Buddhism and Counseling

by Rev. Marvin Harada.

This week, I am looking forward to attending a symposium on “Buddhism and Counseling,” which will be the day before the start of the BCA National Council meeting, and is sponsored by the Institute of Buddhist Studies and the Center for Buddhist Education. Our own OCBC Mindfulness Center will be featured in that symposium, as we are the only temple in the BCA, Canada, or Hawaii, to start a Buddhist counseling center at the local level.

For many years, I dreamed of having a Buddhist counseling center here at OCBC. Over the years, I have seen the need for a counseling center, as everyone, at some point in their life, is in need of counseling as they face life’s many challenges, whether it is the loss of a loved one, facing a serious illness, resolving marital or family conflicts, struggling with an addiction, or any number of difficulties. I have often felt inadequate in being able to help the people that I have counseled as a minister, and wished that we had professional counselors who were also grounded in Buddhism, to assist individuals deal with life’s problems. Now, we have a functioning Buddhist counseling center, that we call “The Mindfulness Center,” and I hope that if any of you feel the need for assistance with an issue in life, that you will not hesitate to call our Mindfulness Center.

 

I think that Shakyamuni Buddha was a wise and compassionate counselor, as well as being an enlightened teacher and spiritual leader. There is much evidence of the Buddha’s counseling skills in the sutras and Buddhist texts. The Buddha showed compassionate counseling skills in guiding the bereaved Kisagotami to finally come to realize and accept the loss of her beloved child. The Buddha was a wise counselor as he was confronted by the mass murderer of his day, Angulimala, whose life was transformed by the Buddha’s guidance and heart to heart counsel.

Shinran Shonin was a counselor as well, in many ways. When Shinran’s devoted follower and disciple, Yuien, confessed that he had no real joy in the Nembutsu, Shinran shared that he too often lacks joy. In opening and sharing his heart, Shinran’s heart became one with Yuien’s, like a counselor whose heart becomes one with the suffering person they are counseling.

When we are depressed, suffering, or in anguish, we just wish that someone could understand the pain in our heart. We don’t necessarily expect a quick fix, a miracle, or to be magically rescued from our anguish, but if someone, anyone, could just understand what we are going through, then our heart becomes lighter, we feel a deep sense of relief. I think that counseling has that most important function.

About two years ago, we had my former professor from Ryukoku University, Shigaraki Sensei, speak at OCBC and at the winter Pacific Seminar at the Los Angeles Betsuin. When I met Sensei at the airport when he arrived, we had some time as we were waiting for everyone to all gather before heading to Orange County. I was telling Sensei about recent developments at OCBC, and how we had started a Buddhist counseling center. I clearly remember his reaction. He was very impressed and moved that we had started something like that at a local temple. He understood the need for such a program, and had done work in Japan to try and get Shin Buddhism and our Nishi Hongwanji, to “open up”, and to implement ways to connect Shin Buddhism to people’s lives and everyday life’s problems. I was happy to receive Sensei’s endorsement for what we were trying to do here at OCBC.

 

Over the history of Buddhism, there has been an ebb and flow in the rise and fall of Buddhist schools and Buddhist denominations. Some Buddhist schools were highly philosophical, with profound and deep teachings. However, in many cases, such philosophical schools did not last, and died out over time, perhaps because they never connected with people’s lives. The great growth and success of Shin Buddhism historically, has been that it has been a tradition that is deeply connected to the lives of the everyday person. It has not been confined to monasteries in the mountains, but has lived amongst the people, in the cities, in the villages, in the countryside.

With our counseling center, Shin Buddhism, at least at OCBC, will always be grounded in the lives of Shin Buddhists. By addressing the life’s issues that we encounter, within the context of the Buddha-Dharma, we unlock the power of the Dharma to transform our lives. We encounter the light that illuminates the darkness of our hearts during times of depression, grief, or strife.

 We are still in the early stages of our Mindfulness Center, but I have no doubt about the value and significance of it for the future. The Mindfulness Center and the Buddhist Education Center can work together, hand in hand, in the sense that those who come to learn about Buddhism, who have issues in life, can seek counsel from the Mindfulness Center. The Mindfulness Center, in turn, can encourage those who are dealing with life’s issues, to study and learn about Buddhism, as a positive step towards understanding and thus resolving their problems.

I encourage anyone to take advantage of both the Mindfulness Center and the Buddhist Education Center to address the myriad of life’s issues that we all face.

Namuamidabutsu,

Rev. Marvin Harada