LONGMONT — This isn't the Rev. Kanya Okamoto's only congregation.
Far from it.
When he leaves tonight, he'll drive to a town near Sterling. Then south of Alamosa and north again to Wyoming and perhaps Montana. On other days he will drive east to
the village of Rocky Ford, then onto Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
Some of these towns and states may be new on his traveling circuit as a Buddhist minister.
But here in Longmont,
the tradition of Buddhism — brought long ago by the Japanese farmers who settled here — is solid.
The teachings are delivered in an old schoolhouse south of town, hidden by pines from the
traffic on U.S. 287, unnoticeable except to those who know to look for it.
Except for its location, nothing of the century-old Burlington School is recognizable anymore.
1968, the two-room building was converted into a temple of white stucco, its lines sloping and curved, instead of plain and straight. Inside, the lessons are not of arithmetic or writing, but of compassion
Today, Okamoto is leading the small congregation in a version of Happy Birthday — for this particular day is the 2,567th anniversary of the birth of Prince Siddhartha, who later
"I take refuge in the Buddha," Okamoto intones, his voice as melodic as a bell. "May we gain wisdom as deep as the ocean."
At the front of the room is a shrine of
flowers, with fresh red and pink carnations circling the base. Inside is a tiny gold figurine of the baby Buddha.
One by one, the worshippers walk up to the shrine and pour a ladle of tea over
The tea represents the rain that fell the day he was born, Karen Wood, an officer with the Longmont Buddhist Temple, explains.
As the legend goes, the pregnant Queen
Maya was returning to her parents' castle in India when she stopped to rest in a garden. There, she went into labor and delivered her son, Siddhartha.
"As he was born, a sweet rain fell," Wood continues.
The story goes that he grew up to eventually transcend the realms of suffering in which most humans exist and moved into the
realm of enlightenment.
Doing the same is possible for all people, say Okamoto and the Rev. Colin Egan, a visiting Zen priest who also spoke at the service.
suffering because we keep our mind fixed on the physical world. We don't allow Buddha to permeate us. So I'm going to say to you in a nice Zen way," Egan pauses, then yells, "Wake up! Realize it! Not in 50
years' time, but right in this very moment!"
Buddhism incorporates the concepts that one's actions affect one's own happiness and that the inability to accept things that cannot be changed
causes one's own suffering, Wood says.
"There is no hell in Buddhism. You make your own hell if you choose to do that," she says.
In order to draw nearer to enlightenment, one
must "see things as they really are, not as you hope it will be," Okamoto adds.
Doing so is always a struggle for most people, he tells the group that surrounds him after the service with
questions. Many of them are members who've recently joined.
Though the congregation is bolstered by a handful of newcomers who want to learn more about the religion, it remains small.
"Buddhism in America hasn't been growing by leaps and bounds," Wood says.
Perhaps that is because Buddhists don't believe in trying to convert others to their religion, she
suggests. Okamoto agrees.
"People who are looking for something will find it," he says.
That is how Marie Matzel, who lives in Frederick, came to the temple.
little I knew about (Buddhism) made me look for something here," she says.
So far, she suspects she's found it.
"Everyone is so loving and sweet, and they're helping me figure
this all out," Matzel says.