Rev. Blayne Higa was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, and is a graduate of Waiakea High School. Despite attending seminary on the mainland, he always intended to come back home to serve his local community—Pacific Health Ministry presented that chance. Higa would attend the program in the summer of 2017. Currently the Resident Minister of the Kona Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, he recounts the continued influence his education at PHM has on him personally and professionally, allowing him to be present to heal.


Why did you decide to enroll in CPE?
I decided to enroll in CPE through Pacific Health Ministry (PHM) because I wanted to come home to Hawai‘i. I was on the mainland in seminary, and I wanted part of my training to be CPE or clinical learning. I also hoped to integrate my religious education into practice and direct service to others. Doing CPE, to me, was the best possible avenue to combine spiritual learning with practical application. I enrolled in PHM for a summer unit and truly spent my time learning to develop my ministry. It was a great experience.

How did you initially hear about the CPE program through PHM?
I’ve known about the CPE program at PHM for many years. Before going to seminary, I lived and worked on Oahu, so I was familiar with PHM and their work. Having the opportunity to come back home, and do that type of learning in Hawai‘i, was entirely meaningful and special. It was amazing to have the chance to serve people in my community.

When did you participate in the CPE program?
I participated in the first initial unit of CPE training in the summer of 2017.

Did you have any preconceived notions about CPE?
I didn’t have any preconceived notions. I hoped to learn and allow the experience to form me. I wanted the class to shape my ministry, my understanding of my tradition, and expand my knowledge of other traditions. Most importantly, I wanted to discover how to best care for the people we serve. How do we hold them in times of crisis? How do we use our teachings as a resource, as a grounding for our caregiving for people in distress?

What was the CPE program like?
CPE is a process of formation, deep introspection, and reflecting on our religious traditions. It encourages us to consider how these teachings work in our lives. How do they inform my understanding of self and what it means to care for another person? The process of CPE is about action, reflection, caring for others, and then stepping back to analyze the quality of care you were able to provide. Doing that in a formalized process was quite meaningful and valuable to my learning and personal development as a minister.

I was the only Buddhist of my cohort. It was diverse, with people from various traditions. Learning and growing in our faith and practices together enhanced our understanding of faith and how it could offer support in times of crisis. I made some wonderful friends in the program and still keep in touch with two of my cohort. They have both gone on to their ministries on the mainland, and we still keep in touch.

The lessons of CPE are not just for an institutional setting but for those working for a congregation, a temple, a church. The experience was centered on caring for our members in an authentic and compassionate way that offers support.

How has CPE affected you professionally?
I am currently the Resident Minister of the Kona Hongwanji Buddhist Temple on the Big Island, which means I serve a congregation. CPE enhanced my ability to care for my members. We learned the art of deep listening and how important that is to the pastoral encounter. I use these skills all the time when I counsel a family who has lost a loved one, deal with people who are struggling, or talk with any member of my sangha. It always comes from this place of a spiritual caregiver, grounded in this training I’ve received in CPE. It’s transferrable to every aspect of my ministry. That is the power of CPE. It deepens our understanding and provides practical skills applicable to every situation and every part of ministry.

How has CPE affected you personally?
I gained a lot from my experience in CPE. I learned how to offer care to another person and, therefore myself. Often, people who are caregivers are always out looking and caring for the needs of others. However,  CPE has taught me about the importance and necessity of self-care. It has made me more mindful of my own needs, and it has been very life-giving. Sometimes, we tend to be the worst at looking out for ourselves in our field, but CPE has made me more aware of the need to be grounded and rest to better care for others. The experience has been enriching as a human being. Learning these skills and integrating these teaching into my own life offers comfort and strength. It improves my ability to function in the world.

Life During Covid?
Covid has been an immensely challenging time on many levels: personally, professionally, as a community, society, and world. We have all been impacted by the pandemic. I found strength and the ability to cultivate resilience during these difficult times by leaning into my faith. It has taught me the importance of introspection and how to trust these teachings that I ground my life in. These ways are life-giving and offer guidance on managing the chaos of our time.

In Buddhism, we talk about impermanence and change. These are central concepts in Buddhism. How do we find our footing when nothing stays the same? CPE taught me how to be present with suffering—my suffering and the suffering of others. As a result, I can respond, not just react, thoughtfully and mindfully. The pandemic has been the opportunity to respond compassionately to ourselves and others. Relationships are at the heart of our ministry, and the pandemic has taught us how important those are. How do we connect to a greater reality than ourselves?
My members have taught me how resilient people are. They have taught me how to be strong through their faith and understand the importance of community and relationships. What a remarkable gift.