Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ryo Imamura Interview
Narrator: Ryo Imamura
Interviewers: Stephen Fugita (primary), Erin Kimura (secondary)
Location: Olympia, Washington
Date: August 3, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-iryo-01

<Begin Segment 1>

Erin Kimura: Today is August 3rd, and we're doing a Densho interview with Ryo Imamura and I'm Erin Kimura and our primary interviewer is Steve Fugita.

Stephen Fugita: Okay. I'd like to start, Ryo, with a question about where you grew up and what your, where you were born, and kind of your family background.

Ryo I.: Okay. Let's see if I remember that far back. [Laughs] I was born in the Gila relocation camp, camp number two. This is in Arizona. This is on, well for a long time I thought it was April 29, 1944. That's the former emperor's birthday. I think they thought it'd be convenient to say I was born that day too. So I went with that for most of my life, and found out about eight years ago that it was actually the twenty-eighth, the day before. So all my records are kinda split between those two dates. But I think it's April 28, 1944. And, 'course I didn't stay there very long. The war ended soon after that. And my parents, Reverend Kanmo Imamura and his wife Jane, they were worried about where all the displaced Nikkei were going to go after the war, especially those returning to California. And so they, with two other priests, opened up a hostel at the Senshin Buddhist Temple, in, near Watts in Los Angeles. So this is where I spent another year and a half or so of my early childhood. And then we returned to Berkeley, California, where my father was still the resident minister there at the Buddhist temple. I think he had started there right before the war, around 1939. And like all the temples, they were a kinda like repositories for the belongings of people that were taken off to camp. Of course this is where they came back to after the war 'cause they didn't have homes any more. So I think they did the same thing up in Berkeley for people coming back, until they were resettled. And so it's a big part of my early life was living with a lot of, lot of different Japanese Americans who I didn't really know, who just stayed for varying lengths of time. And always seeing my parents running off and serving others, so really had to learn to entertain ourselves -- by ourselves, I mean my three sisters and me. And so I was raised in Berkeley mainly. And the early part of my childhood from about three, oh, until about fifteen or so was spent inside the -- at the Berkeley Buddhist Temple where my father was the priest. I keep using priest or minister -- interchangeable here. I'm not sure... is that what you're asking?

SF: Yeah.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

SF: Maybe you could elaborate a little bit about your parents -- both your mom's side and your dad's side, because they had such a illustrious history in a large sense.

RI: Yeah, I'll go with my mother first. She was born to a Buddhist temple family. Her maiden name was Matsuura. Her father was one of the original Issei ministers from Japan who came in the very early 1900s. And did most of his work in Guadalupe, which is near Santa Maria, and in the Fresno area. And so she was raised pretty much in California. Although there was a period there where I think she went to high school in Japan. I'm not sure exactly why. So her father was from Hiroshima. And I don't think his father was a priest. He was from a lay family. But her mother was from a long lineage from Fukui, where my father's family's from. I think that's something to do with how they met, through go-betweens and so on. So she's a, a -- I guess more American than my father. She went to college, and was at the Chicago Conservatory of Music because she was a very promising concert pianist at the time when the war broke out. And so she had to give up not only her -- I guess she was one year short of graduation, but also her dreams of becoming a concert pianist, to come back to California, 'cause her parents had come back. There's this fine older priest here we want you to marry. So in those days you say, "Yes Mom" -- [Laughs] -- and that's what happened. So they were married just a few months before the evacuation. Lessee, so she's been very involved in Buddhist music. If you go to any of the temples and open their service books, you'll see "Jane Imamura" on many, especially the children's songs.

My father is Nisei, actually what you call Kibei, because he was born in Hawaii. His father was the bishop of the Buddhist temples there -- Joudo Shin temples. And as the oldest son, the father who felt an obligation to the family temple back in Fukui decided to send his oldest son, my father, at the age of four -- back by himself -- to the temple to be the head priest there. So he didn't talk a lot about it. I guess I used my imagination more in thinking of a four year old boy going back by those old ships, back to Japan with a nanny and spending his whole childhood separated from his parents. He was trained there and I think by the age of eight was able to read all the services. And he went to college. He graduated from Keio University and studied Buddhist studies there. And then -- trying to think -- he came back to Hawaii at that point. My fa -- his father had just died and being the oldest son, he needed to take care of his family. And so he came back to Hawaii and he was the director of the YBA over in Hawaii for awhile and Waipahu Temple and Japanese school. I still see pictures of just thousands of kids back then. Then he wanted to come and study and earn his doctorate in philosophy. So he came to Berkeley, but he never, of course, completed it because of the war. So the war really changed the plans of both my father and mother. But if wasn't for the war, perhaps they would not have married and I wouldn't be here. [Laughs] So that's going way back before I was born.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

SF: But then your grandparents, weren't they -- in Guadalupe were they involved in a, like a children's school and some...

RI: Yeah.

SF: building that...?

RI: That's a very exciting story. Lot of, 'course, misfortune and tragedy mixed in with it too. But I think as the people who were present at the time look back -- and they're mostly in their, I would say seventies now, they were children back then -- they're quite fond of those times. And it really shows the strength of the Issei and their children, having to struggle and not just overcome, but, but thrive after, after all that. But yeah, my grandparents, my grandfather was there first in California and then I think my grandmother was kind of like a picture bride. It was arranged through, more through religious contacts. But they both -- well she was also ordained as the, I guess, tokudo priest, this kind of preliminary ordination so she could perform services. So they did seem to form a nice couple, and with common goals. And they came to California, and my -- I hear 'bout him riding horseback to go visit his parishioners -- and old, Model T type cars. Of course the Issei back then were all farm laborers, just barely getting by. Their children were left by themselves during the week. I guess they worked pretty much six days a week out in the fields. So my grandparents offered to open up the temple as the orphanage, in a way, 'cause they were without parents six days out of the week. And so they had something like fifty kids there of all varying ages. I hear all the stories of how they fed them and lined them up for baths. And my mother and all her, her brother and three sisters were also there. So we, I guess each generation has been raised in kind of a communal setting, where it's just not a nuclear family but many other strangers, all being treated like, like members of the family. So I'm sure that's had an influence on how we see our community now. But there was a terrible plague back then -- 'course they didn't have all the vaccines. Many of the parents died, so they were truly orphans. And so they -- many of them stayed a long time with my grandparents. And maybe they got together on Sundays with their parents, but that was all. So they were very much their parents. This went on well into I think the '30s, leading up to when they all had to evacuate 'cause of the war.

SF: What do you think was the ingredient -- if you want to call it that -- that allowed people to, well, the Japanese community to form this collective, or group, or sort of common community response to this real need of raising the kids? I mean, if you think about it today, I mean it would be extremely difficult to conceive of a bunch of Sanseis getting together and taking care of this need together. Think about it, we'd have to pay, you know, how much, and all that. And people didn't have money and life was hard. What brought them together and how were they able to cope this way?

RI: Well, I think you just stated -- part of the main reasons was that life was hard and people didn't have money, and they weren't educated, didn't have any options. And so in times of desperation, this is where certain people step forth. And the Issei ministers who came over knew they were coming over to a life of poverty and hardship. So it's really out of almost, you know, dire need that they were coming to help the immigrants who were very displaced and lonely here. And without any community leaders, I think lot of the plantation owners or farm owners were very careful -- just like bringing over the black slaves here -- to make sure they were not united and didn't have leadership. And they often pitted the Japanese against other ethnic groups -- the Mexicans and so on. And so there's just all this turmoil and no support. So here come people like my grandparents who are educated, and have a certain confidence and they have ties to the old country. So when you get a lot of people who are feeling helpless -- and here comes a man who's -- not only has his heart in the right place, but has the skills to help them. And then with the disease and illnesses and those type of things, it just kind of all came together. And, you know, compared to today where people are educated, and feel quite independent, and all of our leaders are not looked up to, in fact they're often denigrated and made fun of. So it's a whole different environment. I think lot of great miraculous things happen somehow, some kind of spirit, miraculous resilience in human beings comes forth. Especially if it's inside the, kind of the setting of a religious institution where service and compassion are core messages anyway. Then it's a miracle on the one hand. But, I think if you look at all the conditions, it's understandable why it happened. Even after the war with my parents and the hostels, with people again displaced and nowhere to go. Again, it's not like they sat down and said, "Shall we, or shall we not?" It's like, "Hey, we have to," right?

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

SF: This is probably getting ahead of ourselves, but you mentioned this coming together. So, how would you contrast the Buddhist church and the ministers, or the priests' role, say in the '20s or '30s compared to, say in a contemporary Japanese American Buddhist temple today?

RI: Ah, yeah, that's a good question. There's been many changes, and of course the -- well most of the ministers now who are American born are not from temple families. There might just be maybe two of us out of the whole, whole group. And so this whole kind of conditioning over generations and the allegiances that are built, and all that aren't there. But, I think back when you talk about the '20s and '30s, there weren't a whole lot of options for the Issei and the young Nisei as far as a social outlet. And when you listen to -- I guess they're not around any more -- but the old Issei ministers, they really, they were identified as leaders, and they felt like leaders, everybody looked up to them, and so they conducted themselves with a great deal of confidence. And they would have people sitting there for hours on Sundays listening to their stories and, not only about experiences here, but back in Japan. And so this whole... brought tears to peoples' eyes, just hearing, you know, the familiar themes and stories. And so it was a very much a bonding experience back then. People always made meals at the temple. They lived right around the temple because, of course all these communities were in areas that no one else wanted to live in back then. And so because of the opposition and the racism and all that, they were pushed to be together and to look to each other for comfort and support. And so it happened very naturally.

Today the needs are quite different, and intermarriage, language barriers now because the, many of the ministers are still coming from Japan. And of course you're talking 'bout fourth and fifth generation Japanese Americans who are Caucasians now. And I think the role of the ministers changed quite a bit. Before the minister -- there was no board of directors before, so the minister was identified with the temple. They were synonymous. Today the ministers kind of rotate through. I think the average is six years per stay per temple. And so they're like replaceable cogs in a machine. And the board members stay the same. You find board members who've been on for forty years, right? [Laughs] And so they're the permanent part and they're identified with the temple. And the minister -- they always say, "Well who's your minister now?" This is a common question, right. "How long's he been there? Is he on his way out?" And the minister's told, "Just take care of the services, and let the board know if any light bulbs need to be replaced." You know, it gets down to that. The ministers are told to -- encouraged to do, I guess Buddhist education. But because there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of interest in the Japanese American lay people in the Buddhist teachings, they're more interested, it seems, in the organizational aspects: having preschool for the little ones, bazaars, basketball leagues, and all that. The minister's role has become quite, I don't want to say minor, but there are temples now who exist without ministers. And I can't say they're completely unhappy. Many of the lay people are highly educated, they can read a lot of the Buddhist literature in English now. So they're, they're used to public speaking also, so they're very likely to go up -- they give -- they don't call it a sermon in the old sense. At least it's a dharma talk you know which is the more commonly used term now. So if you ask the lay people if they'd rather hear professor so and so, or this attorney, whatever, give his views on Buddhism and legal issues or something like that, or, something in perhaps less than perfect English about some unfamiliar complicated Buddhist teaching, often the choice will be, if not stated directly, will be a leaning towards this. Of course we don't have to then pay somebody and make sure they have a home and all that. So I think there's a shortage of ministers, which is in a way corresponding to temples closing down and consolidating. In a way there's -- a sadness if you're tied to that kind of tradition. You say, well, there were the glory days before, and there's a decline now. But if you look at the situation, it's perfectly understandable. The writing's on the wall. And I guess I'm not really sad about it in terms of -- my interest has always been with the Buddhist teaching tradition, and I see it being adopted in many other ways, not, not only in Asia, but in the West. So that won't disappear, it will just be the forms. I know we have an obon here in Olympia. Before it used to be seen as a Buddhist ceremony, and it is, you know. It's kind of a memorial ceremony for all our departed ancestors. But now it's run by the JACL and I don't know if there are any Buddhists in our local JACL. I think they're either Christian or not religious. And so they made it into a, a just a cultural event without any religious significance. Just like the ikebana display there and the teriyaki chicken. It's all kind of in the same ballpark. And so maybe this is where a lot of the Buddhist temples are headed, more cultural centers. I don't know if it's good or bad. It's served its purpose. This is just a steady transformation that addresses needs. Just as the, the exciting stories of my grandparents, and what they did back then came out of need of their time, at that time. There's a very different need now. So they can't be -- we can't maintain the same forms.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

RI: I know my, oh my grandfather in Hawaii is a very similar story. The plantation workers, they're all men because the plantation owners didn't want families here. They wanted men just to, to devote themselves to work, and had no concern for their welfare. So you had these little clusters of young single men, and of course they offered them gambling and prostitutes and all these things. But I think many of these men missed the traditions and customs of Japan and realized that the only way they were going to get this was to have Japan send some priests over, because they were dying, too. They died very young in those days, very rough conditions, and there was no one to perform a funeral or memorial service. They had to do a Christian one, which was very strange for them. So my grandfather used to -- in Hawaii -- go to all the outer islands. He used to, I always saw him riding this white horse. Very stylish man you know, white suit and on a white horse, a mustache. And they would have all these labor strikes there where the workers, of course, were terribly mistreated. And they would have these major strikes. And the only person they could think of calling at the time who had any respect from the workers, was the bishop. So my father [Ed. Note: Narrator meant to say grandfather] was -- became very famous in the city papers and all that for the one who rode in on his white horse, and kinda told them, "Okay, let's work this out. You guys go back to work and we'll get some better conditions," like that. And so again there was a need -- it wouldn't happen today. They wouldn't ask the bishop of BCA to come and mediate a strike, 'cause he would have no influence. But in those days again, the uneducated -- feeling helpless with the authorities and policies -- asking someone who had the confidence and knowledge to do it, it's most likely the minister or priest. Even in Japan when you go through the countryside, you notice that even today each village has -- the biggest building amongst this whole cluster of houses is the Bukkyoukai, the Buddhist temple. Because the Meiji government, wanting to take away the influence and power of the Joudo Shin organization there -- who always managed to rally the poor or the downtrodden to speak up for their rights and so on -- they forced them to give up those influences and become city halls, so they just recorded births and deaths, and did administrative things for the lay people. So it kind of transferred over here -- that same dependence on having the priests in the community who could write letters for them, translations, all these things, right? And all those roles are no longer necessary today. So it's a huge confusion, I think in the ministry even today. Should they be like Christian pastors? Should they be like Zen monks? And the lay people don't know what they want from them either so -- very strange.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

EK: Do you see in the past that -- well, I'm kind of wondering if you think your relatives saw it as fulfilling a need to the people, or do you think they also saw kind of that social activist, kind of social justice element in what they were doing? You know in terms of giving these workers kind of a voice. Or do you think it was mainly just fulfilling the needs of the people -- this is, you know, how to serve the people best.

