WCBT's 2011 Year End Service

West Covina Buddhist Temple’s 2011 Year-End Service was a memorable combination of sutra chanting, Dharma talk, expressions of gratitude in the Oseibo (“year-end gift”) portion, entertaining “battle of the genders” in the quasi-Family Feud skit, impressive displays of talent in the music portion, and of course, sampling the delectible dishes of WCBT’s famous Year-End potluck. All in all, the event provided a fitting upbeat climax to an eventful year that seemed to just “fly by.”

The service began with chairperson Mr. Lee Ezaki reflecting on how, despite our economically tough times, he personally was very grateful for the life that he is able to enjoy. Following his opening message, the service proceeded with Sutra chanting led by Rev. Kawawata, with Revs. Brenion and Hata assisting, and also included the gatha “A Special Place,” with the Sangha accompanied by the Bodhi Tree Band.

Next, Rev. Kawawata gave a heartfelt Dharma talk. First, he sincerely thanked the entire Sangha for their support of WCBT throughout the year, not just for attending our services, study classes, and retreats, but also for participating in the various fund-raisers throughout the year that support the temple financially. Moving on, he discussed the topic of impermanence by relating his very recent experience of trying to frantically prepare for his December Japan trip—he was going on a three week tour with the Kinnara Gagaku Group of Senshin Buddhist Temple, and needed to complete various computer-related duties before leaving—only to have his computer suddenly “die.” And as we all know, very early on the morning of December 1st, we all experienced the unprecedented Southern California windstorm which knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people (including Sensei). But he also ended his talk on a positive note by mentioning how he looked forward to Fred Brenion and Peter Hata completing their kyoshi ministerial training next year and that, at that time, WCBT will be able to enter a new phase of listening to and sharing the Dharma together.

The next part of the Year End program was the annual Oseibo Gift presentations to WCBT’s dedicated staffers by WCBT president Mr. Johnny Martinez. As he called each staffer up to the podium to receive a thank you gift from the temple, he also introduced and discussed how they tirelessly contribute to the operation of the temple.

The entertainment portion began with the Jr. YBA skit, which was a clever game based on Family Feud, and which was often quite hilarious. There were two teams, one made of of “the men” (Rev. Ken, Rev. Peter, Rev. Fred, Johnny Martinez, and Ted Kato) which was pitted against “the women” (Claudia Haraguchi, Joanie Martinez, Pat Sato, Joy Kitaura, Jeanne Kawawata). Just as in the Family Feud, one contestant from each team faced each other with a bell in-between. When the question was asked, the contestants had to guess the answers given by the Sangha from a survey that had been previously taken—and tap the bell first. Some contestants got so into it that instead of lightly tapping the bell, they literally smacked it off the table! But the most interesting difference with this game was that the survey questions were specifically about WCBT’s services and about Buddhism itself. Everyone was glued to their seats to hear the answers since the questions were very “close to home.”

There were some fairly easy questions, such as, “Which hand do you hold your ojuzu in?” In the survey, most of the Sangha answered “left” (whew), but yes, 13% actually said “right.” To the question, “What is your most important Buddhist practice during Sunday Service?,” there were many good answers like “listen to the Dharma” (42%), “recite nembutsu” (17%), “chanting sutra” (11%), “gassho” (8%), and “discussion group” (5%). Of course, then there were those who couldn’t pick just one and wanted to cover their bases and responded with “all of the above” (8%). Hmmm…since when was “all of the above” a legitimate survey response on Family Feud?

Not surprisingly—since it is frequently emphasized in sermons and discussion, “impermanence” was the most popular response (31%) to the question, “What is the most meaningful Jodo Shinshu teaching?” But it seemed to be the question, “What is the hardest thing about being a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist?” that led to some of the most interesting responses. For example, besides expected responses like “being non-judgemental,” “self-examination,” and “letting go of your ego,” there were several responses that reflect our larger context in America, such as “having to deal with intense Christians at my school,” living in a Judeo-Christian society,” and “being seen as a heretic.” Then there a few realistic responses like “getting to service on time”; apparently, not everyone is a “morning person.” Of course, there was at least one person who was seemingly overwhelmed by it all and responded with “everything” regarding what was hard about being a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist. Maybe he/she should hook up with the person who responded to this same question with, “nothing” (both are right).

In the musical portion, Mr. John Erickson played an enjoyable and evocative solo piano piece he had recently composed entitled, “The Illusion of Hope and the Affirmation of Belief” that had everyone listening very intently. Following him, the Bodhi Tree Band played a very well-received set consisting of “Simply to Forget” (a contemporary rock tune encouraging us to try to make the world a better place for all), the ever-popular “Sukiyaki,” and the pop hit, “Kids,” by the group MGMT. Next Bodhi’s talented vocalist Yasmin Whang sang a very beautiful and Buddhistic contemporary Christmas tune entitled, “My Grown Up Christmas List,” accompanied by Peter Hata on guitar and special guest Taiji Miyagawa, an accomplished jazz bassist. As a finale, Peter and Taiji were then joined by the mellow sounds of Bob Stack on tenor sax. The trio improvised several melodic choruses on the well-known Gershwin gem entitled, “A Foggy Day.”

Of course, no sooner had the ending chord of that song finished sounding that everyone rushed their growling stomachs to the kitchen to eat!
Because of the diverse contributions of the Sangha, this was a memorable Year-End Service, arguably one of the most successful ever. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect was that it was also a very well-attended service, with a sizable number of the people being newcomers who have been active at WCBT less than a year.