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The Buddhist Temple of San Diego (BTSD) represents Shin Buddhism, the Jodo Shinshu sect of the Pure Land School ,of the Mahayana branch of Buddhist tradition. As such our temple is a member of the Buddhist Churches of America, established 1899, and is affiliated with the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha in Kyoto, Japan. 

Partial List of Buddhist Principles

Since 1926 BTSD has served as both a spiritual and cultural resource in San Diego.


About Buddhism and the Buddhist Temple of San Diego

Buddhism is one of the world’s oldest religions, and yet its tenets remain fresh and new. Those discovering Buddhism for the first time are finding that its essential truths hold much hope to people coping with modern life. Our own branch of Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, is one of the largest Buddhist denominations. It is also known as Shin
Buddhism or Pure Land Buddhism. There are Jodo Shinshu temples in Japan, North America, South America and all throughout Europe, as well as fellowships in Africa and Australia. To better understand Buddhism today, we will look briefly at how Buddhism was founded.

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The Buddhist Temple of San Diego belongs to the Shin sect of Buddhism (or Jodo Shinshu in Japanese), part of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Jodo Shinshu translates as the True Pure Land Teachings. It focuses on the vow of Amida Buddha, 
which is to enlighten all beings, regardless of their backgrounds or past actions.

This is a vow of sweeping power, one that promises hope and life’s fulfillment to all. Although Shinran Shonin (1173-1262) is often called the founder of Jodo Shinshu, Shinran never claimed that he was founding a new religion. Rather, Shinran merely
emphasized concepts that had always existed in Buddhism. He taught that the purpose of Gautama Buddha’s advent on earth was to awaken people to the wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha.

Shinran formulated the teachings after two decades of study in the Buddhist monasteries of Mt. Hiei. He came to the realization that if a person has to rely on self-generated effort, then enlightenment is impossible. He reasoned that human life is finite, human knowledge is incomplete, and human capacity for perfect goodness is limited. He renounced the monastery and left Mt. Hiei. Shortly thereafter, he metHonen, a kindly priest who taught a simple faith in Amida Buddha and the recitation of the Nembutsu as an expression of faith. Shinran embraced the teaching of Honen and built upon them.

Faith is an important element in Shin Buddhism. The Nembutsu (“Namu Amida Butsu”) means literally, “I put my faith in Amida Buddha.”   It is the core of Amida’s vow, for Amida Buddha communicates with us through His name. As we recite the Nembutsu, Amida’s voice calls to us, and at the same time, we respond to his call. When we hear Amida’s voice in our innermost being, faith is awakened. Faith  completes our oneness with Amida and is the true cause of our Enlightenment.

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Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born over 2,500 years ago near present-day Nepal, and yet the essential conditions of life then were no different from what they are today. Like many of us, Siddhartha was blessed with great material
comfort. In fact, as prince of a tiny kingdom, Siddhartha could have lived a life of untroubled luxury. Instead, he recognized that his existence was spiritually empty. He wanted more than to be distracted from the problems of suffering and death; 
he wanted to find an answer. At the age of 29, Siddhartha renounced his kingdom to devote himself entirely to a search for the truth. It must have been a painful decision, because he also had to leave his wife and his family.

Many of the spiritual traditions of the time demanded utter renunciation of the world, and they often required the most severe ascetic practices. So great was Siddhartha’s desire to find the truth, that he accepted these sacrifices. Year after year, he sought out spiritual leaders and underwent severe hardships. Finally, six years after he began, Siddhartha was meditating on the nature of things and experienced a deep spiritual insight; he realized that it was possible to escape the chain of birth and death. He became the Buddha, the Enlightened One, the Awakened One.

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The path of Shinran bridged the Pacific Ocean in 1899 when two missionaries from the Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto arrived in San Francisco to serve the needs of the early Japanese pioneers. In San Diego, Buddhism began some years thereafter as Japanese immigrants would meet periodically in small groups. The meetings became more frequent and more organized. Although there was no minister, for special ceremonies a minister would travel from Los Angeles.

A tragic event marks the birth of the temple in San Diego. On January 27, 1916, after two weeks of rain, the Otay Dam broke. A torrent of water flooded the Otay Valley where a colony of Japanese farmers lived in a camp. Eleven people died. following the funeral, Buddhists discussed the possibility of organizing a church. The discussions proved fruitful as ten years later, on May 26, 1926, the first Buddhist church was formed, and services were held on the second floor of a building at Sixth Avenue and Market Street. In 1928, a growing membership decided to build a permanent temple at Market and 29th Streets—our current location.