RI: Well, I think both of those dovetail quite nicely.

EK: Uh-huh.

RI: When you're concerned about a people who are underprivileged and discriminated against, and this is your community, and your heart is awakened, and you'd look to it for your leadership -- that the social activism part, I think, comes out. So both of my grandfathers -- and I shouldn't discount what my grandmothers did too, you know, they're often not given the headlines, but... there was a film that just came out of Hawaii called The Six Famous Women of Hawaii, and my grandmother was one of them. Just for her kind of feminist ideas. She wore a, as a bishop's wife, usually they wore this real tight little kimono, walked in little steps, following behind her husband. She wore these kind of like a southern belle type of clothes. Then when they had gatherings she would say, "Oh, let's all dance." She would be out there and speak up on public issues and things like that. My grandmother on this side also was very famous for outspokenness about things. And so they formed very good teams. So both are very highly respected and looked up to, both in their times, and even now. And again, I think that times, times produces greatness in people too. Somebody has to come forth and they were very fortunate to be in those positions also. And they stayed for a long time. Nowadays ministers move around every six years. But my father was -- grandfather was bishop for thirty-two years. And built, I think thirty, thirty-eight temples in Hawaii. I think there's only been one temple built since he died in 1932. So that's why his big statue's still in front of the headquarters and why the gymnasium/auditorium complex is called Imamura Hall, is because of that influence. And my maternal grandfather, was I think from almost the turn of the century until he died in '47, I believe -- that's forty-seven years of, of working every day for the community. I, I remember a story and I forget, I think it's one of my aunts told me that the governor of California -- I can't remember his name -- back in the, around the First World War times, very cruel towards the Japanese, always trying to pass different ordinances against them, especially hurting the farm workers. And so, my grandfather was a very passionate man. Got so worked up he says, he got tired of writing letters I guess, getting no response. So I understand he -- I don't know if he meant it or not -- he got his car, the capitol was Los Angeles then. He says, "I'm driving to Los Angeles," right, "To go see the governor." And everybody's going, "No, no, no, no, no." And so he was going out on the highway -- and it's not like I-5, it's those old highways -- and he turned the corner too fast, he was in such haste. It was one of those Model Ts with very high center of gravity. So it tipped over into a ditch and fell on top of him. And he was up there, you know, swearing up a storm. "Get this off of me. I gotta go." By the time people saved him, his anger had dissipated, he could just laugh about it. But it's that kind of very humanness and passion, I'm sure, that drove them. And, this is all old talk, this is going back sixty, seventy years now. And so we're only left with the bare outline of things now. Of course we fill in the rest through our own imagination or our own idealism. So what the true details were I can't say. This is before I was born. But this is kind of how I get inspired, by creating these -- remembering what I want to, and using my grandparents and my parents as my inspiration for what I do.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

SF: I'd like to ask, what do you think are the core sort of ideas or core philosophical positions of Joudo Shinshu sect Buddhism? The main things in your view.

RI: Well, in -- Joudo Shinshu's quite different from the other sects. The other ones are called self-power schools, where you strive to gain awakening and enlightenment for yourself. And Joudo Shinshu is, is very different in that rather than seeking that for yourself, the goal is to see others as enlightened, you see. And so you find a certain humility built in, and also awareness of the greatness of everyone else. That there's a Buddha in every -- not only human being but all the animals and all the plants. So it's quite a compassionate, healing way of looking at life. In Bud -- in Joudo Shinshu we have our own, what we call mudra or hand motion, mantra of what we say, and then the thought that goes along with it. And so if you go to a Buddhist temple you always see them put their hands together like this, and say, "Namu-Amida-Butsu." And this is the core of Joudo Shin Buddhism. Namu means "this blind arrogant person here." And Amida-Butsu means "Amida Buddha" or the "great reality -- universal reality that embraces this blind selfish person constantly." And so this is the basis of Buddhism, realizing -- of Shin Buddhism -- is realizing that all the, all the good things in my life are gifts, undeserved gifts, and any troubles that I perceive are self-created. And this kind of stupid, foolish person here still enjoys a very wonderful life in comparison to others. That is undeserved. There's no reason why I should be healthy and eating and living in a large home. I'm no better than the person starving, not even on the other side of the world, but just down the street, or who doesn't enjoy longer life and all this. So, I think this is the basic understanding of Buddhism, of Joudo Shin Buddhism that distinguishes it from the other forms. But I think the other forms of Buddhism, in the end, all come to this. After they've striven -- is that a word, striven? [Laughs] For their own freedom or emancipation. Being human, we come short a lot. And then to still feel embraced by a greater reality or compassion is wonderfully -- very warm and, you know, brings warm tears of gratitude that I'm not, I'm not judged or forsaken like in some other religions where there's good people and bad. Here we're all equally human and foolish. And this is what makes us lovable. And this is why we should all accept each other on that basis and not have unrealistic expectations of others and so on. So you can see how it's reflected in a healthy marriage, if you see yourself -- you and your spouse that way. And you see all the mistakes you make as a couple. It's both something to work on, also very humorous, too, when you think about how foolish we are. How we get worked up over who's gonna wash the dishes, or why didn't you mow the lawn, you know? Divorces happen from that, right? You can see what's with working with children. At work, where people often get quite arrogant about their titles and their accomplishments, not realizing that all these are gifts. So, anyway, that's kind of the core.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

SF: So, we're in a kind of Judeo-Christian society, so, what would you say are the kind of main differences between Joudo Shin -- as kind of a philosophical worldview -- and say, Christianity here, Protestantism in terms of at least emphases or things that cause different perspectives on things?

RI: I think if we look at the religions themselves -- and don't keep looking at the churches that promote these religions -- then there's a lot more similarity than difference I think, within Judeo-Christianity, what has been lost, or lost focus on is their more introverted, meditative, monastic traditions. And it was Jesus who told everybody, "Go out into the world as lambs among wolves," and then the church goes out as wolves among the lambs, right? You know, things like that... and so, if we look at just the institutions, then there's a lot to criticize and lot to differentiate, but if we look at the basic messages of these religions, I think they're quite similar. So I get a lot of -- especially at the college where I teach, and the lectures I give -- a lot of Judeo-Christian, people from Judeo-Christian backgrounds who are unhappy with having gone to Catholic school, or been under a very dogmatic clergyman or something. They turn to Buddhism and say, "Well, can I come over there?" And I say, "Yeah, you can come, but just plan on visiting for a while, until you can see what you're leaving, the beauty in what you're leaving. Then you can go back, and go back with a different perspective, that gives you life and enthusiasm." You can't just switch over to another religion. It's like saying, "Well, I think I'll be Ethiopian next week." Because there's just so much in our, what we call karma, or they might call it, kind of an unconscious that we take along with us. So, if you've been Judeo-Christian thirty, forty years of your life and it goes back through generations, rather than throw it out, and put on, you know, take on a Chinese name, and put on a robe and shave your head, that's very unrealistic. So I say, "No, no, come and learn what you want to, what you need, so that you can see your own religion better, and then go back. Then you can call yourself a Protestant, a Buddhist Protestant if you want, or a Buddhist Catholic." They might not like it on that side -- [Laughs] -- but there's no problem from our side, because Buddhism's like fertilizer to me. Fertilizer, if you put it on any plant, no matter if it's a plant you want, or a weed, or a rose, they'll all grow wonderfully. But if you just put fertilizer in the ground and no plant, you don't get anything, right? So Buddhism I don't think is having any real substance, but rather as more of a catalyst or fertilizer to have all the plants in your garden grow, whether you're talking about work, or marriage or whatever. And so I see the same thing with other religions; it helps you to be a better Catholic or a better Baptist or whatever. If you just say you're a Buddhist, I guess I'm not really sure what that means. Maybe you like bazaars -- no, I shouldn't say that. [Laughs] Yeah. But it is a way of living, anyway. It's not a religion, per se or philosophy. A way of living that keeps bringing you back to your true nature, or looking at yourself, and by knowing yourself, you know others that way.

SF: Just, sort of describing, at least to me, sort of like how people sort of move through life personally and change and integrate their past with their, with their future and present.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

SF: If we think of Buddhism in Japan -- say, in Kyoto -- and what the immigrants brought with them in terms of their ideas about Buddhism and so forth, when the, your grandfather came over, and what they brought with them -- how has Buddhism in America, and the Japanese American community changed from the relig -- quotes, "religion" that was found in Japan, turn of the century? I mean how's the whole institution kind of evolved I guess?

RI: Well, the Buddhists who came to Hawaii and California were, came mainly because they were in trouble in Japan. There were famines, and there were maybe, I think farmers or laborers there who were starving. Lot of -- and so they were promised, of course, wonderful gold mountain here. So they already had a great appreciation for... just to be alive to begin with. And very much earthbound already, very close to the earth. And this is very much the direction of Buddhism already. So I don't think they identify themselves as Buddhist because of certain "beliefs," or whatever -- more of a way of living, and a way of interacting that was always inclusive and nonjudgmental and so on. So they came in large groups, no one better or worse than anyone else. So I think that's... and what was missing when they came here, they found eventually, was their minister was missing, or their priest, made it complete, so they got a full community here. So I think that was -- at least, you know from my perspective many years later in looking back, and the little reading I've done, what I perceive to have been kind of a common experience back then, as far as being a Buddhist. Of course, it's changed quite a bit now. But still, when I go to a Buddhist temple -- whether it's in Tacoma here, or in Seattle, or down in California, I see a lot of those elements. There's a, when I joke about the bazaars and the basketball leagues and all that, they serve a very similar purpose, actually, in affirming a community that's intergenerational. A lot of them, their parents played ball together, and their grandparents. And they all got married at YBA conferences. That's where they met. And, so it's different, yet the same in many ways. And they -- inside the Buddhist temples now, if you ask the member there, "Describe Buddhism to me and in a hundred words or less. What is the main teaching?" They may appear to be quite, either unknowledgeable, or unable to articulate clearly what it is. You say, "God, you been going for, you know, since you're a kid and you're forty, and you still can't say one decent sentence?" And they could be written off in that way as not being Buddhist, but if you notice how they identify with the community and the -- it's a very warm support they give each other. It's not Buddhism in a philosophical, cognitive sense, that I think many new Buddhists, Caucasians from university type backgrounds would treasure. But more of a gut level, just a way of living and relating, this warmness is nonjudgmental. So anybody could go inside of a -- many of these Buddhist temples on a Sunday, and join in with the udon or whatever is going on, and you're invited to help make the teriyaki chicken over in the pit and help out. And the teachings of compassion, of inclusion and even of awakening to one's true self, is all happens within -- without the explicit verbal communications. But the experience is there. And I think it's doubly wonderful if they could also learn the teachings in more of a philosophical sense, and then see the connections and know what's going on. When I go to the Caucasian Buddhist temples I see brilliant discussions and -- but there's a coldness. You know, they're individuals, they're not families. And they're there only to get something out of it rather than to give, often. I think it's changing as Buddhist, Buddhism stays here longer. But you don't see children running around. You see quite a bit of conflict over policies and all that because there's not the care of not insulting people, or, or causing divisions within the, we call it the sangha. And so when I go back to the Japanese temple, oh maybe the dharma talk isn't so interesting. You have the same old boring music again, from the 1920s, these Christianized hymns. But, it's still a wonderful feeling of inclusion, of warmth right there. And you realize that Buddhism -- the Buddhist (teaching is in) action just right there, right in front of you. But no one's pointing it out. So that same spirit that from the olden days is still here. And I think there's some success in starting to bring in -- as they intermarry, you see more and more children who are half Nikkei, half Caucasian usually. But they seem to acquire some of that community identity. And somehow, just by hearing the same messages and stories every Sunday -- they may not be conscious of it -- it is shaping them in, I think very distinct Buddhist ways. So I hope, and at the same time a lot of thoughts about ways that we're failing, or ways to improve.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

SF: So you were describing how the feeling of the Buddhists are in sort of actual living. Do you think that that's sort of a key contribution to the JA community? How much of that is, you know, sort of been passed on and become part of the culture of Japanese America at least Nisei/Sansei mergence? Is that, I mean that, if you could say that that characteristic about people kind of going into a group and feeling sort of warm, sort of regard for other people -- is that mostly traceable to the Buddhist influence? What's your thought about that?

