First U.S. Buddhist High School

When the first Buddhist high school in the nation opened in September 2003, and the air crackled with excitement and anticipation, of the historic moment when classes began at the Pacific Buddhist Academy in Honolulu.

Instructors well versed in the tenets of Buddhism deliver a peace curriculum that resonates with eager Buddhist, and non-Buddhist students. A legacy was born, and yes, a bold dream was finally a reality.

“I’m happy about the Pacific Buddhist Academy and the $1.5 million contribution from headquarters in Kyoto,” says Bishop Chikai Yosemori of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. “Before World War II, we had a Buddhist educational system statewide. That system was based on the Japanese school. After the war, we started the Hongwanji Mission School, which went up to sixth grade. About seven or eight years ago, we added additional grades, up to eighth grade.”

Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin manages the preschool through eighth grade curriculum, made up of 300 students, at the Hongwanji Mission School in Honolulu. Honpa also operates a Buddhist Study Center in Manoa, near the University of Hawaii (UH) campus, for college students and adults.

“When I became a minister in this country, there were only a few universities that focused on the Buddhist philosophy,” recalls Bishop Yosemori. “Today, there are several universities that focus on the Buddhist faith. The academy is the first of its kind in the nation. The academy is associated with Pure Land Buddhism. Shinran Shonin is the founder of Jodo Shin school of pure Land Buddhism. The teaching is based in the Pure Land tradition as a successor to Honen Shonin. Pure Land Buddhism involves the power of the Primal Vow as the inner dynamics of recitative nembutsu.”

Bishop Yosemori explains that the complete entrusting of self to the Primal Vow meant abandoning all need to rely on self-power. This is the reason for Shinran Shonin’s stress on Shinjin (faith).

The Honzan (world headquarters) is the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha and is located at Hanayacho-sagaru Shichijo Horikawa in Kyoto, Japan. There are four large overseas missions in the world – the Buddhist Church of Canada, the Buddhist Church of America (North America), the Buddhist Church of South America, and in Hawaii, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. There are temples in Europe, Australia, Mexico, Taiwan and Kenya.

“Because there is no Buddhist high school here, we opened the academy for all Buddhists, not only for our sect,” Bishop Yosemori notes. “That’s why we named the academy the Pacific Buddhist Academy. Regarding instructors, we have many members who once taught in the state Dept. of Education system in Hawaii. Ichiro Fukumoto, who is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, assisted in the design of the curriculum for the academy. We have made the tuition affordable to students.”

With all the violence going on today, Honpa felt that someone had to spread the word of peace. So one of the courses at the academy, is a course that promotes peace.

“Our school is open to non-Buddhists too,” Bishop Yosemori points out. “In fact, two-thirds of the students at the Mission School are non-Buddhists. Parents of students who are non-Japanese and non-Buddhists, were the ones who wanted the academy. It’s housed where the Mission School is. The peace curriculum fits into the mission of the Spark Matsunaga Institute for Peace at UH and the U.N. Peace Project.”

To learn more about Pacific Buddhist Academy, visit www.pacificbuddhistacademy.org.

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