Buddhist and other leaders from around the region gathered in Seattle Feb. 7, to honor the passing of a pioneer in the development of Japanese Jodo Shinshu, a pure land tradition, in North America.
Rev. Taitetsu Unno, who lived in Oregon for the last years of his life after scholarly teaching and writing across the United States, was eulogized at the memorial service at Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple. He was 85.
Participants included his wife and collaborator Alice Unno, his son Dr. Mark Unno, representatives of various Jodo Shinshu temples regionally and internationally, as well as representatives from local Buddhist groups.
Mark Unno gave offered some especially moving words of appreciation about his father, shifting between English and Japanese.
Here are some excerpts from his talk:
“There is sadness, there are tears, but more than anything, I am overwhelmed with the presence of Amida Buddha’s great compassion filling my heart, my father’s heart, and our hearts beating as one.
“His earthly heart, his physical heart, exerted itself completely, squeezing every last drop of blood that would flow through his veins. Yet, his spiritual heart, his heart of great compassion, continues to beat, completely one with mine, beat-by-beat, moment-by-moment. I feel that his heart and my heart are completely one, forever and ever and ever.”
In addition to his traditional role as a Jodo Shinshu priest, Rev. Taitetsu Unno was an important educator. For many years, he was department chair and the Jill Ker Conway Professor of World Religions at Smith College.
Seven years ago, he relocated from Massachusetts to be near his son Mark Unno, an associate professor at the University of Oregon in Eugene, who is also an ordained Shin priest. In fact, Taitetsu and Mark are 13th-generation and 14th-generation Shin priests, respectively.
Rev. Taitetsu Unno was affectionately known Rev. Ty. His most famous work is “River of Fire, River of Water,” which explains the place of the Japanese Pure Land tradition within the larger geography of Dharma practice.
Officiating at the service was Rev. Don Castro, the head minister of Seattle Betsuin. The event was chaired by Irene Goto Sensei, also a member.
Offerings were made by representatives from the regional Jodo Shinshu congregations, including White River Buddhist Temple, Tacoma Buddhist Temple, Vancouver Buddhist Temple, and, of course, Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple and the Women’s Association there. Making offerings as well were representatives from Pacific Lutheran University, Seattle University, and the Northwest Dharma Association.
A famous letter on death, “Epistle on White Ashes” by Rennyo Shonin, was read in Japanese by Rev. Koshin Ogui and in English by Rev. Jim Warrick. Rev. Castor gave a sermon, and the Seattle Betsuin Choir performed.
At the very end, Rev. Taitetsu Unno’s son just kept thanking us, and thanking everyone. It was a remarkable experience.
We in the Northwest have been honored by the presence and passing of such an important teacher here in our region. The celebration at Seattle Betsuin was a beautiful reminder of this.