The Vista Buddhist Temple: Promoting Jodo Shinsu for More Than 80 Years

By Jeff Brownlee, The North County Voice, Aug 4, 2009

Vista, CA (USA) -- The Vista Buddhist Temple (VBT) is an island of traditional Japanese culture and religion in North County. In operation since the late 1920s, the temple was started by Japanese-Americans who had been living in the Vista area, in some cases, since the turn of the last century.

Traditionally, many Japanese-Americans were involved in agriculture, and, to this day, their descendants represent some of the major growers in the area. While assimilating socially and economically like many immigrants, local Japanese-Americans desired to honor their origins, thus VBT had its birth. Terri Omori, president of VBT’s board of directors, described the organization’s inception, “The congregation came together culturally and socially.”

Many westerners are familiar with the Zen Buddhism of northern China and Japan, but this sect is only one variety of Japanese Buddhism. “Within Japanese Buddhism, there are different sects,” Omori said. Congregants at VBT practice Jodo Shinsu Buddhism.

Whereas Zen emphasizes meditation and concentration, Jodo Shinsu has its focus in everyday life. “It is a way of life practiced by living it daily,” Omori said. Among many other dimensions, this daily practice involves attendance at temple functions, various rituals, service, study and general self-discipline.

The Summer Obon Festival grew out of Jodo Shinusu’s spirituality. This observation is intended to honor ancestors who have passed on and acknowledge the influence they have had. “We express gratitude and appreciation for those who have passed on,” Omori said. This reflection recognizes a continuum of influences and ultimately turns inward and onto the present. “We recognize that our actions influence others as our ancestor’s have influenced us,” Omori explained.

Obon is a “Festival” so this reflection is far from somber. “This is a joyous time,” Omori emphasized. Activities at this year's Obon festival included recitals of traditional Japanese music, Mushroom tasting, “Taiko Drumming” and liberal amounts of “Bon Odori” folk dancing. Attendees were encouraged to join in with the dancing and other activities.

John Turner, a minister’s assistant from the Orange County Buddhist Church, recently presented a lecture on Jodo Shinsu Buddhism. Turner described Jodo Shinsu as an eminently practical and egalitarian approach designed for the everyday person. “The audience for Jodo Shinsu was fishermen and farmers whereas Zen was more monastic,” Turner explained.

Omori pointed out that many congregants at VBT are not of Japanese extraction and that all North County ethnic groups are represented. “We’ve become a diverse congregation, not strictly made up of Japanese families. We welcome all,” she said.

The Vista Buddhist Temple is located at 150 Cedar Road, Bldg. B, Vista, CA 92083. They maintain a website at and can be reached by phone at 760-941-8800.