RI: I think in community activities, just generally speaking, Buddhist Nikkei tend to be, not less active, less in the leadership positions than say Christian Nikkei. A lot has to do with the gospel in a way of Christians are encouraged to go out and serve the community and organize and be very visible in that way. So they form a lot of these charities and various service groups and so on. So right away you say well, this Christian church, whether it's Japanese or not, has all these programs in the community. You look at the Buddhist temple and you don't see this organization. And you don't see people talking about their service to the community 'cause there's nothing in Buddhism of earning points, or wanting to -- there being a difference of going up or down or anything like that. It's all done out of gratitude. And when you do things out of gratitude, it's very understated. It's almost hazukashii, and, a little embarrassment of having received so much one didn't deserve, so, "Hey, if I could just anonymously send some money out, or help out, then this is much, much better." So, I think Buddhists do donate a lot. They do a lot of public service and all that, but they don't tie it to say a Buddhist cause or organize in that way. I know when I was minister in BCA I was very concerned about what was going on in Cambodia at that time and all the refugees. So out of that suffering and pain, my response was to organize and try to form a social welfare fund. Where I knew that all the Nikkei Buddhists generally were doing pretty well, and they needed to be led somehow to join together and be more altruistic. So, I was just overwhelmed. Even today there's still many, many donations coming in from people who are grateful for all that they receive, not only themselves, but their children and grandchildren. And so they send large sums of money and to give out to various other groups. But I feel that if, if I and a few others didn't organize this fund, that many of them would still be donating quietly to United Way, whatever, but not saying, "I'm a Buddhist and I'm donating it," right? Or, "I'm volunteering at a hospital every week and by the way, I'm a Buddhist." That's never said.

SF: So typically if you compared maybe say a Japanese American Methodist church versus a Buddhist temple, the Buddhist temple would have very few kind of organized groups that are supposed to... the refugee committee or the Habitat for Humanity group, or, you know all of that. In a lot of JA Protestant churches they seem to have that kind of mechanism, I guess you want to call it. But in Buddhist temples you wouldn't have it, but the same thing would be accomplished typically?

RI: I think on an individual basis a lot is happening. But I think, say if you're a Japanese Christian church you belong to a national organization of, well mostly Caucasian churches. But, they have programs and they send you their literature, and maybe give you training, and there's kind of a model for doing those things. So it's not like you're creating something new, but rather you're keeping up with the other churches. In the Buddhist case there is no model like that. We're poor. We came out of camps, as kind of a new generation. I think it's changing that way. But the leaders in all these causes have traditionally been the clergy. And as long as we still rely upon clergy from Japan, where they don't even know about racism there, or they claim not to, right -- and, or being a minority, or understanding. Certainly people from Japan who come here don't identify with people of color here as being a distinct underprivileged minority. In fact over there the ones who come here often -- the privileged, educated class. And so when that consciousness isn't there, and the ministers, especially those that come from Japan, you don't get that kind of encouragement or leadership. Often the messages that come from headquarters saying, "Okay there's a social welfare fund," or, "Let's discuss the issue about abortion or something," it means nothing to the minister from Japan. So that literature gets filed away and never disseminated to the members. That's one of the greatest frustrations when I was trying to get these things started, was I knew it died on the minister's desk. Not that he was against it, because he couldn't read it for one thing, or didn't understand how important it was within our societal context. And so it breaks down there -- language problems, cultural differences. So the individual members are often left to join community organizations on their own to act out their feelings of giving and needs for giving and so on. And no one ever hears about it, at least not as being members of a Buddhist group. But every time I've been involved in asking for aid for different groups -- I've done quite a bit of that in Hawaii -- the response has always been quite wonderful.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

SF: You mentioned that the sort of cultural orientation of the Japanese Buddhist priests is different obviously because of where they come from and so forth. Do you think that the new Buddhist priests who go to, what, the Institute of Buddhist Studies -- is that right, in Berkeley -- ? rather than going back to Kyoto and, that that influences that process much, or a little bit?

RI: Oh, I guess it could. There's very few actually American born men and women who want to be Joudo Shin ministers at this point. Mainly because they have so many options if they're educated and bright and they come from lay families where their parents are saying, "No, no, be a doctor or a lawyer instead." For them to say, "No, no I'm gonna be a Honganji minister is quite difficult, not only to make up that decision for yourself, but to get family support and agreement. And I think, just looking at our -- if we're just talking 'bout Nikkei, we have many, many brilliant, talented Sansei, Yonsei who are making their names in many different fields. Within the tradition and confines of say an individual Joud Shin temple it's very hard to express themselves. We have our, the old forms of music that are, have been sung for the last seventy years. And they're terrible in a lot of ways. They were suppose to be temporary only until our own musicians created contemporary music. But people got used to them. So when you have a brilliant, say a eighteen year old who's gaining accolades in composing and musicianship and he's not invited to do that for the temple, you see. He says, "Well, why don't we try this type of music? Let's use a synthesizer," you know. "And we could mix taiko in there," and all this. And people say, "Well that sounds interesting, but I think you're twenty years ahead of your time," this kind of thing. And of course they drift away and go somewhere else where they're not appreciated, where they're more appreciated. This happens with a lot of where, churches are -- no matter what religion -- house conservatism. The people are most comfortable in institutions don't want drastic change. They want to feel at home. They want it to be a home away from home. These are usually the parents of these young, creative, rebellious youth. So they're seen as dangerous of threatening the status quo. And they pick that up. And they certainly don't want to be composing music under the eyes of their parents and uncles and aunts. So they leave. And this is in every field. And so this creates a certain poverty inside the temples. And so if you were a young man thinking about becoming a minister, and you wanted to build a very vibrant expression of Buddhism, and you look at your local temple and you see the same old board there, and all the young people leaving. What type of person would still want to be a minister, you see, and accept the limitations to your own life? Knowing that if you were very moved to say teach classes on Buddhism, you might get three Fujinkai ladies showing up just to be kind to you. And so, so if you're attracting people who accept that status quo into the ministry, then you can't expect even a few ministers to have a real fire in them. Someone who says, "I'm gonna go in and change things." 'Cause if they know anything about it, it's almost impossible to change in that way. This is why, for me I had to leave too to find my own... to develop myself. I felt that I could function very well within the BCA inside the temples, but there's unlived life to discover. So I had to leave and I'm very happy doing what I'm doing now, teaching Buddhism and psychology. But at some point I'd like to go back I think, and bring what I was able to develop, and hope that they will appreciate that. I think they do appreciate outside influences coming in, but not the process of it happening -- all the trials and errors, and the battles over funding and all that that goes on to get there. So, I did a study for my doctoral degree on Buddhist priests within our sect. Studied them from many angles. Which ones stay as priests, which ones leave and become academics in terms of what I call Jungian psychological type and I compared the same, similar populations in Protestant ministers and Rabbis and so on. And the same picture always comes up. Those who are what we call intuitive, really generating a lot of ideas, they all leave. Or most of them leave to generate them elsewhere. And the ones who are more comfortable with attending meetings, looking at previous years' programs to see how we should do this year's program, who honor history and tradition rather than wanting to discover new things, that's the type that tends to stay. And the lay people who stay are very much the same. I did a study of lay people too. The same type stay, keeping things the same. And so while your question was about the ministers too... so if they're going be comfortable together, they'll reflect that same conservatism, right? So even, you mentioned Senshin and their very -- what are seen as progressive programs. Lot of it was around bringing back old traditional instruments that aren't played any more except like gagaku instruments. Even the taiko is very old, right? It's not new. It's going back to our Japanese roots. So everything was going back to Japanese roots and doing things the old authentic ways, we, they call it. Rather than creating a new music, let's say that includes Western influences, and new ways of showing -- of having services without going back to the old chants in perfect form. Well let's chant in new ways, you know, that are maybe more conducive to this new land. And so certain people have pushed in that way, which I call more progressive. And I think the other way, which is very exciting to go back and rediscover your roots, I think many Sansei and Yonsei are into that, is progressive in a very conservative way. Right? And I appreciate both of them. But that has been a significant movement. Maybe one of the most within BCA, is this going back to the roots. And so you find a lot of the American born Sansei ministers writing books now on what is the proper way to do service in the traditional way. How do you put the flowers in? What do all the symbolisms mean, right? Rather than what can they mean, or what can we change?

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

SF: So if we have a fairly conservative, let's call it a priesthood, because of selection factors, and a fairly conservative sangha, because of -- those are -- because those are the people that continue to contribute to the temple. What would be some ways to cause sort of evolution or change if that would be a good thing within the temple?

RI: I don't think anything short of torching all the temples. 'Cause there's attachment to the past. They're have -- BCA's having its hundredth centennial this year. And in traditional form, they'll have the golf tournament, and the banquet, and the honoring of the Issei, and a lot of slide shows and things talking about the past. And there'll be some reference to the future, but very little, I think. And I think the buildings have a lot to do with it, like -- the Buddha himself and all his followers never had temples, because their belief was you went to the people wherever they were. And once you set up a building, you say, "You guys come here, rather than we're going to go out to you." Then you've destroyed the whole spirit of the path in this case. And what's happened is that they started, the Japanese community, right here in the middle is the Buddhist temple. They all moved away. They all went to the suburbs for new jobs, to get intermarried. And here in this old run-down area of town now, is this old run-down building. The only ones who are comfortable there are the old generation who are so used to trudging up those stairs every Sunday. And the young families that can create change live too far away to give up a Sunday, the whole day, to travel to their temple. And so you see this happening again and it's a pattern. Yet, the headquarters or the minister or something may see it, but don't want to make the necessary change. So that's why I say if you burn all -- down all the temples then you're not anchored down to these locations. And it's very intimidating for newcomers to walk into a temple that has a well established membership, and activities are already set, and you're supposed to fit in. That's all, that's the best you could do. And again, the American way is, if you have an idea, contribute it. If you have ideas for improvement, well say it. This has always been the understanding of Buddhism too. The Buddha himself said, "Hey, don't believe anything I said. Test it out. Light your own lamp." And Shinran Shonin, the founder of Joudo Shinshu said, "Hey, throw my body into the Kamo River and let the fish eat it. Don't mourn over me, or remember me. You go on with your lives." And so that's the spirit that people should come to the temple for. But what's happened is just the opposite, right? And so much -- all their fundraisers are there to keep these, the building in shape, or to add an addition to it, and to keep old programs going that have long seen their time. So, you know, I say these things and I really mean it. But it's hard to stay -- for me to say, stay within a temple as a minister, and keep pushing in that way, because it's not appreciated.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

EK: Just kind of a follow up question. I'm kind of wondering -- you mentioned kind of the idea of this progressive, or conservative/progressive approach to the religion and services. And I'm just wondering how that's kind of reconciled with these modern needs of people in terms of having a exciting public speaker, everything from making the services interesting to speaking to their more personal needs and the needs of a more possibly diverse sangha, I guess.

RI: I'm not quite sure what the question is.

EK: What the question is?

RI: Yeah.

EK: Well I guess kind of with this conservative progressive approach, they're kind of moving forward by looking back. And, you know, looking back to a type of service or a type of church that served the people at that time, maybe in Japan. And how is that recon -- do you see that being reconciled at all with these modern needs of the people today?

RI: Uh...

EK: Does that clarify it? Kind of? Or...

RI: Well, I, well, I'll respond to it in the way I hear it...

EK: Okay, okay.

RI: ...and we'll see if that works.

EK: That's good enough.

