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Temple Fire and Gaman ( 我 慢)

August 07, 2022

“The first time I ever heard that word [Gaman] was when I was standing in line, waiting to use the latrine. As a child, this was sheer torture. But my mother looked down at me and said, ‘George, gaman.’ She wanted me to endure, with fortitude and dignity, the injustice of having to wait in the cold even to go to the bathroom. Throughout our time in the camp, the spirit of gaman is what buoyed us, even in the darkest of hours. By holding our heads up high, and carrying on, they could not take from our basic humanity.”

--George Takei (History Channel Interview, Feb. 10, 2017)

As I reflect on the July 8th fire in our temple basement, the Japanese word “gaman”, referred to by George Takei in the opening quote, comes to my mind. 

industrial kitchen after major fire has destroyed most of its contents and covered it with smoke and ash

Photo:  Three refrigerators in the IOBT temple basement after the July 8th fire.  The fire was started by a bad electrical outlet in this area. 

This word “gaman” means to patiently persevere in tough times. When the Japanese and Japanese-Americans were incarcerated during World War II, older Issei/first generation reminded the younger Nisei/second generation that they must practice “gaman”. They had to bear the unbearable and not lash out in anger and frustration despite the injustices that they were suffering.

Today, Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple and the Sangha are facing their own disaster aftermath. We are devastated by the loss of personal property in the basement of the temple. So much has been consumed in the fire and destroyed beyond repair or salvage.  Sangha Taiko drums, musical instruments, and stands are gone or irreparably damaged. Kimonos were destroyed. Photo albums are gone. Cooking utensils that were specially designed and made for the temple’s needs are gone. Even our beloved bingo machine and display board were melted.

Debris including burned furniture and pictures in temple basement

Photo:  Temple basement social hall after the fire. Most of the items in the basement were damaged beyond repair from fire, smoke, and water. 

Practicing gaman will help us to move forward. Why is gaman important? How does gaman fit in with our Shin Buddhist practice? There are 3 practical ways in which this perspective can help us. 

First, our Buddhist Teachings remind us of impermanence. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Even our temple is not safe from change. In a blink of an eye, a fire changed everything. The fire serves to remind us that this temple is a precious treasure that we should appreciate every single day. We should not wait for a disaster to remember all the causes and conditions that made this temple in Ontario, Oregon possible. Remembering all that had to happen to make the temple possible and that change will happen, no matter what, we practice gaman, persevere, and move on with our temple services and activities as best we can.

Second, those causes and conditions remind us of our interconnectedness with others. We have experienced an outpouring of support from our Sangha and from the community at large. Northwest District ministers and temple members have reached out with words of support and donations. Community members have offered rooms to hold services. Sangha Taiko is receiving donations of drums and money to help them return to their performances. Knowing that we have all this support helps us to persevere and move forward.

Fire fighters and fire trucks gather in the temple parking lot

PhotoFirst responders in temple parking lot on July 8, 2022


Finally, gaman gives us the patience needed to step back and appreciate everyone and everything that has made our temple possible. We remember and thank our Issei and Nisei Sangha members who made this temple what it is today. We appreciate the efforts of the many firemen who withstood the heat of the fire and managed to contain the fire to the basement, saving the onaijin/altar upstairs. Our surrounding community has shared messages of support, making us realize how important this temple truly is.


View of Amida Buddha statue through partially closed doors.

Photo:  This picture, taken on the day of the fire, shows that our precious Amida Buddha statue on the altar, the Gohonzon (御本尊) of our main hall, remains intact!

Another Japanese phrase that I want to apply to our current situation is a proverb, Nanakorobi yaoki (七転び八起き), which literally means “fall seven times, stand up eight”. This proverb reminds us that life is a bumpy road. You will be knocked down many, many times. To be able to overcome unfortunate circumstances, we need to stand up one more time. We must patiently persevere (practice gaman). Our temple has withstood many bumps in the road. Our Issei and Nisei have withstood many hardships and obstacles, but they stood up one more time. It is our turn to do the same.

Fire fighter equipment and clothes on the ground outside of a building

Photo:  July 8, 2022, It must feel so good to take off the heavy protective clothing and Oxygen tanks after all that hard work! 

During this 75th Anniversary year, Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple has much to be grateful for, despite the fire and the resulting destruction. We have a long road to recovery before us. We know that with the support of everyone far and near, we have the resilience to push forward. Our Issei and Nisei would have done nothing less.  GAMAN! ( 我 慢!)

Ministers and lay people gather at makeshift altar outside of Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple for Obon Service on July 10, 2020.  Just 2 days after the fire

Photo: Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple holds their annual Obon/Hatsubon service outside, just two days after the major fire in the basement. 


Rev. Kathy Chatterton

Assistant Minister, Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple


Female Buddhist Priest in black robes and orange wagesa