- Written by: Nina Rizzo
The Garden is about the Story of a People
Board Member, Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple
June 20, 2022
What makes a Japanese garden? What is the recent history of Japanese American gardens? Who first created them and how did they evolve? One way to answer those questions is to examine one specific garden. This paper shares community and oral history of the Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple’s garden, located in southwest Berkeley, California.
The history of Japanese American gardens is related to where they earned their living when they came to the U.S.A. Many first generation Japanese immigrants (Issei) who arrived between 1885 and 1924 had professional experience in farming, landscaping, and horticulture. In 1940, 43% of second generation Japanese (Nissei) on the West Coast made a living in agriculture with an additional 26% in agriculture-related activities. This work experience was the backdrop for building gardens in the internment camps during World War II (Tamura, 2020).
The Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple was established by almost 60 Japanese immigrants in 1926, and Rev. Chijyo Suyemori was the first minister (Temple, 2016, p.27). At the time, there were about 600 Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Berkeley, and the general public was hostile to them. Temple members purchased the two lots on Oregon Street in 1936, where the current temple is located, and built it themselves. The church office and services had been based out of the Japanese Association Hall on Shattuck Avenue near Haste Street (Rev. Imai, 2022), and in 1938 temple members held an altar moving service and paraded through the streets to the new temple (Temple, 2016, p.30).
In December 1941, World War II started. In March 1942, the last temple record by the Fujinkai (now referred to the Women’s Buddhist Association) was, “Berkeley received orders to evacuate on April 26. Every Japanese has to evacuate by May 1.” Five days later, temple members were sent to different Relocation Centers (Temple, 2016, p. 30). When they returned from imprisonment after the war, they used the temple as a temporary shelter (Makishima, 2022). The temple started to function smoothly again in August 1947 (Temple, 2016, p. 30).
Garden Maintenance and Aesthetic Pruning over almost 100 Years
The garden, like the temple itself, has historically been taken care of by many talented and dedicated temple members, ministers, and the ministers’ families. Fujinkai, a temple group now referred to as the Women’s Buddhist Association, had monthly rotating groups called tobans that cleaned the bathrooms, temple hondo, and social hall. The men’s toban groups would do gardening tasks such as cutting the lawn, watering, raking, and weeding (Rev. Imai, 2022) (Rev. Yamada, 2022). In addition, a men’s gardening group that would come twice a year, and Fujinkai would make lunch for them. This tradition continues today, whereby the monthly toban makes lunch for the Merritt College Pruning Club. Mrs. Akiko Imai (Rev. Imai’s wife) was part of Fujinkai and helped with all of this. It was Japanese tradition for her to take care of the minister and she naturally took care of what she could, which included garden work. It was her role to welcome visitors and members, and part of that was making sure the temple was in good shape, clean and presentable (Akiko Imai, 2022).
Before the Japan-esque style garden was put in, the garden had a more Western aesthetic. There was a lawn with hedges in front, lined along the sidewalk (Rev. Yamada, 2022).
In May 1976, the garden was remodeled in preparation of the coming 50th year anniversary (Temple, 2016, p. 36). According to Rev. Imai, replacing the lawn with rocks and replacing the hedges with the fence happened at the same time and was done specifically for the 50th anniversary of the temple (Rev. Imai, 2022). However, photos depict laying down new lawn so it’s unresolved when the transition was made. Whenever it happened, the choice to remove the lawn was not just aesthetics. Not only had California suffered six to seven years of drought and they wanted to save water, but the garden group was also getting older and a rock garden would be easier to take care of (Akiko Imai, 2022). Tomio Ricky Sumimoto designed the garden and the fence with Yoshimi Shimoda’s assistance. Tomio Ricky Sumimoto, Roy Kurahara, Joe Goto, Tad Hikoyeda, and Joe Uyemoto built the fence/gate with other temple volunteers (Rev. Imai, 2022).
In 1990, the garden was transformed into the current form we see today (Morioka, 2022). It includes dirt mounds surrounded by wood landscape timbers, large rocks, and many plants.
