be Buddhist temples and centers on every other block? What will it look like and what kind of Buddhism will be the major tradition in this country? Will it be Zen? Will it be Tibetan Buddhism? Will it be Soka Gakkai? Or will it be Shin Buddhism?
I think that our Shin Buddhist tradition has a lot to offer this country and to the world. Here are 10 things that Shin Buddhism offers to this country:
1. It is a teaching that anyone can follow, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
2. It is a teaching of listening, which has become a lost art in the world today.
3. It is a life of gratitude rather than a life of feeling entitled.
4. It is a life of humility, as opposed to a life of arrogance.
5. It is a life of self-introspection, rather than always blaming others.
6. It is a life of community, of Sangha, of belonging.
7. It is a life of meaning and fulfillment in life.
8. It is a life of the bodhisattva, to strive for the enlightenment of all beings.
9. It is a life of awakening, realization of truth, of the Dharma.
10. It is a life of bringing wisdom and compassion to the world.
I would love for Shin Buddhism to be a major Buddhist tradition someday in this country in the future. I don’t know why it can’t be. It is really up to us to share the teachings, to reach those who have yet to hear the Dharma, to share our teachings of humility, gratitude, self-introspection, and wisdom and compassion to all.
Rev. Marvin Harada became BCA bishop in 2020. Prior to that, he served as head minister of Orange County Buddhist Church for 33 years. He received degrees from the University of Oregon and Institute of Buddhist Studies before continuing his education in Japan at Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin Seminary and Ryukoku University (M.A., Shin Buddhist studies).