RI: I think as -- well, let's just talk about BCA here, in the mainland U.S. As its history lengthens and as more generation, generations participate in this organization, and then all the intermarriage and so on that the -- it began kind of a very homogeneous: they're all Isseis with similar needs. And then the Nisei came, of course, and so some changes were made along the way. But it still stayed one organization under the old structure. And what I'm beginning to see more and more is that like what happens in Christianity or Buddhism where when new needs are expressed and the old organization cannot accommodate those needs, then a group breaks off and forms -- still perhaps with the same basic teaching, but a different way of observing and acting out how they understand the teaching. And so I think within BCA, there's probably at least two distinct groups -- one looking off into the past and gaining great solace in the beauty of old tradition, and another group that maybe wants to bring in new creativity and things that haven't been tried before. Not just in terms of services and music and ritual and so on, but also in how the teachings are interpreted. Whether it's a more traditional way of interpreting it -- that's very Japanesey or a, shall we say a more contemporary one that we don't know where it's going, but we encourage that creativity as we bring in more and more different constituents and diversity. So I think if it's going to grow, one way would be to -- for certain individuals getting together who have like mind to go out and form another group. And it's gonna be, 'course, difficult at first and -- and so on. But I think our members, by and large, have the financial resources and the education to do this now. And so it's just the old fears and allegiances that are keeping people together I think. And otherwise, I think they'll just continue to decline. So there might be ten new forms. In Japan there's ten different sects of Joudo Shinshu there, all slightly or significantly different from the other. And they all serve different constituencies. So if Japan is so homogeneous, and the United States which is not at all, there'll be a hundred of them, you know, and that'll be healthy. So I don't think we should talk -- fight about who's right or who's wrong, what direction to go. We just simply go our own ways. And have that confidence that the timeless teaching that's been around for twenty six hundred years is gonna continue in another land. So...

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

SF: Maybe a specific form kind of in a sense forced outside stimulation for the church, seems to me, is the influx of hakujins or white people into the church and because it's -- Buddhism is seen contemporarily as a very interesting religion to, or philosophy, religion, whatever, to them. So how does a typical church deal with it? How do the classic sort of JAs deal with these new folks? What are these new folks like? How does that process kind of work through? What have you seen in the temples?

RI: Yeah, I think our hand is being forced in that way. Inside the dharma schools where, of course we have the young families and most of them are intermarried and the children are interracial children, that that just happens very naturally. As far as adults, I think what's happened like the Buddhist Temple of Chicago which is actually more Higashi Honganji. Even at the San Francisco Buddhist Temple when Reverend Ogui was there -- where lot of Caucasians came, you know their metropolitan cities where you're gonna find this interest. What they did is they formed two distinct groups. There was the Nikkei group that came on Sunday mornings and had their board meetings, and their bazaars, and basketball league and all that on certain days and nights. And then the basically Caucasian group that came to study Buddhism and to meditate. And these were usually like Saturday mornings when the Nikkei had no interest in being at the temple, other than maybe cleaning the yard and maybe some weeknights. So they, they formed distinct groups that very rarely saw each other. And I think that's how it's been addressed. If the minister was capable of handling both, you know being bilingual, and confident of dealing with non-Japanese. Certain temples where there's only a handful, maybe three or four say hakujins coming in -- they don't form a separate group, they mainly kind of do their best to fit in. And if they're gonna stick around then they have to help out at the bazaar. They usually become the, the chairman for the services because they're more articulate and more interested in the teachings per se. And as, as you would expect too, they often become board presidents or very high up in the structure because of their confidence and familiarity with -- dealing with the city government and codes and leading meetings and so on. But these are kind of patterns of -- it's been much too slow in that way. But again, maybe the answer again is... I think, though, BCA has encouraged some separate hakujin groups that form -- they call them fellowships. Like in Sunnyvale there was one around a Reverend Eidmann there. But, but they always seem like minor, minor projects that got very little funding or support. It's like, "Hey, don't bother us. Go do your own thing. Go over there." And when the organizing person either passed away or retired, then the groups just died because there was no real interest in BCA or the headquarters to have these groups going. Because they just made them a little uncomfortable, they didn't know what to make of them. So again, as long as we're trying to keep everything under this old leadership and these old assumptions, nothing's gonna happen. I think myself -- maybe others who have left the structure of the BCA and all that, but still feel we're ministers at heart -- our goals or dreams are to, I think, open our own temples, somewhat affiliated with BCA, still being Joudo Shinshu -- 'cause this is our belief and training. But not under the jurisdiction of them. So I could kinda see that happening in maybe, I don't know, ten years from now for me.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

SF: Seems to me that there's kinda this tension between this sort of kinda family, community, similarity of outlook, feeling among the Nikkei. And then you have like interesting, innovative, changing, sort of more, kind of worldview ideology -- more of the head stuff, the cognitive stuff, that say the white folks bring to the...

RI: Uh-huh.

SF: the table or to the church. So is there, I mean what is the...? Both of those are sort of good things and, but they seem in some sense difficult to reconcile in real people. And how do you -- how would you make this new emergent form, say in this church, new church? How would that actually play out, since you've got this kind of tension I think? Is, is that a fair interpretation?

RI: Yeah. I think a good model would be my father back in the '50s, with the Berkeley Buddhist Temple. The membership was mostly small business owners. They were all Issei, Nisei gardeners who saw the temple as their home away from home where their children could play and all that. Yet it was in Berkeley. The intellectual environment was, was just so tremendous. And of course the period there was right after World War II and during the Korean War when this, all these servicemen and, after that businessmen and tourists going to Asia, and coming back saying, "There's this fascinating -- new way of -- new religion there, Buddhism." Not new there, but new here. And so my father, because of his vision of Buddhism being non, not tied to any population, even non-sectarian Buddhism. He always lamented that we stress our sect too much, that the broader view of Buddhism is much more beautiful and inclusive. And so he just openly invited, oh, these Beatniks -- people like Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder and Alan Ginsberg and all those people, Alan Watts -- he just invited them to come and join the Japanese. At first they were very uncomfortable. Then they began to realize they, they were there for a common purpose. And so it became kind of the seed for a lot of American Buddhism today. Just under my, my father was very quiet. He hardly said anything. People didn't know what he was thinking. But he always formed that, that welcome environment for people to come and interact. I think that's all that's needed really. Instead of the fear that's felt by a lot of the ministers and lay people today that we're gonna lose something rather than gain something by letting outsiders in. So it really takes a different kind of leadership. And I don't know if that potential exists within BCA as it's structured today because such a hierarchical seniority based system. And so again, you know, I say, oh, burn the temples down. Or, just move out of them. You don't need a building. All you need is a few chairs at the Greyhound Bus Station to get started, right?

SF: Uh-huh.

RI: And, because it's the people and their hearts and minds, it's not, it's not the building. But we get it all backwards. So that's the main drawback right now, is not enough people dedicated to just welcoming open minds and without being judgmental. That's why I so enjoy teaching here, and the freedom to flit in and out of BCA temples and say what I want. But if I do form my own temple here, certainly I don't think I could help but have a similar policy like my father which is encouraging this cross-fertilization of ideas.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

SF: Maybe, sort of this openness to change, and in fact creating change that you're suggesting here has something to do with the kind of period you grew up and your, when you came of age so to speak. And -- as I understand it you were in Berkeley in the early...?

RI: '60's.

SF: mid '60s, and 'course a lot was going on in the American society in general then. So how did all of that impact you, and your views, and what you did later? Maybe you can give us some examples of the things that you got involved in, in that time.

RI: Well, I don't think I did anything extraordinary. I think, back then the times create the people. And certainly to be a college student in the '60s in Berkeley -- unless you were totally out of touch with what was going on right around you... I guess there were students who just looked at their books and were intent on going to med school or something. But because of my -- lot had to do with my upbringing -- of the influence of my father and mother and all these people, like who came to their study center in Berkeley. Always asking, questioning authority and wondering if there's more all the time. So here it's again very fortunate for me to be in Berkeley rather than -- why, I shouldn't name another institution, but... and to have parents like that, and the times. So I was involved in my share of, you know student activist things, both in Berkeley, and also later in Hawaii where the Vietnam War was still going on. And more and more -- especially with the self-immolation of the Buddhist monks and nuns in Vietnam, you know where they burned themselves. I think that changed the whole war and the consciousness of the world, just to see people selflessly giving their lives for others. And that really struck me. And up 'til that point I had rejected Buddhism because of what I saw as shortcomings or corruptions of the institution. When you're a preacher's kid, you get a very negative view of the dynamics of the church, or... and so I had no intention at all of ever becoming a minister myself. That's why I graduated from Berkeley in mathematics, and then went to medical studies, and got into med school, and was a math teacher, all these things. But at the same time I was more and more troubled by the suffering in the world, focusing on Vietnam of course. I would go to all these peace rallies and marches and participate in -- and there seemed to be a lack of vision there. Even the peace groups would be competing and fighting against each other as to who would be in the front of the march, and criticizing each other. And somehow the Buddhist, it kept coming back to me. I feel it's like a rubber band; you stretch and stretch, and at some point it just won't take that tension. You snap back. I think I was snapped back into Buddhism after I got over being a preacher's kid and that kind of complex. Began to see it in terms of my values, not only for myself, but in the context of the world and what was going on. And so that really... I was in, just starting med school at the time. I was involved in all these demonstrations. The med school called me in -- the dean -- he said, "Look, you're going to these demonstrations and participating. This is conduct unbecoming of a doctor. So you're gonna have to make a choice right now, because we have spies at these rallies taking down your names." And Hawaii's a military complex. I think maybe 70 percent of the people in Hawaii are somehow military related through their work. And so it's understandable that that kind of politics would be in place. But, of course, being quite rebellious, that was instant -- my decision was instant. No. Well, I'm gonna become a priest then. Of course my father was totally shocked. At first he wouldn't allow me to be. He thought I had no business being one because of my rebelliousness and ego and all that. But sometime I look back and think maybe he was using expert reverse psychology by saying, "Don't become one," right? He knew I would -- I would do it. So that's kind of how I got into it, and how in both direct and indirect ways my being raised during that period and in those places influenced my decisions.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

SF: What were some of the things that you did in that period to sort of actualize your values and your thinking at that time?

RI: Well, you know, again, I don't think it was so unique. Not only Vietnam stuff, where I played -- I would play my guitar and sing at these rallies. I think I led the only organized, and led the only demonstration and march on a Buddhist temple in Hawaii. Where the 442 was stationed at the YBA -- this was their clubhouse. Many of them were from Buddhist backgrounds. And every year Memorial Day was a big observance for them. They all wore their uniforms and their badges in memory of the fallen during World War II basically. And this particular year they invited Senator Dan Inouye to be the keynote speaker. And I thought, "This is a great opportunity to, to voice opposition to the war." Here with -- all the newspapers will be there and everything. So I said, "But, how am I going to do this?" So, I remember, I went to the university and just kind of organized a lot of mainland hippie types who wanted to march anyway. And from the university went all the way through town, and came up -- there's a tunnel that comes right up into the Honganji -- and as we emerged from that tunnel the YBA, 442 were, they were in shock seeing this. And they said, "Call the police," right? "Call the police and have these guys arrested." But then some said, "But the bishop's son is in front of 'em. You can't do that!" And so there's this great confusion, and just kept coming forward until I, I reached Senator Inouye. I still remember offering him the open letter of protest, and offering my hand to shake, and realizing at that time that he didn't have a right arm. I still remember that. And so we did it this way. [Demonstrates handshake] And then after we presented, we left. But, it was things like that, you know, picketing for the UFW against all the supermarkets there. And here, I married a grape grower's daughter [Laughs] from the Fresno area, right? So, there was great tension in our family gatherings. But those type of things, doing a lot of things at the University of Hawaii as far as supporting activist organizations and fund raising, and even sponsored a rock concert at the amphitheater there to raise funds for a Tibetan Buddhist group that needed funding to bring their teacher. Again, I was raised nonsectarian -- not just to support Japanese, or Joudo Shin. But if I saw a Tibetan Buddhist, say, "Hey, we have to do this." We sponsored a rock concert complete with all the pot smoking and everything. [Laughs] I hadn't asked for that -- just came along with it. [Laughs] So those type of things that you just do again without real planning in response to what you perceive to be the needs at the time.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

SF: The march, that strikes me as a really interesting one because here's -- especially in Hawaii, right? The cultural icon of the JA community is the 442 and Senator Inouye is the sort of, one of the head icons. You know that...

RI: Yeah.

SF: ... I found to sort of go against that sort of a whole cultural thing. But, did you have kinda mixed feelings about some of that, or you just kinda really knew that this was the right thing at that moment?

RI: Yeah, I wasn't encumbered back then by conscience it seems. [Laughs] Just, just what I got very excited in and, prob -- in some ways self righteous about. I know at the same time, they were having hearings in the state legislature about -- I can't remember the exact thing, but it was... the question that was fired at me was, "Hey, the 442 were basically Buddhists. How do you justify their fighting in the war?" I guess, this is more in the area of nonviolence and some anti-war resolutions that we were pressing the legislature to pass. And so they decided to pick on me because, you know, 442 is, no one criticizes them. And so I was on the spot; all, all the people, all the legislators watching. And, sometimes I say some good things. [Laughs] So it's kind of, I said, "You know, you have to understand the position of a young man in 1941 after... 1942 after Pearl Harbor. And even though he's a Buddhist and doesn't believe in taking life, that he's also an American and has family and a reputation -- many other things going on in their lives. So, if they did serve and they did happen to kill somebody in the line of action, I would take it that they had a deep sense of regret at having to do that, and were forced to make these very difficult, sometimes impossible choices at times of war and other emergencies. And so I still stay with my nonviolent stance from Buddhism, but it does not condemn those who fought, because they were doing the best they could under very unusual circumstances." So it kind of, you know silenced the, that opposition at that time 'cause they realized that all of them had gone through similar difficult times where they couldn't just do the ideal action.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

SF: Speaking of the 442, and as you pointed out, most of them were Buddhists, right? So there were no Buddhist chaplains in the 442, right? At that time.