Temple members Tomio Ricky Sumimoto, Joe Uemoto, Ichiji Yanaba, and Yoshimi Shinoda took the lead in pruning the garden until Dennis Makishima took over around 2005, by the request of his mother Masuye Makishima and Rev. Imai (Makishima, 2022) (Rev. Imai, 2022) (Rev. Yamada, 2022). Dennis Makishima is a well known aesthetic pruner, and he agreed to prune the garden in honor of his parents, who were temple members and like many others of their generation, slept in the temple when they returned to Berkeley after WWII imprisonment (Makishima, 2022). The transition from the above temple members pruning to Dennis Makishima pruning was not perfectly smooth because beauty is in the eye of the beholder in art, and the same is true with aesthetic pruning (Rev. Yamada, 2022) (Makishima, 2022). “People had strong opinions” about the garden (Rev. Yamada, 2022). For this reason in part, Dennis Makishima waited about five years until the older temple members stopped showing up to prune, so that he could lead with a single vision. The first five years were about restoring and confirming the health of the trees, and establishing a vision of making the garden look more natural.
Dennis Makishima pruned the garden on his own for two years before bringing the Merritt College Pruning Club. He first brought in aesthetic pruners Yuki Nara, Sachiyo Aoyama, and Diane Shields who were apprenticing with him at the time. He also gave responsibility of a couple specific plants to specific people: Rev. Imai was to prune the ground juniper, and former Temple President Tom Morioka was to prune the juniper tree outside the front gate (and he still does). Mrs. Imai and other temple women pruned the camellias for a long time (Blackwell, 2021). Dennis Makishima could eventually move on because his vision of the garden and future leadership were both established. Over the years, other aesthetic pruners have coordinated bringing the Pruning Club to the temple, including Jocelyn Cohen, Allison Levin, May Kandarian, Ann Owen, and Dina Blackwell carried the torch in 2016 (Makishima, 2022). This spring, Dina Blackwell invited Nina Rizzo (this paper’s author, a new aesthetic pruner, and Temple Board member) to co-host the events – and so the collaborative care of the garden continues.
The Black Pines and Other Plants
There is an old Japanese black pine that has been an important focal point in the garden from the early days. The Merritt College Pruning Club has since nicknamed it “The Old Pine” to distinguish it from three other Japanese black pines in the garden, and it is the one to the left of the temple’s front door when looking at it from the street. The Old Pine was very likely donated by Usakichi Nomura, Kimi Kurahara’s father (Rev. Imai, 2022 ) (Morioka, 2022). It would have had to be donated before WWII because he died before the war (Kurahara, 2022). Usakichi Nomura’s grandson, Wayne Kurahara, could neither confirm nor deny that his grandfather donated the tree, and Rev. Tatsuru Kigoshi (who was minister 1959-1967) could not remember who donated the tree either. According to Rev. Imai, it was transplanted in 1938 when the temple moved from its original site to the current location (Rev. Imai, 2022). Dennis Makishima estimates that the tree is about 80 years old, and it was pre-trained before it was planted (Makishima, 2022).
There is strong evidence to support that the Old Pine was at least transplanted in June or July of 1966, even if that was not its first planting in the garden. In 1966, it was planted by Roy Kurahara, Ichiji Yanaba, and Masuji Fujii (Rev. Tatsuru Kigoshi, 2022); they were all Temple Presidents from 1951 to 1970 (Temple, 2016, p. 25). Roy Kurahara was a gardener and carpenter, and Wayne Kurahara’s father (Kurahara, 2022); therefore Roy planted the tree that his late father-in-law donated. Dennis Makishima did exploratory cuts during his first year in the garden to see how the Old Pine would react. He removed just one branch about every five years because it’s in the shade, so he had to use a conservative pruning approach. Mrs. Imai helped dig dirt from the Old Pine because it had too much, and she washed it down because it had spider mites (Makishima, 2022).
There are three more black pines in the garden that Dennis Makishima worked on. The second black pine is in front of the entry gate, and there was a lot of debate about whether to put it there or not (Rev. Yamada, 2022). It was put there at the same time the garden transitioned from lawn to rock (Rev. Imai, 2022). Makishima reconstructed it, which means significantly changing it with aesthetic pruning, so that it would not become a sidewalk issue, and people wouldn’t hit their heads on the branches (Makishima, 2022). The third black pine is called the “Tall Pine” which is closest to the temple on the right side from the street. It was donated by Tomio Ricky Sumimoto, who owned Dwight Way Nursery, and was there back in the day when the garden was a lawn (Rev. Imai, 2022). One year, Trudi Roofing broke one of its branches, and Tom Morioka wrapped it with cloth and twine to hold it up until Dennis Makishima reduced its size and weight. Dennis Makishima also significantly reduced the height around 2015 for safety reasons, likely upon a suggestion from temple members Tom Morioka or Dick Fujii. Prior to that big cut, he did not do any other pruning that year so that the bottom would get stronger. To hide the wound, he tied a branch from the back to the front, where there’s more light. In 2022, aesthetic pruner Dina Blackwell took the tie off (Makishima, 2022). The fourth black pine is a volunteer tree, and it’s speculated that it grew from seed from the Tall Pine (Blackwell, 2022). It should be kept small like a bonsai in order to keep in scale with the surroundings and for safety because it is next to the walkway to the temple doors (Makishima, 2022).
Dennis Makashima made other changes to the garden. The driveway used to have three espaliered camellias but one died so there are just two now. He planted a red maple to take its place. He also added two lace leaf maples in front of the Mochi House (Makishima, 2022), which is the building to the right. It used to be the former minister’s residence, but nowadays it's mostly used to make fresh mochi for the summer food bazaar (until the COVID-19 pandemic).
Community Spirit over Composition
The garden is not just about plant composition. There are the usual suspects in a Japan-esque garden, and this one includes three black pines, one Japanese maple, about three lace leaf maples, three espaliered camellias and two bush camellias, two symmetrical golden chamaecyparis, two mugo pines, numerous azaleas, a rhododendron, a cherry tree, a magnolia tree, juniper tree, juniper procumbens, Hollywood junipers, a few podocarpus, rhaphiolepis, pieris, deodar cedar, variegated pieris, cryptomeria conifer, and berberis (Blackwell, 2021). Nevertheless, “assembling the pieces does not make the garden, it doesn’t feel right,” and the stereotypical expectations that Americans have of Japanese gardens is not what makes this garden. Steven Pitsenbarger, the supervising gardener at the San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden, says that it’s the feeling that matters – Japanese gardens should be a place where people can relax and reconnect with nature and themselves. Part of that means there should be enough space to insert yourself physically and mentally, and use the concept of negative space or “ma,” unlike an English cottage garden. Additionally, cleaning the space is what makes it feel like a garden because then the mind can relax (Pitsenbarger, 2022).
Furthermore, the temple garden has plants in there for reasons other than ornamental. For example, Dennis Makishima planted a camelia under the Japanese maple to prevent kids from running through the garden from the driveway to the pathway (Makishima, 2022). And Rev. Imai and Mrs. Imai planted the azaleas after they were donated at memorial services, one by one, and Mrs. Imai took care of them (Rev. Imai, 2022). There are also volunteer plants, trees that popped up and were not purposefully planted, and that people decided to keep there. These include a black pine next to the lace leaf maple on the mound and the blue cedar next to Tall Pine (Makishima, 2022).
What does the garden mean to the community? Both Rev. Imai and Dennis Makishima made the point that it's “a story of a people,” especially the story of Japanese Americans after WWII who had nothing, and temple members should continue to be involved in taking care of the garden (Makishima, 2022).
“It’s not just a garden. People’s history and spirit are contained in it.” (Rev. Imai, 2022)
“People represent the life-force of nature …the will to live, to survive, to go on.” (Makishima, 2022)
This is why Rev. Imai wants the traditions carried on by taking care of the garden – by taking care of it, we can learn what harmony is, which is the basic teaching of Buddhism. Those who take care of the garden will not just understand Buddhism in concept, “not head thinking only, heart thinking” (Rev. Imai, 2022). Rev. Osa, the current resident minister who does a lot to take care of the garden now, agrees:
Whenever I pass through this Japanese garden, I cannot help but be grateful to our temple members who created the garden, mainly 1st and 2nd generation Issei and Nisei Japanese Americans. There are natural stepping‐stones and gravel paths instead of concrete. I feel like the energy of Nature and our old members embrace me, and that energy has been in the earth since countless ages ago.
In the western world, man-made beauty is appreciated. On the other hand, in the Eastern world, the beauty of Nature is respected. For example, the western garden has symmetry or geometric design, but the Japanese garden adapts itself to natural scenery. Japanese gardens have waterfalls, streams, and ponds instead of a man-made fountain. The ponds express the ocean. A western garden has sculpture, but Japanese garden has natural rocks and shows their beauty. The shape of trees is also different. In the western garden, they trim the trees and make shapes of animals or figures. But in the Japanese garden, they trim trees but keep the shape of the trees.
As you know, Japanese culture is deeply influenced by Buddhism. The features of the Japanese garden pays more attention to the greatness and the beauty of Nature than man-made beauty. This concept is similar to Buddhism. We are taught that we need to introspect and see our man-made limitations and entrust ourselves to the Buddha’s natural wisdom and compassion.
Our temple garden has no man-made decorations, but the arrangement of trees and stones make us imagine the natural working of the Buddha world instead of human power. When we stop for a moment to savour our temple garden, we can receive the teaching from it. (Rev. Ryoko Osa, 2022)
I invite you to visit one day – to not only admire the garden but to also notice how you feel when you enter the garden. And to remember that a long line of Japanese American community elders and professional aesthetic pruners have put their time and spirit into keeping it beautiful and harmonious.
Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple. 90th Anniversary Commemorative Service
Handbook. October 16, 2016.
Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple. 50th Anniversary Commemorative Service
Handbook. October 10, 1976.
Blackwell, Dina. President of the Aesthetic Pruners Association and Certified Aesthetic Pruner
#53. Interview at Pruning Club event at Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple. Berkeley, CA. May 22, 2021.
Iwata, Eiko. Former President of Fujinkai/Women’s Buddhist Association. Interview by phone.
March 15, 2022.
Imai, Reverend Akinori. Former minister of Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist
Temple 1967 - 2005. Interview by phone. March 15, 2022.
Imai, Mrs. Akiko. Fujinkai member and wife of Rev. Imai. Interview by phone. March 15, 2022.
Kigoshi, Reverend Tatsuru (by way of Rev. Yasushi “Harry” Kigoshi, Otani University
President). Former minister of Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 1959 - 1967. Interview by email. April 19, 2022.
Kurahara, Wayne. Interview by phone. April 16, 2022.
Makishima, Dennis. Former President of the Golden State Bonsai Federation. Created the Merritt
College Aesthetic Pruning Program. Interview. El Cerrito, CA. March 11, 2022.
Morioka, Tom. Former Board President of Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple.
Interview by email. March 14, 2022.
Osa, Reverend Ryoko, Resident Minister of Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 2017 to present.
Interview by email. May 24, 2022.
Pitsenbarger, Steven. Garden Supervisor in the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden
Gate Park. Board Member of the North American Japanese Garden Association. Interview by phone. March 11, 2022.
Tamura, Anna. Gardens in camp. (2020, October 5). Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:18,
May 14, 2022 from https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Gardens%20in%20camp.
Yamada, Reverend Ken. Editor of Shinshu Center of America. Former minister of Berkeley
Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 2005 - 2017. Interview by email. May 20, 2022.
Note: Not all information cited from oral interviews was not corroborated with written documentation, but it reflects history as the people remember it, and retell it, at this time.
- Written by: Ed Oasa
I struggle with my illness and wonder, “Why is this happening to me?”
In Shinran Shonin’s text, Kyogyoshinsho, he wrote about the difficulties of accepting the Dharma through one’s efforts. I’m experiencing this firsthand as I face my doctor’s most recent and bleak medical diagnosis. I feel Shinran’s writings are true and real.
