February 27 – March 1, 2009 Irvine Hyatt Regency Irvine, CA
By Kristyne Wada
“They are not the future of BCA. They are the present leaders of BCA.” At the Young Leaders Today (YLT) Conference at the BCA National Council Meeting in Irvine, California, Youth Advocacy Committee (YAC) Chairman, Richard Odagawa, spoke of the Youth Minister’s Assistants and the other young adult leaders from Junior and Senior YBAs as the BCA’s leaders of today. Although the youth group has often been referred to as the “future of BCA,” Richard pointed out that these individuals are actually a vital part of the current image of BCA.
On February 27-March 1, 2009, twenty-nine selected young adults from College Young Buddhists Association (CYBA) in the Bay Area, Southern District Sr. Young Buddhists League (Sr. YBL) in Southern California, Sr. YBA at the University of Washington, and other Youth Minister’s Assistants from the four BCA YAC Youth Retreats all gathered to address the issues facing today’s Buddhist youth leaders. The conference began Friday night with short presentations by representatives from CYBA, Sr. YBL, Sr. YBA at UW, and the YAC Youth Retreat. This discussion was open to the national council delegates and was intended for them to hear and see what the youth leaders have accomplished over the years. Just to name a few of their achievements, these youth leaders have organized conferences, established a Buddhist organization on a university campus, and conducted services on the beaches of Hawaii. Friday night’s session concluded with a slideshow and video production of the YAC Youth Retreat participants’ trip to Hawaii last summer, which was created by Jim Shimomaye. It really amazed me to see how much the Youth Minister’s Assistants have learned and achieved at such a young age and in such a short amount of time.
The conference resumed early Saturday morning with service with all of the BCA delegates. Next, we had the opportunity of speaking with Rev. Nori Ito. Rev. Ito discussed present issues facing the United States and California such as the war in Iraq and the passing of Proposition 8. Many of the youth asked him what the Buddhist perspective was on these issues, and he responded by saying that Buddhism does not have an official stance and cannot speak for everyone, but rather, Buddhism encourages the understanding and appreciation of all differences. Later that afternoon, we also were able to sit down with Rev. Tets Unno. Rev. Unno engaged us in his discussion of concentrating on the now and knowing yourself. He welcomed us to ask him questions about anything, and he often responded with anecdotes and humorous messages. The sessions with the reverends allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of the Dharma, as well as remind us of the Buddhist teachings that we need to incorporate into our daily lives.
The day continued with another workshop centered on leadership and the future of the BCA’s youth leaders. We began by taking the Keirsey Temperament Sorter personality test, and then we broke up into groups based on our similar personalities. This was an entertaining exercise, and it also helped us to collectively develop ideas to present to the entire group. We discussed ideas about how to smoothen the transition from Jr. YBA to Sr. YBA and also from YBA involvement in college to life after college. Although we were busy engaging in discussions and workshops the entire weekend, the Southern District parents made sure we were never hungry. They provided us with endless amounts of delicious homemade food, even after we had already eaten.
Saturday concluded with the National Council banquet and “oldies” dance. The banquet honored the retiring ministers, Rev. Yamaoka, Rev. Kujo, Rev. Okada, Rev. Matsubayashi, and Rev. Inouye, with a special presentation. I enjoyed hearing Rev. Kujo’s words of appreciation, as he has been the minister for the past twelve years at San Mateo Buddhist Temple, my home temple. The congregation then moved to the ballroom where the live band, The Music Company, played and sang songs. I know that for many of the youth, this was the highlight of the entire conference. All of us were on the dance floor, dancing and singing a long, and even one of us were invited on stage to sing a rendition of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll be There.”
Sunday’s Eitaikyo service, themed “Transmitting the Dharma from Generation to Generation,” was led by the Youth Minister’s Assistants. The audience, as well as the BCA ministers, were astonished by their etiquette and chanting abilities on the onaijin. In addition, two youth speakers, Brandon Yanari and Chloe Tagawa, gave profound Dharma messages. The service also incorporated musical appearances by OCBC Dharma school students and the Lotus Band from West Covina Buddhist Temple. By featuring the youth in Sunday’s program, it emphasized the importance of sharing the Dharma with our younger generations.
As the BCA’s youth leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that there continue to be opportunities for the youth to gather and share the Dharma. However, as busy high school and college students, we have learned that it becomes increasingly difficult to meet as often. Therefore, we owe our deepest appreciation to Patti Oshita, Peter Inokoji-Kim, Keith Sawada, and Jim Shimomaye for organizing events such as the YLT Conference that allow the youth to reunite and share the Dharma. In addition, all of the BCA’s youth leaders should also be commended for their dedication and commitment to the BCA. The BCA is fortunate to have a group of young leaders sharing the Dharma today and are confident that they will continue to spread the Buddhist teachings in the future.
Kristyne Wada, San Mateo Buddhist Temple