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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
59 fall 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi, founder of the Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Lake City, confirms Dokuho Verbogt as a senior priest during a ceremony at the center. ©2006,Scottcannon of Buddhism, which at that point was under the umbrella of the Buddhist Mission of North America. By 1924 the Japa- nese Immigration Exclusion Act prohibited all Japanese im- migration, and by 1944 many Japanese residents of Utah and other western states were forced to relocate to the famous Topaz Concentration Camp, in the dusty high desert 140 miles south of Salt Lake City. It was there, in 1944, that the Buddhist Mission of North America officially changed its name to Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) in the hopes of sounding more acceptable to the American people. After the war, with the repeal of the Alien Land Law, Japanese residents could once again buy land in Utah, and many did just that. Today there are thriving BCA temples in Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Honeyville. Not long after my arrival on campus at Utah State, I was contacted by a woman named Jane Koerner who wanted to do a story on my arrival for Utah State Magazine. Little did I know that Jane was a longtime Zen practitioner and was intimately involved in a local group called the Cache Valley Sangha. This little Buddhist community is an eclectic group of Buddhists and Buddhist sympathizers that meets regularly to practice meditation, discuss Buddhist books, and share personal stories. They’re composed of faculty members at Utah State, students, and local residents from communities in and around Logan. It was through the Cache Valley Sangha that many of the twenty or so Utah Buddhist communities opened up to me. A quick survey of the Buddhist communities in Utah yields roughly the same array of sectarian sanghas that one might find anywhere in North America. Of the twenty-two Bud- dhist groups I located, six were Zen, four Theravada, three Pure Land, three Tibetan, two Soka Gakkai, one Vipassana, until the fall of 2006, no university in the state even housed a degree-granting religious studies program. That changed when Utah State launched its new religious studies program, with two endowed chairs: one in Buddhist studies, for which I was hired, and the other in Morman studies, which is held by Philip Barlow. Additional endowed chairs in Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are hopeful additions on the horizon. It’s an ambitious plan, but one wonderfully supported by the uni- versity administration and the local community. Upon arriving in Utah, I had no idea what to expect with respect to finding Buddhist compatriots. I had utilized the ample resources of BuddhaNet to identify as many Buddhist groups as possible in the state. Some of these had previously been known to me; others not. The Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Lake City, for example, is the main community of Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi. Genpo Roshi has used his home base in Salt Lake City to develop a network of Buddhist sanghas worldwide and gained much acclaim for his “Big Mind” pro- gram. One of Genpo Roshi’s dharma-heirs, Michael Zimmer- man, is a former chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court. But there are older Buddhist roots in this part of the world that most people are not aware of. Representatives from the Meiji government of Japan visited Salt Lake City in 1872, and by 1900 there were over four hundred Japanese living in Utah, a number that would rise to over two thousand by 1910 and almost three thousand by 1920. Early in the last century, the Intermountain Buddhist Church was established under Reverend Kenryo Kuwabara, who first operated in Ogden and later moved to Salt Lake City. In 1923 the Salt Lake Buddhist Church created a Young Buddhist Association because the children of church members were increasingly excluded from extracurricular activities in school. Virtually all of the Japa- nese Buddhist churches in Utah were part of the Jodo Shinshu, or Pure Land, school GeorGeJiShoroBertSon