Buddhist temple

The Buddhist temple of Salinas renews its altar in a century-old tradition

The Buddhist temple of Salinas has renewed its altar by looking back to its past and to the future.

In the Buddhist tradition, the temple sent its altar to Japanese artisans to be restored on the occasion of its centenary.

It was shipped last August and the artisans had it for nine months, repainting the flowers, birds and various elements of nature decorating the altar, as well as hand-coating the rest of the structure with the leaf. Golden.

Renovating the altar was no easy task.

Seven separate rooms include a typical Buddhist altar, including the central figure of the Buddha, the shrine building that houses the Buddha, the throne, lanterns, portraits, and a front table, used to hold candles, incense, flowers and offerings.

The altar renovation alone cost the temple over $ 200,000 on its own, but dual temple president and devotee Larry Hirahara said it was worth it.

The Buddhist temple of Salinas.  July 12, 2019.

The renovation of the altar is only part of the planned centenary celebration, Hirahara said. They plan to repaint the temple, clean the gymnasium, and repair the roof as well.

“The intention is to show that you want to stay here another hundred years,” Hirahara said. “The temple’s heritage is a hundred years, and it will continue for another hundred years.”

Japanese tradition provides a framework for temple additions or renovations. The bell outside the temple was a ten-year project, added to the temple in 1934, and the renovated altar for the fifteenth anniversary in 1940.

The temple was originally the place of worship for Japanese farm laborers who came to the United States after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which opened the door for Japanese laborers.

Many workers worked in beet sugar in Spreckels but were not allowed to live there, said Hirahara, founder of Asian Cultural Experience, a local organization focused on preserving and promoting the history of Salinas Chinatown. As such, the workers and their families moved to Chinatown and founded the city’s only Buddhist temple in 1924.

The Salinas Buddhist Temple sent its altar nine months ago to be renovated in time for its hundredth year.  July 12, 2019.

A congregation that started with just a handful of families grew to 300 families at the start of World War II, the largest it has ever been.

Executive Order 9066, which authorized the relocation of Japanese residents and Japanese-Americans to internment camps, closed the temple and all of its activities for the duration of the war.

The temple was told by the city council and police that they had to remove the bell from the steeple, as they feared the church would use it to report to the Japanese military. A Buddhist emblem in the shape of an inverted swastika was also covered, as it caused fear in the community that the temple was on the side of Nazi Germany.

After the war – and the internment of Japanese-American citizens in the Salinas Assembly Center where the Salinas Sports Complex is now located, only 26 families returned to the Salinas Temple and their community in the Monterey Bay area.

The temple restarted with 26 families and has grown steadily since.

A statue welcomes visitors to the Buddhist temple of Salinas.  July 12, 2019.

The arrival of flower growers in the 1950s added to the temple community, and their children have now reached an age where they bring their own children to the temple for worship. Today, around 120 families make up the temple congregation, Hirahara said.

The focus on the future, Hirahara said, was tied to a core value of Buddhist teachings: cause and effect.

“(Buddhism) taught me the meaning of cause and effect and of trying to live a good life,” Hirahara said. “It becomes part of your life. Tied to 100 years is cause and effect, and commitment to the future with your past actions. It seems to go hand in hand.”

Those who wish to see the altar in person can see it for free at the Salinas Obon Festival July 28 at the Salinas Buddhist Temple at 14 California St.

The festival will also include a tea ceremony, Kendo demonstration and Obon Odori dance on the outdoor stage.

Kate Cimini is a multimedia reporter for The Californian. Do you have any advice? Call her at (831) 776-5137 or by email kcimini@thecalifornian.com.Subscribe to support local journalism.

Close-up of some of the painted decorations that adorn the altar.  July 12, 2019.