By John Sammon
A newly ordained minister for the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) said the faith remains a vibrant part of Northern California communities because of its inclusionary nature and the active outreach of its programs.
“In Buddhism there is a heavy focus on developing personal harmony,” said Candice Shibata. “Despite our personal struggles and the challenges of everyday living, we learn to acknowledge we’re all part of a bigger picture. We’re all connected together.”
A Minister in Orientation for the Berkeley Buddhist Temple in the “Jodo Shinshu” variant of the faith, Shibata said she will call upon her own unique skills to further the work of the church. She is also an Intern Marriage and Family Therapist with a Master’s Degree from the University of San Francisco.
Known as Shin Buddhism meaning “True Pure Land School,” the faith dates from the 12th century, founded by a monk named Shinran in the Kyoto area of Japan. When Japanese immigrants began arriving in America in the 19th century, many of them came from areas of Japan where Shin Buddhism was common and so the faith quickly established itself in California.
It is considered today one of the most widely practiced forms of Buddhism in Japan and California.
“I was ordained as a Kyoshi (Teacher) Minister last June,” Shibata said. “Prior to that, I was a graduate student at the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) in Berkeley, a private seminary school.”
The school’s major focus is training Jodo Shinshu ministers to serve in BCA Temples across the U.S. and also has a Buddhist chaplaincy program.
Shibata grew up in the Stockton area.
“My father Tad works for the San Joaquin County Public Works Dept. on the maintenance of flood control levies,” she said. “My mother Jackie was a Stockton Buddhist Temple secretary and we come from a family of minsters going all the way back to my great grandfather in the BCA and even longer in Japan. That makes me a fourth generation BCA Minister.”
Shibata said growing up attending the temple with her parents as a child provided her with a solid foundation of life values. The church and its teachings helped her to cope with the loss of her mother, who passed away in 2003.
“That shook me to the core,” Shibata recalled. “I was grief stricken and found myself withdrawing, shying away from people. Buddhism helped me to deal with it and because of the grief and the journey that I made, I was able to see the world through a different pair of eyes, mind and heart. Eventually it compelled me to become a minister.”
Buddhist Church activities in California suffered during World War II when 115,000 Japanese Americans living along the West Coast were imprisoned in a dozen concentration camps scattered throughout the Southwest U.S. on the false charge of being potential enemy aliens. Both sides of Shibata’s family became prisoners in camps during the war.
“My mother was born in a camp, Minidoka (Idaho),” Shibata said. “My father’s family was sent to Heart Mountain (Wyoming) and my grandfather was a BCA Buddhist Minister in the camp.”
Buddhist ministers often continued their ministries in the camps, conducting services for inmates, serving as barracks leaders and sometime serving as representatives between inmates and camp authorities and guards.
Prisoners at the Heart Mountain Camp constructed a Buddhist Shrine during the war and presented it to Shibata’s family members as a gift. In the 1980s it was decided to ship the shrine to Fukuoka, Japan, a coastal city on the southern island of Kyushu, where family ancestors had originated.
“I went on a trip to Fukuoka just after I became an ordained Buddhist minister and saw the altar that had been given to my family that was made at Heart Mountain,” Shibata said. “This was in July of 2015.”
The shrine, five feet in height and placed in a Shibata Family Buddhist Temple in Fukuoka, was made of wood. Hand-made carvings in the wood etched on little doors that could be open and shut portrayed the Heart Mountain Prison, its barracks buildings and scenes of the landscape around the camp.
“My father’s cousin was running the family temple at the time I visited,” Shibata noted.
Shibata said the strength of the Buddhist faith is that the religion is not only a way of life but one that puts a high emphasis on showing compassion for others.
“It’s an inclusionary and welcoming religion,” she said. “We have gratitude for everyone we encounter and it includes people from all walks of life. This goes all the way back to when it originated in Japan.”
Shibata said that originally the faith was practiced by mostly Issei (first generation Japanese immigrants) and Nisei (American born Japanese Americans). Nowadays there are many different people of differing ethnicities.
“It still includes a lot of children and grandchildren of Issei and Nisei,” she noted.
Shibata currently works under the direction of Reverend Dr. David Matsumoto, Berkeley Temple Minster and also a professor of Buddhist Studies at IBS.
“My duties in a typical week include co-officiating Sunday services,” Shibata said. “I assist Rev. Matsumoto or if he’s gone I am able to conduct the services myself. We perform memorial services for people who have passed away and we also have a very active outreach program in the community.”
Church involvement in the community includes feeding hungry and homeless people as volunteers for local food banks, welcoming new people and visitors to the church and working with youth groups and students.
“We’re always involved in an active role in the community and trying to boost our membership in the church,” Shibata said.
She intends to use her skills as an intern marriage and family therapist in helping members of the community.
“I want to make the church my life’s work,” Shibata said. “One of the wonderful things about our school of Buddhism is that you can be a minister and still get married and have a family. There are BCA temples all over the country and we always tell people who are interested to stop by for a visit or call us.”
A website for the church can be viewed at www.berkeleysangha.org. The phone is 510-841-1356.