OGDEN -- The Rev. Jerry Hirano looks relaxed as he sits in a room in the Ogden Buddhist Church, where he has been the minister since 1999. With him are his assistant ministers, Annette Koga and Mike Monson.
Hirano is also the minister -- or kaikyoshi in Japanese -- for the Salt Lake Buddhist Church and chairman of the Buddhist Churches of America Ministers Association.
He also teaches advanced classes in Jodo Shinshu, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, which recognizes all people as potential buddhas.
"Shin Buddhism is very family-oriented," Hirano says. "In Shin, the sangha (community or congregation) is important."
Other branches of Buddhism often have a different focus, such as Zen, which is more individual and teacher-oriented, or Theravada, which is traditionally and rigorously monastic.
Koga, who was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said she became involved in Buddhism through her husband and his family.
Annette and Mike Koga met in college and didn't really discuss religion.
"I took my kids to the LDS church," she said, "and then to the Buddhist church when they were about 8 years old.
"I became a teacher (at OBC) almost by default -- they needed a teacher, and my daughter wanted to stay with this church."
Annette Koga's mother-in-law was a member of OBC and took Annette under her wing and "groomed me to be a minister's assistant. So I knew the 'hows,' but I also had to learn the 'whys.' "
Monson has been with the church about six years and has been a minister's assistant for the past three years. He said he had been interested in Buddhism and wanted to learn more, but couldn't find a class.
"I got serious after the Dalai Lama spoke in Utah," Monson said, "and I asked about starting a class." He now facilitates classes and discussion groups at OBC and is often asked to speak to various organizations about Buddhism.
It isn't unusual for people to leave one of Monson's talks saying, "I'm a Buddhist and didn't even know it!" That's because the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama -- the Buddha or "Awakened One" -- seem to resonate on a very human level.
According to most accounts, Gautama was born in Lumbini, in what is now Nepal, in 563 B.C. His family is described as royalty, with young Gautama living a sheltered life of luxury.
At age 29, having realized that wealth doesn't guarantee happiness, he went off to explore various teachings, both religious and philosophical, in search of a path to human happiness and purpose in life.
Six years later, Gautama "awoke" to a new way of looking at the causes of suffering and ways to avoid that suffering. He presented this as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eight-fold Path. Today, we might call his approach "behavior modification."
Among the things Buddhism emphasizes are compassion for oneself and others, right thinking, right actions, recognizing that nothing is permanent and that every cause has an effect.
Of course, Buddhism has complexities that aren't easily understood, especially by the Western mind. Monson has said he delights in the way discussions can range from science to religion to examples from daily life as participants grapple with, and help each other understand, the trickier Buddhist concepts.
Buddhism does not recognize a deity. Siddhartha Gautama never claimed to be a god and didn't want anyone else to regard him as such.
According to the Buddhanet.net website and other sources, images of the Buddha are sometimes used as aids in meditation, or as reminders of his teachings, but they aren't used in worship or to ask for favors.
Buddhists don't practice petitionary prayer, but often pray to express gratitude, Hirano explains, adding, "God is ultimate love, wisdom throughout the Universe."
People of all faiths are welcome to attend services at OBC.
"I can't imagine a real Buddhist being against anyone for their religion. Buddhists are very nonjudgmental," Hirano said, then smiling, "but they can have strong opinions."
According to Buddhanet.net: "The Buddha asked all his followers not to take his word as true, but rather to test the teachings for themselves. In this way, each person decides for themselves and takes responsibility for their own actions and understanding. This makes Buddhism less of a fixed package of beliefs to be accepted in its entirety, and more of a teaching which each person learns and uses in their own way."
The Ogden Buddhist Church has ended its summer hiatus and will resume services at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Everyone is welcome to attend the brief services, conducted in English by the Rev. Jerry Hirano. There is no dress code, and visitors, including families, can feel comfortable simply sitting and observing. Very little ritual is involved in these services.
The church, at 155 North St., between Wall Avenue and Harrisville Road (Highway 89), in Ogden, is a member of the Jodo Shinshu sect, which has headquarters in Kyoto, Japan. OBC also is affiliated with the Buddhist Churches of America. More information about the church, its activities and services is at www.slbuddhist.org/ogden/index.htm.
Service times and dates vary, so visitors are advised to check the calendar in the church's online newsletter -- just click on "Geppo."