"A Place to Heal, A Place to Grow"

Higashi Honjanji Buddhist Temple in Costa Mesa offers an Eastern approach to praying and building faith.
By Michelle Terwilleger for the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa
Daily Pilot

Higashi Honjanji Buddhist Temple means different things to the 50 different families who belong to the Costa Mesa congregation. Basically what I'm looking for is to get out of pain," said Rod Castroreale of Costa Mesa, who has attended the temple on and off for five years and is suffering from an unspecified illness. Castroreale, who was raised in the Catholic Church, said he didn't reach the same kind of peace by praying to get better. "I would not accept the illness and by doing that it caused me more pain," he said. "Now I'm dealing with the reality of it. I really have relieved a lot of my pain." Part of Shin Buddhism is accepting the suffering and impermanence of life. Shin Buddhism teaches congregants the four truths, which include that everyone will experience suffering and that suffering is caused by ignorance. "The Buddhists didn't talk about metaphysics. They get rid of illusions," Castroreale said.

Higashi Honjanji services begin with introductions from temple priest Tsuyoshi Hirosumi and an incense offering. Congregants come to the front of the room one at a time, place their offering, bow and pick up ashes to put in a bowl of burning incense. "It's a purification of atmosphere, of body and mind," Hirosumi said. Next, a long chant is read with a bell rung intermittedly. The Chinese chant, which is read with Japanese phonetics, is a teaching of Buddha translated from the Sanskrit. Then Hirosumi gives a brief talk, first in English, then Japanese. The talk concerns Buddhist teachings such as enlightenment, selflessness and interdependence. Hirosumi reminded congregants earlier this month that all things are dependent on each other and told them to be mindful of how one small change in circumstances can alter their reality. "Nothing is individual in this world. Everything is dependent," Hirosumi said from his pulpit. "Life is a net, a huge fishing net. And each of us is a mesh in that net. One square." He said that people should not take all the credit for their successes in life, but instead should be conscious of how other people and circumstances contributed to them. Among other teachings, Hirosumi emphasizes that Buddhists should appreciate all life because "all living things have the potential to become a Buddha." In addition to services, the temple holds Japanese tea ceremonies, bingo on Saturdays for fund-raising, occasional retreats and Dharma, or Sunday school classes.

Ronnie Young teaches Dharma classes to the temple's youngest Buddhists who make paper lanterns and drawings and have their own incense burning. "We teach them about compassion in a way they can understand it," Young said. "If it's truth, you find it all over. Buddhist teachings are in almost any children's literature." Sandra Kodama, who grew up in Japan and lives in Villa Park, sends her children to Dharma classes to keep them in touch with their religious and cultural roots. "Like Catholicism or Christianity, I want to carry over family stuff. I want them to get used to coming here," Kodama said. "They learn how to read and pray and get back to history."

About half of Higashi Honganji's congregation is Japanese. Hirosumi sees the Japanese culture and religion as intertwined. "Buddhism produces Japanese culture," he said. "You directly come to religious practice to understand Japanese culture."

-Michelle Terwilleger

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