Over his three decades as a Buddhist leader, Sensei Fredrich Ulrich has seized every opportunity to help others understand his faith tradition and maybe their own as well.
So it may not be surprising that he plans to share some Buddhist wisdom when he receives an award for his interfaith work in January.
"Avoid killing, avoid stealing, avoid lying, avoid sexual abuse, avoid drugs and chemicals that pollute the body and mind," Ulrich says of the five precepts of Buddhism he plans to explain to the audience representing a cross-section of Winnipeg’s religious leaders.
"These are the basic guidelines which Buddha related to the general population. It should be the basic guidelines from which Buddhism relates to religions."
The former Methodist minister and now-retired Buddhist leader receives the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Advancement of Interreligious Understanding at a ceremony at Government House on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.
Previous winners include Michel Aziza for his work with Operation Ezra, interfaith educators and artists Manju Lodha and Ray Dirks, Rabbi Neal Rose and Carol Rose, former police chief Devon Clunis and columnist Karen Toole.
The annual award honours a Manitoban who has contributed to the community and brought people together to understand each other, says Belle Jarniewski, president of the Manitoba Multifaith Council.
"I think (the award) sheds a light on the importance of interreligious dialogue and understanding, especially at a time when the world seems to be filled with hate and violence," she says.
With a long involvement in interfaith activity in Winnipeg and his previous hometown of Edmonton, including participating in the Interfaith Round Table and the Manitoba Multifaith Council, Ulrich believes the basis for understanding each other starts by simply listening.
"In interfaith (work), we get a chance to talk to each other and work together and discover each other’s humanity," the 80-year-old Ulrich says in an interview from his seventh-floor apartment in an East Kildonan highrise.
"It’s a talking place."
And that talking place often starts with the basics of Buddhism, such as loving-kindness meditation, which Ulrich has taught to many people outside of his adopted faith tradition, including survivors of residential schools.
Born in a German-Métis family in rural Nebraska, Ulrich studied to become a Methodist minister and then a teacher, taking on teaching positions in Frankfurt, Germany, and Edmonton. Along the way, he became intrigued by eastern religions, and turned to the study of Buddhism, receiving ordination in 1987 as a priest in the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition.
He moved to Winnipeg in 1999 to take on leadership at the Manitoba Buddhist Temple, becoming its first priest, also known as sensei, not of Japanese origin.
"In essence, we’ve grown as a Buddhist community into a much broader community in terms of our knowledge and involvement," temple president Harvey Kaita says of the congregation founded by Japanese Canadians more than seven decades ago.
"Buddhism is about interdependence and what we’ve become aware of is our connections to the broader community," he says.
Kaita says Ulrich brought in new people to the temple through his public talks, his television show on Joy TV (now Hope TV) and his meditation classes.
Those classes were the introduction to Buddhism for Tanis Moore, now assistant priest at the temple, who nominated him for the award after attending last year’s ceremony.
"He has connections to so many people," Moore says.
"Plus he’s a mentor to me and he’s such a giving person."
Ulrich has offered classes beyond Winnipeg, including in his daughter’s United Church of Canada congregation in Sherwood Park, Alta., near Edmonton. Those classes create a connection between her Christian church and her father’s Buddhist practice, says Rev. Britt Aerhart, minister of Salisbury United Church.
"It’s good to recognize there are spiritual tools and practices that bridge between religions and we can learn about these from each other and it’s a bit of a doorway to better understanding," says Aerhart, one of Ulrich’s four children.
Ulrich remains committed to keeping that doorway open by encouraging people to leave their religious silos and learn a little bit more about each other.
"The challenge of religion is to find a story that’s common to all of us," Ulrich says.
"Buddha embraces all living things with love and compassion and no one is left out."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.