Buddhist Churches of America

The Salt Lake Buddhist Temple is one of 63 temples within the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), with headquarters located in San Francisco, California. BCA is affiliated with Jodo Shinshu Honganji Ha, also known as Nishi Honganji. The main temple (honzan) is located in Kyoto, Japan. BCA was officially founded on September 1, 1899. BCA was originally known as the American Buddhist Organization. Nishi Honganji is a Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land Sect) Temple. Within Buddhism, as with Christianity, there are many sects. Jodo Shinshu is one of the largest sects of Buddhism in Japan, with more than 10,000 temples.

In addition to the United States and Japan, there are Nishi Honganji Temples in Canada, Brazil, Korea, Singapore, England, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, Taiwan and Africa. The founder of our sect is Shinran Shonin (1173-1263). Shinran was born May 21, 1173 and died on January 16, 1263. Shinran never intended to found a new sect of Buddhism, yet through his life and writings he profoundly influenced many individuals, who wanted to follow his teachings. Some of the innovative matters in which Shinran interpreted the Buddhist doctrine were:

  • He spoke of the possibility of enlightenment for the common man, nobility and priests.

  • He broke away from the monastic tradition and was the first priest to marry.

  • He emphasized the other power of Amida Buddha rather than self power in reaching spiritual peace. 

Nishi Honganji has followed a patrilineal line as the head of our sect. The title given to this individual is Gomonshu or Abbot. The current Gomonshu is Kosho Otani. He is the 24th descendant in a direct line from Shinran Shonin, the founder of our sect of Buddhism.

Salt Lake Buddhist Temple History

The early Issei (first generation) Japanese pioneers had to work long hours of hard labor for menial pay. They suffered personal humiliation. They were denied citizenship, and endured poor working and living conditions. However, they never lost their human dignity and belief in their dream for a better life. For many, it was their religion that was the source of their strength. The history of our temple, and other temples within the BCA, is a history of religious people struggling to be accepted in an alien culture yet unyielding to the strong Christian influence.

Many of the early immigrants came to work on the railroads. Once the railroads were near completion, they found work in labor camps, in the mines or whatever other menial job that was available. There were many work-related casualties and deaths among the men. Death related to childbirth for women and infant fatalities were frequent. Life was often unbearable for these lonely pioneers. For them, the United States was a vast country, thousands of miles from Japan, with no familiar support system. As a result, they requested that the newly established headquarters for Nishi Honganji in San Francisco, California, send a priest.

In the fall of 1912, Rev. Koyu Uchida came from San Francisco and conducted a memorial service in Ogden, Utah, for the deceased Issei pioneers. This date marked the first movement toward an organized Buddhist Temple.

These Issei ministers were well educated and trained. Their duties were varied, from driving the bus to pick up children from the rural areas for Sunday School and Japanese School, to writing letters for illiterate mine workers. Ministers provided the only counseling available. Although not fluent, they had learned basic English skills while studying in Japan.

Many speak with awe and gratitude for ministers such as Rev. Eiju Shibata, who served during the most difficult of this country's depression years and Rev. Chonen Terakawa, who was taken prisoner along with the Japanese community's other leaders during World War II during the relocation of Japanese Americans. His wife, Mrs. Yoshie Terakawa, an ordained minister, conducted all the services and duties in his stead.

April 1918, The Buddhist Women's Association (Fujinkai) originated with a group of 29 mothers, known as the Ha ha no kai (Mother's association). They have continued to be a faithful and stabilizing force within our temple. In 1968, B.W.A. celebrated their 50th anniversary with the purchase and dedication of our present altar (Naijin). 

On April 23, 1918, the Sunday School was organized by Rev. Renjo Hirozawa 1917-1926. Originally the parents did not try to indoctrinate their children, the Nisei (second generation), into their own religion. They felt that perhaps if they allowed them to assimilate into the dominant Christian society, they would be accepted more readily by the larger society, enhancing their job opportunities. However, history shows that this did not happen. The desire to see their children become aware of important concepts such as On (gratitude) and the Nembutsu (reliance on Amida Buddha) made it necessary to establish a Sunday School for their children. The Sunday School was the forerunner of our present Dharma School. The Nisei observed their parents' attitude and action in times of despair and happiness. Through these experiences, they learned the concept of gratitude. Such as loyalty to their country of birth, America, and through observing their parents' attitude of Hoon (repaying indebtedness to Amida Buddha) and all causes and conditions in their life, they continued to support the activities of the temple and listen to the Nembutsu teachings.

Following the reactivation of the Sunday School after World War II, Sunday School teachers translated Rev. Shintatsu Sanada's stories and sermons into English for the children. Up until this time, everything had been conducted in Japanese. The public was welcomed to attend these Sunday morning services.

The Young Men's Buddhist Association, the Busseis, were organized in 1924 as a support and social group. Later women were included in the Association and the group was renamed Young Buddhist Association (YBA). The YBA continues to be an active organization within our temple.

Our temple has survived over the years, through the hard work and diligence of members and ministers. The Jodo Shinshu teachings have provided comfort and a way of understanding life that has nurtured our families over the years. We foresee future growth and expansion of Jodo Shinshu as we continually adapt to the ever changingneeds of the congregation without losing our reliance on the Nembutsu teachings.

Salt Lake Buddhist Temple ministers

  • Rev. Kenryo Kuwahara 1912-1915

  • Rev. Manjo Ichimura 1915-1917

  • Rev. Takunen Nishimoto 1917-1918

  • Rev. Renjo Hirozawa 1917-1926

  • Rev. Zenyu Aoki 1926-1930

  • Rev. Eiju Shibata 1930-1933

  • Rev. Setsuzan Nakatsukasa 1933-1936

  • Rev. Gikan Nishinaga 1936-1938

  • Rev. Eijitsu Hojo 1937-1938

  • Rev. Shingetsu Akahoshi 1938-1940

  • Rev. Chonen Terakawa 1940-1954

  • Rev. Shintatsu Sanada 1954-1964

  • Rev. Seiki Ishihara 1964-1971

  • Rev. Hakubun Watanabe 1971-1982

  • Rev. Chijun Yakumo 1982-1991

  • Rev. Jerry K. Hirano 1993-Present