February 2018 Message
A Dana Lesson
“But the true compassion of the Pure Land path consists in calling the Nembutsu, thereby quickly attaining buddhahood, and then benefiting all sentient beings with the heart of great compassion and kindness as fully as possible.”
Dana – the act of selfless giving is an important practice of Buddhism. Our Temple recently had the opportunity to practice Dana. The Temple hosted Families from the Home & Hope program during the week of December 10-17, 2017. This is a program that provides a safe haven for families with children that have recently become homeless while helping them regain long-term self-sufficiency. Volunteer congregations/sanghas house the families overnight for a week providing dinner, breakfast and a “to go” lunch, as well as overnight sleeping accommodations. The Home & Hope program provides case management and mentorship including employment support, financial literacy, educational support, housing search and placement support. They have a day Center facility with home-style living areas, computers, kitchen, laundry, and shower facilities. The volunteer host congregations typically host for a one-week period (Sunday to Sunday).
A core group of Temple volunteers started learning how the program works half a year in advance by helping other host congregations. There was a lot to take care of before we could host. There were Board and Sangha presentations, discussions within the Temple groups and signing up for the different shifts and duties. Although the Home & Hope program did provide the cots for the guests to sleep on, we had to supply the blankets, sheets and pillows as well as toys and games for the kids. Normally the guests are housed in a big common room like a gym where the individual families sleep in tents. But our facilities proved to be ideal allowing them to use separate classrooms allowing them privacy and individual control of the heat in the room which they really appreciated.
It was truly heartwarming to see how our sangha responded to this initiative. We are so grateful to our members who stepped up and took on all segments of work – from preparation to day-to-day operation. More than sixty Temple members enthusiastically came together to collect everything needed for the week. Cooking was taken on by the organizations of the Temple – the Dharma school, Buddhist Education and Religion Coordination Committee, Yuwakai, BWA, and Junior YBA. Yuwakai Helping Hands made lovely blankets, hats, and scarves (it was December, after all) to give as gifts to our guests.
This time we hosted four families with eight kids ranging in age from 2 to 14 years old. We had meals together and it was wonderful to see how our guests quickly felt at home. They appreciated the opportunity to observe and experience some of the Temple activities like Taiko and crafts.
Despite their circumstances, we enjoyed watching the children play just as children do - without a worry in the world. Hopefully the parents felt somewhat at ease knowing that their children were being safely cared for and that they did not have to worry about their next meal, and most importantly, knowing that they were not alone.
Imagine how it would feel when life changes in an instant and your world crumbles around you? Most of us have safety nets - family, friends, and communities. For others, safety nets are virtually nonexistent. What do you say to people whose livelihood went away overnight, often through no fault of their own? Do you just say that it will change? Yes, it is true: it will change and then it will change again.
Our eyes were opened to a reality that some of us hopefully might never face. But we were reminded that homelessness is a reality that occurs right in our own neighborhood. They helped us that week by reminding how fortunate we are to have roofs over our heads and food to eat – things that we often take for granted. They let us be part of their lives in the moment when they were vulnerable. They trusted us to help them for now. And by so doing, hopefully they too, one day, will be able to repay their debt of kindness and pay it forward to others in need.
That week was meaningful. The Temple volunteers were left with the sense of fulfillment and a deeper understanding of Dana; learning as much from our guests as we gave. Our guests moved on – to their next congregation, or maybe to their new home. We stayed with a feeling that we just experienced the power of the Sacred Vow in action. How grateful we should be for the limitless compassion of Amida whose Vow allows us to use the time that we have in this life to extend kindness to other sentient beings.
Rev. Dean Koyama