March 2-4, 2007 at Orange County Buddhist Church, Anaheim, CA
Buddhism and War. Two subjects rarely ever seen together, but during the weekend of March 2-4 these topics were discussed intensively through the voices of a handful of college students. The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Buddhist Education (CBE) and the Youth Advocacy Committee (YAC), and had been reborn through its college winter retreat at Orange County Buddhist Church (OCBC) spearheaded by Melissa Nishimura and her YAC team.
Participants traveling many hours from Northern California began arriving Friday afternoon. At the beginning it seemed that most of the people attending did not know what to expect from the weekend program. There was really very little explained in our invitations to the retreat except that we would be discussing the contrasting ideologies between Buddhism and War. As everyone finally arrived late into the night it turned into an old Jr. YBA reunion, which I quite enjoyed, getting to catch up with everyone. We talked and laughed well beyond midnight enjoying each other’s rare company together, unaware of what was in store for us the next morning.
7:00 AM WAKE UP! I was barely coming into consciousness when I was told to hurry and pack all my belongings up in a brown paper bag that was handed to me. On top of all the hustle and bustle of the situation loud horns were blaring with the resonating voice of former president Franklin D. Roosevelt over the loudspeaker system explaining Japanese internment. I just ignored it all, glanced back at the bag and tried to stuff my belongings quickly but only managed to fit my toothbrush and homework (which aren’t really the most important items for a college student). Nonetheless I grabbed what I could and got out of the mini chapel where we slept. I stood outside cold, hungry, tired, half asleep, and feeling dirty after not being able to brush my teeth or take a shower. YUCK!
We were then instructed as a group to go and parade around the OCBC parking lot with our measly brown paper bags and our dignity hanging by a thread. After what seemed like an endless walk through the parking lot we were brought to the side of the gym where there were posters and photographs about the Japanese-American interment on display for us. As we arrived upon the scene it was explained to us that the episode we had just experienced was a mock situation of the actual Japanese-American Internment during World War II. It quickly transformed my attitude toward the situation I had just experienced. Before I was really disoriented and confused about having to pack up my belongings at 7 AM in a small brown paper bag only to parade around the parking lot to arrive at the side of the gym but I immediately understood that my experience was literally watered down, an easy version of what my grandparents had to experience during World War II. Looking at the photographs of the internment and reading about their stories in the camps I began to think about how Japanese-American Buddhists handled the most difficult era in their life.
Following our viewing of the educational display we moved into the social hall where we discussed the modern applications of the subjects of Buddhism and War. The discussion became heated between very different viewpoints on various controversial issues such as : Would you enlist in the military? Do you think we should pull out of Iraq or, do you think Americans are arrogant in our military superiority? These questions generated both division and bonding between different members of the group. The exercise ultimately caused everyone to openly express his or her own views about War.
As the exercise concluded it finally came time for breakfast! I couldn’t wait to get some food into my stomach. As we all filled ourselves up we continued the day with our first workshop with Sensei Peter Inokoji-Kim, a Minister’s Assistant from the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple. While working as a high school teacher, he is also studying for the Buddhist ministry. Prior to his interest in the Buddha Dharma, he was an officer in the United States Army. He graduated from the highly esteemed West Point Military Academy. His personal background really caught my attention with such a conflicting past. He was once a man designed for the purpose of defeating the enemy and now he had become a man wanting to talk about peace and understanding while still supporting his brothers and sisters in arms. As the day came to a close it ended with a final talk by Rev. John Iwohara about the devastating tragedies of war and its affect on every aspect of life in the future to come. His talk caused everyone to reflect upon their own personal responsibilities to the future and peace of our world. As young Buddhists in the world of today with war and death being a daily ritual it’s become ever more essential that we lead by example and truly follow the Buddha Dharma in leading the most peaceful lives possible.
In conclusion, the entire day was a warp through time with a reflection upon every major war from Past, Present and into the unknown future. It was a totally unexpected experience, but I was glad to have had the opportunity to participate in it. It transformed not only into a reflection upon my grandparents and their own hardship which they had to endure through times of war, but it also became a wake up for me to seriously consider how I should define my role into today’s violent society. Personally I hope to see more events held through the YAC helping to bring today’s college youth into an increased active role in the Buddhist community. It was due to their great efforts of the CBE and YAC that so many college kids were allowed to participate in such an amazing weekend experience. The YAC has helped open doors for more college aged YBA retreats to be organized in the near future. In Gassho,
Jonathan Takahashi, Orange County Buddhist ChurchShare