RI: Yeah.

SF: And so you see these pictures of the guys sitting around a, an obviously Christian minister with, you know, a cross. I understand that their graves were -- the 442 guys' graves were typically marked with crosses. So, what struck me is sort of, it must've been difficult for the guys, right? I mean here was this different religion and that the institution that they were willing to sacrifice their life for was not recognizing their beliefs.

RI: Well, I, I suppose that -- I guess you have to take it on an individual basis. One thing that Buddhism encourages is tolerance towards other beliefs and non, non-attachment to forms. For instance, when I was a hospital chaplain here in Oakland -- "here," I think I'm in California -- down in California in Oakland, I would have to make the rounds. This is an oncology ward where many people were dying. And maybe I'm the last person they talk to before they die, or, or the last person, they want -- last clergy to come by. And I would come by and I'd talk with them and they would say, "Oh" -- they didn't know I was Buddhist, 'cause I was just part of the chaplains of the hospital. They'd say, "Oh, pastor would you pray with me? I'm so alone -- I'm dying. Would you pray with me?" So I would say something with a kind of a Buddhist message. And then I could see they're sitting there like this, and they're gonna die. They'll just keel over if I said, "Namu-Amida-Butsu," right? So what I say is, I say, "Amen," for them, but meaning, "Namu-Amida-Butsu, the union of myself and the great universe in my own heart," you see. And then they would say, "Oh thank you, that's the most beautiful... now I could die in peace." And so this non-attachment -- I could say, "Amen." It's what I mean that's important, it's not the form. So I wonder if a lot of these GIs, they had no choice, and they could be bitter about it. I think there were some families who went back to the graveyards and did change some of the symbols there later on. But I think a lot of them have kind of the mind-set, "Well they mean well. This, this Christian chaplain's doing it for me." And so, "I'm not gonna reject that." So I don't think that'd be a very sincere Buddhist attitude, not to insist on having the Buddhist symbol there, right?

SF: Uh-huh.

RI: Yeah.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

SF: You were mentioning that the United Farm Worker Cesar Chavez, UFW thing was, personally came home to you because you were married to a -- your wife is from the Fresno area and, of course, the JAs are, have been historically really involved in agriculture and still are to a large degree. So, this is, seems to me another one of those sort of almost cultural icons that a lot of the Niseis are identified with agriculture because they came out of that experience. And so I was kinda wondering, how did you deal with that because it seemed to be -- and I've sort of experienced this myself -- but the Chavez-UFW thing seemed like such a pure cause in the sense that it was the oppressed. And there were the farm workers and Chavez himself was always -- had this appropriate, quote, "symbolism." That, that's why he appealed to all the liberals in the Midwest and the East. But it's such a emotional issue for the people on the farms and for the people who are, for the JAs who are related to the people on the farms -- Nisei Farmers League, and they were able to organize, what, 1400 farmers in the area. Not only JAs, but the Armenians and the rest of them.

RI: Uh-huh, right.

SF: So, I mean, how did that play on you? How did you talk to the guys from the packing shed?

RI: Yeah. I can't say I went down there to try to convert anybody. It's hard enough even talking to my father and mother-in-law. But I guess I always felt justified in my position that certainly if you just look at the recent history in the current situation, the Japanese American farmers would identify more with the cause of -- against the union and so on. And with, ally with all the other farmers. But if they take a larger view, going back even a few years or to their grandparents and go back to where they came from, that there's no way that they could feel separate from the Chicano farm laborers 'cause that was them. That's just -- that's what their grand -- their parents were there. And how could they... if they justify the inhumane treatment of the Mexican laborers, then in a way they're justifying the same treatment of their own parents and grandparents. I know at some point they used to have a -- the Nisei farm workers there had an annual luau, and then a free trip to Hawaii at the end for the winner. And they canceled that to go to Vegas, instead, because they were so mad at us in Hawaii for picketing. Even the state legislature passed a resolution supporting the UFW -- in Hawaii. And this had a lot to do with their own struggles with farm labor and all that. And lot of the... when the problem is in California, Hawaiians could see the, see it much more clearly what's, where the pure standpoint is, rather then where their own dollars are kinda sunk into it. So I think the Hawaii people understood the plight of the Mexican laborers, 'cause they could see it in their own history, and their income didn't depend on that, directly anyway. So, yeah, there was this great anger towards Hawaii, you know -- "Why aren't you with us?" The two great populations of Nikkei -- "Why aren't you supporting us?" And so when it played out in families like ours, it was a great deal of tension. But whenever we got to this kind of discussion where I could point to the bigger picture and he insisted on seeing the smaller picture, we came to a standstill. But it never turned into hostility because we both could see what the, literally depending on how we wanted to see the situation, with a large lens or a small lens. And I would always try it. I mean I would go to their farm and say, "You mean you have the workers live in that? Would you live in that? Would you want me to live in" -- you know, and they'd go... [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. "You're embarrassed about your daughter, you know, marrying a poor minister, but I'm richer than any of your workers." I didn't say it like that, but still there'd be that kind of give and take, and it kept it human.

SF: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

EK: In terms of -- I'm wondering kind of how you see the role of the church, in the Buddhist church in some of these more political issues. I know you as an individual kind of went in and did all of these political activities. But as a church, do you see the, you know, the church as having a role in some of these larger political issues?

RI: I think it does, not for the purpose of having a role, but I think every human being -- not just Buddhists, but every human being should be challenged to look at every important issue and examine it from their own lens, and come to some conclusion.

EK: Uh-huh.

RI: Not a conclusion that they're gonna be rigid about, but one that at least adds to the discourse in an intelligent way. And I think Buddhists could do a lot more of that, because our teachings are very much towards humanitarian acts and compassion. So there's some issues that are very clear. You know, if you see an oppressed people, to speak up for them. Maybe issues like abortion might be more complicated, because there's teachings in Buddhism that say human life is sacred and very difficult to come by. There's many other forms of life, but human life only happens very rarely, and so it is a form of killing too... right? So it would be anti-abortion in a way. But the human side of Buddhism says, "We don't live as perfect human beings, just off of ideals. If someone's in a very difficult position -- especially the woman who's pregnant -- and there's ample reason not to have the baby, we don't, we can't say we'd support the abortion, but we cannot condemn her. Especially if she's thought it through as best she can, and not, doesn't have a blind eye to things. And so these are quite unique. We call it, in a way -- one way of saying it, "It's a position of no position." To Westerners that sounds weak. But this is, all the martial arts are like that too. If you say, "I'm gonna defend this piece of ground against all comers," you're gonna get killed. You have to be able to move with the flow of things. And so Buddhist position of no position just simply means that you're always ready to change your mind as new information comes in, but you still have a position there. And I think this kind of stance can be contributed to almost any social issue, right? And even the peace movement, Thich Nhat Hanh came out, just one sentence that put it all in focus. He said, "There is no way to peace, peace is the way." You don't -- there's no tactics to have a peace or whatever, because peace starts within here, right? Within the person. If you don't feel peaceful, there's nothing you can contribute to the peace movement that's not gonna bring more friction. 'Cause if you just point out the Pentagon and big business, you're not helping the situation. But if you could point out the Pentagon and big business, and the way I live, and the things that I buy and things I consume, and the taxes I pay and support, then you begin to see the issue. That's one thing that Buddhism can really help with any issue. So -- but again it's not a dogmatic -- we all Buddhists believe this. We could say, "Hey, take it seriously, very seriously. Address it fully and commit yourself, but not to a static position. So I've done a lot of weird thing -- I remember I joined a rabbi and a priest in suing President Reagan, back -- when was he president, '85 or something? He declared the year, the year of the Bible, right? And so, of course the Jews felt that was weird 'cause, you know, they don't -- and then...[coughs]... so we, we got a lawyer and sued Reagan. I don't know what happened, I guess it got thrown out, but... things like that, it's not, they're important in a way 'cause it does show an injustice, you know, blindness. Yeah, I know a lot of little stories like that.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

SF: Some of the themes that you're talking about here sort of remind me of, of the fact that you're both a Buddhist priest and also a psychologist. And it seems to me that Western psychology has some of these elements of a single path, the scientific way and trying to categorize and to quantify -- to put labels on things. Seems like there's some difficulties with the different theories of psychology. In fact we have so many of them. I was wondering, what do you, what do you think Buddhism might have to, say, contribute to contemporary Western psychology?

RI: Well, although both appear to be addressing suffering in a way, I think the level of suffering is quite different. Western psychology deals with rather mundane suffering; keeps it at changing behaviors, the ways we think, kind of on a practical level. Whereas Buddhism addresses what I would call more existential suffering. That even when all these, your relationships are going well, when you have a good job, whatever, there's still an uneasiness, an unhappiness that underlies it all. So you even see it in the Rockefellers, or the president of the United States. They have in every way a normal behavior -- normal, even an idealized existence that we'd all like to have in a way. Yet at the same time they commit suicide, and do very strange things that show they're unhappy. And so Buddhism, I think, goes beyond psychology in that way. It doesn't replace psychology. I think there's still a place for, to be able to talk out problems and think about different changes or strategies in one's marriage, or, you know, work or whatever. But it doesn't even begin to address the deeper let's say universal neuroses that all humans have when they're not fully awakened or enlightened. And this has a lot to do with ego. What we call any anger or hatred we feel, or greed, and the delusions we have. And so, if it were like taking care of this plant here, psychology would make sure that it got enough water and sun and got pruned and everything, looked nice. Buddhism would say, "Well, that's fine, but what's happening under the ground, the roots? It would be more concerned with the roots than the appearances and all that. Psychology is very clear; it wants to take those who are abnormal and make them normal, unproductive, productive. And, if you look at all the Buddhist teachers and saints, very unproductive people. They didn't -- weren't even married. They, a lot of them didn't even know their children, 'cause they're so intent on the bigger questions of life.


SF: Okay. So, before lunch we were talking little bit about some of the relationships between Buddhism and Christianity. Could you pick up where we...?

RI: Wasn't it Buddhism and psychology?

EK: Psychology.

SF: Psychology, I'm sorry. Psychology, geez, lunch effect already. [Laughs]

RI: [Laughs] Well, I've been using the analogy of this plant here, where both Buddhism and psychology address human suffering but at different dimensions of suffering. That Buddhism is at more of the existential level of suffering. That even after all kinds of therapy, and you feel fully functional in your relationships and your work. But there's still is a great deal of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, kind of a not knowing why you're here -- the questions about who am I still exist. And so this is where Buddhism comes in, in addressing these deeper issues, especially the so-called "hoo haws," or whatever -- three in the morning when you think you have everything all tied down and you look around and, gee, this is a nice home and all that. And you're worried about dying, or about not reaching your goals and all these things. Where does it come from? And so it gets down to basic ego issues around being attached to a permanence, having some unrealistic view of life having to be happy all the time. And then wanting to maintain your own individuality that you've worked so hard all your life to build, with all your degrees and accomplishments. Realizing that at any moment -- it's like standing over a flimsy floor -- you could just crash through and die. It could be a car accident, just one germ entering your body and taking over, or Alzheimer's, or something. And of course Buddhism then begins to point towards expanding your own identity from this ego or small self, to your connections -- inner connections with the rest of reality. I think Western psychotherapy has a great investment in Buddhism and all these -- they call them therapies, alternative therapies, which I'm always warning people about. I think it's part of this American "colonialist mentality." Going elsewhere, finding things that are valuable and bringing them back here, and using it on our own terms. So Buddhism has been in a way reduced to a psychotherapeutic technique that's called meditation, to be used against stress, against pain, and all kinds of seemingly practical means, but has nothing to do with Buddhist meditation which is only aimed towards awakening to one's true nature. And if one feels more comfortable, or less stressed, not so conscious of pain -- individual pain and so on -- these are all side products of doing a good job and looking at yourself. And there's a lot of differences that I point out in my writings, too, that show that they are addressing different issues. And if anything, Buddhism extends, complements psychotherapy adding wisdom and compassion to just the science of psychotherapy. And so as part of a great, kind of fight or controversy of Western psychologists who want to just grab Buddhism and stick it in their arsenal of, bag of tricks they call, and us Buddhists who don't want to be reduced just to that. It's very insulting to be seen that way. So there's a kind of a ongoing battle in academia right now. I wrote a chapter in a book called Western Psychotherapy and Western Buddhism, I think, an Asian American perspective, 'cause all the other perspectives are from Caucasians. And it's been roundly criticized because it just doesn't buy into this need to reduce Buddhism to a technique to be used by psychology, but rather it's the way around. They want to say Freud and psychology is the main picture, Buddhism is a nice, convenient add-on. But if you look at -- if you really understand Buddhism and psychology, it's the other way around. Psychology is a very recent add-on. It's still very young, full of confusion, none of the treatments work, or if they do, it's by accident. And they're still doing things like shock treatments and all this. Just out of sheer desperation at times. And there are a lot of experts in the psychology field who are also beginning to admit that it's not a science, that a lot of it's just blind hope. It's kind of like electric shock therapy where they admit that all it is is like taking a person's head and doing this for five minutes [pantomimes shaking a person's head] and hoping that something in here gets reorganized in some different ways so they'll forget their suffering, things like that. And certainly people are helped by talking therapy, and the various little interventions and maneuvers of psychology. But it still doesn't address the deeper issues that true religions do. And so all I'm saying if somebody, say Western psychologists wants to move into the area of Buddhist psychology, they'll have to change their whole understanding of themselves, expand that and also the world. It's not adding something on, but it's kind of an overhaul of themselves. Very few people are willing to do that; take the time if not this life, another lifetime. So anyway that's kind of a basic difference. I can get into particulars, but I'm not sure if that's what you wanna do.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

SF: Well, maybe as kind of an expansion of that you could just talk a little bit about Morita therapy and Naikan therapy as kinda sort of based on Buddhist...

