The Buddhist New Year – A time of peace and reflection

“The Buddhist New Year is a day to remind people about gratitude and appreciation,” says Reverend Aoki, minister for the Vancouver Buddhist Temple. This year, Jan 18 marks the Buddhist New Year – Buddhists around the world come together to pray.

Reverend Tatsuya Aoki emphasizes the importance and sentimental value of the Buddhist New Year and the longstanding history of the Jodo Shinshu Tradition.

Originated by Shinran Shonin (1173–1262), the Jodo Shinshu Tradition is a teaching where the goal of Enlightenment is symbolized as the Pure Land. According to Rev. Aoki, Shinran says the most important aspect is how we cope with material desires and the way we live each day.

Moving countries, finding inspiration

Reverend Aoki has been living in Canada for 19 years, spreading the religion of Buddhism among hundreds of people across the Lower Mainland.

Growing up in Hokkaido, Japan, religion was ubiquitous. His father, a high school teacher, was born into a temple family; as a result, Reverend Aoki’s oldest uncle took over the family temple. This enabled him to visit and help out: it was here when he became inspired by the Buddhist religion.

Reverend Tatsuya Aoki says that Buddhism is a very universal way of thinking because it embodies self-cultivation. | Photo courtesy of Reverend Tatsuya Aoki

“People who came were very peaceful, not for any selfish reason,” he says.

From this, Rev. Aoki grew eager to learn about the religion himself, wondering why people came to the temples in the first place.

As a teenager, he attended Mission High School in Hokkaido, where, through weekly bible studies and daily prayer sessions, he learned about Christianity and its monotheistic relationship with God. This inspired Reverend Aoki to make comparisons with Buddhism, pondering on what Buddhists may think of something. His conclusion was that Buddhism is a very universal way of thinking because it embodies self-cultivation, and people can change their future.

After high school, Rev. Aoki travelled to Edmonton where he spent two years at the University of Lethbridge studying both English and religion.

“I took ESL classes,” he says, “so I could better understand the lectures from the professor teaching religion, who I found really intriguing.”

Once Reverend Aoki’s education in Edmonton had elapsed, he returned to Kyoto, Japan, where he studied Buddhism and trained to become a minister. Since being assigned to Vancouver following his training, Reverend Aoki has been involved with the Buddhist community. As minister, he has provided Japanese Buddhist services for weddings, funerals, and more, from Surrey and Langley all the way to Hope and Chilliwack.

Buddhism in Vancouver

The annual New Year’s and New Year’s Eve celebrations at the University of British Columbia has allowed him to become acquainted with the city’s Japanese Buddhists.

“Prior to COVID, I would partake in the bell-ringing services at UBC with over 200 Japanese Buddhists” he says. “I’ve also been able to give talks about treasuring the present–a strong theme in the Buddhist New Year–to those that come to the temple.”

Ever since being assigned in July 2003, Reverend Aoki has settled in the Vancouver area where he is now a minister at the Vancouver Buddhist Temple.

The Vancouver Buddhist Temple has a complicated history of its own. According to their website, in 1904, fourteen Buddhist followers gathered to discuss the construction of a new temple in Vancouver. On October 12, 1905, a minister from Kyoto, Reverend Senju Sasaki, was sent to Canada. A year later, property was purchased at 32 Alexander St. which later became the center of activity for Jodo Shinshu followers.

But the Buddhist temple was closed, as a result of the Second World War, but was reorganized in 1951 once Canadians of Japanese descent were permitted to return to the country. Three years later, the Methodist Church building at 220 Jackson Ave. was purchased and renovated. However, between 1978 and 1979, a new temple was completed following the decision that a fresh building on the site should be built. To date, this is the location of the Vancouver Buddhist Temple.

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