Rev. Takamasa Yamamura, head minister at Honolulu Myohoji Mission, a Honolulu-based Buddhist temple, has witnessed many of the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. His temple closed during initial lockdowns in March of 2020, but has re-opened at times when coronavirus cases were low. In a recent interview, he discussed the changes that life during the pandemic has brought to him and his Buddhist practice.
From the outset, he has hoped that the pandemic would end quickly, saying: “It is [a] pain for me to see and hear that people around the world suffer from COVID because I have been praying for the ending of the pandemic soon.” (KHON2)
While the pandemic has created hardship for Rev. Yamamura, he has taken a philosophical approach to the difficulties. His approach now has become one of acceptance and appreciation of our current reality.
“The pandemic continues because a pandemic will be necessary for global environmental conservation,” he explained. “But I am praying for the health and inner peace of people all over the world every day.” (KHON2)
Like many Buddhists around the world, the closing of physical facilities has led to technological innovation. This move online has had its limitations, but it has also allowed people around the world to connect with teachings.
“Especially with the followers in Southeast Asia,” he said. “The other day, I preached the Dharma with Zoom for Brazilians followers.” (KHON2)
In addition to Zoom teachings, Rev. Yamamura has spent time developing a YouTube channel, primarily offering an array of teachings in Japanese with English subtitles.
“We upload a movie twice a month to share Buddhist messages and solutions of worries and problems in daily life,” said Rev. Yamamura. “The language I speak is Japanese, but there are English subtitles. The singing of my opera will also be uploaded.” (KHON2)
In the past, Rev. Yamamura gained the title “the Singing Priest” for incorporating music into his spiritual life. He was interviewed in 2016 about his life, saying: “I particularly liked Elvis’ gospel music, like ‘How Great Thou Art,’ but I also enjoyed his more commercial songs like ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love.’ There was an emotional power there that I really loved.” (The Hawaiʻi Herald)
Rev. Yamamura said that his life changed when a teacher at his elementary school told him that he had a special voice. “It was as if she opened a door for me and gave me permission to pursue what I really loved.” From that point on, Rev. Yamamura dedicated his life to music and singing, and at the age of 18, he enrolled at Showa University College of Music in Kawasaki, Japan.
He went on to study opera in Italy before eventually making his way to Hawaiʻi. In 2010, Rev. Yamamura was appointed as head minister of the Honolulu Myohoji Mission, a Nichiren temple.
“People think Buddhism is so complex, but in reality it is very clear,” he said. “As a young man, I believed for a long time that happiness was something that had to be pursued and acquired externally, but true happiness begins on the inside first. My life’s goal now is to help as many people as I can understand this simple truth.” (The Hawaiʻi Herald)
Buddhist priest explains how the pandemic changed his way of prayer (KHON2)
The Singing Priest (The Hawaiʻi Herald)
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