RI: Yeah, I know Morita and Naikan therapies have gained some popularity here. I think a lot of it's due to this work of David Reynolds who wrote his doctoral dissertation on that, and he's quite a prolific writer and started a institute. I think they're out on the East Coast, and they generate a lot of material. So, and it seems to add legitimacy to say they're Buddhist-based. And there are certain characteristics there that do come from Buddhist practice, such as the meditation and the introspection and all that. And it's said that Morita is tied to Zen Buddhism and Naikan to Joudo Shin Buddhism. There's, there's a lot of similarity but again, Buddhist, Buddhism is not a therapy. All these therapies are initiated when someone comes in with a problem. Okay, so they're supposed to fix the person to become functional and normal and even Naikan and Morita. Whereas Buddhism is a way of life that is more preventative than curative. That if one adopts a Buddhist attitude, then one still has problems, but -- it's like a duck with water on the back, the water slides off. It still gets wet, but the water doesn't adhere to the feathers. And Buddhism plays that role, that we can go through the most difficult challenges in our life, not run away from them because we're afraid of being hurt, but to go through them and accept the pain or the hurt and then be able to move on from there. And I think this is the main contribution. It's much bigger than anything psychology even attempts to address. And so hopefully this kind of perspective will be a big part of my work in clarifying for myself also this interface more clearly, but not allowing the American or Western kind of colonialist mentality to reduce Buddhism to just a technique. And there's dollar signs all over it. So that's why it's become such a point of contention is because people want to repackage it and sell it. If you go to any Barnes and Noble or bookstore, and you see it all. Something, Zen something or Buddhist something and application, and people buy and re-buy those books and think it's the real thing, but it's not.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

EK: Can you describe a little bit about the -- is it Morita therapy for our users? 'Cause I don't know if they're gonna be... if you could just summarize those two types of therapies if that's possible.

RI: Well, I think Morita therapy, like I said is, I think the roots are from Zen Buddhism. It addresses a certain condition that's very Japanese called shinkeishitsu which is a, an anxiety that -- well I guess other people can have this, but it's particularly prevalent in Japan where you're so self conscious about how people see you, see your family. Everything you do seems to have terrible, uh -- well possible results to them. Not only to yourself, but to your family and your colleagues and everything. So people get immobilized by this anxiety. And these people are -- have a hard time with authority figures, 'cause it makes them even more anxious. We're all nodding 'cause we have some of this too. Then, what's happened is it looks at Buddhist meditation, and the first step after getting the person, educating them about what's gonna happen at each stage of this -- often it's sort of like the two-month process within a hospital -- is that the first week they're put into a, an isolated room with no stimuli at all, just a bare room. And they'd see nobody for a week. They just lie on a futon for a week. The food is kind of slide, slid to them through a slot. And this isolation, what it does to I guess virtually everybody who goes through it is to make them realize how unrealistic their reticence to engage life is. You know, if they're just lying there doing nothing at first they think, "Oh, this is nice. I don't have to be seen by anybody or be nervous about my actions or thoughts or whatever." But after a few days of just lying there you begin to have this gnawing realization that, "No, this is very unnatural. I should be out there and engaged in life." So this is kind of what one week of sleep does for you. Then the rest of the therapy is on hospital grounds giving you little jobs to make you enjoy being productive rather than ruminating on your anxieties. And yeah, so that's in a way character building. It's not therapy in the usual sense. And the only problem is that you stop living productively. And that sounds very Japanese, right? So once you're out there living productively then everything's fine and we don't worry about your inner processes, or whether you had a bad childhood, or any of this is irrelevant. So that's very attractive to, even some Americans here who are just tired of all the analysis, and that, analysis of childhood themes, and what seems to go on and on and on. And somehow the feeling that the more you talk about a problem the bigger it gets rather than goes away. Whereas Morita approach would be, "Okay, that did happen to you, but what's the purpose? You should be out there taking care of your children and doing your job the best you can. So whenever you start thinking about those things, put it aside, put your attention back to your activity." And it comes back to almost, it seems like a real American viewpoint, this whole pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

RI: There's a lot of people in the Midwest -- you know in old America that laugh at therapy. "Isn't that ridiculous? You sit in with a stranger and talk about these things all day and night, and pretty soon you're making up stories just to satisfy the therapist." And they think, "No, just good hard work does it." And so it's very akin to that. If it didn't have the Buddhist trappings I think they gave it another name. I think they call it Creative Living Therapy now. And so then it has a Japanese name, and then a Buddhist root, then Middle America would not touch it. Yeah, but there's a lot of basic, very basic differences in the assumptions of Western psychology and mainstream, and what I'm talking about in terms of Buddhist psychology. Even real basic things like Western psychotherapy has normal and abnormal. And normal is happy, this is unhappy, this is being productive, unproductive, having good family relationships. And everything is split down the middle, being healthy, being unhealthy. And the whole medical profession, mental health profession is taking all these people on the wrong side of the line and simply getting them over that line to be happy and productive again. And so we have this whole industry that labels people as abnormal or needing help. And billions of dollars are spent and whole professions are created over that.

Whereas Buddhism starts with the premise that life includes unhappiness. That's just part of life. Life is like a bumpy road. And so, sure if your marriage isn't going well, no one's to blame for that. And it's not supposed to be perfect, anyway. Marriage is -- just by getting married you know you're gonna have adjustment problems all the rest of your life. That's how it is. And so if you start from that premise, that suffering and unhappiness are just part of the human condition, rather than it shouldn't be. Then when someone comes and says, "Oh, I'm in an unhappy marriage." Welcome to the club. And maybe rather than, they want to sit there and blame their husband or wife for the problem, but just say, "Look, this is never going to be perfect because we're foolish human beings that always get caught up in little arguments over who's gonna do the dishes or who did this or didn't do that." That's human. So the only way you're gonna understand it is not look at your husband, but look at yourself, and how this happens over and over again like a broken record, and take responsibility for that. That's a whole different orientation to therapy to begin with. There's a lot of these very basic differences. Western therapy encourages you to emote, to talk about your feelings, and someone who doesn't talk much is seen as a poor client. Whereas, Buddhist form is, talking is often a distraction to get away from the problem, a smoke screen. And, the hardest thing is to just sit there and look within at the source of the problem. This is meditation. In Western therapy there's the distinct difference between therapist and client. One person is the helper, the other is the helpee. One person has the problem, the other person doesn't. But Buddhist ideal is the fellow traveler. You know, the so-called therapist who's guiding the process has the same issues as the client. And so what you're doing is trying to awaken the therapist in the client, inside the client, and the client inside the therapist. Therefore, then you're fellow travelers. And therefore, maybe there'd be some sessions where the so-called therapist says, "Hey, this is really great. This last hour I learned so much. Let me pay you this time," you know. [Laughs] "Or let me take you out to lunch, or something," right? That's really great what you told me because it made me learn a lot about my own relationship." If you did that in Western therapy, you can get reprimanded by the board for being unprofessional. But that's human. And this whole very sterile, dualistic relationship is the basis of Western therapy. And this is why people really never feel the compassion of the therapist. "Oh, your fifty minutes is up. Uh, pay on your way out." [Laughs] So there's all these basic differences that just point to the fact that we're not just talking about Buddhism being a -- meditation being just the tool for Western psychology. But it's built on entirely different premises, whether we're talking about the treatment, the therapist, the client, everything.

SF: How would this approach sort of work with, say, psychotics? I mean is that, is that possible? What would be the -- or is it...?

RI: Well, I think in the history of treatment there's always been -- it's been, you know, on one end it's the witch burning to get rid of the bad spirits and putting people in these terrible mental health prisons called Bedlam to, because they were seen as irrational, almost like animal type beings. And then you look in the history -- there's also periods where there was wonderful hospitals and kind treatment. Where the theory was, if you treat the patient with kindness and love, that it'll bring out their better side, and they won't feel so threatened, and then they will naturally evolve the bet -- you know, whatever the qualities are. And so I think that's very much the understanding from the Buddhist side. So if it's a psychotic... again, if you think about cure, it may not be effective. This takes a long time. But there are treatments like, very -- like, oh what's his name? He goes inside the ward with the psychotic patient and he himself joins the patient in acting psychotic too. He doesn't say, "I'm sane and you're insane." But he, he does all the actions and thinking of a psychotic. And then the psychotic sees himself in the doctor and says, "Oh, is that how I'm acting?" You know, kind of like that. So it's just getting out of the boundaries. But again the basis of Buddhism is the preventative. Psychosis is often the result of very extreme inhumane conditions, where there's up -- upbringing. And the treatment of someone who acts a little strange, instantly they call the police, put 'em in a strait jacket, drug them up, put 'em in Western State Hospital. That's enough to drive anybody, make them worse. And so Buddhist approach -- just like most countries in Asia, every village has their village idiot, people who don't function. But they don't put 'em away. They, they say, "Well okay, well you don't have to do so much there, then," right? People embrace them there in the community. So it's just a whole different mindset about human nature and whether to accept others as they are or as you want them to be, which is more of the Western way. Yeah.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

SF: ...the Japanese American community seems pretty, kind of nonverbal in comparison to the, kind of the middle class American mainstream -- we see ourselves as kind of inarticulate as it were, in contrast. So, wondering if we -- it's a good idea to sort of not see that as kind of a weakness, but, see our way of approaching each other, or maybe the world in a nonverbal, or a less verbal sort of way. And if that might be tied to sort of a...

RI: Yeah, I don't have any, at least at this point, any very important thoughts about that. I think, one of the handicaps I found in becoming a therapist that I see in many other, and why I think Jew -- maybe this is stereotype, I see a lot of Jewish therapists who because of their verbal abilities and their huge vocabularies, like... in my family, "How are you feeling?" Good, or bad, right? And yet, there are hundreds of synonyms for each one that have nuances that really give you an idea of what -- not only of what you're feeling, but maybe the cause of it and so on. And so if you're raised with very limited vocabulary as far as emotional terms, and then you want to be a therapist, that's a real handicap. So I used to just sit there with the thesaurus, and look at fifty words for one emotion. I never even suspected there were other words. But as I read 'em I realized that each one was different. And if I could learn how to use them in the right, right time that it may just open up the realization of the clients. And then turning it around, in this case we have clients who are not that knowledgeable of English terms or dealing with emotions. Again, in therapy, what, what kind of handicap is that when they cannot clearly... if you don't have the words you don't have the reality either, that matches that. It's just like Eskimos, they have, they know snow so well, what, they have thirty words or whatever for snow. But those of us who are born in California and Hawaii, snow is snow, right? And even if they gave us thirty words for snow, it would mean nothing to us 'cause we don't -- we haven't experienced those thirty forms. So in that sense I see it as a handicap. And I think this is why Asian, especially Asian men, Caucasian women marriages are the most likely to fail. Because the women are verbal and they are demanding the man respond to them in emotional terms. And the Asian male is probably the most handicapped animal in the world at that, right?

SF: Uh, huh-huh.

RI: Yeah. And so, in that way it's a handicap. I guess the other way we like to think -- and I'm not sure how true that is, that because we don't know those things we don't stir up unrest either 'cause we don't talk about problems. I don't know. You know, I suspect that's not true. I hear -- and I don't know what the numbers are -- many unhappy even Nisei or Sansei women with their non-talkative husbands. And how many of them leave as soon as the kids are grown. It may go both ways. That's not strictly male, female type thing.

SF: Is the root of this affect the family? And how do you learn to, to talk within the dinner context or how Dad talks to you and so forth? Is it because Asian males are encouraged to (not) emote, and therefore they don't develop this vocabulary, and therefore it carries over to their marital relationships, or...? What's the basic cause of this?

