Shared Ancestors

As summer vacation draws to a close we prepare to welcome the Autumn Equinox with our Ohigan Service on Sunday, September 23. Looking back on the lively season of temple activities that we enjoy between our bazaar in late June and our Obon in mid-August, I fondly recall the week of our Summer Terakoya Buddhist summer camp, when the sound of joyful children’s voices could be heard all day long at the temple.

This year our theme for Terakoya was Buddhist Holidays from around the world that commemorate important events in the life of Sakyamuni Buddha.
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As summer draws to an end and we prepare to welcome the change of seasons with our Autumn Ohigan service on September 24 at 9:30 a.m., I have been enjoying the following haiku by the Japanese poet Issa (1763-1827) that captures the atmosphere of our temple in recent weeks:

Kobōzu ya
tamoto no naka no
semi no koe.

Little monk, I hear the cicada in the sleeve of your robe.

Buddhist Temples have long played an important role in children’s education in Japan. Today many temples run preschools and kindergartens that are attended by local children. In Issa’s day, it was not uncommon for children whose families were not able to provide for them to be placed in the care of a Buddhist temple
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Konnichiwa Namo Amida Butsu Sayōnara

The poem above was composed by one of our Dharma School students during the San Mateo Buddhist Temple Summer Terakoya Program that was held from July 25 to 29. This poem was composed in the Japanese haiku format of five syllables (Ko-n-ni-chi-wa), seven syllables (Na-mo-A-mi-da-Bu-tsu), five syllables (Sa-yo-u-na-ra). In just seventeen syllables, a Haiku brings us deep into the mind and heart of the author. The moment I heard this Haiku, I felt that it perfectly captured the spirit of our Summer Terakoya Gathering.
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Summer Terakoya

I begin a typical day at the temple with a short service chanting in the Hondo. More often than not, I conduct this service by myself. However, for five days at the end of July, I was delighted to be joined by ten young Dharma friends from the San Mateo Buddhist Temple Summer Terakoya Program. Prior to the modernization of the educational system in the late 1800’s, one of the most important functions of Buddhist temples in Japanese towns and villages was to provide primary education for local children. One might say that the first elementary schools in Japan were these temple schools called terakoya. Starting on Monday, July 27, and concluding on Friday, July 31, the Summer Terakoya Program was a new program at our temple this year, in which ten participants from first through ninth grades started each morning at 9:00 a.m. with a short service in the main temple hall.

After forming an orderly line in front of the Dharma School classrooms, we walked mindfully down South Claremont Street, paying close attention to all the sounds around us as we made our way to the main entrance of the temple. Pausing to join our hands in gassho and bow before the statue of Shinran Shonin in the entryway, we entered the main hall, where we offered incense, chanted Juseige and had a Dharma talk about the theme for that day. Each day a theme was chosen based on aspects of the Eightfold Path to liberation from suffering that was taught by Sakyamuni Buddha during his first sermon. On Monday our theme was Right View; on Tuesday, Right Thought, Right Speech, and Right Action; on Wednesday, Right Livelihood; on Thursday, Right Effort; and on Friday, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

Following morning service in the Hondo, we embarked on a day of fun and educational activities that included art projects, games,
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