Speakers and Rimban at Mary Foster Appreciation Service 2019: Bishop Eric Matsumoto, Venerable Dhammamuni Mahathero, Venerable Ayya M. Vimala, Rimban Toyokazu Hagio, and temple president Dexter Mar.
Mary Elizabeth Mikahala Robinson Foster Remembrance Service Message
By Bishop Eric Matsumoto
December 15, 2019 | Hawaii Betsuin
Aloha Kakou and Good Morning.
I, too, would like to welcome everyone to this special remembrance service in honor of Mary Elizabeth Mikahala Robinson Foster.
Let me begin by asking, besides the obvious of being deeply connected with Buddhism and calling Hawaii home, what do Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer, the late Dr. Patricia Lee Masters and Eric Matsumoto have in common? Well, we all visited (the Dhamekha Stupa and the Mulgandha-kuti Vihara in) Sarnath, India, the site where Sakyamuni Buddha gave his First Sermon and thus set in motion “The Turning of the Wheel of Dharma and glanced upon a sign which read:
Erected by The Anagarika Dharmapala
Founder and General Secretary of
The Mahabodhi Society
With the help of
Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Foster
Of Honolulu, and others
On the site where
Promulgated the teachings
2,500 years ago
However, the thought that each one of us had was “Who is Mary Elizabeth Foster of Honolulu?” “Why was she being honored so far from her homeland in Hawaii?”
I believe my co-speaker (the Venerable Ayya M. Vimala, Founder of the Maha Bodhi Hawaii) will speak more about Mary Foster and her meeting with the Venerable Anagarika Dharmapala in 1893 and how Buddhist Teachings impacted her life-how it addressed the anger and grief which tormented her and her subsequent extraordinary contributions and support of Dharmapala with his efforts like saving the Great Temple at Bodh Gaya, the site of Sakyamuni’s Enlightenment and the famed Bodhi Tree, and his effort to revive Buddhism in India and Sri Lanka out of gratefulness/gratitude.
So, I will just say that she, Mary Mikahala Foster, is one of the greatest female patrons of Buddhism, not only in Hawaii, but the world and maybe even in Buddhist history. She has been described as a modern day Visakha, the most famous female patron of the Historic Buddha, Sakyamuni. By one estimate, Mary Foster over a 40-year period donated, by today’s standards, around 10 million dollars to Buddhist causes including the care and education of people in India and Sri Lanka and part of that was used to build the modern vihara/temple at Sarnath, where that sign we saw earlier is placed. It is no wonder that in the song “Beautiful Kahana” which speaks of Kahana Valley on the Windward side and is dedicated to Mary Foster, there is a verse which reads “This is the home of the lady Of the loving heart of India” which refers to her.
However, it was not only in India and Sri Lanka that she made a difference and changed the course of history and people’s lives even still to this today. Even, right here in Hawaii, she helped many diverse communities including her own ethnic Hawaiian community and the Buddhist community especially the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. Along with individuals like Saiji Kimura, without her help, things could be very different for us and by extension Hawaii. Mary Foster met the esteemed Anagarika Dharmapala in 1893 and her deep connection with Buddhism was established.
In the records of Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, as early as 1899, only a mere 6 years after she met Dharmapala in Honolulu Harbor, already Mary Foster was supporting the local Buddhist community. In 1900, when the Fort Lane Hongwanji Temple was dedicated she was invited as an honored guest in gratitude for her support and contributions. However, it did not end here nor were Mary Foster’s contributions only monetary. In 1901, she encouraged and escorted Queen Liliʻuokalani to attend the Gotan-E or Shinran Shonin’s Birthday Service at the Fort Lane Hongwanji Temple. Mary Foster was a very close friend of the Queen. The Queen’s attending a Buddhist Service at a Buddhist temple made headlines in newspapers locally and all around the world. The Queen’s attendance with Mary Foster boosted the moral and confidence of all Buddhists in Hawaii.
In the words of the late Ruth Tabrah who compiled our centennial publication A Grateful Past, A Promising Future,
…two things were now clear. Hongwanji welcomed everyone. Buddhism had become accepted as a vital part of the religious life of Hawaii. No Japanese immigrant need feel ‘enryo’ about being Buddhist or being seen attending services at Hongwanji. Non-Buddhists could and did also feel drawn to listen to the Dharma…
However, Bishop Yemyo Imamura, also, knew that education was crucial and thus had a grand vision of providing more education, middle school and high school education to be exact and, for both men and women. In the words of our own Bishop Imamura in 1906, he said,
I went to see Mrs. Mary Foster, a warmly supportive patron in recent years, to explain to her the desire for a new school building. She immediately agreed with my idea and, on the spot, presented me the land for the school. Her graceful figure raising her arms to say, ‘this land is yours!’ will always remain in my memory. I have never again felt that height of happiness as when first, the encouraging words from the Abbot (of Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Kyoto) and then, on this return to Hawaii, the support of Mrs. Foster. The memory of these experiences continues to overwhelm me with warm gratitude on every occasion.
It seems over half of our current property today was somehow connected to Mary Foster. The place where this temple stands, where we sit right now, was once the property of Mary Foster!
Mary Foster continued to have a close relationship with Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii until her death in 1930. Sadly, for someone who had aided and supported the Buddhist community to the extent that she did she was not able to have the Buddhist funeral that she wished for. According to a postscript written by Louise Hunter, a well-known writer, who by the way authored the book “Buddhism in Hawaii: Its impact on a Yankee Community” (and who I met, once, at a retirement facility in Hawaii Kai),
Shortly before she died, Mrs. Foster asked (the Buddhist priest) Rev. Ernest Hunt to preside at her funeral service. Unfortunately, she did not follow his advice by putting this request in writing
and thus, her Buddhist funeral never happened. As we know back in 1930, Rev. Hunt was a minister here at Hawaii Betsuin and thus Mary Foster’s funeral service would probably have been here at this temple. It is, now, today, 90 memorial years later, that her, Mary Elizabeth Mikahala Robinson Foster’s, wish has come true as we hold this Remembrance Service to honor and express our gratitude to her. Today is long overdue, but it is finally here! Thank you to all of you, for being here today.
I would like to thank the Venerable Ayya M. Vimala Founder of the Maha Bodhi Society of Hawaii who recently revived this idea of having a memorial in honor of Mary Foster and Rev. Toyokazu Hagio, Chief Minister and Temple President Dr. Dexter Mar of Hawaii Betsuin who wholeheartedly supported it. A special thank you to our guests from the Hawaii Association of International Buddhists, Lehua Matsuoka of Moiliili Hongwanji did that very special oli, PBA Head of Schools Mr. Josh Morse and PBA Students and especially the Venerable Dhammamuni Mahathero of Wat Dhammavihar of Waianae who did a chant in Pali and gifted us with a Bodhi Tree by which to remember Mary Mikahala Foster.
To conclude, I want to end with the words of Bishop Yemyo Imamura, who at one point in his life exclaimed, which also sums up my thoughts and feelings for today, he said,
To think of all those forgetting themselves for the Hongwanji to make today possible, I feel gratitude and am moved deeply even now.
the entire karma of events throughout…is due to nothing but the manifestation of the compassion of the Buddha.
Namo Amida Butsu/Entrusting in All-Inclusive Wisdom and All-Embracing Compassion (Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Infinite Light).