A year ago, I wrote an essay titled “Facing Humility,” about my embrace of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Before, I wasn’t very religious, but soon looked forward to embarking on the Buddhist path.
Four years ago, I began treatment for blood cancer. Two years later, I suffered a near-fatal bout of pneumonia, After recovering, I began studying Jodo Shinshu.
My illness happened over a short period and left me disabled and dependent on supplemental oxygen. It forced me to retire from my profession as a private investigator, which I enjoyed for more than 20 years.
How does this happen, I asked, and in such a short time… to me? I was in total awe of change, wondering how these events came out of nowhere. This awe I felt was humbling, and in my down moments, humiliating.
Jodo Shinshu teachings of humility and selflessness, challenging my delusional, ego-based self, helped me come to terms with my illness and disability.
I wouldn’t come to this acceptance without listening to the Shin teachings. These teachings manifest the great Dharma truth of impermanence. As Rev. Ken Yamada said in his Buddhism class, Dharma truth is spelled with a “big T.”
In the book, River of Fire, River of Water, the late Shin scholar Taitetsu Unno shared a popular Shin saying: “Illness, too, is my good friend.” Dr. Unno understood there’s something liberating about humiliation.
Earlier this year, I felt pretty good about life. I was less dependent on my portable oxygen and my pulmonary function readings improved. Doctors told me I probably don’t have to worry about cancer returning. I was in remission nearly three years.
In June, another diagnosis came as a shock. Cancer had returned with a vengeance. It wasn’t merely a relapse, but a progression of my first disease. It’s probably the disease that blood cancer patients fear most.
I was told there’s no cure. But if I didn’t receive treatment, I’d only live another eight to twelve weeks. With chemotherapy and maybe with new drugs in clinical trials, I could prolong my life. I know chemotherapy’s efficacy declines over time. Surviving another three years, as a doctor said, is “rare.”
You can imagine, those same ego-driven questions as before filled my head with a vengeance, like a cancer. How could this happen again? I could hardly believe it. I was deflated. I felt robbed of life. I felt the same in 2016 when first diagnosed with cancer, but back then, doctors talked about a potential cure.
Nowadays, fear and deep sadness ebb and flow throughout my house. For the past four years, my wife has been my caregiver. I feel guilty about the burden I’ve been to her, and now also, about the pain of eventually leaving her behind.
I feel this is classic dukkha. It’s the friction between my desires and the Truth of impermanence. As Dr. Nobuo Haneda of the Maida Center of Buddhism in Berkeley poignantly wrote, suffering is the struggle between the self and Dharma.
Whatever it’s called – friction, suffering, conflict – it doesn’t disappear. Ego drives people to be easily offended, hurt, envious, jealous, and angry. Knowing this truth provides little relief.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve stepped up my Jodo Shinshu studies. I’ve no choice but to deepen my understanding of Dharma through teachers I’ve met along the way. Why? Because Jodo Shinshu is about liberation from my ego and delusional thinking. Facing my illness ultimately means facing Truth by challenging and examining this self to see how temporary and impermanent it is—just like life.
Alone, I read Shin writings and Shinran’s Kyogyoshinsho. I attend virtual Sunday services and listen to Dharma talks by Rev. Ryoko Osa of Berkeley Higashi Honganji Temple. I participate in her weekly Shoshinge study class. For over a year, I’ve absorbed Haneda-sensei’s weekly lectures at the Maida Center on Shinran’s writings and the Larger Sutra of Infinite Life. I also view talks about Buddhism on the Buddhist Churches of America Youtube channel.
I learned Buddhism is not an easy religion. Rev. Osa’s words forced me to reflect on the self. Haneda-sensei stresses Buddhism is “hard on you,” demanding we realize and face Truth. The Buddhist teachings truly are humbling.
Haneda-sensei says of the Three Treasures, Sangha is most important. It’s impossible to arrive at Truth by oneself. Life is full of temptations and distractions filling the mind of the ego self.
