Utah woman becomes newest minister at SLC Buddhist Temple

Utah woman becomes newest minister at SLC Buddhist Temple

(Dr. Carmela Javellana)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah woman recently ordained became the newest minister to serve in the historic, 102-year-old Salt Lake Buddhist Temple this week.

Dr. Carmela Javellana, a full-time integrated psychiatrist, grew up in the Philippines as a self-described “good Catholic girl,” but when she immigrated to the United States, she felt an absence of her identity.

Javellana said that as a new immigrant, her need to find her place in American society took precedence over her desire for religion.

It wasn’t until her mother died in 1999 that the reality of mortality hit her.

She turned to Zen Buddhism, which she described as being something she can trust.

Zen Buddhism, at its heart, meant practicing meditation.

Javellana said she was content with just sitting in meditation, but when she got a divorce, she felt a push to seek a better life.

That’s when she met her current husband, Reverend Jerry Hirano, a minister at the Buddhist temple.

“Jerry introduced me to Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, which is a very different practice from Zen,” Javellana said. “It’s not about meditating; it’s about being conscious and being aware of how I’m going to live my life from moment to moment.”

We wouldn't be anywhere in our lives if it were not for the support and help of other people.

–Dr. Carmela Javellana

Javellana and Hirano were married, and when Javellana made the transformation from Zen Buddhism to Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, Hirano made Javellana his assistant in ministry. He then encouraged Javellana to study to become a minister through the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California.

“The more I studied doctrine, the more I got hooked on it, and this is where it led me,” Javellana said.

Last month, Javellana traveled to Kyoto, Japan, for her ministry ordination, a process she describes as rigorous.

“We had to go through a routine every day and study to be tested,” Javellana said. “We had to learn how to put on our robes and fold our robes and move in unison.”

In the Western Hemisphere, people think of themselves as individuals, but in the Eastern world, life is about interdependence, Javellana said.

As she trained with the other women in the ordination, she learned to move as one wave, one mind and one heart.

“It’s about being conscious of other people and not just thinking about yourself,” Javellana said of interdependence. “Basically, we wouldn’t be anywhere in our lives if it were not for the support and help of other people.”

In many sects of Buddhism, men are predominantly ordained ministers, but in Jodo Shinshu it is not uncommon for women to be ordained as priests, or ministers.

“I don’t know that there’s some kind of a gender inequality as far as ministry goes, because women pretty much do the same thing as men when it comes to ministerial duties,” Javellana said. “Jodo Shinshu originated from peasants and the whole idea is equality. Everybody is embraced in this wisdom and compassion and has every opportunity to become enlightened.”

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Megan Marsden Christensen


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