I would like to express my most sincere appreciation to all the Jodo Shinshu Temples of Canada (JSBTC) ministers, ministers’ assistants, national board of directors, and all temple members and non-members for keeping our organization active and accessible.
In the early days, the temple was financed largely by donations called ‘dana’. In Japanese, this is known as ofuse or orei. Over the years, temple members established the tradition of donating money to the temple treasury for various occasions such as Buddhist holidays, family weddings, funerals, and memorial services. As well, donations were offered for monthly memorial services (Shotsuki) as well as, for a wide variety of occasions, such as a return to good health, birth of children and grandchildren, graduation of children and grandchildren and for joyous events including return from trips abroad, etc. In other words, the Issei tended to make donations to the temple on any occasion which they felt was meaningful to them. The idea of a membership due or fee was not a consideration.
At all major events at a temple,there was always an uketsuke or reception table where donation envelopes were received and duly recorded. Relying entirely on personal donations meant no fixed fees for services rendered. As a member became more active and involved the more the member understood the ofuse/orei system. The prevailing attitude was, therefore, one of offering a donation as a token of one’s appreciation and gratitude, rather than one of paying a fee for specific services rendered.
As the nisei and sansei generation gradually took responsibility in managing the temple, the idea of membership dues became more popular. There was growing frustration not knowing how much one should donate for weddings, memorial services, etc. Thus, today we are torn between two ways of thinking; between the dana/ ofuse system and a set price system for services rendered. There has been reluctance in abandoning the ofuse system. To do so would reduce the temple to a place of business with set fees for individual services. The consequence of this would eliminate the spirit of dana, an important fundamental of Buddhist practice. In short, the difference between ofuse versus set fees is attitude. For buddhists, in particular Japanese buddhists, a person’s attitude in society has always been considered very meaningful and significant. There is a prevailing view that it is not the amount that is significant, but rather the spirit in which it is given. Therefore, a donation has no fixed amount but rather depends on what the giver wishes or can afford to give. This can be confusing to someone who is unfamiliar with the ways of the temple. And while it is not as efficient as a so-called “price list” it is in keeping with the spirit of dana.
Ofuse in Japanese consists of two Chinese characters. O-fu means “to spread”, and se means “giving charity”. Dana or ofuse gives one an opportunity to practice gratitude, which arises from the awareness of the inter-relationship of all sentient beings.
The temple, after all, is not a gas station where one fills up with spirituality for the rest of the week at so many cents per liter. It is a living organization, not a mechancal machine. For this reason, temple life is to be valued because it is not ‘business-like”, efficient or even useful. We need not make perfect manju to sell, because we are not in the manju business. Every helper, whether they are experienced or not, is able to help make manju. They donate their time for the sake of the temple. The temple is involved in the business of getting human beings to be more ‘truly human’, to get them to see who they truly are, what their true nature is and to be transformed by that Truth. To bend religion to suit our own needs is to miss the point of religion. Religion essentially transforms us to see the Truth. We are not here to transform religion to suit our needs.
Namo Amida Butsu,
Bishop, Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada