February 27 – March 1, 2009 Irvine Hyatt Regency Irvine, CA
By Kat Hirayanagi
YLT Conference 2009 The Youth Leaders Today (YLT) Conference took place over a span of three days at the BCA National Council Meeting in Irvine, California. The goal for the weekend event was to bring together youth leaders who were interested in creating meaningful activities within respective temples and districts. Our Friday evening started off with a Youth Advocacy Committee (YAC) workshop for council delegates. Representatives from College YBA (Hishi), Seattle Senior YBA (Travis), BCA Youth Minister Assistants (Brooke), and Southern District Seniors (yours truly) spoke on behalf of their respective organizations to inform the audience that college-aged groups were in fact alive and running, full-speed ahead. Next, we left the BCA delegates behind for ice breaker activities (with prizes!) and finished the evening program with a brief overview of the scheduled events for the remainder of the weekend.
Saturday morning began bright and early with service at 8am with the BCA Delegates. Dressed to impress, we YLT delegates all sat together and the Youth Minister Assistants donned their robes. Reverend Sensho Inouye provided us with a Dharma talk which got our day off to a great start. Shortly after service was our first workshop of the day, a session with Reverend Noriaki Ito. He shared his words of wisdom in the form of personal anecdotes embedded with hidden meanings, which reminded us that the teachings of the Nembutsu can be found in all aspects of our daily lives. Following a lunch break (with cake! Happy birthday, Marisa and Jimmy!), our group re-convened for a Q&A session with Reverend Tetsuo Unno. He answered questions on everything from government issues to Zen Buddhism. When asked about reincarnation, Sensei said, “Okay, reincarnation- it doesn’t mean you revolve around the universe and suddenly you’re a frog.” One thing he stressed throughout the workshop was the importance of living in the present moment. Next on the agenda was workshop led by Reverend Bob, Reverend Patti, and Reverend Peter. They started us off with a personality assessment test, courtesy of Myers-Briggs. After determining our personality type (ENFP, anyone?) we split up into groups and discussed solutions to any problems we deemed important within our youth organizations. Such problems included the need to increase membership, improve on organization, and the importance of creating a home for post-college Buddhist youths. The latter was discussed in greater detail during the post-college session following the workshop.
After several productive and eye-opening discussions, it was time to open up our mouths and stomachs at the banquet dinner with the BCA delegates. The program featured presentations honoring five retiring ministers, Lifetime Service Award Recipients, and a Special Award Recipient. Surprise guest Ano Suwatanega, long-time friend of the late Shinran Shonin, graced us with his presence and invited us all to an upcoming event at the Mountain View Buddhist Temple. After satisfying our palates, we were ready to get our boogie on at the Oldies Dance! The incredible live music provided by The Music Company brought everyone to their feet. Youths, grandparents, and ministers alike danced side-by-side all night long to the songs of decades past. After working off our dinner carbs, we found ourselves beyond exhausted and quickly retired to our rooms for the night.
The final day of the conference consisted only of a morning service, conducted at 9am. Orange County Buddhist Church cancelled their Sunday Eitaikyo service at the temple and instead invited members to join the delegates at the National Council Meeting service. The morning began with a special Osonae offering by three generations of Matsubayashi males- Rev. George Matsubayashi, BCA Minister Emeritus, his son Craig Matsubayashi, and Rev. George ’s grandson Jarrod. Following sutra chanting of Sanbujo, the Youth Minister Assistants took part in an exciting ceremony of “passing the baton” to the younger generation. After making their way up to the makeshift onaijin where the ministers stood and bowing respectfully, Socho Ogui “passed the baton” to Kirstin Kita and the ministers vacated their seats and filed off stage. The YMAs then took their seats and proceeded to lead the entire congregation in the chanting of Juseige. The service also featured Dharma talks by YMAs Brandon Yanari and Chloe Tagawa, several music performances, and a Dharma message by Rev. Seigen Yamaoka. The conclusion of service also signified the conclusion of the conference as we gathered for photos and farewells. Though the weekend flew by rather quickly, I have to say I truly enjoyed every minute of it.
I arrived on Friday night feeling extremely nervous and somewhat out-of-place amongst a group of such amazing, close-knit people. But I quickly learned that I had nothing to worry about, as everyone was warm and welcoming and simply wonderful. I am extremely grateful to have been able to spend a weekend with such motivated, inspiring youth leaders and advisors who share values similar to my own. Rare events like this one are almost an out-of-body experience to me- I feel as though I ’m in a completely separate world. When I saw my new friends take their seats on stage in front of the entire congregation, I was beyond impressed to say the least. It was such a powerful feeling because it reinforced the fact that we as youth are making our presence known in the Buddhist community. We are here to stay, we youth leaders of today.
Kat Hirayanagi, Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple