Plans by the Los Angeles Buddhist Federation, a Japanese-American group of seven Downtown congregations, to join the annual inter-ethnic celebration of Buddha's birthday this year have won praise from two temple leaders in the San Fernando Valley.
Although some Japanese Buddhist clergy outside Little Tokyo have taken part in past communitywide observances, this year the federation volunteered to act as co-host for Sunday's event in Downtown Los Angeles with the multiethnic Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California.
"I think it's wonderful for people to come together, and it's good for outsiders to see this unity," said the Venerable Sumanatissa Barua, a spokesman for the Wat Thai Temple in North Hollywood. He estimated that about 50 monks and lay people will go from the Thai temple.
"It's very exciting," said the Rev. Kakyue Tada of the San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Pacoima. "I'm looking forward to attending if time permits."
An estimated 500,000 people in Southern California observe Buddha's birthday on various dates in the spring because of differing traditions.
Japanese Buddhists mark the birthday 2,500 years ago of Gautama Buddha, or Hanamatsuri, around April 8, but Buddhists of other ethnic traditions observe Wesak, which commemorates both the birthday and Enlightenment, around the time of the full moon in May.
Although congregations pick convenient weekend dates to have their own observances, the Sangha Council sought each year to choose one date for all groups to celebrate together. But the council had been unable to persuade federation representatives to participate in previous years.
But early this year, the Rev. Gyoken Kuroyanagi of the Nichiren Shu Temple in Los Angeles approached the Venerable Havanpola Ratanasara, director of the Sangha Council, to suggest that a common Buddha's birthday celebration be held April 3 at the Japanese-American Cultural Center. Coincidentally, the program will fall on the same day Catholics and Protestants celebrate Easter.
The reasons the Japanese-American federation had shown little interest in pan-Buddhist observances before, Kuroyanagi said, "are very complicated. It is a hard question."
The Venerable Karuna Dharma, an associate of Ratanasara, said the reluctance may be partly because Japanese Buddhism, especially the federation, is the oldest Buddhist community in Southern California and its leaders haven't felt the need to take part in inter-Buddhist events.
"That's changing now because a lot of young ministers are interested in reaching out," she said.
Tada, whose Pacoima temple dedicated a new building in 1992, is a member of the Sangha Council and has usually attended the communitywide observances. If he misses it this year, it will be because his temple holds its own Hanamatsuri festival on Sunday starting at 9:30 a.m.
The inter-ethnic celebration Downtown is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
The program includes a parade at noon and a religious service at 1 p.m.