Buddhism in Hawai‘i

A Program of Seven Panels

Supported by the Hawaii Council fore the Humanities, and BDK Hawaii

Honpa Hongwanji main temple in the international Indian-Western style

Of the 112,000 people in Hawai’i who identify themselves as Buddhists, approximately 20,000 are members of Japanese temples. The remaining 92,000 people belong to other Buddhist organizations or simply think of themselves as being Buddhists without any ties to a group. In the United States as a whole, over 2.2 million people are Buddhists, which means that Hawai’i’s Buddhist population makes up only 5% of the number of Buddhists nationwide.

These statistics clearly show that there is a huge Buddhist community outside of Japanese Buddhist congregations in our state and nation, and any discussion about the place of Buddhism in our society needs to be set in this wider context.

This is exactly what will happen at the Hawai’i Book and Music Festival, which will take place on April 30 and May 1, 2016 on the grounds of the City Hall of Honolulu. On Sunday, May 1, nineteen panelists in seven sessions between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. will explore diverse aspects of the Buddhist community in Hawai’i. Co-sponsored by the Hawai’i Council for the Humanities and BDK Hawai’i, each of the following panels will begin with comments from the panelists, and the audience will then be invited to participate in an informal, talk-story exploration of the many, sometimes surprising, facets of Buddhism in Hawai’i.

For biographies of the panelists please go to individual biographies.

Click on the Author's name to access their complete biography and links.

Panel 1: Architectural Adaptations of Japanese Buddhist Temples in Hawaiʻi

Lorraine Minatoishi Palumbo, architectural historian and producer of Aloha Buddha
Willa Tanabe, art historian and co-author of Japanese Buddhist Temples in Hawaiʻi
(10 am)

The history of temple architecture tells the story of Japanese assimilation to island culture, and can be traced with extant examples of five styles.  The most remarkable style is the fourth one, which combines Indian Buddhist stupas, Moghul Islamic arches, and classical Greco-Roman columns into an architectural style totally unique to Hawaiʻi.

Panel 2: Translating the Buddhist Canon into English

George Tanabe, historian of Japanese religions and chairman of BDK America’s Buddhist Translation Project.
Michel Mohr, Japanese Buddhist specialist and translator of Zen texts
Arnie Kotler, founder of Koa Books and former director of Parallax Press

The translation of Buddhist scriptures from the ancient Indian languages of Sanskrit and Pali into classical Chinese some 15 centuries ago remains one of the greatest intellectual and cultural achievements in world history.  The Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (BDK), an international nonprofit organization based in Japan (with a branch here in Hawaiʻi), is expanding this legacy by quietly translating the Chinese canon into English, and making them available through the BDK America website, UH Press and Amazon.   This panel will examine the fascinating issues of how to render arcane and ancient philosophical abstractions into readable English.

Panel 3: Diamond Sangha Zen in Hawaiʻi

Helen Baroni, Japanese Buddhist specialist and author of Love, Roshi: Robert Baker Aitken and His Distant Correspondents
Michael Kieran, teacher at the Palolo Zen Center of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha

By the time he passed away in 2010, Robert Aitken, the founder of the Diamond Sangha, had turned his unassuming temple in Palolo Valley into a leading Zen center of international repute.  This panel will look at the strategies Aitken used to develop a Zen that sprouted from Japanese seeds and grew into a local, Americanized and international presence.

Panel 4: Buddhism, Christianity and Hawaiian Spirituality

Rev. Sherman Thompson, chaplain, Kamehameha Schools and member, Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaiʻi
Manulani Aluli-Meyer, UH Hilo
(1 pm)

The interaction of all three religious traditions range from the superficial to the profound, and raise of host of issues concerning syncretic interpretations, liturgical borrowings, mixed and multiple identities, and sometimes friction.

Panel 5: Socially Engaged Buddhism

Rose Nakamura: Project Dana
Maya Soetoro Ng, Assistant Faculty Specialist, Matsunaga Institute for Peace, UH Manoa
Therese Fitzgerald, Zen Buddhist minister and Spiritual Care Counselor, Hospice Maui
(2 pm)

This panel will investigate the ways in which Buddhists have applied Buddhist philosophy and ethics into social and political action.

Panel 6: Buddhist Meditation and the Rise of Mindfulness

Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey, Vipassana Hawai’i
Pat Masters, ordained Buddhist nun, teacher at Bodhi Tree Dharma Center, and UH Student Services staff
Rev. Bert Sumikawa, Moiliili Hongwanji
(3 pm)

Mindfulness has gone mainstream in America, and its relationship to Buddhist meditation is often not clear and frequently controversial.  This panel will examine the relationship between the philosophical content of meditation and the psychological benefits of mindfulness.

Panel 7: Japanese Buddhist Adaptations for the Future

Bishop Chishin Hirai, Nichiren Mission of Hawai‘i
Bishop Kenjun Kawawata, Higashi Hongwanji Mission
Bishop Eric Matsumoto, Honpa Hongwanji
(4 pm)

The majority of Buddhist temples in Hawaiʻi are experiencing significant decline in membership and support.  In this panel, leaders of major Japanese Buddhist denominations will discuss their visions for the future.