The Institute of Buddhist Studies celebrated its 50th anniversary as a graduate school jointly with the Buddhist Churches of America’s 10th anniversary of the Jodo Shinshu Center on October 22, 2016.
With the support of BCA leaders and members, we have come a long way in fulfilling the dream of the early founders of IBS. It has always been the dream the BCA leadership to establish an educational institution for the training of American born ministerial students and provide them with the best education possible so that they can serve as ministers in the temples. It was felt that the BCA must train their ministers in the American setting to best serve the needs of our changing membership in our temples.
Prior to this time, all the ministerial students were required to study in Japan after receiving a bachelor’s degree in an American college. It was felt that the doctrinal study and the study of the Japanese language in Japan was a necessary requirement for a minister to serve in the BCA, even though the students were not proficient in the Japanese language. So, the BCA provided scholarships to those students who went to Japan to study at Ryukoku University, Kyoto, Japan.
I was one of those students, who did not want to go to Japan, but was required to do so. I went to Japan in 1958 and returned in 1964 and was eventually assigned to the Oakland Buddhist Church. In 1966, IBS was established as a graduate school.
The IBS in the early years faced many difficult issues such as attracting students interested in ministry. There was a great deal of uncertainty, and for this reason some students dropped out and others went to Japan to study despite having to acclimate to the culture and language difficulties. Finally, in 1972 under the leadership of Tony Yokomizo, IBS Trustee Chair, and Rev. Haruyoshi Kusada as Executive Director, IBS graduated June King and Kenneth O’Neill. In 1973, Kanya Okamoto, Robert Oshita, Ken Tanaka, and Ronald Kobata completed their degrees, further their studies in Japan, and returned to the US. Revs. Okamoto (retired), Oshita (retired), and Kobata have spent their entire careers as Jodo Shinshu ministers.
With IBS gaining respectability in its educational program, the Hongwanji accredited IBS as a training center. A Sectorial Decree, which ordered the admission of IBS graduates to full ordination with no further examination was granted. However, following IBS graduation, those who wished to enter the ministry were required to go to Japan for further study to strengthen their language and doctrinal study proficiency.
In 1966, the BCA purchased the Haste Street building for IBS, and in 1987, the former California School of Professional Psychology building at 1900 Addison Street, was purchased for the IBS. The IBS moved to the Addison building in 1988. In 1989, with the Loma Prieta earthquake, the Addison building was in need of retrofitting to assure the safety of the occupants. In 1997, IBS moved to the Mountain View Buddhist Temple due to high cost of retrofitting. Starting the fall semester, IBS classes were held at various schools in the Graduate Theological Union.
In 2002, with the support of the BCA 21st Century Campaign, headed by Robert Noguchi, Campaign Manager, some $20,000,000.00 was raised over eight years, to help pay the cost of construction and other needs of the Jodo Shinshu Center. Thus, IBS was able to return to Berkeley and began to upgrade its curriculum and programs.
Today, IBS is attempting to take a major step towards becoming a world recognized academic institution, by seeking accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Accreditation has been a primary goal of the IBS since its inception as a graduate school. In 1970, The California State Department of Education approved the IBS as a degree granting institution under the California Education Code.
In the 1970s, the IBS Board of Trustees started a movement to establish a Buddhist accreditation association, but the task was too difficult due to the standards of compliance required for the Buddhist institutions at that time. With the encouragement made by the GTU the IBS made numerous inquiries to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) an accreditation association for Christian schools, but IBS did not meet the requirements being Buddhist. In 1985, IBS became affiliated with the GTU so that IBS students, who wish to take the Common MA program, would receive an accredited degree. Currently, IBS has Shin Buddhist ministerial, Buddhist Chaplaincy, and Research Study students.
Today, IBS is at a historical moment in its history. We must look back at history with a deep sense of gratitude for the support and vision of the IBS Board of Trustees, faculty, the BCA, and the BCA membership, past and present, who shred this dream. Without their foresight, encouragement, and financial support, we would not be at this point in our history.