Reverend's Message - January 2016

"Year End Traditions"

Rev. Dean Koyama

For most of us, the months of November, December and January mark the Holiday Season of gift giving, family gatherings and traditions. We begin with Thanksgiving in the month of November where we pause to appreciate the bountiful life sustaining harvest of autumn. December marks the observances of the many different religious traditions including our own Bodhi Day, which marks the occasion of the enlightenment of Prince Siddhartha who becomes the Sakyamuni Buddha. And, of course, in January we mark the beginning of a new year. With these holidays, we enjoy and observe a number of different family traditions and customs.

While I was a student in Japan, I was introduced to a couple of year-end customs. The first was called O-seibo. Literally, O-seibo means the honored Year End and the tradition is to present a year end gift to people like your clients, bosses, teachers, co-workers, dojo Sensei and sempai (senior ranking students) and other important people. Basically they are meant to be an expression of thanks to someone who has shown you kindness or helped guide you during the year. This is accompanied by the exchange of Nenga-jō or New Year’s greeting post cards. People would often make their own cards and send them out to thank them for all that they did to help them get through this past year and to ask for their continued support, guidance and kindness in the year to come. The post office would gather all these cards for each household and deliver them all on January 1st.

I think these holidays, customs and traditions all culminate with another very important observance in January. This is Hō-on-kō, the gathering to repay a great debt of gratitude. The Hō-on-kō observance is done in particular to observe the annual memorial date when Shinran Shonin passed away. We gather with the sense that we have a great debt of gratitude to repay to him for clarifying that even the ordinary foolish being, who is incapable of any sincere religious practice, can find the way to Enlightenment through the Nembutsu. The basis of Hō-on-kō is to become aware of the great debt of gratitude that we owe for being able to live the life that we have already received. So in one sense, I think that Thanksgiving, O-seibo, New Year’s greetings and Hō-on-kō are all focused upon the same thing: that is becoming aware of and repaying our great debt of gratitude.

So as we bring the year 2015 to a close, I would like to pause for a moment to reflect upon the achievements that we have accomplished at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple. We began our 2015-year, just after we witnessed and observed our 100th anniversary. We were still in the midst of our 100th Anniversary Kitchen remodel project, which was completed in the spring. As members, we had to adjust, develop new policies and procedures for the use of the kitchen, which was done with incredible amounts of patience and cooperation. The kitchen remodel also exposed some long deferred repairs and improvements. The roof above the new kitchen and certain areas above the gym had to be repaired and reinforced. The Dharma School wing added new floors, window shades, paint and furnishings. The roof to the temple parsonage also had to be replaced. And recently and most notably, areas in our temple parking lot have been repaired.

Some of these costs were included in the Anniversary project. But most were not. In order to pay for these necessary improvements we had to borrow from our endowment fund, which was not an easy decision to make. Some argued that many of the pioneers and present members had sacrificed not only their hard earned money but also their time and sweat to build up this fund. That was never lost on the temple board of directors. In my mind, I look at these improvements as a way of repaying our debt of gratitude to all of them. We are inheriting their sacrifice and dedication to the temple of the past, by investing in our facility for the present and future, thus making a commitment to ensure that our temple will be a special place for one to hear of the teachings of Nembutsu. In other words, we are also exhibiting the same sense of dedication and commitment that they had.

Also, what has impressed me is the sense of dedication and generosity of many of the members or our temple. Although we did have to borrow funds from our endowment, most of the money needed for all of these repairs was generated by donations. In particular there have been two matching challenge programs made by anonymous donors and both times these challenges were met. This also shows the depth of the heart and commitment of our members to provide a safe and comfortable environment to hear the teaching of the Buddha. Finally, the last item that I would like to reflect upon occurred on November 7th. The Bay District Minister’s Seminar was hosted here at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple. Over 100 participants from Sebastopol, Marin, San Francisco, Berkeley, Alameda, Oakland, Union City and San Mateo gathered here to hear the Ministers address the topic of the Three Treasures: The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha. I heard many compliments about the seminar, but I also heard many more compliments about our facility. As we were planning this event, one of the major issues was where to have this event. As you may be aware the choice of locations that can accommodate a gathering such as this is limited in our Bay District. Some locations do not have the parking. Others may not have the facility for services, meals, or classrooms for such a gathering. We are fortunate to have them all. Thus it was an easy choice to have this seminar here. This exemplifies the original purpose of what the founding members of our temple had intended: A gathering place to hear the Nembutsu.

Given what has been happening in the news lately, I feel, all the more, how important it is to have a safe gathering place for the Nembutsu. More so than ever, given the sense of discrimination, hostility, vengeance, violence and intolerance in our country and world, there a need for people to hear the all embracing non-forsaking wisdom and compassion for all beings without discrimination and judgment. We are able to have that place right here in Palo Alto. Not only is this is a testament to the founding and present members of our temple who had the foresight to provide a temple such as ours but it is our task to nurture and continue their efforts to ensure that our temple remains this safe haven so that others can awaken to a world of peace and true joy

And so with the traditions of Thanksgiving, O-seibo, New Year’s Greetings and Hō-on-kō, as a guide for reflection and awareness to repay a great debt of gratitude, I would like to thank each and every one of you for all of your support, kindness, and generosity in allowing me to do what I do for the temple. Some may wonder what it is I do for the temple. I’ve wondered about that myself. All that I can say is that I can only do what you allow me to do with your inspiration, compassion, patience and example of embracing the joy of the Nembutsu. For that, I am truly appreciative and grateful.

On behalf of my family, Linda, Justin, Curtis, Thomas and Niko, may you all awaken to a world of peace and Joy in 2016, and may it sustain and nurture us so that all beings will someday receive the same benefit.

Enjoy in joy the Happy New Year!

Rev. Dean