Filed in Pure Land (Shin)

The Pure Land in the New World

For 150 years, the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) was the almost exclusive domain of Japanese Americans. Now, with an increasingly diversified membership and new publications on Pure Land teachings, the BCA is riding the winds of chamge.Taitetsu Unno

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© Ryusen MiyaharaPure Land Buddhism in North America is represented by one of its Japanese schools, Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhism, incorporated in 1898 in San Francisco as the Buddhist Mission of North America. In 1944, at the Topaz Concentration Camp in Utah, this was changed to the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) in order to make it sound less alien and objectionable to the general American public. Its history may be considered in two phases: from its founding to 1952, when Japanese immigrants became eligible for naturalization (Walter-McCarran Act); and from, 1952 to the present, during which time American society has undergone vast changes in the areas of both racial tolerance and religious pluralism.

© Dorothea LangeWhen Japanese laborers were brought to Hawaii and the United States to replace the Chinese who were banned entry by the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), the majority came from prefectures considered traditional strongholds of Jodo Shinshu. Like the Chinese before them, they suffered all kinds of legal discrimination—local, state, and national. They could not become naturalized citizens, lease or buy land, or testify against whites. They were forbidden from certain occupations, their children attended segregated schools, and they were subject to miscegenation laws.

To create a bulwark against an alien and intolerant society, they established Shin Buddhist temples and built a dynamic sangha (community of practitioners) for mutual aid and protection. Japanese immigration was virtually stopped in 1907 by executive decree and finally legally banned by the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924. In December 1941, anti-Japanese prejudice culminated with the arrest and detention by the FBI of 2,000 community leaders, including Buddhist priests. In the following year, Executive Order 9066 justified the incarceration of 120,000 people, 77,000 of whom were American citizens by birth. All this was carried our without due process of law, causing Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy to call it "the legalization of racism." Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, to be a Buddhist was considered to be un-American and disloyal.

© Dorothea Lange

When the imprisoned Japanese Americans were released from the concentration camps in 1945 and returned to the West Coast, the Buddhist temples became temporary hostels for the majority of the people who had no place to call home. The second generation, or Nisei, whose average age was about twenty-three, began to take leadership of the BCA and to integrate Buddhism into American society by initiating such actions as getting the Scout movement to create Buddhist religious awards—Sangha for Boy Scouts, Karuna for Camp Fire Girls, and Dharma for both . . .

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