The outbreak of World War II saw the entire local Japanese-American community of approximately 2,000 individuals evacuated, first to the Santa Anita Assembly Center, and later to various relocation camps in isolated areas. During the war, the
temple grounds were used as dormitories for defense workers. In 1943, vandals broke into the temple and set it on fire, causing extensive damage to the altar
section and the second floor. At war’s end, San Diegans returned to reestablish themselves and to restore the temple. The life of the temple resumed.

Today the Buddhist Temple again serves as a meeting place for its members as an affiliate of the Buddhist Churches of America, which is our link to the Nishi Hongwanji, the main temple of the Hongwanji School of Jodo Shinshu in Japan. We
are proud of our roots in Japan and in America.

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The teachings of Buddhism are called the Buddha Dharma. The truth of the Buddha Dharma carries a welcome message that "wisdom and compassion can transcend the suffering caused by greed and ignorance." Buddha Dharma further tells us that
through the development of inner peace and calm, and through compassionate concern for our fellow beings, we may all attain enlightenment. There are positive messages, and the freshness and accessibility of what Buddhism teaches help
account for its current appeal.

The Buddha’s spiritual insight is not as mystical and abstract as it may sound at first. His great awakening was based on the realization of four concrete truths about life—The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

The first is that life, because of its fleeting nature, is painful. The second is that this pain is caused by our desires and our attachment to worldly phenomena. The third truth is that it is possible to eliminate the suffering of existence. The fourth truth is that
there is a path that leads to the elimination of suffering: The Eightfold Noble Path. The path is composed of Right Views, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation.

The Buddha Dharma thus asks us to know and regard life as it is, to accept life’s ebb and flow, and to live our lives naturally, spontaneously, and freely.

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San Diego’s main temple hall is called the Hondo. Here, followers of the Nembutsu gather on Sundays for the Family Service or special observances to listen to the  teachings and to share their lives with others. Weddings, funerals and memorial services are conducted here, too.

Certainly the most striking feature of the Hondo is the beautiful and ornate altar.  Much of the main shrine is made of wood and has traveled to San Diego from Japan. At the central altar is a small shrine with a gold-leafed statue of Amida
Buddha inside. Amida is depicted as an active Buddha in a standing position, hands held up in a gesture of bestowing blessings on all beings and leaning forward slightly—symbolizing the eternal activity of wisdom and compassion. Amida
Buddha—and not the statue—is our true object of worship.

Flowers are offered to symbolize the beauty and impermanence of life. The incense purifies the air and creates the proper atmosphere for meditation. Candles symbolize the infinite light of the Buddha.

Recommended Reading

  • Bloom, Alfred. Shoshinge: The Heart of Shin Buddhism. Honolulu: Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, 1986. ISBN: 0938474065.

  • Burtt, Edwin A., Ed. Teachings of the Compas-sionate Buddha. New York: New American Library, 2000. ISBN: 0451200772.

  • Goddard, Dwight, Ed. A Buddhist Bible. Beacon, 1994. ISBN: 0807059110.

  • Hanh, Thich Nhat. Our Appointment With Life: The Buddha’s Teaching on Living in the Present. Berkeley, CA: Parallax, 1990. ISBN: 0938077368.

  • Kikumara, Norihiko. Shinran: His Life and Thought. Los Angeles, CA: Nembutsu Press, 1972. —-—.

  • Shin Buddhist Handbook. San Francisco, CA: Buddhist Churches of America, 1972.

  • Kubose, Gyomay. Everyday Suchness: Buddhist Essays on Everyday Living. American Buddhist Association, 2004. ISBN: 0964299208

  • Smith, Huston & Philip Novak. Buddhism: A Concise Introduction. Harper, 2004. ISBN: 0060730676

  • **Tanaka, Kenneth K. Ocean: An Introduction to Jodo Shinshu Buddhism in America. Berkeley, CA: WisdomOcean Publications, rev. 2004. ISBN: 01965806200.

**Available from the Buddhist Temple of San Diego Bookstore. Most of the titles are also available from the San Diego Public Library or may be purchased from the Buddhist Bookstore at the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) Headquarters in San Francisco.