The Hawaii Buddhist Council (HBC) hosted Buddha Day celebrations at Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin in Honolulu on 2 April. Also known as Hanamatsuri in Japanese, Buddha Day is when Buddhists around the world gather to celebrate the birth of the historical Buddha.
Traditionally, the celebration takes place during the week before or after 8 April and often include chanting, meditation, the reaffirmation of vows, and the bathing of Buddha statues.
Reverend Sol Kalu, associate minister of Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin, described the holiday: “This day, besides being a day of joyous celebration, is also the day for Buddhists to stop and reflect on what the religion or belief system symbolizes as well as its role in people’s lives.” (The Hawai‘i Herald)
The Hawaii Buddhist Council consists of representatives from seven Buddhist denominations. Each year, the council hosts Hanamatsuri services at the temple of one of its members. This year’s celebrations included a talk from Dr. George Tanabe titled “Why We Tell Stories,” along with performances from Jeff Gere, a professional storyteller, and professional violinist Lesley Kline.
During the feature show, Jeff Gere gave a rendition of the Jataka Tales, entertaining the audience with stories in which Buddha appears as an animal and learns various life lessons through his adventures. Lesley Kline played her violin during the performance to add musical textures to each story.
Reverend Kalu described the significance of the Jataka Tales: “Some of [the Buddha’s] previous lives were in the form of animals and this is where the compilation of the Jataka Tales, stories of the Buddha’s life as animals, that have moral lessons and usually taught to children, evolved.” (The Hawai‘i Herald)
The Reverend went on to say: “The important thing to learn is that, in all of Shakyamuni Buddha’s cycle of rebirth, it was only in human form that he attained enlightenment or nirvana, not in the other five realms of the suffering world.” (The Hawai‘i Herald)
Reverend Kalu grew up in the Philippines. He encountered the Jodo Shinshu teachings during a trip to Kyoto and was inspired to become a Buddhist minister. He received Tokudo ordination in 2007 and Kyoshi ordination in 2010. He has served as an associate minister at Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin since 2017.
Dr. George Tanabe lives is Waialua, Hawai’i. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University, a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, and both a Master of Arts and a Doctorate from Columbia University. He is the president of Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (BDK) Hawai’i and BDK America (Berkeley).
Jeff Gere performs and tells stories to audiences all over the world. He produced Talk Story Festival, a storytelling celebration in Hawai‘i, for 27 years.
Lesley Kline lived in Paris before moving to Oahu. She plays violin in establishments all over Hawai‘i.
The Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin is a Jodo Shinshu temple located in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. It has strong connections to the Nishi Hongwanji head temple in Kyoto and is part of the larger Hawaii Kyodan, which is composed of 34 Buddhist temples.
Honpa Hongwanji’s mission statement is: “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.” (Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin)
The temple provides a variety of services to its congregants, including Sunday services in English and Japanese, accredited pre-kindergarten through eighth grade education via Hongwanji Mission School, an accredited college preparatory high school through Pacific Buddhist Academy (PBA), and various organizations and cultural activities.
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