Reverend's Message - September 2016

Out of a Dirty Job Blooms a Lotus

Rev. Dean Koyama

I am writing this on the Friday after our very successful 2016 Obon Bazaar and Odori. I would like to thank everyone for their hard work, dedication and time in making our Obon Festival something that many people look forward to attending every summer. This was my 4th Obon Festival and perhaps it is because I am getting older but I have to admit that I am very tired!

As many of you are aware, our Obon takes a tremendous amount of preparation work. We begin 12 days before the festival to take all the wooden boards out for the many booths. Then we spend the next week constructing the booths, adding the electrical work and finally putting all the right equipment in the booths. Then the next day immediately following the festival, on Monday, we begin to deconstruct, clean up and put away. It takes us at least 4 days to take all the equipment out, take down the electrical systems and deconstruct the booths and put all that wood back into that “Portable” shed that housed the goldfish booth and dime pitch.

Placing all the wood back into the shed is a lot of work. It needs to go in precisely in order so that all the things that need to be stored, gets inside the shed. There is one boss who tells us which pieces go in first, what goes next and where to put it. The rest of us do the grunt “work” as many pieces need at least two to 4 people to lift and carry the wood in. As we were placing all the wood in the shed, and contemplating that there must be an easier way, someone joked, “Whatever wood doesn’t fit, can we light a match and burn it?” Someone else quipped in, “No, let’s get it all in and then burn it.” We all had a good laugh. But then as I thought about it longer, I could just imagine that even if that entire wooden structure burned down to the ground, someone would just build it back with the same heavy lumber and it would be the same as it was before.

Before, our elders would see that when something needed to be done they would just jump in and do it. People today need to be told what to do. We don’t have the awareness of what needs to be done unless someone points it out and then, once that task is completed and if we are not told what to do next, we assume that we are finished and go home. In Japan, if you were part of a group that was tasked with a function, they would all start together and finish together.

Perhaps it is because I am getting older or perhaps the wood, as it ages, gets heavier, and perhaps because the construction and deconstruction crew is getting smaller, I was exhausted when we finally got the temple grounds cleaned up. I have to be honest here; we do not do a good job communicating with each other. We do not do a good job asking for help. And we do not do a good job organizing and putting to use the help that we get. Yet somehow we are still able to get things done. I am truly amazed at the dedication of our members.

After most of the temple grounds had been cleaned up, I noticed one of our members quietly walking and slowly scanning through each section of the parking lot. I went over and asked if he was looking for something he had lost. His reply caught me off guard: “No, I am just looking for any loose nails or screws that fell to the ground. We don’t want anyone to get a flat tire, right?”

I was truly amazed and impressed with his attitude. Watching him, I am reminded of a TV Show called “Dirty Jobs” that was on the air several years ago. The host of the show goes to a variety of locations to try his hand at a “dirty” job that probably most of us would avoid at all possible costs. Some of the jobs included making fireworks, working on a chicken farm where he not only had to sort eggs, but also had to clean the bottom of the chicken pens with a tractor. But the episode that struck me the most was when the host had to clean Porta Potties.

Now I am sure that many of us have had to use a Porta Potty at some point in our lives. I’m sure that we have seen them at outdoor concerts, little league baseball tournaments, and art and wine festivals. I know that I usually try to avoid them. Some years ago, I went to an Earth Wind and Fire Concert in Berkeley. While we were waiting to meet our friends at the entrance, I thought I should go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, the only toilet outside the Amphitheater was a Porta Potty. As I approached the Porta Potty, there was a line of about 5 or 6 people in front of me patiently waiting their turn. We all joked about how we hated to use these Porta Pottys. Some people were very quick. Others took a long time. Finally, it was my turn to go. I walked in and was overcome by the grossness. It was so messy and smelly. I couldn’t believe it. If I could have, I would have walked right back out and went in the bushes, but since I couldn’t, I had to use it. Luckily, I just had to stand. After I finished I walked out, and right away I said to the next person in line, “It wasn’t me that made the mess in there.”

So as I was watching the TV show, I could totally relate to the host who “voluntarily” had to clean the PP. He had to scrub the walls around the top of the toilet, pump out all the stuff inside. And as he was doing so, he was gagging and retching. I finally had to change the channel.

After seeing the show, I realized, “Somebody has to clean them.” Usually we try to avoid the Porta Pottys; and if we have to use them we hope that they have just been just cleaned. Ultimately, we know that they will be used and they will get dirty. To clean a Porta Potty is a “Dirty Job.” It is not glamorous work, but it has to get done. If we changed our perspective a little, imagine: if you job was to clean the Porta Pottys. Or imagine that you knew someone whose job is to clean Porta Pottys. Wouldn’t you treat going to the Porta Pottys differently? Perhaps, you wouldn’t be so...careless??? Perhaps you would try more not to miss??? And if our society cared and valued these Porta Pottys, wouldn’t they be in better conditions so that when we need to use them, we wouldn’t have to be all grossed out?

Perhaps, this example of the Porta Potty is a bit extreme, but is it not the same for people who come to take out our garbage, bus our tables at restaurants, cook our food, fix our plumbing or cars or clean up after our Obon? The reality is that for those of us who do not have a “Dirty” Job, there are thousands of people working everyday in these “undesirable” occupations that allow us the comfort and convenience for a healthy, hygienic, and modern life. It is because of them, that we are able to live in a “clean” way.

The point of Buddhism is to allow us an understanding of perspective. Too often, we get caught up only with our own narrow vision of our self. We are only concerned of how things affect or benefit me. But as I reflect upon the people who helped to prepare for and clean up after our bazaar, I can help but think of all those nameless, faceless people who have helped to benefit me in my entire life. And it is only through the Nembutsu, that we can ever come to repay that great debt of gratitude.

Greatfully, I place my hands in Gassho,
Rev. Dean