Buddhism outside of Asia is often divided into two slightly simplified but useful categories: ethnic Buddhism and converted Buddhism. The first focuses on immigrants from traditionally Buddhist countries, while the second refers to those from the host country or another non-traditionally Buddhist culture who have found their way to the Buddhadharma. While ethnic Buddhists are generally integrated into close-knit religious communities called sanghas, immigrant Buddhists are often individuals who are isolated in some way, whether physically or in the sense that they have come to the Buddha's teachings through their own private research. It is not uncommon for these individuals to be the only Buddhists in their region, or even in their entire country. Other times, even when living near sanghas, the sanghas may belong to a different sectarian affiliation.
Thus, it is common for many converts to Buddhism to find themselves without access to any sangha except via the Internet. Since being a Buddhist involves taking refuge not only in the Buddha and his Dharma, but also in the Sangha, this situation poses quite a serious challenge to the spread of the Dharma outside traditionally Buddhist regions. As such, developing online sanghas to provide these isolated individuals with spiritual community and support is an important task.
With this in mind, my co-author and I present below an interview with Javier Galvez, representative of the Sangha Luso-Hispana Jinen-kô. This is a unique institution: an online sangha in Spanish and Portuguese from the Jodo Shinshu school.*
BDG: Could you share with us your personal journey in Shin Buddhism? Did you grow up in a Christian or secular home?
Javier Galvez: I grew up in a traditional Catholic family, and it was from adolescence that I moved away from the practice of religion in general. My family has always respected my personal space to disagree on faith. So it wasn't a sudden or traumatic breakup, but rather a gradual detachment that lasted until the end of my university years.
During the first years of practicing medicine, I felt the weight of impermanence more strongly and I searched for a way to reconcile what I experienced on a daily basis with my desire to know more about myself- even. This situation led me to explore other philosophies and religious traditions.
Without a doubt, the attitudes towards life of my parents and later of my wife, my daughters and my teachers were fundamental in facilitating my connection with the Buddhadharma. For this, I am deeply grateful to them.
BDG: Did you come directly to Shin, or were you first involved in other Dharma schools? What attracted you to Shin Buddhism?
JG: For a few years, I was only interested in Buddhism on a theoretical level. However, at the age of 28, I came into contact with a Zen Buddhist center near where I lived and after a few introductory courses in Mahayana Buddhism, I decided to participate in a few meditation retreats. At the end of the retreats, I always left with the intention of incorporating the practices into my daily life, but the commitments of work and home life showed how difficult this can be. Certainly, my daily experience was far from what I aspired to be, and of course, the absence of a Buddhist community in my environment contributed to increasing my frustration.
Several years later, and almost unnoticed, I came into contact via social media with people who practiced Pure Land Buddhism. Many of these people posted quotes from Master Shinran and Master Honen that I felt a strong connection with. This first impulse led me to become interested in the activities of different groups who practiced Pure Land Buddhism, and for a few years I learned the most basic things about the Pure Land school, especially under its Japanese form.
BDG: Could you tell us the story of your online sangha?
JG: Our sangha is an initiative of priest Enrique Galván-Álvarez of the Honganji-ha school. It all happened quite spontaneously in late 2021: Enrique was interviewed by filmmaker Yujiro Seki for his YouTube channel “Carving the Divine” and several people, including myself, contacted him to learn more about the teachings of Jodo Shinshu.
Enrique had the great idea of connecting us via an instant messaging group and that was the first step in creating our community. In recent months, we have taken some very important steps for us: we have created a website, a blog, and our sangha was presented at the 20th European Conference of Shin Buddhism which was held in Düsseldorf last September, and two of the group members received kikyoshiki** inside Jodo Shinshu Honganji-ha School. In truth, we are very excited about the way events are developing.
BDG: What is the official name of the sangha? What inspired and motivated you to create this global community?
JG: Our group is made up of people from different regions of the world: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom. The official name of our community is Sangha Luso-Hispana Jinen-kô because we aspire to be a place (ko) which welcomes people wishing to learn about the Dharma of nature (Jinen).
The main languages are Spanish and Portuguese and, interestingly, we are not all newcomers to the world of Shin Buddhism but we have companions who have a long history within their local sanghas, notably in Brazil, in Argentina and Japan. This particularity enriches us and we share a common language and our interest in the teachings of Pure Land Buddhism and in particular in the teachings of Master Shinran.
BDG: How can anyone interested in joining your sangha contact you?
JG: On our website (jodoshinshu.org), there are three very easy ways to contact us. The first is to write us a direct message from the same page; the second, via our email (protected email); and third, via WhatsApp with a contact person who speaks the same language. For Portuguese speakers, the contact is Carlos Viegas, an experienced Brazilian Jodo Shinshu practitioner who lives part of the year in Portugal. For Spanish speakers, the contact is usually Rev. Enrique Galván-Alvárez himself.
BDG: Many people may not be familiar with the term sangha. Could you explain what this means in the context of your online community and in Shin Buddhism?
JG: Sangha is a Sanskrit word that refers to the group of people who live in a community. In the Buddhist tradition, this sangha includes monks, nuns, lay people and lay women. Although our community does not physically live in the same place, there are online meetings and daily group conversations that strengthen our connections and facilitate learning. Additionally, in the same way that Shinran himself called himself "neither monk nor layman", our community is quite flexible and allows for proactive roles within the community that stimulate thought within the group as a whole .
BDG: How do you foster a sense of community, connection and support within the online sangha, despite the physical distance between members?
JG: The messaging group is always open for any questions or ideas. Sometimes these messages deal with doctrinal issues, while other times they are more related to everyday issues or the history of Buddhism in general or the Pure Land school in particular.
Our priest, Enrique, usually gives us time for everyone to bring something that seems interesting to him and later he gives his vision of that topic or question. This dynamic is very participatory and facilitates group cohesion. It should also be noted that during these two years there were some very happy occasions when some members were able to see each other in person.
BDG: Can you describe the activities or practices that members of your online sangha participate in together, and how these activities contribute to your spiritual growth?
JG: The main activity within our community is the monthly meeting via video call platform. The first part of the meeting consists of the ritual chanting of a text from the Jodo Shinshu tradition (Shoshinge, Sambutsuge or Juseige) followed by the recitation of the nembutsu (recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha). This activity is led by our priest Enrique, who then gives us a short Dharma talk. The remainder of the session focuses on issues that were raised over the previous month.
In recent months, we have begun to explore the content of Master Shinran's poem Shoshinge. We are currently finishing the section on the Bodhisattva Vasubandhu. We plan to join a singing workshop to learn to recite our school's texts.
BDG: What role does language play in making Shin Buddhism accessible to Spanish speakers around the world, and how do you eliminate language barriers within your Sangha?
JG: Listening to Buddhism in your native language is crucial to connecting deeply with the Dharma. Many of us can understand lectures or texts in English or other languages, but the impact of teaching in our own language is much greater. Reverend Enrique speaks English, Portuguese and Spanish fluently, so it is easy to overcome language barriers within the group.
BDG: What Shin resources do you have available in Spanish? For example, how many of Shinran Shonin's writings have been translated? Have the three Pure Land sutras been translated?
JG: Unfortunately, there are very few documents in Spanish. All three sutras are available in Spanish from translations from English or French. However, Shinran Shonin's writings are not translated into Spanish at this time. It is for this reason that one of the first initiatives of our Sangha is the preparation of an interview booklet and a direct translation from Japanese of Shoshinge poem. Without a doubt, these small steps will be of great help to new members. On a personal note, I would like to be able to contribute to the publication of Master Shinran's works in Spanish so that Master Shinran's teaching can reach more Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking people.
BDG: How do you find a balance between maintaining the authenticity of Shin Buddhism and adapting it to the needs and expectations of a global online audience?
JG: Our philosophy as a group is to maintain maximum fidelity to the Jodo Shinshu Honganji-ha tradition from the point of view of rituals and learning practices and at the same time, try to innovate in the way of communicating the teachings to reach the biggest number. of people possible, without losing authenticity.
BDG: Thank you very much, Javier, for taking the time to answer our questions.
* Jodo Shinshu is a Japanese school of Pure Land Buddhism distinguished by its emphasis on faith in Amida Buddha giving birth in his Pure Land through the transfer of merit. It is the largest Buddhist school in Japan.
** Kikyoshiki is usually translated into English as "Confirmation Ceremony" by Jodo Shinshu Honganji-Ha. This ceremony replaces the formal conversion ceremony celebrated by other Buddhist schools. This is for two reasons: first, because “conversion” as such is supposed to occur when one takes refuge in Amida Buddha, any formal ceremony can therefore only be a “confirmation”; second, it is to mark the absence of taking precepts, as Jodo Shinshu emphasizes liberation only through the transfer of merit from Amida Buddha rather than through one's own meritorious deeds.