There is a wonderful tradition (yes, tradition) of singing gathas or hymns written in Hawaii, but by now that tradition has become old, and musical styles and tastes have changed. The old pietism and somber tunes need to be replaced by Buddhist hip-hop, country and western, jazz, and western classical. We need drums, guitars, electronic keyboards, and brass, not the bleating of organs groaning out tunes with boring rhythms and no beat. 

Fourthly, the decline in memberships can be countered with an increase in participants. Temples function too much as clubs for members only, and have not done enough to attract participants, most of whom would not become members. Many temples in Japan thrive on this non-membership model, and gain support by attracting visitors and tourists (kankō Bukkyō).

Hawaii is a great tourist destination, and many temples can attract people if it were made clear that they are welcome. Two things are necessary for this: programs and marketing. Temples can become as they once were in the past (not everything about tradition is bad) -- social centers where people can gather for chat groups, music, dancing, movies, plays, and other forms of entertainment and education. Temples can spread the word about their programs through the media, and hang out large banners saying "Visitors Welcome," and train volunteer docents to guide visitors and explain the dazzling world of symbols and meanings contained in every temple. 

Surely, there are other strategies of revival and survival. Whether they work or not can only be determined by trying them out. One thing is clear: most of what is being done now is not working. Tradition can be construed in many ways, and my own preference is to see tradition as the old and often repeated practice of breaking away from the past in order to create something new. This is what Shinran, Hōnen, Dōgen and other great leaders did. They were, in short, heretics who created new orthodoxies. The process must continue, and Buddhism in Hawaii will die unless it is revived by those brave enough to be heretics.

For more about Shinran Shonin, visit the following:


George Tanabe is Professor Emeritus at University of Hawaii and has published such important titles on Buddhism as Religions of Japan in Practice.