The Sangha has been invaluable to me. I’m grateful to everyone I’ve met. Reciting the Nenbutsu, “Namu Amida Butsu,” represents to me, hearing the Buddha’s call to abandon my ego self.
My time is limited. Shin teachings are really about having a reverence for the Truth. I find solace in what Buddhist teacher Manshi Kiyozawa calls “religious conviction,” which means entrusting to Truth. Belief in the Tathagata, he said, means “truth to be believed.” I’ll continue on this path towards accepting Dharma Truth.
Namu Amida Butsu
- Written by: Jeff-Shannon Davidson
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. As he grew and experienced life, he gained great wisdom and followed a path toward enlightenment. 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).
Just the other day, Mika was chatting with a group of her friends on Zoom. She and her friends also chat by group-texting and they sometimes meet on Netflix-party sites where they can watch movies together. Since the shelter-in-place restrictions started many months ago, they have not seen each other in person so these online-chat programs have become their primary form of social interaction. They all seem to agree that this is not as much fun as meeting at the ice-cream parlor after school but it is still fun and enjoyable to talk to friends. They even note that the video program allows them to see smiles and facial expressions that they cannot see if they were forced to wear masks like they do when they go to the store with their parents.
This chat session seemed to start like all the ones that preceded it…. Complaining about the lack of activities and travels caused by this awful virus. Perhaps “complaining” is not the right word because they all seemed to understand that voicing their displeasure and laying blame on some other country or the government of our country or any other person was not going to make it get better any faster. Still, they clearly felt the situation was beyond their control and they expressed their unhappiness with the situation.
Vivianna was the first to talk about a semi-positive experience. “Last weekend,” she said, “my whole family got into the car and we just went for a long drive around the park. We just got in the car and drove even though we had nowhere to go but it felt good to be out of the house. I mean, we weren’t exactly outside…we were still four people inside a car with the doors closed but we enjoyed the change of scenery.”
Michelle said “That would have made me get car-sick.”
“Great, Michelle. Thanks for the bright and cheerful review,” laughed Parker…and others laughed with him. Someone said “at least we can still laugh together.”
“Right,” said Mika. “Being together…even just together on Zoom, feels good to me.”
“Yeah, said Vivianna. “And it was interesting because when we are at home, everything is so routine and boring that we really don’t talk much but riding in the car seemed to change our focus and we talked about all the stuff that is happening now…stuff outside of our home…kind of outside of our little bubble.”
“Like what?” Someone asked.
“Well, like all the stuff in the news about police shooting Black people.”
“Yeah, that sucks” said Miguel. “But it’s a lot more complicated than that. I mean, my family is Mexican and I have friends who are Chinese and Vietnamese and Japanese and they all say that the police sometimes look at them like they did something wrong when they were just walking down the street doing nothing… but when was the last time you saw a bunch of Vietnamese people organizing a protest march?”
Michelle spoke next. “There is really a lot to talk about now that we have all day to sit and think about what is going on. I mean the stuff you’re talking about includes White Privilege and how about Money Privilege? How about those people that bribed their kids into fancy colleges even though their kids don’t get grades as good as mine?”
“That’s sort of funny” laughed Debbie. “I mean they made big-money illegal payments and then got fined lot’s more money and now their kids can’t even go to college because all the colleges are closed just like our high-school.”
“Maybe ironic would be a better word than funny” Leslie quipped. “Like now all those rich kids are sitting at home doing their school work on their computers just like us. There’s not much difference between being rich-and-bored than being just-us-and-bored.”
“That’s an important observation” said Mika. “The pandemic has made us all a little more aware that we are all just humans with a lot more qualities in common than different.”
“Wishful thinking” shouted Armanmdo. “All the BLM protests are about how extremely different some of us feel.”
“Wow! Thanks for the insightful critique” Mika replied. “I was focused on how the COVID Virus treats us all as equals but I guess I overlooked how the current political situation is making some differences worse instead of better. And the pandemic and the political stress are definitely connected. Armando, your comment is really thought provoking. You made me think more broadly and now I am more aware of the world around me.”
