Over 100 years ago, seventy-three Berkeley residents formed the Berkeley Young Men's Buddhist Association. Under the guidance of Reverend Gyodo Haguri, an inaugural service was held on May 10, 1911 at the Odd Fellows Hotel. This marked the modest beginnings of the Berkeley Buddhist Temple, which would later impart its broad and pervasive influence on the future of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism in America.
On January 17, 1914, the Berkeley Fujinkai (Buddhist Women's Association) was formed, and Reverend Keisai Nagai became the first minister of the temple in August of 1918.
At first, services were held in private homes. Later, semi-permanent quarters were found at the Chitose Hotel located at Channing Way and Ellsworth Street. It was the earnest desire of the Sangha (congregation) to acquire permanent quarters for a temple, which they accomplished through the acquisition of the present site at 2121 Channing Way.
Formal Dedication and Early Propagation
The Berkeley Buddhist Temple had its dedication on February 13, 1921. In a few years, the Sunday School was established to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of Nisei (second generation) children of the founders.
In November 1924, the Honorable Sonyu Ohtani visited the temple and, as a result of his inspirational leadership, Nisei YMBA (Young Men's Buddhist Association) was organized. In 1934 the YMBA merged with YWBA (Young Women's Buddhist Association) to form the YBA (Young Buddhists' Association), which began to annually publish the well-known "Berkeley Bussei."
In 1937, the adjacent building located at 2119 Channing Way was purchased under the leadership of Reverend Daisho Tana. This building was used as a dormitory for University of California students of the Buddhist faith. The dormitory, called "Jichiryo," provided a true home away from home for many students, many of whom have since become leaders in the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA).
War and Post War Years
With the outbreak of World War II, the temple was closed from May 1942 for a period of three years. It was reopened by Reverend Kanmo Imamura in the Spring of 1946. Under his guidance, interest in the study of Buddhism grew among college students and young members alike, as well as friends outside the church. Membership grew and it soon became apparent that new facilities would be required to meet this demand for renewed activity and interest in the temple.
The present temple was constructed in 1955 and officially dedicated on June 10, 1956. The new facility included a library for the BCA Study Center and a dormitory for 22 students. The Study Center was subsequently moved when the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) was established on Haste Street in Berkeley.
The architecture of the Berkeley Buddhist Temple is distinguished from most of the other temples in the BCA by its beautiful simplicity, especially the Hondo (main hall) interior and shrine area. A conscious, successful attempt was made to create a spiritual practice center for an evolving American Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.
The original temple (old temple) building was moved towards the rear of the lot and is still used for small services, meetings, and kitchen facilities.
With the increase of the Sangha membership, particularly the Sunday School, the Jichiryo dormitory was closed in 1967 and the space was converted into additional classrooms. The youth programs proliferated during those years, particularly in the area of athletics.
In 1968, now a part of the growing national BCA, a pledge system was instituted. In 1969, a Memorial Columbarium was established at Sunset Mausoleum in order to provide niches for temple members. These programs were instituted under the guidance of Reverend Masami Fujitani who served the temple from 1958 to 1971.
Reverend Toshio Murakami served the temple from 1971 to 1977. Under his guidance, the temple observed its 60th Anniversary, during which time its Issei (first generation Japanese) pioneers were honored. The temple joined the Berkeley Area Interfaith Council during this time. Close ties to IBS continued to be made through Reverend Murakami's teaching at IBS. The Japanese School and Youth Athletics program, and Busseis were well attended during these years.
The Reverend Newton Ishiura, formerly Bishop of Canada, came to serve as resident minister when Reverend Murakami was transferred to BCA Headquarters as Director of Bureau of Buddhist Education.
In September of 1981, when Reverend Ishiura was reassigned to Florin Temple, Reverend Yoshihide Matsubayashi briefly served the temple. He was in turn transferred to Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church and Reverend Haruyoshi Kusada, former Director of IBS, replaced him in the spring of 1983. Under his guidance, the temple had moved along with the increasing concern for broader religious understanding and propagation, and joining other BCA temples in the BCA's Campaign for Buddhism.
Reverend Kusada's expertise in ritual and chanting continued the temple's ties to the IBS through his teaching of classes. In 1988, the temple also acquired the Fulton Street apartment for much needed parking. In September of 1989, the Fujinkai celebrated the 75th Anniversary of its founding.
The year 1991 marked the retirement of Reverend Kusada after more than eight years of service as our resident minister. He will long be remembered as being a strong role model for laymen and ministers alike.
Following Reverend Kusada's retirement, Reverend Hozan Hardiman became the resident minister. The nineties was a time of transition, with the inevitable loss of the Issei and Nisei (first and second generation Japanese/Japanese Americans) members. The temple has been able to maintain a growing and active membership through the efforts of the Sanseis (third generation) and Post-War baby boomers and non-Japanese American members.
The Turn of the Century
In June of 2001, the Gomonshu Koshin Ohtani (head priest of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanjiha) visited the Berkeley Buddhist Temple.
The temple celebrated its 90th Anniversary in the year 2001. To prepare for the celebration, major renovations were performed on the Hondo. These included reupholstering the pews, installing a new floor and windows, remodeling the foyer and Nokotsudo closet, and painting the building exterior. Also, a new carpet and door were installed in the library.
In February of 2002, Reverend Hardiman was transferred to Hawaii. To prepare for the new minister, the minister's residence was refurbished during the remainder of 2002 and 2003.
In 2003, the BCA purchased the adjoining property at Fulton and Durant Streets. Construction of the Jodo Shinshu Center and Institute of Buddhist Studies began in May of 2005 and has since been a facility for graduate Buddhist studies and propagation of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.
In 2004, the Berkeley Buddhist Women's Association (BBWA) celebrated its 90th anniversary.
After three years without a resident minister, the temple welcomed Reverend David Matsumoto as its minister in January of 2005. Reverend Matsumoto served a long tenure of eleven years at the temple and continues to share his knowledge and support with the Buddhist and academic community as the Provost and as a professor at the Institute of Buddhist Studies.
The temple welcomed their newest minister, Reverend Candice Shibata, in January 2016.