Buddhist temple

Los Angeles Buddhist temple seeking balance between safety and welcome after attack

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — A month after the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple was vandalized and set on fire, a shattered window and toppled lanterns have been repaired. But the temple’s wooden lanterns and lamps still need to be rebuilt and replaced, and its leaders are considering additional security.

As temple leaders seek to make their place of worship safer, Reverend Noriaki Ito said they are careful not to turn the temple into a fortress.

“It’s a balance between maintaining security, but at the same time welcoming,” said Ito, chief minister of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, as its downtown district is known.

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“If we are the only ones here and only speak in Buddhist terms, the temple will be like an exclusive club of people who speak a language only we can understand,” Ito said. “We must recognize and coexist with all those with whom we live.”

On February 25, an invader scaled the temple’s fence and set fire to the chōchin lantern stands, knocking over two metal lanterns on the stairs leading to the temple’s front gate. The person threw a rock at the entrance to the temple, breaking a glass panel in the hall of the building. No one was hurt.

The vandalism occurred amid an increase in incidents against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in Los Angeles County and across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over $90,000 was raised through a GoFundMe page set up for the temple.

Two weeks later, eight people, including six Asian women, were killed in a shooting in Atlanta.

“We continue to be shocked by everything that’s going on,” Ito said. “We just hope things get better.”

Ito said the temple would honor the Atlanta shooting victims, one of whom was believed to be a Buddhist, in a ceremony on May 4, the 49th day after the shooting. In many Buddhist traditions, rebirth takes place within 49 days after death.

Ito said it was overwhelming and encouraging to see so much support for the temple after the vandalism made national headlines. The temple received calls and messages from all over the country and from Japan. Ito noted that many donations came from people who are not of Asian descent.

“They all consider our temple to be one of the pillars of the Little Tokyo community, and so when they hear something like this happening, they automatically want to support us,” Ito said.

“It was amazing,” Ito added. “We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to thank all of these people and show our appreciation.”

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The Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple has a rich history that traces its roots in 1904. Ito said a house was turned into a temple when Little Tokyo was still a small inner-city community with many Japanese immigrants.

As membership grew, the congregation moved to nearby Boyle Heights, now a working-class Latino neighborhood in east Los Angeles that was once a thriving Jewish enclave. The temple stood there for about 50 years.

“We moved to Boyle Heights … which was the area where Japanese Americans could live before the war, so we stayed there from 1925 to 1975,” Ito said.

Temple leaders struggled to move to a more central location in Little Tokyo or to move to suburbs like Alhambra and Monterey Park as their members moved out of town.

But during the redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles in the 1970s, Ito said he was offered the land where the temple now stands at a reasonable price. Born in Japan and raised in Boyle Heights, Ito became a full-time pastor at the temple after completing his studies in Japan.

Over the years, Ito has experienced a decline in membership, as have other religious houses across the country. Thanks to the pandemic, the temple has been streaming services and has been able to reach seniors who can no longer drive, as well as families who have moved to Northern California or even Japan, Ito said.

Now, as Ito considers the safety of temple members, including his preschool of about 25 students, he said they are considering increasing security hours.

Ito said the temple is also considering partnering with other houses of faith, including a Christian church across the street, to have a car patrol drive around Little Tokyo to check worship spaces. near.

As Ito has participated in a number of events condemning anti-Asian hate crimes, he said it was important to condemn those who commit hate crimes, but, he added, “we don’t can’t just say it’s us against them.

“I just hope people learn that we’re all human beings,” Ito said.