January 18-21, 2008 Jodo Shinshu Center, Berkeley, CA
Have you ever chanted the Shoshinge? If you have, you would probably have noticed that it takes nearly a half an hour. However, when you’re chanting it, it seems like it will never end. Leading the Shoshinge wasan was one of the things I learned how to do at the YAC Reunion Retreat.
In July 2007, I along with 11 teenagers from all over California, Oregon, and Washington gathered at the Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley for the weeklong YAC retreat to experience the teachings of the Buddha. What we didn’t know was how this retreat would create tremendous friendships and enable us to understand Buddhism better not only at church but also recognize it in our everyday lives. Six months later, on January 18, 2008, we got together again at the Jodo Shinshu Center for a reunion retreat to reinforce our knowledge and our friendships.
Almost as soon as I arrived at the Jodo Shinshu Center for the reunion, I was happily greeted with hugs by the other retreaters. It was amazing how fast we reconnected with each other even after six long months of being apart. As the last of the retreaters trickled in, we were tested on how well we remembered our service etiquette that we learned over the summer. During the summer, we had learned the different roles of conducting a service and the proper etiquette on the onaijin. With three services a day, we mastered when and where to bow and hold up our book, how to ring the kansho, lead the chanting, and give a Dharma talk. It was amazing how fast we remembered everything, and I could tell that everyone had been practicing at their own churches during the past six months.
The retreat was lead by Minister Assistants Patti Oshita and Peter Inokoji-Kim, with the supervision of Rev. Bob Oshita and Rev. Kodo Umezu. With their help, we deepened our knowledge of basic Buddhist terms, as well as mastering the Shoshinge, the extra-long sutra that is chanted during special services such as Hoonko. The plan for us was that on Sunday, we would lead the Shoshinge wasans at the Sunday morning service in San Francisco with our Bishop, Socho Ogui. Not only did we have to chant the Shoshinge, but we were paired up and assigned one of the six Wasans to lead. We constantly practiced our Wasans and thanks to the guidance of Sensei’s Patti, Peter, Rev. Oshita, and Rev. Umezu, we all did a great job. We felt proud that we could handle such a long chant – 25 minutes, but who’s counting? – we were proud that all our practicing paid off.
While we learned tremendously from Patti and Peter throughout the retreat, what I found amazing was how much we learned from each other. Many things have changed since we last saw each other during the summer. Some of us even started college. In their Dharma talks, a few retreaters talked about the challenges of living with dorm mates, particularly the challenge in recognizing their own personal faults and not just those of their roommates. We also heard about the changes that come with going to college. Instead of complaining about the difficulties that come with college life, we must accept and adjust to the changes. For those of us still in high school, I found the words of our college counterparts very enlightening.
Through the other Dharma talks, I learned that if you want to change something, it helps if you change your personal attitude about it. One delegate reminded us about how nice it is to recognize people and be kind to people that you see every day. Another delegate wrapped up the retreat by summing up what we did over the retreat and noticing that we are exposed to so much Dharma everyday. I thought this was especially true being at a retreat like this. It was amazing how deep and thoughtful the talks were and how much easier it was to do than our first Dharma talk last summer.
The weekend was filled with laughter, learning, food, and very little sleep. We continued to grow closer with each other, and thanks to the wonderful cooking of Susan Bottari and Charlene Grinolds, we were never without something delicious to enjoy. As the weekend came to an end, we were sad to leave and couldn ’t wait until our next reunion. I never imagined that six months ago, when I began the retreat, that I would be able to conduct a service or that the 12 of us would have a friendship that will never end.
Sydney Shiroyama, Palo Alto Buddhist TempleShare