A centennial of gathering and worship: First Buddhist temple in Utah celebrates 100th birthday

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Adam Cooter and Pamela Miller and their two daughters, ages 5 and 7, are among the new worshippers who are filling the pews at the Jodo Shinshu temple. When their children started asking them why they didn't attend church, the couple decided to visit several faith traditions as a family and then decide.

Their first stop was the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple and they haven't gone anywhere since.

"Rev. Hirano gave a speech that seemed like he was talking to just us. He said to search for truth and look into other churches. But when he said that (Buddhism) would not claim it was the only true religion that did it for me," Cooter said.

Miller said that with a shrine in their home and the children reciting the Golden Chain — which reminds Buddhists of the interdependence they share with all sentient beings — every night before bed, they are all gradually assimilating into their lives the religious teachings and cultural norms of the Judo Shinshu sect.

"It has helped me to calm down, take a step back and think about how my actions affect others," she said.

Among those participating in Saturday's festivities is Michael Zimmerman, a former Utah Supreme Court Justice who converted to Zen Buddhism in 1998 and is now a priest in the local Zen congregation. He will be giving the keynote address.

He said the celebration can be seen as bridge from a time when Buddhism was uniquely Asian to today when more Americans are becoming Buddhists. "In my congregation there are no Asians and no one was born Buddhist," he said. "There is an interesting dynamic there, especially in a state where conversion is a tradition."

Over the next century, Hirano hopes for a unique American form of Buddhism to evolve. He said Buddhism has historically adopted cultural norms in the countries where it has spread, from India to China to Japan and in various countries in southeast Asia.

"Instead of Americans thinking Buddhist is Asian," he said, "They will think of it as American."

If you go…

What: Centennial celebration of Buddhism in Utah

When: Saturday 10 a.m. service, 2 p.m. workshops

Where: Salt Palace Convetion Center

Cost: Free

Email: mbrown@desnews.com

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