Ekoji Buddhist Sangha

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 25 March 2013.

Phone: 804-355-6657
Email: ekoji@richmond.infi.net
Website: http://www.ekojirichmond.org/
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Ekoji Buddhist Sangha was Richmond's first permanent Buddhist group with its own temple, and remains at the center of the city's Buddhist community. The temple began in 1985, when Rev. K.T. Tsuji bought a house in the historic Museum district. The house was converted over time into a working temple. At first, Ekoji was a Jodo Shinshu temple, representing Rev. Tsuji's affiliation, but over time it has grown into much more. Rev. Tsuji had a pluralistic view of Buddhism that respected all sects and sought the best in each of them. This was reflected in his teaching, which went beyond Jodo Shinshu elements to include aspects of other sects. It was further reflected in his decision to open the temple up as a refuge for other Buddhist traditions in Richmond that did not have their own space. The first experiment with housing more than one congregation at Ekoji came in 1987, when Rev. Tsuji invited a Vietnamese Buddhist group to use the temple space. The Vietnamese set up altars on the second floor of the building and held regular services, sometimes filling the temple to capacity. Eventually they incorporated as the Richmond Buddhist Association, and though they left to form their own temple in 1989, members of RBA fondly recall their time at Ekoji. In 1991 the temple again became multi-denominational, when Rev. Tsuji invited a member interested in Zen to set up a new group at Ekoji. This group grew slowly, and eventually absorbed another local Zen group. For most of their tenure they were known as the Ekoji Zen Group, but last year they changed their name to the Richmond Zen Group. From small beginnings, they are now the largest single group meeting at Ekoji. In the meantime, the Jodo Shinshu group has morphed into a nondenominational Pure Land Buddhist group, retaining some Jodo Shinshu style but now largely informed by Chinese Pure Land Buddhism. This is partially because of Rev. Tsuji's retirement, partially a reflection of a demographic shift toward more Chinese-American members, and also reflects some influence from a Foguanshan nun based in Raleigh who visited the temple several times. The Pure Land group is no longer the largest of Ekoji's groups, but in some ways it remains the backbone of the temple, providing stability and historical continuity from the community's earliest days. In 1993 a Tibetan Buddhist group joined the mix, formed by members of Ekoji who had studied with a lama in New York. This group practices within a Karma Kagyu lineage. Though the smallest of the groups, several of its members have been with Ekoji for over a decade, and a number of them are active in the Pure Land or Zen groups as well. In the mid-1990s a Vipassana group was established at Ekoji. For years they met on Friday nights at 5:30 p.m., but in early 2004 they added Monday meetings at 7:30 p.m. to their schedule. This is the first non-Mahayana group to meet at the temple, pushing the boundaries of the temple's pluralism beyond multiple sects to include two major schools of Buddhism. In 1998 a second Vietnamese group joined Ekoji. They followed a Vietnamese Zen lineage, and stayed until 2001, when they left to merge with the Richmond Buddhist Association. The most recent group to form at Ekoji was a Unitarian-Universalist Buddhist group that began meeting at the temple in 2001. They eventually moved to the First Unitarian Church of Richmond, though some members opted to stay at Ekoji and join the Zen group. The leader of the group at the Unitarian-Universalist church remains a member of Ekoji. Besides these sectarian groups, Ekoji has hosted a range of non-sectarian activities, including a general meditation group that met on Tuesday mornings, a prison ministry that still meets inside a Greenville prison, and a Buddhist-oriented Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on Saturdays. Dharma Movie Nights are held quarterly at the temple, as are frequent retreats and lectures by visiting Buddhist teachers. The Richmond Virginia Buddhist Peace Fellowship, 95 percent of whose members attend Ekoji, also meets at the temple about once a month. The temple also celebrates the Buddha's Birthday in May, often in conjunction with the First Unitarian Church of Richmond.


Ekoji's groups are diverse in their sectarian backgrounds, but share one thing in common: most are overwhelmingly European-American. The exception to this is the Pure Land group, with about 65 percent of its members being Chinese-American. The temple also has a small number of African-American and Latino attendees. There are only 54 official members of Ekoji, but the actual community is three to four times larger. There is a wide range of ages represented at the temple, but most participants are baby boomers in their 40s and 50s, with only a few twentysomethings. Now that Rev. Tsuji has retired, the temple has no official teacher or leader.