Reverend Patti Nakai, the associate minister at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, grew up as a Presbyterian. Born in the Lakeview area of Chicago, to a Buddhist father and a Christian mother, she attended a church with a congregation that, like the neighborhood itself, was heavily Japanese-American. A third-generation Japanese-American herself, Reverend Patti began delving into the Buddhist side of her heritage while at the University of Minnesota, where she earned a degree in international economics and Japanese history and culture.
After graduation, Nakai returned to her hometown to find that a staunchly conservative minister had taken over her childhood church. This change, coupled with a lingering heartbreak from college, led her to join her father’s old congregation at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago.
Encouraged by one of her teachers there, Reverend Patti went to Japan to study Shin Buddhism at Otani University in Kyoto. She received a master’s degree in Shin Buddhist studies as well as full ordination from Higashi Honganji, the mother temple in Kyoto of the Otani-ha subdenomination of Shin Buddhism, known for its looser, nonliteral interpretations of Shin texts and doctrines. After a stint as a nonresident minister at a temple in Los Angeles, she returned in 1995 to the Buddhist Temple of Chicago.
Despite years of formal study, Reverend Patti doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her nickname from her time in Japan is Fuketsu, which means “not pure,” and her teachings are often couched in colloquialisms. She recalls with fondness a series of lectures that she named “The Major Dudes in Buddhism,” inspired by the Steely Dan song “Any Major Dude Will Tell You.” She runs the blog “Taste of Chicago Buddhism,” where she shares her musings on the Buddhist news from her city and the temple that she has long called her home.
—Emma Varvaloucas, Associate Editor
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