In a tradition of our Temple, March was Girl Scout Month when our Girl Scouts had the responsibility of chairing the Sunday service, serving the refreshments, and cleaning up the YBA hall. This year, we have six graduating high school seniors from our Girl Scouts. And three of them have been with the MVBT troop since it was formed 13 years ago. I have witnessed their growth since I came to this temple, and I am really glad that all of them have built their courage, confidence, responsibility, and character through the successful GS program. They are all going to be wonderful women who will contribute their efforts, not only to the BCA, but to the rest of society.
When I see young girls working hard with a great sense of responsibility and harmony for the benefit of our temple and Sangha, and chairing the Sunday Services, I really wish that more women would play an active part in both our community and the world because I firmly believe women make the world better than one shaped by male dominance.
Buddhism has been practiced for over 2,500 years, and it is clearly true that the Buddha’s teaching has been handed down to us today because of the great efforts of women as well as men. Throughout history, many great women dedicated their lives for the prosperity of Buddhism. For example, Queen Maya, Buddha’s mother, who gave birth to Siddhartha. It was her sister, Maha Prajapati, who raised the Siddhartha. Also, I respect a village girl, Sujata, who kindly gave rice porridge to Siddhartha. After six years of ascetic practice, Siddhartha’s body and mind had weakened tremendously. At that point, Sujata approached Siddhartha and offered him milk and rice porridge. It is well known that because of her courage and generosity, Siddhartha was able to regain his health and have the strength to reach enlightenment after 49 days of sitting in meditation under the Bodhi Tree. When Siddhartha was exhausted in mind and body, it was Sujata who came forward to save his life. If she had not done so, Siddhartha would not have found enlightenment, and we today would not be able to encounter the Buddha Dharma.
Women also played a central role in Jodo Shinshu history. First, our founder Shinran’s wife, Eshinni, deepened the marital bond with Shinran with independence and trust and supported him for 60 years as he spread his understanding of the Nembutsu teaching. From that time, Eshinni has been a role model of a minister’s wife in Jodo Shinshu tradition. It was Shinran’s daughter, Kakushinni, who determined the site of Shinran’s remains which became the foundation of our Hongwanji which would help hand down the Nembutsu teaching to the generations to come. Lastly, we should consider Lady Takeko Kujo, a daughter of Koson Otani, the 21st head priest of the Hongwanji. She founded the Fujinkai, or Buddhist Women’s Association. And she insisted on the importance of female education, establishing Kyoto Women’s University in hopes that women could play an active, equal part in society. She also gave medical support to many people who lost their homes or were injured in the huge Tokyo earthquake of 1923. During this period, she also established Ashoka Hospital. And finally, she rebuilt the Tsukiji Hongwanji in Tokyo which had been completely destroyed by the Kanto earthquake. Because of these great efforts, Tsukiji Hongwanji still serves as the center of the propagation of Jodo Shinshu teaching in Tokyo today.
In our BCA, many women have played a very important and remarkable role. Rev. Patti Usuki served as Chair of the BCA Ministers Association for two years. She was the first female minister to serve as the chairperson of our Ministers Association. At the ministers’ meeting held in Seattle this past February, there were four ministers seated at the head table including Rev. Usuki, chair the BCA Ministers Association; Rev. Diana Thompson, and Rev. Candice Shibata, recording secretary. The sole male minister at the table was Bishop Umezu. It was unprecedented and great evidence that women provide great leadership in the Ministers Association.
It is also noteworthy that from this coming April, the BCA president-elect will be Terri Omori from Vista Buddhist Temple. In 2022, she will become the BCA’s first female president. It will be a significant and historical event in the BCA’s 123 years and a great stride forward as a Buddhist organization in America.
There was also an amazing local event this past January. Our friends, Margaret Abe Koga and Ellen Kamei, both accomplished a special achievement: Margaret was inaugurated as mayor and Ellen took office as vice-mayor of the city of Mountain View. Margaret is a longtime supporter of our temple and Ellen is our temple member. They are the first female Japanese Americans to hold these important positions on the Mountain View city council. I went to the city council reorganization meeting with my daughter last January to see them being sworn in as Major and Vice-Major respectively. It was a proud and historic event when I fully realized the bright world where women can play an important role with gusto as well as men. It is exciting to see what leadership roles that successful women can play in our community
These examples show the importance of women’s power. For those of us who live the Nembutsu, it is very important to practice the teaching of gender equality and more respect women’s human rights as we rejoice in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha which embraces all beings equally and without exception. Just as Buddhism has been supported by countless wonderful women, I strongly believe that the best way to create a better world is to make sure our community includes many more women leaders to serve alongside the men.
As we are guided by Amida Buddha’s light of wisdom which shines on each one of us equally, I sincerely hope that we can realize a wonderful world where all women will be proud and confident of their talents and abilities so they will not be afraid to become leaders who contribute to the well-being of their community and the world.
Rev. Yushi Mukojima