A new congregation met to celebrate the inauguration on one of the most important holy days in their religious calendar on Friday, Dec. 8. It wasn't Christmas or Hanukkah, but Rohatsu, the day that the Buddha attained enlightenment. The Washington Tendai Sangha (congregation) is an official branch of the Tendai Buddhist Institute, the only recognized Betsuin (mission) outside of Japan. Until recently, Tendai Buddhism was relatively unknown in North America, despite its historical influence on the founders of many of the most important Buddhist sects in Japan. The Tendai Buddhist Institute, located in upstate New York, was founded in 1994, and only granted Betsuin status in 2004. Tendai Buddhism is "an eclectic school that incorporates meditation, esoteric practices, Pure Land and Lotus Sutra teachings, as well as scholarship and a strong adherence to peace and social justice", according to Monshin Naamon, co-founder and jushoku (abbot) of the New York Betsuin, who was in attendance Friday to conduct the service with Chion Lissabet, leader of the Washington Sangha.
The dedication ceremony also celebrated the 1,200th anniversary of Tendai's beginning, in addition to Rohatsu and the Sangha's inauguration. Several other notable figures in North American Tendai Buddhism were present, as well as Christian clergy and friends of the Sangha.
Naamon explains, "because the Tendai school of Buddhism is not well known in our country, the establishment of this Sangha in the nation's capital region is especially significant. Now people living in the Washington area will have a chance to practice authentic Tendai teachings." Lissabet added to this point in his inaugural address by noting that the message of Buddhism is peace, and it is important to have a reminder of that ideal so near to the nation's capital.
Anyone with a serious interest in learning about or practicing Tendai Buddhism is invited to attend weekly services at the Sangha's meeting location - the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department's station at 3900 Lee Highway. Services will be held Sundays, from 8-10 a.m. A meditation period will be held from 8-8:30 a.m., followed by the services. For more information on Tendai Buddhism or the Washington Tendai Sangha, visit www.tendai.org or www.washingtontendai.org.