Rev. Clarence Shinkö Higa
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Obaban (my maternal grandmother) was a strong supporter of Shingon (Köyasan) Buddhism, as is my mother. Thus, the Higa family became Buddhist — more by blood association than religiosity. The faith factor was simply because Obaban and Mom said so. We were told that everything we did was for “good luck.” Put senkö (incense), good luck. Bring flowers to the altar, good luck, and carry omamori (Buddhist amulet), good luck. With so much “good luck,” why go to temple at all?

The necessity for temple affiliation was based partially on circumstances that followed the immigrants who came to work in the fields of Hawai‘i. As the workers came, so did the established Buddhist sects from Japan. At that point in time, a Japanese monk was able to convey the messages of Buddha by way of the native language familiar to the immigrants. Unfortunately, as the young Nisei and Sansei grew into prominence, English became the spoken language, knowledge of the Japanese language was no longer primary, and Buddhism began to decline in the Islands until someone figured out that English was necessary. Then Buddhist traditions moved with the times. Unfortunately, not so for all Buddhist sects.

This may be a debatable fact, but to the best of my knowledge, in 1972, I became the first Sansei to have ever taken ordination rites to enter into the Buddhist sangha, or community. After the ordination, I lived and studied in a Köyasan monastery for four years. Many people ask me why, with my abrasive personality, did I enter the priesthood. I seriously doubt that I was the chosen child or religiously special, but while attending the University of Hawai‘i, I wandered into the Department of Religion and met my future mentor, Dr. Alfred Bloom (born and raised Jewish and ordained a Hongwanji minister), who took me under his wing. I forged ahead, dreaming of becoming a professor of religion. In my mind, if I wanted to teach medicine, I had to first become a medical doctor, and, likewise, an engineer, geographer or any other discipline at the university.

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