RI: A lot of it is, I think is modeling too. What we were raised with. And I don't recall -- I don't know about yourself -- but my parents ever, you know showing affection openly. Or even anger was done after we went to sleep if they had an argument. And so, they're very basically emotionless people in our eyes. You never saw them holding hands, or saying, "Honey," or this or that. And I think this is a very common experience for us Asians. So, we often, it's often said we marry women like our mothers, and men like our fathers because it's familiar. Even though we don't necessarily like it, we don't know what the alternative is. And I think you do find that Japanese women especially, who move out of Japan, or out of their Nikkei community, say they're artists or something -- they come in contact with more European-type men, they just say, "I can never go back, because at least we're talking." Of course, it doesn't make us happy. [Laughs] With all these women preferring more talkative men, especially around emotions. But, I think that points to more of a difficulty, than an advantage.

SF: Uh-huh. Is it possible that there's a way of communicating that isn't like the -- I mean does not having the words might be, sort of advantageous? I mean, do you think it always is, to get it out clearly in say any kinds of human relationships does that always yield a better output? Let's put it that way.

RI: Well, you might think that maybe two Sansei will then -- because they've been in similar families when growing up, will understand the little expressions and nuances, or the shrug of a shoulder, and think they know what that person's saying. But more realistically there's the interracial marriage happening and so you have to be more versatile in how you attempt to solve the inevitable problems in relationship. And so if you don't have that versatility, it's like going into battle with one hand tied behind your back. If that stereotype is already there, then say your Caucasian wife or girlfriend already has that fear that you're gonna be like that. And sure enough... I think even myself as a psychologist, and priest, and all that -- still feel when I talk in any open dialogue say at a therapist conference or whatever, find myself to be quite handicapped in not having had from birth on the experiences in vocabulary to understand it and then apply it to my clients. I'm just amazed at how these people use the English language so brilliantly and so smoothly. And so imagine those who haven't had my training. I say, "How are they doing it? You know, with mirrors?" [Laughs]

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

SF: Would that suggest that we should train -- say as parents or even as community folks, other JAs to be more articulate, or is that a...?

RI: I don't know if people who are handicapped themselves can train. Because in a way they're a core of the problem in not having struggled with it themselves when they were younger. By the time you realize it in your kid or your grandchildren, it's kinda late. But I think a lot of that will just take, take care of itself as we have more and more intermarriage. But again, as we have more capabilities to verbalize, it does open up a whole new can of worms, right? I mean sometimes they say silence is golden and endurance with problems may be just as effective as talking it out. I think our parents endured a lot. I know I used to have all these terrible experiences getting beat up going to school, or being in the Cub Scouts and never getting one badge, or you know, and just being insulted. And I come home, my parents never said a word about it. Now if I were in another, say a white family, they might've said, "Oh, let's go talk to the principal, let's..." Maybe you need to see a therapist on top of that. And here is this silence like it never happened. And I'm not sure what is better. I suffered the pain alone. But at the same time it didn't last very long I don't think, because it wasn't brought up again and again for people to remind me of my bad feelings. So that's a very difficult question. You know like the Cambodian refugees came here from terrible death and destruction. They come here and they're, they're steered right to counselors. And the counselors who are usually white sit there and go, "Oh, I understand you lost your mother, father, and your younger sister and they were murdered and all that. Do you want to talk about it?" And the refugee would go, "No. That was already a year and a half ago. I want to find out, how -- where I can live, get a job." And the therapist would go, "No, no, no, no. I know you have to talk about it, or you can't move on." So there's this thing, you have to talk it out. And the refugee would be thinking, "I don't want to relive it again. It's much too painful. It's nothing like you're talking about. So just let me move on." So they're at loggerheads this way. And they're both equally convinced that -- the therapist is convinced this person needs to work it out. This person says, "No, it's already worked out in my own way." And, so I think that very much reflects on our experience too.

SF: So with Asian American clients, do you think... which of those two kind of approaches might be generally more advantageous?

RI: I don't think they have a choice, really. I think it's, again, boils down to the individual in terms of... I think the majority would find it easier to have a therapist who doesn't keep pressing them to come up with emotions that they don't feel. And process is not within the therapy room, but just by redirecting their energy to other things. This is what Morita therapy does. It puts you back into your work and your play, and all that. 'Cause mulling over things doesn't change it. If anything you could, you could look back on it, but, and reinterpret it in a kinder way perhaps. I suppose if you had an abusive parent, you could look back for the purpose of seeing that my father was like that because of his upbringing. Maybe he was doing the best he could and then move on from there. But if you're asked to remember every incidence of abuse and relive it and cry and everything, then, that's a terrible ordeal -- that's unnecessary. So, I don't know which is better. Some people prefer that. And others prefer to go on. I think the profession should honor their preference. It's not easy either way.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

SF: One of the things that we found in our survey was that Buddhists seem to have a less critical view. I'm not sure that's the, exactly the correct way to describe it. But they were less angry about their treatment in the internment situation, now that they're looking back over their whole life course. That's at least what the Protestants or Christians report. Is there something, I mean, why is that, does that happen?

RI: Well, you know I think my view is partly idealized in a way. I, if I just look at Buddhist teachings and influence in light of that kind of experience, the only way I could explain it that makes sense to me is that... I think Buddhists suffer just as much, if not more than the Christians, because of -- not only the camp experience, but the intense discrimination before and after because they hung on to their pagan beliefs. But there's a concept, a teaching in Buddhism called non-attachment. Is that bad things happen, and often they happen to me and my loved ones. But to be attached to it, get angry, want revenge or, or something to right it, many -- even many years later, is quite self-defeating, because in a way you're just causing your own suffering by attaching to it. And instead, look back to the present, live in the present and move on. You know, like even Nisei or Sansei, they lost a lot in the war, but if they only thought about that instead of the great strides that were made afterwards, then their lives would be that much less joyful. So, it's this whole thing about letting things go, just letting them go. It serves no purpose to ruminate on things that are past. And if anything -- if you want to move on you have to refrain when saying, oh, just like my mother, she says now, "Well it was really terrible and all that. But hey, we had a lot of fun there too." And then all these people and... and if I want, if I'm a Sansei and say, "Aw come on Mom, you're just, you know, denial, this is denial." From her perception, no it's not. Once they were there and accepted this is where they're gonna be for three years or something, then they did some wonderful things. They did, you know, newspapers, and beautiful gardens, and baseball, and things that they would not have had outside. And especially as, as priest and his wife -- just the size of the congregation, it was huge -- and so from their perspective, they were able to do a lot of the work that they wanted to do. So you know, it's all depends on how you look at it. So if you float, it's like the -- I talked about the position of no position. You certainly understand or have a view on what's going on, but you're always ready to move with that and not get stuck in the past. So maybe that's why -- that's what I hear from a lot of the older Nisei when these, they go, "Oh, they're discussing it again." And sometimes I say, "Well that's denial." But no. They really are tired of that because people have moved on and whatever happened, happened. And that's very tied to the Buddhist view. Maybe this is why you don't find that same reaction.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

SF: Related issues, the one about redress, again in our survey we found that the Buddhists on average were less involved in redress than the JA Christians. So, kind of, this relates to all of the things you were pointing out. And so with that kind of complex social issue -- one, did the Buddhists, did BCA take a position on redress? And what are the relative issues that need to be thought about in terms of redress, for example? It's in the past, etcetera and so forth, but perhaps we need to change legislation, or change consciousness etcetera and so forth. How does all -- how do you grapple with all those complexities in a sense?

RI: Well I don't. [Laughs] Oh, I don't recall if BCA took a position on that. See our whole teaching is one of gratitude for all the undeserved things that we have, not praying for things we don't have. And so I think that's very much underlying. And so whenever you're given redress or reparations, if it's asking for something for yourself, it seems very, well of course egotistical and self-serving. Maybe, there was a concern that others who really suffered should get it. But by the time it happened, most of them were gone. And it's people like me who (had) left at eight months old that, in a way -- and not to say that we don't deserve it -- but certainly it's not, has, it's not the same meaning as somebody who went through the tremendous dislocation and lost everything. And it goes back to what I was talking earlier about: a Buddhist attitude of just letting go and moving on. There's very few people left who really lived through it. And there's certainly more pressing issues today that should concern us.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

SF: You were talking earlier about discrimination against the Buddhists in particular. What, can you sort of give us some details about that? Or, maybe, you know, why is -- how Christians may have been under -- Christian JAs maybe -- may have been under less pressure in a sense than Buddhist JAs, and the kind of pressures maybe within the community as a result of that?

RI: Yeah, well I think a lot of this was actually prewar. I wasn't there. I wasn't born yet. So what I, I guess my kind of flimsy thoughts on this matter are more from reading other things. I just heard about, especially in Hawaii, where people were constantly told at school that if you want to be American, you have to be Christian. And so they got quite embarrassed about going to the Buddhist temple, being seen going in there. But even bank officers would say, "Well we'd like to give you a loan but you're not the right religion." And promotions, these things all kind of hinged... and it's kind of clear, if you're, if you're in a company, and especially at the management level and you have a choice of people to promote, you often want to promote people who you're comfortable with, who maybe go to your church, who play golf like you do, who's wives are the same race and where you can go to cocktail parties together. And this is why a lot of racism occurs at that stage. A lot of it is this inability to, or unwillingness to accept people different from yourselves, especially when you have your selfish interests at hand. So maybe that was behind a lot of the discrimination. But I know the churches, the Christian churches, who began in Hawaii -- you know, they're missionary families from New England, who saw Hawaii as the paradise for Christians: the Heaven on Earth. And so they would bring in all these Asian immigrants and convert 'em to Christianity, just like the local Hawaiians. And so when there was a small core of Japanese who refused to convert, it made those who had converted, it made them very uneasy too, 'cause they felt guilt, I'm sure. So there were -- most -- anyway, brutal on their attacks on the Japanese Buddhists were the Japanese Christians, mainly because -- I don't know, it's that strange dynamic that when you step over the line you want everybody to go with you, right? 'Cause the ones who stay back remind you of how you sold out in a way. So I see these Issei who stayed in there despite all this pressure as being real heroes in the very fact -- it's only because of them that the Honganji in Hawaii and BCA are standing today. I don't have too much more to say about that, 'cause that's all kind of hearsay. It's not my experience.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

SF: Maybe something that's really closer to your experience that relates to that is, how do the JA Christian churches work with the JA Buddhist church? Or is there no connection, very little connection, people attempt to make connections, don't attempt to make connections?

RI: Well, I think it's, it'd play out just like in this room. We're all, we're all of Japanese descent, but as far as our religious backgrounds, they could be quite different. We still feel a bonding. I mean, we can go out to eat and talk about Hawaii friends and all that. And if, if, say if you were Christian you say, "Hey, we're having a bazaar this week. You wanna buy some raffle tickets?" It's not that I'm supporting Christianity, but because I know you as part of the larger community, I say, "Sure, you wanna -- and I'll, I'll exchange it for these Buddhist tickets." Usually how it goes, right?

SF: Right.

RI: But I'm not gonna go to your service, right? And I've no interest because I'm very happy over all these generations where I am, and so is my family. So it's not doing anything together in the sense of cooperating on a project. But I think we're supported because we're fellow Nikkei in that sense. Although I might -- as a Buddhist I'm saying, "I wonder what their family story is and why they converted, you know to this white man's..." [Laughs] What were they lacking? [Laughs]

SF: Do many, say Nisei Buddhists remember the selling out, and sort of take quite a bit of pride in the fact they didn't sell out? 'Cause I sort of remember some people saying that in Fresno -- the Fresno area when we were interviewing folks that somehow they felt a special pride that even though there was all this prewar pressure that they didn't, they didn't convert. And, in a sense they sort of saw their, the Protestants as sort of sell outs in a sense.

RI: I'm not aware of that. In a way I'm kinda surprised, but on the other hand I'm not because the Buddhists don't really talk about themselves. They may be embarrassed of having such a petty thought. As we might say it, in half in jest, that's all. Although the belief may be deeper than that. It's not something that's talked about. At least I'm not aware of that. But again, maybe they see me as a minister and don't want to share that kind of bias or discrimination with me.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

SF: This is kind of a speculative question too. In terms of, kind of, racism within our own community, seems to me that there, you know -- among Niseis in particular, because of when they grew up and the ethnic competition and things of that sort -- there's a fair amount of, say anti-black attitudes. Partly, maybe it's partly cultural, maybe it's economic competition, it could be lots of things. Do you think Buddhism speaks to that in a different or... way than Christianity? Is, how should we within the community think about trying to better that situation, or our own racism? It's like, I can sort of remember picking up the seeds of say anti-Korean sort of thing. Nothing really explicit, but somehow you got the idea that they weren't as good as Japanese were, and then there's this kind of pecking order of the different races.

