My uncle loved golf. He liked to watch it, talk about it—and most of all—play it. While at work, he dreamed of retiring to a life of golf.
Once retired, he played with friends every weekday at a course near his house. Whenever he missed a day, his friends would say, “Hey, where were you?” He began to feel obligated to play. He played in rain, in cold, in wind, and in heat. Even when he didn’t feel like playing, he went. After awhile, my uncle said to me, “Golf has become work!”
I’m pretty sure the Buddha didn’t play golf, but if he did, he’d probably say the difference between work and play is attitude. Our outlook, or understanding, determines how we feel about something. It’s less about the “thing” itself and more about meaning.
In July every year at the temple, we collectively heave a sigh at the prospect of organizing another summer bazaar. It’s so much work! The thought of constructing booths, buying supplies, planning schedules, preparing ingredients, cooking foods, working shifts and so forth can be overwhelming. Somehow, some way, everything comes together.
The summer bazaar is a major fundraiser for us. Proceeds account for a third of our operating budget. It also has become a defining characteristic for Japanese American Buddhist temples. In Japan, Buddhist temples don’t have bazaars like ours. In America some churches, temples and synagogues have bazaars, but in no way are they ubiquitous.
A Jewish friend told me his synagogue doesn’t hold a bazaar. Instead, each family donates a thousand dollars a year, which multiplied the synagogue’s 100 member families amounts to its annual operating budget of $100,000. They don’t need to do any fundraising. At some places I hear rich donors contribute tens of thousands or even a million dollars or more to their favorite temples and churches (Buddhists included!). If anybody wants to donate as much to our temple, please do!
However such large donations can be a blessing and a curse. They’re a blessing in that a single $100,000 donation covers a year of our temple’s expenses. A million dollar donation covers 10 years worth. We wouldn’t need to worry about fundraising, asking for pledges or relying on the goodwill of members and friends. We wouldn’t even need a summer bazaar!
However it’s a curse because I think many of you would probably begin to ignore those pesky letters and announcements asking for your donations and help. Some people may say, “The temple is rich, why should I give money?” or “The temple doesn’t need my help, I don’t need to go.” I think many people would stop coming.
I think the fact our temple is supported by many, many small donations is a source of strength. It’s like a big tree supported by many small roots, which together allow it to stand. Where some roots disappear, other roots grow. A tree with just a few big roots is in trouble if just one dies.
Likewise, many, many hands coming together make our bazaar a success. The bazaar exists because of the help of many people. And many people come to our bazaar and enjoy eating, seeing friends and having a place where they feel part of a community.
Our bazaar exists, not only as a fundraiser, but more importantly, to bring us together as a sangha. In Buddhist terms, we can see and feel in our lives a sense of interdependence with other people and with a greater community through the bazaar.
Even if our temple were cash rich, I’d still want to have a bazaar. It’s a place where you and I can meet and have a good time. Come out, eat good food, talk to friends and enjoy this life we share together at the bazaar. As the Buddha might say, such play requires work. To do something we believe in and want to do requires effort. In making the effort, we find enjoyment and meaning. Work and play, they’re both the same.
By the way, if anybody has a spare million to donate, we still need it. On the to-do list is a new roof, temple windows, fence repairs and updated plumbing. The list is endless.