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Ekoji Buddhist Temple

First in a series of profiles on houses of worship in Southern Fairfax County.

Built in 1998 to house the 80 families who meet there weekly for worship, the Ekoji Buddhist Temple on Lake Haven Lane in Fairfax Station is one of the few Buddhist temples in the greater Washington area.

The temple, whose name means "The Temple of the Gift of Light," serves a congregation that was started in 1981 by the Rev. Kenryu T. Tsuji and philanthropist the Rev. Dr. Yehan Numata. A member of the Buddhist Churches of America, the temple is part of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-Ha, a world-wide association with headquarters in Kyoto, Japan.

Visitors to the temple's 11 a.m. Sunday morning service may be surprised to see a ceremony that is very similar to a Christian service, said congregation member Rich Wolford.

The service starts with a short meditation, followed by two chants, one traditional and one called a sutra, or sacred story. Chanting is used to promote "mindfulness and reinforce the teachings of the Buddha," Wolford said.

The Rev. Shojo Honda then gives a "dharma talk" on how to incorporate Buddhist practices in everyday life, which is followed by a "ghatha" or hymn. A collection is taken, another hymn is sung, and the service is complete.

Members of the Ekoji Temple follow the teaching of Amida Butsu, a man who began life as a king but gave it up to create the Pure Land, a place where anyone who wished to follow the path of Buddha could achieve enlightenment free of the distractions of a typical society. This type of Shin Buddhism was developed in the 12th century.

A long scroll hangs over the middle of the altar in the temple which says "Namu Amida Butsu" in Japanese, which means "I take refuge in Amida Buddha."

The temple was built to allow in lots of natural light through large windows on either side of the sanctuary and a tall, pyramid-shaped skylight in the center of the sanctuary. Candles and incense decorate the altar, which is adorned with rich colored cloths, a gold-colored Buddha statue and flowers. A round barrel-like chime is to one side of the altar, used as a meditation tool to help learn concentration and focus.

More information on the Ekoji Buddhist Temple can be found on the temple's Web site, www.ekoji.org.