Journalists are, by and large, a critical bunch. We're critical of government bureaucracy, critical of politicians, critical of corporations. That's why we're good at what we do, I suppose. And as much as we love the craft, we're also HIGHLY critical of our own jobs (long hours, low pay), media companies (monopolistic, profit-driven), and choice of career (little room for advancement). So it's refreshing to see a friend and colleague make a truly bold career move.
Ken Yamada started in the business almost 20 years ago and quickly found himself on the fast track, working at some of the nation's elite publications -- Los Angeles Times, Newsday, The Wall Street Journal and Red Herring magazine, to name a few. Then a personal tragedy forced him to reevaluate his life and career and he decided to make some changes. Instead of enlightening readers about the hottest emerging tech companies, he chose to enlighten people about the meaning of life.
Trading in his reporter's notebook for Buddhist scripture, he went to Japan and studied to become a Buddhist priest with Higashi Honganji. In 2003 he was ordained as a minister and began assisting at the Berkeley church that he attended as a boy. He expected to train for at least three more years under long-time minister, Rev. Akinori Imai. But Rev. Imai accepted the position of bishop of the Hawaii District earlier this month. Ken was asked to fill the vacancy.
Before a packed house Sunday, Reverend Ken, as he's now referred to, was installed at a Succession Ceremony as full-time chief resident minister of Berkeley Higashi Honganji, making him the first American-born minister to hold such a position in the United States.
Old-timers at the temple were amazed at the turnout for Ken, mostly younger Asian American families. The donation bowl overflowed with dollar bills. One man drew laughs when he said that the temple should hold a succession ceremony every Sunday.
"This represents a new era in which the teaching of dharma is being handed down to a new generation of American-born," said Tomoyuki Hasegawa, assistant to the bishop of the Higashi Honganji North America District.
In the past Ken struggled with doubts about whether he could live up to the position. "I never felt I was wise enough to be a minister," he said during his sermon. " I felt I wasn't mature enough to be a minister."
But he found resolution.
"It's not up to me," he said. "What's important is to recognize that people have a need in their lives to recognize times of happiness and to recognize times of great sadness. I'm thankful that the Buddhist tradition let's me say something to these people during those times."