Emily W. Jensen
The Rev. Jerry K. Hirano and Sister Elizabeth Ann Takasak join for a dialogue at the Mormonism and Asia Conference in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, March 22.

BERKELEY, Calif. — A Buddhist reverend and a former Mormon Young Women General Board member provided an enlightening conversation about the similarities and differences found within their respective faiths.

The Rev. Jerry K. Hirano of the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple and Sister Elizabeth Ann Takasaki shared the stage for the final presentation of the Global Crossroads: Mormonism and Asia in the Twenty-First Century Conference, which was on Saturday, March 22. They talked in an open conversation format where they asked one another questions about their history and faith in an exchange meant to model interfaith discussion.

The Rev. Hirano discussed his faith journey, a Buddhist growing up in the middle of Mormons. He remembers participating in road shows, watching his friends go on missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and even spoke at his friend’s mission farewell. His father pulled him aside one day and explained, “Your grandfather is Buddhist, your father is Buddhist, but you are not Buddhist until you decide for yourself your religion.” He studied the Mormon religion, but did not find its theology convincing, explaining that while “the black and white thinking might be comforting for some,” it was not for him. So instead, he went to Berkeley to study Buddhism and felt called to be ordained.

He explained that growing up among Mormons made him hyper-aware of religious questions.

“I don’t think I would have questioned it so much if I had lived somewhere else,” the Rev. Hirano said.

Sister Takasaki explained how the idea of conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was more “problematic” as she realized that she would be walking away from her parents’ religion.

“Families are so important to us," she said. "I learned that from my Buddhist (upbringing), from generations before, the importance of family, how that supersedes everything else.”

But she couldn’t deny the spiritual witness she was experiencing and doctrinally, she explained, “I’m at complete peace where I am, and where my family members are now. We have a long future.”

The Rev. Hirano described the times he needed to defend Mormonism in his studies. Someone would say that one of the main differences between Christianity and Buddhism would be that Christians do not believe they can become like God. He said, “I would have to raise my hand and say ‘well, the Mormon church is a bit different.’ ”

They both talked about what they liked about each other’s religions. The Rev. Hirano said, “I’ve actually told members in my church that they should become Mormon if they believe that spirituality in religion is about social welfare and going to church.”

The Rev. Hirano explained that one of the ideas he wants to change is about mourning in Buddhist funerals. “We want to be sad, we want to feel the pain of the loss of that person. That’s why we wear black. I know that we will be together again in one place, that I will be together with them again, but I’m still here and it hurts.”

Sister Takasaki remarked that she had never heard it put that way and concurred about acknowledging the pain of loss.

Sister Takasaki then described the strength one finds through the Holy Ghost and through the grace of Jesus Christ and how that helps Mormons get through trials. "I have confidence that God will help everyone see this at one point."

Emily W. Jensen enjoys writing, editing, reading and eating dark chocolate, sometimes simultaneously. She happily covered the Mormon blogs for the Deseret News for five years. Email: ejensen@deseretnews.com