“Golden Rule moment for couple welcomed into Buddhist Temple” in AZCentral

Golden Rule moment for couple welcomed into Buddhist Temple

Albert Celoza

Special to The Republic

It is good to feel welcome. It was a Golden Rule moment for Vonn and Karen Magnin when they were in great need, grieving the accidental death of a nephew at an early age. Here’s what happened.

They were graciously invited to a worship service by the minister of a Phoenix Buddhist Temple during their visit to a booth at the Phoenix Matsuri festival. The couple are lifelong residents both born in Phoenix and do not have any ethnic or cultural connection to Buddhism. Feeling a heavy sense of loss, something was missing: a community for consolation during difficult times.

The Magnins accepted the invitation and started to attend Sunday worship together with their two children at the Buddhist temple. They found like-minded people in search of spirituality and a community of friends. Vonn and Karen’s involvement expanded from teaching the temple kids to serving on the church board and then with Vonn assisting the minister. He took seminary classes with the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley and then in Japan to provide grounding for his congregational sensei (teacher) responsibilities.

For the past ninety years, the Arizona Buddhist Temple has been a spiritual home of Arizona families. Immigrants from Japan, Hawaii and California had their sights on building a temple in the Phoenix area. This became a reality in 1933 when a number of families gathered together their limited resources and built a temple in what was then in the middle of farmlands and orange groves. It was a labor of love of people contributing their labor and meager resources but at the same time a source of pride. The temple has been a gathering center for immigrant families. Not everything went smoothly as there were extreme challenges the members had to suffer and deal with.

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which led to the arrest and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in the United States. This tragic fate fell upon members of the Temple, even those who were citizens born in the United States. They endured arrest and being herded in primitive conditions in remote internment camps for several years. Living in the camp as well as gaining back their freedom and rebuilding their lives were difficult. The temple community came back to Phoenix and gathered again to rebuild their temple only for it to be accidentally burned down in the late 1950s. The current structure rebuilt in the 1960s is still standing and is now hosting families beyond the Japanese farming community in pre-war years.

Vonn Magnin’s Golden Rule moment went beyond the invitation to visit the Arizona Buddhist temple. He is now a ‘kyoshi,’ an ordained temple minister. He appreciates his spiritual home that is accepting of everyone, attending to one’s spiritual needs, and where no one is excluded.

Pure Land Buddhism practiced in this temple was begun by Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) and established the teachings of Jodo Shinshu, a form of Buddhism that is for everyone and is not esoteric or monastic. The Arizona Buddhist Temple https://www.azbuddhisttemple.org/ is part of the Buddhist Churches of America. While Vonn Magnin found his Golden Rule Moment right in his hometown, others might find enlightenment or at least a hospitable welcome in this 90-year-old Phoenix cultural center.

Albert Celoza is the executive director of the Arizona Interfaith Movement.t

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