Chapter Five

A Buddha In My Junior High School

Mika enjoyed art classes and crafts. She took classes in drawing and painting at school and she once took a class in weaving at the local recreation department. She took a photography class and a sewing class. There were so many types of creative and beautiful activity classes available she knew she could never take them all but she kept taking a new class at every opportunity. Then, after many different experiences, she finally found two teachers that truly appealed to her. Let me tell you about one of those teachers.

Because her family was Japanese, Mika had thought it would be fun to learn to write the old style of Japanese in which the artists write with a brush instead of a pen or pencil. This type of calligraphy is called Shodo and the characters look beautiful in a strange sort of way. She watched the teacher for a while and it did not look difficult at all. The teacher dipped the brush in black ink and drew the character with six smooth strokes. Mika thought “How difficult can it be?” Her parents were happy to sign her up for the class.

On the first day of the class, her father wrote her name in Japanese kanji on a piece of paper using a ball point pen. Mika happily took it to class with her thinking she might practice writing her name in this special style with the brush. 

The teacher, hearing Mika’s plan to write her name, calmly gave her a brush and some ink and asked her to try writing her name. Mika was shocked to see the mess she made on the first page. “It’s not as easy as it looks is it?” 

The teacher smiled and said, “Let’s start at the beginning.” She proceeded to draw a straight line across the page. “Now,” she said, “copy my line 10 times.”

The brush simply would not make a line like the one the teacher had just done. Sometimes the line was too thick and sometimes it was too thin.. too straight with not the right amount of curve, too wet or too dry and the ends of the line were all different shapes. The teacher gave her another piece of paper and said “Ten more lines.”

The teacher was not harsh or scolding but she was very insistent that Mika continue to make this simple line over and over again. After a while, Mika became a little bored and frustrated.

“Will you show me how to write my own name?” Mika asked the teacher, showing her the ball-point pen version her father had written. The teacher replied, “You cannot build a temple if you do not have even one stone.”  “Ten more lines please.”

As the classes progressed, the teacher and Mika developed a very good relationship. The teacher was kind and encouraging but firm in her guidance. She taught Mika that making even one line is a great challenge but you must never feel defeated. You simply need to constantly strive for excellence. And as your skills improve, you will find new challenges. Eventually, you will write your name beautifully. The teacher then wrote Mika’s kanji in beautiful, strong, graceful strokes with careful proportions and balance.. and gave it to Mika to take home to her father.

Chapter Four

A Buddha In My Junior High School

Mika had plenty of friends but, to be honest, she was not the most social girl in school. She did not always feel the need to be bubbly and giggly and to talk about rock music and sports stars. Sometimes, she preferred to be quiet and alone. On one such day, instead of going to the lunch room, which was always frantic and noisy, she decided to eat her lunch on the grass near a shade tree and just relax.

A friend, seeing Mika sitting alone, walked over and sat down near her. “What are you doing here alone” he asked.

“Nothing,” she replied.

“That’s silly,” he said. “It’s impossible to do nothing. You are always doing something.”

Mika thought a moment. “I suppose you are right. I’m breathing,” she said.

“Well,” he said. “I guess that’s pretty close to doing nothing.”

“And I’m watching,” Mika added. “I’m watching the leaves move in the breeze. And I’m watching the birds in the sky. And I’m watching the squirrel in the tree.” 

“You’re kinda strange, Mika” he said. “First, you said you were doing nothing and then you said you were doing all these different things….but really, it does sorta seem like you are doing nothing.”

“When I listen to my own breathing and I watch all the things around me that are moving, I really feel like I’m alive. It feels like the whole world is alive and I’m part of it. It makes me feel really good even though I’m doing nothing,” she said.

Her friend said “Now you are really confusing me. I don’t know if you are doing something or doing nothing and yet you tell me you are feeling really alive and good. Pretty strange, Mika.”

“Maybe you should try it,” she said. 

“No. Too weird” he replied.

“Well, instead of watching all the things that are moving, maybe you should try watching all the things that are not moving.”

“Heck no” he said. “If watching things that move make you feel alive, I guess watching things that don’t move make you feel dead…. And I definitely do not want to do that.”

“Actually,” Mika went on, “observing the things that don’t move makes me feel very safe and secure. The mountains don’t move. Big tree trunks don’t move. The earth around me doesn’t move. When I watch those things, I feel like the world is a safe place and I feel like I am part of it. That feels good. Also, I think these things were here before I was born and they will still be here when I am gone so I’m comfortable being part of that world.”

The friend looked at Mika and said, “You are the strangest person I know but it feels good to be here with you. Is it OK if I sit here and do nothing with you for a while?”

Chapter Two

A Buddha In My Junior High School

     One day, Mika Suzuki (teenage Berkeley Buddha) had to go to school very early. It was raining so she did not want to ride her bike but her mother needed to be at work by 8:am so Mika needed to go to school by 7:30 if she wanted a ride.

     Driving to school, Mika noticed a girl walking on the sidewalk while they were still a half mile from school. She recognized the girl as they drove past but she did not want to bother her mother to make her stop. Later that day, however, she saw the girl in the lunch room. She was a pretty girl but not pretty like a rock star or a celebrity. She was “perfect-pretty.” Every hair was combed just right and her shirt looked brand new or just ironed. She was wearing jeans that fit perfectly. Mika decided to talk to her.

     “Hi, I’m Mika. Can I sit here?” Not waiting for an answer, She sat down and asked,  “What’s your name?”

     “I’m Cimara. (See-Mara).

     Mika thought to herself… that’s a “perfect name.” “I saw you walking in the rain this morning. And you were still a long way from school. Don’t your parents ever drive you to school?”

     Cimara looked at the ceiling and stared for a minute. Then she looked at Mika and said “I’ve seen you around. You look friendly.” She stared for another minute and began to talk softly. “Yeah. My parents have cars and they actually do drive me most of the way to school but I ask them to bring me early and turn on a side street and let me out 6 blocks away because I don’t want anyone to see me get out of their cars.”

     (Mika) “What? It was raining!”

     (Cimara) “Yeah. I know. But my parents drive these really old funky beat-up hippy-mobiles and I don’t want people to see me in them. I mean…my parents are nice and very smart and they both work with computers and make plenty of money but they think it’s cool to drive these old junkers. And they go to work in sweatshirts and cheap jeans and I can’t stand to be seen with them. So I always get out of the car and walk the last six blocks.”

     (Mika) “Uh… well… You are dressed so nicely. I mean… there are kids in this school who wear make-up and jewelry and fancy leather jackets… but you just look really nice and normal.”

     (Cimara) “Thanks. I knew you would understand.”

     (Mika) “Actually, I’m not sure I do understand. I never gave that much thought to the way my parents dress or what they drive or how I look when I’m with them. That’s really important to you?”

     (Cimara) “Please don’t misunderstand. I like my parents. But I want to have friends like you and I’m afraid you would think I’m weird if you saw me in their rattle-trap cars.”

     (Mika) “Well… you can be proud of your parents for who they are and still not be exactly like them… You just need to be proud of yourself. And I think your friends could understand that.”



Do you know anybody like Cimara?

How do you decide what to wear to school every day?

Do you know anybody like Mika?

Chapter Three

A Buddha In My Junior High School

It was a Sunday morning… a weekend and Mika (teen age Berkeley Buddha) was sleeping late when her parents woke her and reminded her the family was going to their temple at 10:AM. Slowly…very slowly… Mika got out of bed and began to get ready to go to Dharma school. She was still only half awake when her mother said it was time to go and she heard her brother and her parents closing their bedroom doors and walking toward the front door. Then, as the group was passing by the breakfast nook, she heard her father “going ballistic.”

“OMG..Look at that mess! Look what that X#*&#X cat did. There is food all over the place. We have to clean it up… We are going to be late… Where is that X#X#X# cat… I’m going to beat it with a newspaper and teach it a lesson it will never forget.”

Cats don’t understand English. They particularly do not understand profane English but the kitty could sense from the tone of voice that things were not good here in the breakfast nook and she scurried out from under the table where she was still eating some of last night’s left-overs.” Feeling very frightened, she ran to Mika who immediately picked-her-up and began to comfort her… holding her close and petting her.

Mika’s dad continued his rage. “Mika! Why are you petting that cat. Don’t reward her for making this mess. Cats are not supposed to go on the table and we certainly don’t want her to think it’s OK to do it again. Put her down and give her a boot! Then come here and help clean-up the cat’s mess!”

Mika held the cat and continued to pet her. For a few minutes, there were no words as Dad, Mom, and her brother began to sweep and clean. Finally, Mika began to speak.

“Daddy, I love you but….why do you say that it is “The cat’s mess?” Is it really the cat’s responsibility? She was just being a natural cat. I think it is a family mess. We are all responsible for watching television instead of washing the dishes and putting the left-overs into the refrigerator last night. Why should I beat the cat with a newspaper just for being a cat?” 

Mika put the cat down and grabbed a wash cloth and began to help wash the dishes. There was still very little talking in the breakfast room area. By the time they were finally ready to go, her father had calmed down quite a bit and as he was stepping out the door, he turned and sternly said to the cat “Be good while we are gone.”

“Mika turned to the kitty and said “Be a cat while we are gone.” 

Mika’s father turned to her and smiled and said “…and we will all try to be good humans when we return home.”

“Adventures of a Teenage Buddha in Berkeley.”

Chapter One

A Buddha In My Junior High School

You probably have heard the story of Prince Siddhartha who grew up to become the Buddha. He was raised in a royal mansion in India. But I was wondering what his life would have been like if he grew up here in Berkeley. What would his life have been like if he was just “Michael Johnson” or maybe “He” was a “She” named “Mika Suzuki” in my 8th grade class. (Get ready… I have a vivid imagination).

I can see the young future-Buddha riding her bike while chewing on the last bite of the breakfast granola bar she grabbed as she was going out the door and listening to Miley Cyrus with earbuds plugged into her Samsung Galaxy. She gets to an intersection and is almost run over by a person speeding to work in their Tesla which she couldn’t hear because it is electric and very quiet and her headset was turned way up. “Wow,” she says to herself. “People are so busy… they should pay more attention to what they are doing… or maybe I should pay more attention to what they are doing… or maybe I should pay more attention to what I am doing. Yeah….Wow.”

She gets to school and starts walking to class when the campus security person stops her. “Sorry,” he says. “But, you need to go home and change your clothes. Those distressed jeans are not approved by the dress code. They have torn places above your knees.”

So now Mika Suzuki, future Buddha, rides home alone and starts to think.

Berkeley is a dangerous place. There are so many people doing so many bad things and so many rules telling me how I should look, and talk, and behave all the time. I’m not sure I fit in this world… or at least Berkeley. I was just trying to “be myself.” “I was eating what I wanted to eat. I was going to school to see my friends and my teachers. I was dressed the way I feel comfortable. But everybody I encounter has different ideas. What’s up with that?”

So… What do you think the young Buddha would have learned from her experiences on this day in Berkeley? Would she decide that Berkeley is a terrible place filled with awful people? Would she become depressed because she seemed to do everything wrong and not fit in with the crowd at school? Would she put on a nice pair of flannel slacks and a long sleeve shirt and walk back to school carefully crossing with the lights? Would she e-mail her teacher and ask to have her assignments sent to her by e-mail from now on so she could just stay home alone? Would she become a hermit or would she choose to dress according to the school code but express herself in some other way like wearing a baseball cap on backwards? How would she decide who the real “Mika Suzuki” really is?

I imagine this young future Buddha would have to think a long time. What do you imagine she would think about?

Stay tuned for more “Adventures of a Teenage Buddha in Berkeley.”