By John Sammon NikkeiWest Staff Writer
There is much more to being a Buddhist minister than simply leading Sunday services. The position also requires close involvement in the lives of people, for example offering counseling when requested, consolation for grief when needed, and providing the stability of an anchor in a community.
“It all comes from a depth of Buddhist teachings,” said Rev. Dennis Fujimoto. “You become a representative of the teachings of Buddha, the teaching of truth.”
Fujimoto took over as head of the Buddhist Church of Sacramento last August after serving as minister of the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple for 12 years.
“I’m really appreciative to be here, to work with families and friends in this Northern California District,” Fujimoto said.
The Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple is located in the farming community of Ontario, Oregon, in the high desert near the eastern border of Oregon. The closest large city is Boise, Idaho. Before World War II Japanese Americans from the Portland area and the states of Washington and Utah settled in the region to farm the land.
“The land was good for growing crops,” Fujimoto said. “But after the war Sansei Japanese Americans (third generation) left the farm and went to college. Few of them came back. The community (Ontario) is not what it was 30 years ago.”
Fujimoto replaced the Rev. Bob Oshita, who retired as head minister for the Buddhist Church of Sacramento after serving 32 years.
“Bob had so many connections here; he conducted so many weddings and saw the children of those couples grow up,” Fujimoto said. “He touched generations of families.”
Fujimoto’s father was a Buddhist Minister and his brother Ken is currently minister of the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin in San Jose’s Japantown.
“I was born in Tokyo and came to this country when I was one year old,” Fujimoto said. “My Grandfather had been a farmer in Southern California. He wanted one of his sons to become a Buddhist minister, so my father (Hogen Fujimoto) fulfilled his wish.
During World War II when the U.S. Government imprisoned 115,000 Japanese Americans living along the West Coast for suspected disloyalty, Fujimoto said his uncles were sent to an American concentration camp, Manzanar, located in a remote area of Eastern California. His father however was in Japan at the time studying Buddhism when the war broke out and was an American citizen. He was not detained or arrested by Japanese officials because of his U.S. citizenship, but his travel within Japan was restricted.
After World War II Hogen Fujimoto returned to the U.S. and became a minister for the Fresno Buddhist Church and later the Placer Buddhist Church in Penryn (northeast of Sacramento). He was one of the first English speaking Buddhist ministers.
Fujimoto’s mother Madame Suiyo Fujimoto was renowned as a teacher of the Ohara School of ikebana (Japanese floral arranging) for over 60 years.
Fujimoto attended grade school in Penryn. The family moved to the Bay Area when his father took an assignment with the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), the headquarters organization that oversees approximately 60 Buddhist temples across the country, located in San Francisco at 1710 Octavia St.
Fujimoto went to high school in San Leandro. His older brother Ken planned a trip to Japan to study Buddhism, and became an inspiration for Fujimoto to continue his own studies in the religion. Fujimoto took up the process and eventually journeyed to Kyoto, Japan, to receive the second of his two required ordinations (as a priest) in 2004.
The main temple of a Buddhist district is called a “Betsuin.” There are five Betsuins in America, in Seattle, San Jose, Fresno, Sacramento and Los Angeles. The head minister of a Betsuin Buddhist temple is called a “Rinban.”
Fujimoto said the Shin form of Buddhism is a practical religion that uses a common sense approach and addresses the realities of everyday life—one being that people have foibles and are not perfect.
“Shin addresses everyday life,” he said. “It’s easy for example to think you’re enlightened if you’re not involved with current conditions. But a person should be responsible, toward themselves, others and the environment.”
Fujimoto said the concept of unity and oneness rather than pointing out differences is what Buddhism stresses, and added that understanding the workings of personal ego is also an important part of learning.
“Some try to point out differences among people, but it’s more helpful to look at similarities,” Fujimoto said. “We’re all part of the oneness of all things. If you think only of yourself all of the time, you don’t understand how we’re all interconnected.”
One of Fujimoto’s duties is to provide stability and proper perspective in dealing with grief at the loss of a loved one. He said the grieving process involves the need to grieve and not to attempt to avoid it.
“People sometimes want to hold a celebration of life for a deceased person, but they also want to avoid grief and that’s not a complete perspective,” Fujimoto said. “If you think a better way is to avoid reality (grief), that’s not what Shin Buddhism teaches. You don’t want to look at just one side and not the other.”
Located at 2401 Riverside Blvd., the Buddhist Church of Sacramento provides a place for young people to enjoy activities and sports, including scouting, basketball and other sports. The church is also a cultural hub with jazz festivals, Obon dancing (honors the spirits of ancestors), Japanese American festivals and other events.
The temple’s Dharma School has an enrollment of approximately 350 pupils from nursery through high school and the curriculum is designed to produce open-minded individuals free of the three poisons of “greed, anger and ignorance.”
Some of the people who attend Buddhist services said they came to the religion because it is free of the guilt trips others preach. Fujimoto agreed the inclusive nature of Shin Buddhism is one part of its appeal.
“Life is our practice, the human element,” he said.
For more information on the Buddhist Church of Sacramento go to www.buddhistchurch.com
Photo caption: Rev. Dennis Fujimoto with mother Kayoko (Madame Suiyo Fujimoto) and wife Sharmon.