RI: Yeah. I think Japanese Buddhists have a lot of the same biases and similar pecking order, same pecking order as other non-Buddhist Japanese. But I think there's an awareness -- Buddhism is quite egalitarian -- that everybody has this potential to be a Buddha, this Buddha nature, and it has nothing to do with skin or gender or anything. We know that. So when we find very little... I don't know what people are feeling inside. Maybe in their business practices they are racist, whatever. But it's not, it's never spoken of at Buddhist gatherings, 'cause they know it won't be supported. It'll just draw dead silence. But, you know we're Japanese, and World War II isn't so far off in this adoration of the emperor, and we as the chosen people, in a way, the only civilized people in the world and everybody else is kind of barbaric. And that kind of pervades this kind of pride in being Japanese and with the recent, you know, of being an economic power. And although that's fluctuating now, the belief still is Japan is probably the most advanced non-white country in the world, right? And you just have to look at the products around us to know this technologically... so it goes on and on. And so it does feed into our feeling of being different, but maybe in some ways superior. And I know I carry some of that, too, which has served me well through the battles in academia where I'm the only Japanese or Asian, where I could make, kind of develop a haughty air, and kind of intimidate them from not criticizing too much. Things like that. But it has nothing to do with Buddhism in that way, although at the bottom line I realize it's a big sham and a game. So maybe that's Buddhist. I don't know if that's a response to your question directly.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

SF: This is a kind of a follow up I think, but it's really psychological. It hasn't, doesn't have anything to do with religion, but, do you think it's possible? You mentioned that at some level that the Japanese have this notion that they're superior. Do you think among the Niseis because, or say the JA community -- let's put it more broadly -- that because of the way we were treated here and our experiences here, at one level we think of ourselves as being kind of inferior? Maybe because of things like we're not as verbal as an upper-middle-class white, or a Jewish kid or something of that sort? But at another level, we also see ourselves as being superior -- maybe more hard working, or clean, or something of that sort. What's your thought about how we, in a sense, sort of conceive ourselves in terms of this sort of up, down, good, bad, strength, weaknesses sort of sense?

RI: How do...?

SF: How does the JA community...

RI: Well, no I think you described it well. The different feelings about that, and the confusion. But that we seem to manage quite well, you know, the longer we live. Certainly many of us are -- act differently within, say when we're with Japanese than when we're with, in the majority. I know when I take any instruments, like measuring my extrovert or introvertedness, when I'm, I take it in the mindset of being in the larger community, I score as a introvert. But within the Japanese community, I score more extroverted -- being more verbal or whatever. And I think we do adjust our personalities to the setting that we're in. And you hear this, I find it interesting, what, you know, just listening to blacks talk about that too. About how, depending on who's watching them or observing them, they bring out totally different qualities. And I think we develop it like chameleons in a way. Although it's important for we ourselves to know who we are despite our changing nature out here to, to benefit from the environment. So, I don't have any words of wisdom there. I don't even think it's a conscious effort to develop those so-called talents. It's a matter of survival skill. I go to a lot of these cross-cultural education conferences, and mostly it's 90 percent white and ten percent of color. And the white people say, "Oh, I'm so excited to be here. I'm learning more about Chicanos and Japanese, and I never knew this stuff before. It's really gonna help me in my teachings." They always go around the room, "Well, why are you here?" And I go, "Well I'm here to learn what racism I have to deal with from educators. So I'm here for a different reason. I want to know what you guys are saying and thinking for my survival," right? And they're all kind of taken aback that I'm there for another reason. Just trying not to be offended by the new stereotypes I'm hearing. [Laughs]

SF: Do you think Japanese culturally are more sensitive to context, particularly social context and that's kinda the bit of cultural capital, or kind of an adaptive mechanism that's found quite prevalently in Japanese culture too? And that's been really helpful to us?

RI: Yeah. These are interesting questions that I haven't really thought about. Certainly there's a positive side to that. But also it, in our culture you have to in a way develop some insensitivities also, and a thick skin. And so there's a very painful side to that too. Of being so worried about what other people think about what I do that you become so handicapped. When in reality, no one's looking at all, right...?

SF: Uh-huh.

RI: ...'cause everybody's looking at themselves -- you know how good I feel. And so we have to -- I think maybe this is why Japanese might have a hard time coming here to live, is that they have all these assumptions that aren't true. I think as I, as I live longer, I've become less and less self-conscious. Even doing this interview, you know, if I say, "Well, who's gonna watch it? Am I offending anybody?" I might have thought that way ten years ago or whatever. But now, I really don't care. [Laughs] But then I won't -- if someone says, "Well you said, 'this...'" I'd say, "But that was on, taped on August 3rd -- 'cause I'm changing all the time. So your view or what you think I said is unchanging. That's your problem." So this is definitely what I feel in this company -- [Laughs] -- you know, within response to the questions. But if I were to read the transcript in a couple of weeks and look over it, I say, "Boy, I wish I said this, or said it differently." But that's how it goes.

SF: This is very -- probably minutia, but like you said, it seems to me that a lot of us, one of our problems -- one of the reasons we're not articulate is because we're kind of socially kinda oversensitive to people, people's evaluation of us or looking at us. And therefore, when we focus so much energy on trying to interpret how other people are responding to us, or if they're not responding to us in a positive way, we get kind of thrown off and sort of, can't be spontaneous. So a lot of our discussions are stilted because we're not spontaneous, quick and so forth, because we're kind of thinking as to what we might be riling up, and what kind of negative vibes we might be getting back. Is there any way to deal with that?

RI: Well, I guess I don't see that as a problem per se. I think it, like if it were a interracial relationship, that it would be to the advantage of say the more verbal white or something to -- not to demand that this Japanese respond in the same way -- but to understand and make adaptations in that way too. It's a mutual, you know... so, I think as long as you're aware of, of -- not handicaps, but every, everything. If you're strong at something, the shadow side you're weak at. Someone who's very good at sports may be very poor in the classroom. Someone who's very intellectually brilliant, may be handicapped emotionally. So, whatever, whenever we see a strength, it points to a weakness, right? And so, and it's only in our minds that we label it strength or weakness. So this being limited talking emotionally, like I say, it can go both ways. But often it's in the context of what kind of relationship you're looking at. If it's a loving relationship where people are trying to work together, then it could be very much a strength -- add something to the marriage or the group or something. A different perspective, different strength and weakness. Somehow not being caught up in trying to be, to fit in as being the same, but fitting in as being part of the greater -- what do you call it? Salad or something. That's a different, different vegetable all together. So, but it's an ongoing struggle. Not only felt by us, but I think everybody.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

SF: What if we were caught up in the idea that, the cultural ideal is -- in this individualistic society -- is what I would call kind of the bowling ball personality: the good athlete, smart guy, or smart gal, whatever, good socially, good looking. And to, in a sense the backdrop is to try to be all of those. Obviously some of them you can't quite measure up sometimes. But if that's the cultural ideal, how do we get away from that? I mean, that seems kind of self-defeating. But it seems like that's the kind of person we adore: the guy who's the... or the gal who's the sorority honchos, also the athlete and the soccer team. It's the one who goes on to be a Rhode scholar, all of that stuff.

RI: Yeah, well that's true in the first half of life I think. We buy into that a lot. But I think anybody who has the older mentor can point out, "You're shy, and you wear glasses, and you play the violin, and you know, you're not on the football team. But hey, look at all these, the famous people when they grow up. They were all like you. They weren't the star athlete. They all -- they're pumping gas, maybe, or having a big letdown." They're thinking high school senior year was the high point of my life, right? Whereas for someone who's a late bloomer, it's really just a step along the way, that they're gonna enjoy their success later. And if, you can't see that when you're young. But if there's someone to point out to you that you're just, your strengths, your beauties are gonna come out over time and, in the long run, you'll be amply rewarded for that. Then I think this is very helpful. Maybe we, we could be more mentors or, or uncles and aunties to the younger people. Let 'em know the wisdom we've acquired over the years. We've all struggled with that -- never being able to join the varsity basketball team 'cause we're too short, whatever. But we found later on that it masks a lot of wonderful talents and strengths that we have. And if I knew that back then -- I don't know why -- it's hard to say. In a way the disappointment and the pain back there had a function, to make me more appreciate what I have now. And to, also when I have students who are weak in many areas, because I was the same way or felt that way, that I could be much more understanding toward the slower students and the ones that aren't very popular. And not always just gravitate towards the Mr. Football and Miss Sorority. And for them, I always kind of caution them now, the very popular ones. I said, "You have to develop something more internal too, 'cause that's not gonna last very long." And they may or may not hear that. It's hard for them to hear because they are so enjoying their success. But that means they ignore a lot of things during those years where everything came easy.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

EK: Talking a little bit about success. One of our questions is kind of how... it seems that in some ways the idea of conventional success, and these kind of Buddhist beliefs and -- you know de-emphasizing the ego, seem to really kind of conflict. Is that, do you see them as conflicting? Or do you see the motivations for conventional success as differing because someone is Buddhist, as opposed to Christian or different religious background?

RI: Well I think if you look at all of our kind of successful icons in our society -- whether it's Madonna or Michael Jackson or people like that who are seen as having all the money, the success, the talents, whatever and flaunting rules and society... at the same time you're very well aware that they, they lack a spiritual awareness or depth. And then you look at people like Jesus, the Buddha, Shinran, the founder of Joudo Shinshu, and what -- the Buddha abandoned his wife and kid, you know at the age of twenty-eight to go search for truth. And he never had a job after that. Never got paid a salary, and probably didn't have any buddies to go bowling with or whatever -- of course, they didn't do bowling back then -- but, yeah just to hang out with. And so he lived a very unproductive life in the normal sense. But in the spiritual sense, of course this was the ultimate. And the same with Jesus, dying at a very young age, and non-productive in the normal sense. And same with -- Shinran had seven children, but he moved to Kyoto later on and had very little contact with them, and had to disown his oldest son over some doctrinal difficulties, and great deal of suffering in the normal sense. And so -- but it's not a matter of choice. You don't say, "Well I'm going to chase the usual dreams, or I'm gonna go become a great savior or seer." It seems to be very much built into our karma, which comes from our past. We're kinda dealt a hand, I think in this life. And we try to do the best with that. It's kinda like playing poker. You get five cards, no, you have no determination over those five cards. And you may get three of a kind you draw from, or you may have nothing, and I might have a straight. But poker is very interesting in that we get to draw cards, and bluff, and play cleverly, so the person with the worst hand -- who's dealt the worst hand -- can be the most successful, either in conventional terms or more spiritual terms. But, so this is where I think we don't choose our cards, but we do have a certain amount of choice in how we play them. I was born into a temple lineage and so the cards I were dealt quite different than someone born into, say, someone in Detroit car -- automobile worker. And it doesn't mean one is better than the other. I'm just living out my karma in a sense and doing the best I can, and he is also. And for me to try to be him or him me would be very uncharacteristic, and we'd be certainly like fish out of water. So we, we as Americans we like to think of free will and we have all these choices, but I think it's quite limited in that way. But it's limitless also in how we can play those few cards. I like to play poker obviously [Laughs] That's why I went to, got my degree in math so I could play better poker.

SF: Yeah, I think you were mentioning one time you were going to Vegas and...

RI: Well, I shouldn't have put that on the video. [Laughs]

EK: So, so what would you say to, I guess like a young Buddhist who's starting out, who's living kind of in America which is capitalist, you know, has these certain ideals about what success is, I guess just in terms of reconciling that with kind of Buddhist beliefs and kind of learn -- you know, I guess looking internally for fulfillment in their lives?

RI: Well, I can't think of anything just offhand to say in terms of... see, even being born into Buddhism and having all this right in front of you can be blinding and terribly limiting also. Even my own children, when they ask me, "Well, friends are saying should I go to this born again Christian service. Dad, should I go?" And my thing, "If you wanna go, go. It's not gonna hurt you. If anything, it may make you appreciate more your past and what you have." And sure enough that always happens. They come back and I say, "How was it?" "Oh, it was a lot of fun. Lot of young people, great refreshments. We played songs and all that compared to the boring YBA group." And I say, "Well, do you wanna go there?" And they think, "Not really, because somehow I missed the sutra chanting," or something like that. It's, and I just say, "Okay, fine." So my only advice to my kids is, "Look, you have all these influences on you, all I ask for you to do is keep your eyes open and open mind. Primarily, just stay alive," I tell them, "Just stay alive," okay. If you just stay alive long enough you're gonna come in contact with all the wonderful diversity in life and you'll create your own mind from that. Otherwise I don't really want to direct them. I don't say, "Follow my path," all over the place. But I stayed alive long enough to enjoy some of the insights and fruits of it now. And sure, if my kids or anyone else's kids could enjoy the ride that I've had just by staying alive and keeping an open mind, that's, you know, more than I could ever wish for. So, besides that, I don't know. [Laughs]

SF: Well, that's a great point probably to stop.

EK Yeah to wrap up.

SF: Thank you very, very much.

RI: Yeah, thanks.

EK: Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

RI: Great questions. [Laughs]

SF: You've been very helpful to us.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.