Outreach and Inreach
MAP-ping our way to a stronger Sangha

By Frederick Brenion

People can easily say about me that I don’t know if I’m coming or going. It’s so true. I really don’t know most of the time. Thankfully the Buddha was the complete opposite of me. A buddha is one who knows that he or she is indeed both coming and going. This is why Tathagata means both, “The one who has gone to Suchness,” and “The one who has come from Suchness.” There is a creative tension here that is brought about by this double-motion. It is a mystery to me but perhaps a buddha can only come to us by their leaving. Perhaps that is what is spiritually at the heart of sunyata, this Buddhist concept of “emptiness,” or rather “openness.” A buddha brings about, through the openness created by their going and coming, the conditions for awakening to reality. Such double-motions are found all throughout Buddhist teachings. We realize this when we truly learn at last that Samsara is Nirvana, and that Nirvana is Samsara; that this world is the Pure Land, and that the Pure Land is this world.

At the Temple Communication Staff (TCS) meetings of West Covina Buddhist Temple, I’ve discussed this same double-motion in myself. As I go deeper into listening to the Dharma, deeper into learning to listen to others, as well as myself, I find at the same time, the need to express myself outward to others that which I have found through this listening. My involvement with helping answer the temple’s website e-mail, writing Dharma articles, giving Dharma talks, and so on are all outcomes of this listening. And while I hope that I haven’t bored anyone with my ramblings, I find that, like the “Energizer Battery Bunny,” I need to keep on “going and going” further into the Dharma, and in so doing find that I need to keep on “going and going” ever outwards in sharing the incredible treasures that are to be found in our Buddhist tradition. The more one reaches in the more one must reach out. Like love, the more Dharma you give away the more you have. But then what is love but the Dharma lived from heart-to-heart. But always there is this double-motion. It seems to be fundamental to reality, and the pulse-beat of Buddhist life.

These sentiments are not mine alone, but are felt throughout our TCS. This is why we asked West Covina Buddhist Temple's Board of Directors to consider adding a cabinet position of Director of Outreach, which would be the flip side to the “inreaching” that the TCS has focused on in developing and encouraging the religious programs within the Temple. We want to make the Dharma known to our communities. As the principle vehicle of sharing the Dharma is the Sangha, we need to make our Sangha more visible and more viable. The temple’s Board agreed with this assessment and the position was approved. Peter Hata, whose passion for sharing the Dharma is an inspiration to me, has consented, along with myself, to co-chair this position. I am hoping that this will lead to many exciting challenges and experiences that will result in both inner growth on a personal level and outward growth in a Sangha we believe is ready to expand its horizons. And I hope that everyone in our Sangha will share with us their ideas, their hopes, for what we can do as a Dharma-based community.

A program, now underway, as a result of our conversations on outreaching is the M.A.P., the Minister’s Assistants Program. It means exactly that: assisting our minister in being a minister. Our Sensei, Rev. Ken Kawawata, does an incredible job in leading the Sangha, preparing Dharma talks for our young people and adults, leading discussions, as well as meeting pastoral needs. Along with this are the administrative tasks that need to be done as well. The task of a Sensei, which means “teacher,” is to teach us all to first become students of the Dharma and then go out into the world sharing the teachings with the Dharma growing in our hearts and minds. But even Senseis need time and thought to reflect on the Dharma, to visit other temples, attend needed training from our District and from the Honzan in Kyoto. But it is hard to do any of this without leaving our temple in the lurch.

Thus the Minister’s Assistants Program, whose purpose is to help our Sensei so that he can do those things that will deepen his own ministry. This may involve leading the chants, or discussions, as well as providing Dharma Talks to our Sangha. To do any of this requires training, to ensure that our Sangha receives what it requires: A Dharma-filled service and Dharma-filled teachings and explanations. And it is not just help in our services that is looked for. It is hoped that we might raise the hearts of Dharma-lions in all of us to lead in our homes, workplaces, and communities. We hope to see Dharma study groups formed that could foster further growth for our Sangha, as well as perhaps form the nucleus for future Sanghas.

A number of us interested in doing this are meeting after services to study more intensely the history and teachings of Buddhism, particularly as it leads to our own Shinshu tradition. The conversations each week have been heady and thoughtful, ranging from questioning the meaning of “rebirth” to the central importance of “dependent origination” or “interbeing.” All this is uncovering the incredible treasures that can be found in Buddhism, treasures that are there to help each of us deal with the reality of our sufferings and problems. We encourage all our members or potential members to consider assisting us in this activity, but our meetings are also open to those just interested in deepening their understanding of the depths of the Dharma. But ultimately, regardless of specific temple affiliations, we hope our fellow Shin Buddhists will consider this as just one aspect of Outreach that we can all be a part of.

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