Updated: Nov 20, 2020
By Rev. Marvin Harada
Bishop of the BCA
On Sept. 6, I participated in the annual Southern District Jr. YBL conference. I have attended this conference for the past 34 years as a minister. And when I was a minister at the Orange County Buddhist Church, the OCBC hosted the conference a number of times.
The young people look forward to this conference because it is held at a hotel and we all get to stay overnight. The kids stay up till all hours of the night and there is a banquet and dance in which everyone gets dressed up and takes memorable pictures.
However, this year’s conference was different than all of the past 34 years that I have attended. It was different than all 69 previous years of the Southern District conferences. What made it different was that it was held “virtually” because of the coronavirus pandemic that we are all enduring.
The young people, especially the cabinet of the S.D. Jr. YBL, put this together, and we all met by Zoom over the internet. There were approximately 150 people attending, and some were Zooming in from Hawaii and other YBA chapters outside of the Southern District.
I was so impressed by our young people. They could have just totally cancelled the conference because of the virus. But these young people decided to make the best of the situation and they put it on virtually for the safety of everyone.
We had an opening service, a wonderful Dharma talk by Rev. Jon Turner, and there were videos and slide shows of the events of the past year. Nobody sulked about not being able to have an in-person conference. Nobody complained about all the fun they were missing out on because of the virus. They did their very best to put on a meaningful conference, despite the circumstances. We even had the installation of the new cabinet, all of whom are enthused and excited about another new year in Jr. YBA.
They chose a very appropriate theme, “Sharing the Dharma Virtually.” Actually, this could be a theme for the entire BCA. We have to find the most effective way to share the Dharma virtually during this pandemic crisis. If we can find an effective way to do that, then we will have truly planted the seeds of the Nembutsu in this culture.
There is a lot that we can learn from these young people. We can learn from their optimism. We can learn from their enthusiasm. We can learn from their sincere desire to make new friends and to widen the circle of their Sangha. We can learn from their dedication. We can learn from their spirit and their spontaneity.
Sometimes we adults get a little bleak in looking at the future of the BCA and our churches and temples. We see declining membership. We see financial challenges. We see aging buildings that need repair. But what I saw and experienced obliterates any doubt or pessimism about our future. Our future is in good hands. Our young people are solid. They are grounded in the Dharma. They have a spiritual maturity way beyond what I was like when I was their age.
My hats off to the young people who put together the conference, but also to all of the young people at the local level that are involved in their YBA chapters and temples. They work hard at the Obons and the bazaars. They wash dishes. They take out the trash. They sweep the floor. They put away tables and chairs. Why do they do it? Because their temple means something to them. Because Buddhism means something to them. Because their Sangha means something to them.
May these outstanding young people continue on this path of the Nembutsu in earnest, and without a doubt, they will carry on the torch of the Dharma to future generations.