Hawaii Buddhist Council Also Plan Joint Gannenmono Memorial Service
Bishop Chishin Hirai
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
The Hawaii Buddhist Council invites you to join our Buddha Day celebration on Sunday, April 1, which we are combining with a Gannenmono Memorial Service to express our joy, gratitude and respect on this, the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Gannenmono in Hawai‘i.
Buddha Day celebrates the birth of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama —the founder of Buddhism. It is said that Siddhartha Gautama was born on April 8 about 2,500 years ago in a place called the Lumbini Garden in India. Upon his birth, beautiful flowers blossomed all around him.
During our celebration, a baby Buddha statue in a small shrine will be decorated with a floral display to symbolize where he was born. We will pour sweet tea over the statue in the flower shrine, as it is said that sweet nectar rained on Siddhartha during his birth.
As a young adult, Siddhartha devoted himself to overcoming the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death, finally attaining enlightenment and becoming the Buddha.
Buddhism shares the teaching of the Buddha in order to help one become a Buddha. The teachings help us to free ourselves from suffering and to attain awakening. We can become exactly like the Buddha.
Today, the teachings of the Buddha are preserved as sutras, or chants. The Buddha leads us through the sutras even now. Therefore, we celebrate Buddha’s birthday with great joy and express our deep gratitude on this auspicious occasion.
In addition to celebrating the birth of the Buddha, we will also offer our prayers to the Gannenmono, the first organized group of immigrants from Japan, who arrived in Hawai‘i in 1868, the first year of the Meiji Era. The Gannenmono faced many difficulties, such as totally new languages (English and Hawaiian), new and strange customs, meager compensation for backbreaking work and others. The Gannenmono persevered and were the pioneers who established Hawai‘i’s first Japanese community and negotiated to improve working conditions.
Since all Japanese subjects were required to register at the local temples during the Edo period, the historical period just before the Meiji Era in Japan, all immigrants were considered to be Buddhist at the time. That is why we can also say that the Gannenmono were the first Buddhists to settle in Hawai‘i. We hope that they received Buddhist prayers after their passing.
The Buddha Day Celebration is an excellent opportunity for all of us to offer our prayers and show deep respect and gratitude from all denominations of Buddhism in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first organized Buddhists immigrants from Japan.
The Hawaii Buddhist Council’s joint Buddha Day Celebration and Gannenmono Memorial Service will be held on Sunday, April 1, at the Soto Mission of Hawaii (1708 Nu‘uanu Ave. in Honolulu) beginning at 9:30 a.m. The program will include the Buddha’s birthday service, the Gannenmomo memorial service, a Dharma Talk, and sharing thoughts about the Buddha and the Gannenmono. The celebration will also include entertainment and light refreshments.
Bishop Chishin Hirai is the 2018 president of the Hawaii Buddhist Council and head minister of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii.