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.”

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?

Reflections of My Visit to Kyoto and Hoonko 2007

Speech given by Nina Costales on March 23, 2008

As some of you may already know, both my husband, Robert, and son, Tim, participated in visits to Honzan in 2003. My son went as a representative for the Junior YBA Hoshidan tour in the summer and my husband went for the Hoonko service in November of that year.

Both of them came back with stories of their visits – what activities they had, places they visited, what they experienced, and I have to admit I was envious. It sounded like an incredible event that happens in one’s life that you never forget. I wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to go and what would it be like for me to visit Kyoto to participate in a retreat. Since we had discussed our going as a family in 2011 to participate in the 750th memorial of Shinran Shonin, I thought that would be my time.

I was delighted to be asked to represent our temple and felt honored and privileged to be selected since I felt there were other members of our Sangha who were more deserving. I was allowed to take time off from work for my trip. I began my preparations. Almost daily, I listened to Shoshinge on my MP3 player when I took BART to work; I even listened to it when I worked out at the gym. I wanted to keep my luggage to a manageable amount, after all, I was only going to be there about a week, but I didn’t want to be under-dressed. Some of the best advice I got for the trip came from Tom Morioka and my husband Robert. “Pack really warm socks.” They were right…it was one of the essentials that I needed on those cold damp days in Kyoto. 

I was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces on my trip. Some of the ministers from Kyoto have visited California and I had a chance to meet a few of them. I had met some of the other NAD participants at retreats in Southern California. I knew that the Yamada and Yamashita families were taking a trip to Japan in late November and had plans to be at Honzan during Hoonko service. Reverend Peter Lait, who I had met several times, was the minister at the Retreat Center who was going to be conducting our discussions during the retreat. I always found his talks stimulating and was looking forward to seeing him as well. I often reminded myself that my primary purpose was not to go sightseeing or shopping. It would be a great opportunity to deepen my study of Jodo Shinshu and have a better understanding of Buddhism. I was really looking forward to the trip.

My trip began on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Most of the participants from the North American District were meeting at the San Francisco airport. Reverend Hasegawa and three participants from Southern California were already at the airport when I arrived. Other participants from Southern California went a few days earlier so they could have some time to sightsee. Two people coming from Chicago had some excitement since their domestic flight was delayed and they sprinted all the way to make our international flight. The people from Hawaii were going to meet us at the retreat center.

With the time difference, we arrived at the Osaka airport on Sunday afternoon and took a shuttle to our hotel in Kyoto. After checking in, we regrouped in the lobby and went in search of a restaurant for dinner. We found a great place that made their own noodles. We actually were able to watch them while we waited for our table. After dinner, we returned to the hotel to get some much needed rest. 

Our first full day was spent visiting different sites at Mt. Hiei. For me, it became a pilgrimage to a special place. After paying our respects at Honzan in the morning, we made our way to Mount Hiei, first using taxis to the train station. We used two more modes of transportation – a train and then the ropeway (cable car). Oh yes, and we did a lot of walking, too. We sometimes paused to give our weary legs a rest. As we made our way to the top of the mountain, we stopped to visit various temples along the way. I remember being struck by the number of people visiting these places on a weekday. I wondered how far some of them had traveled, what brought them here. Were they just tourists like us? Were they there to pay their respects to Buddha? They appeared to be from all walks of life. The natural surrounding beauty with the vibrant autumn colors added to the moving experience I had.

When reaching one of the temples, we noticed that there was a large bell off to the side. We took turns ringing it, seeing if we could really swing the log to get a loud, resonant tone from it. I remember thinking about how it must have been centuries ago to hear the bell echoing from the mountain. Was it a way to remind people that there was some special Buddhist holiday or service? Did the people pause during their daily lives to think about their Buddhist practice? My heart was filled with such emotion hearing the sound resonating as we each took our turn. I thought of the many people who came before me that visited this place. 

Watching the sunset as we waited for the cable car to take us down the mountain, I felt humbled thinking about how modern transportation made it easy to visit these historical sites. Many years ago, centuries ago, people did not have these conveniences. They walked up the steep and probably treacherous paths to pursue their desire to learn more. How long did it take them to make this trek? Did they encounter any misfortunes? Did any of them complain about all that walking as some of us did? It helped me appreciate how fortunate I was to be able to make this trip, that I was privileged to walk the same paths as many did before me. There is so much we take for granted.

The next day we left our hotel and moved to the Dobo Kaikan (Retreat Center) at the Higashi Honganji headquarters. Although my husband, Robert, told me what an experience it was for him to participate four years ago, it could not have prepared me for the amazing experience I had there. The group from the United States made up such a small portion of the participants who had come to this retreat. The retreat center was very accommodating to make our stay a pleasant one. We enjoyed a special lunch with Honzan dignitaries. We were shown around the facilities briefly before we went to our classroom. We met the ministers that were assigned to work with us. They were so friendly and made us feel comfortable.

One of my favorite activities was sitting in the third floor Kodo (hall) chanting with everyone/ It gave me a feeling of belonging to an incredible sangha. Many of the participants did not speak English yet we all shared special words when we chanted Shoshin-ge together. I am glad that I listened to my MP3 player because I didn’t feel so awkward having my voice join theirs. We had a common language. The sound of the voices in unison moved me to tears. It seemed so special to be a part of this. It was as if I was in a dream and I didn’t want anyone to wake me from it. I looked forward to our morning and evening services so that my voice could join others. 

Mealtime also was an opportunity be a part of this community well. Not only sharing the food but the duties of preparation and clean-up was a chance to make the retreat a good experience for al who came. Sharing sleeping quarters with women who spoke no English did not hamper our interactions with them. They cheerfully helped us set up the futons and put them away each day. Through gestures, they would try to let us know if the bath areas were crowded, some encouraging us to join them. Others even made sure that we would understand what the “procedure” was to taking a Japanese bath. Language did not seem to be a barrier at all. On the last night together, one of them gave each of us a nenju as a gift. Such a simple gesture meant so much to me. 

The discussions with Reverend Peter Lait were interesting and thought provoking. His approach was not one of providing us the answers, but one of having us to think, to reflect, to look within ourselves. After one evening session with Peter Lait, DeeAnn, a member of the Newport Beach temple, and I lay next to each other discussing the topics we had just gone over earlier. Here we were tired after a full day of activities, yet we couldn’t stop thinking about the material we covered. We happened to wake up early one morning (around 5) and sat around and talked more about our previous night’s discussion with Peter as well as other things.

The Hoonko service was another highlight of my visit to Kyoto. The Amida Hall was filled to capacity, the overflow was accommodated by areas outside of the hall. People traveled from all parts of Japan; busses lined the streets outside of Honzan. Once again, I reflected on how easy it was for me to be there, that arrangements had been made for me to participate in this very special occasion. Television stations had sent their crews to cover this occasion. The retreat center staff had accommodated the “Westerners” by providing chairs for us since this service was a long one. I was pleased to see the Yamada and Yamashita families there.

I looked around the hall and noticed all the different people there – young and old, from all walks of life, some with faces that displayed the hours toiling out in the sun, others who appeared to have had the “good life”. All of them here to participate, to pay their respects. How privileged I felt to be a part of all of this. It was an event of a lifetime for me.

The next day was the confirmation service where I received my Buddhist name. I remember being nervous and excited. Reverend Hasegawa and others had prepared me for the event the day before. We had discussed what the procedure was, what the order of activities were. I was the only NAD participant that was receiving my confirmation and two members from the Hawaii district received theirs as well. Words cannot express what I was feeling sitting with the other retreat participants. As I sat there, I thought about how many confirmations probably took place there and wondered what it was like for people who had come before me. I felt all of those people were there with me and the experience was powerful. After it was over, I received hugs and congratulatory greetings from the others. I was honored to have them witness something so special in my life.

During our stay at Honzan, we had a tour of the facilities and were able to see the construction and repairs being done on the Founders Hall. During the tour, I marveled at the work being done. It was amazing. The thought of the hard labor that went into building this facility left me speechless. The story of the hair rope that was used to haul the logs for lumber is one that many of us have heard. However to see the rope made us realize the sacrifices people made to build this structure. One could observe people touching their own hair as they viewed this rope. We saw the old tiles that are being replaced and one of the harnesses used to carry the tiles was on display. On a whim, I asked to put the harness on my back to see what it must have been like to carry the tiles. Someone loaded one of the tiles on to it and I got to feel the weight that was carried centuries ago. Dedication and hard work built this magnificent structure many years ago and followers of Shinran have had the privilege of worshipping there. Today’s technology and equipment now make it possible to do things so quickly. However, knowing what people were willing to do before gave me a greater appreciation of the buildings we toured.

The visit to Kyoto was much more than I expected. I was able to visit historical Buddhist sites, to chant with a multitude of followers, to be a part of an amazing retreat. I made new friends and had an opportunity to become better acquainted with others that I met previous to the retreat. I received confirmation and received a Buddhist name. More importantly, I came away with a better appreciation of Jodo Shinshu. I am grateful that I had a chance to go to Kyoto and will continue my journey to learn more about Buddhism. It was an experience that I will never forget.

“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.”