“Thanks…didn’t mean to be a downer. Let’s get this conversation back on a happy path.” Armando almost sounded apologetic. He really wanted a more cheerful and fun sort of Zoom-group. “Hey. What do you guys think about online school, anyway?”
“I thought you wanted to talk about something that is fun” came the group-response.
“Well, we do some small-group discussions in some of our classes and I really enjoy working with my friends” said Denise.
“OK… online school has some good points but overall, I find it’s a little bit like a prison cell inside my computer. I’m still sitting here alone listening to a teacher who doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself or himself much either.”
“Michelle here” said Michelle.. using the proper Zoom rules for announcing herself before speaking. “I guess the online school system is OK for teaching subject matter but we all seem to agree that the human contact part is totally lost.”
“Fun Loving Human Being here” Armando announced using the proper Zoom-intro and still trying to get the conversation back onto a positive track. “Has anybody here seen the new Disney remake of Mulan?”
There was a chorus of replies with everyone talking at the same time. Though a little chaotic, it seemed like everyone enjoyed talking about the movie.
Mika interjected “It seems like everyone enjoyed the movie but we seem to enjoy talking to each other about the movie even more than watching it.”
“That’s kind of what I was trying to say” said Armando. “We can make ourselves feel depressed if we talk about some of the problems with the COVID restrictions and the world problems or we can make ourselves feel happy if we talk about fun topics.”
“Yeah.. sort of,” agreed Mika. “I mean, we really don’t need to feel depressed about the world situation. We just need to observe it and understand it and talk to each other about it. We need to be self-aware. Then we can do the same with happy subjects like the movie and we can all share the happiness with each other. Being human, as Armando calls it, and being self-aware and connecting with each other is what really matters.”
“I think that is what was so nice about riding in the car with my family,” said Vivianna. “We don’t talk that much at home but I really enjoyed talking with my parents in the car.”
“And that’s why I like the group discussions in our online class-time” said Denise. “It’s not that the subject matter is so much better in group discussions. It’s that I like talking to my friends about the subject matter better than I like just listening to the teacher lecture about it.”
“So human contact and sharing ideas is a theme here,” said Mika. “That’s why these video chats are so fun.”
“Parker here,” said Parker. “Just want to thank Mika for turning our fun-session into a therapy-session.” Parker laughed at his own witticism and others laughed too.
“Well, Parker,” replied Michelle, “maybe we all need a little therapy. I mean we have been talking about the BLM protests, the lack of person to person contact, the frustration with online school, White privilege, and our sense of boredom due to the pandemic. Honestly, I am feeling a little depressed.”
“Mika here… I think it’s actually good that we are all a little upset but I wouldn’t exactly call it depressed. There are a lot of troubling things going on around us and it is good that we are in touch with our world and our surroundings and our feelings. But that is actually an appropriate and healthy reaction to the situation and not a symptom of depression. If we were all happy about these things I would say we were out-of-touch-with-reality. The trick is to understand what is real without losing control of our own emotions. We can still find things, like talking to each other, that bring joy and a sense of security to all of us. That is what this conversation is supposed to do for everyone.
“Parker here. OK Mika. This time it is my turn to thank you for the positive critique like you thanked Armando earlier for his comments. This time, you made me think about my silly remark about your therapy session but now I see that you really do see the world through clear eyes. Thanks for your reply and please forgive my light-hearted but shallow remark about therapy.
“Apology accepted” she replied.
“Hey guys it’s getting late, said Armando. I gotta zoom… I mean I gotta leave this chat.”
“OK” said Mika. “Next time we will talk about music, movies, sports, and learning how to cook.
“Michelle here saying bye for now and thanks for chatting.”
“Mika here saying bye for now and thanks for listening and thinking.”
Shannon Davidson, Author
Tomoko Davidson, Co-Author and Editor
- Written by: Alice Horio
Life is impermanence since shelter in place took place. My everyday living has changed from going to event to event, to relaxing at home. Fear for my life scares me, with the virus spreading from people to people. So far I have made the best of my life with a new life style.
I took a week off from work when the shelter in place first took place. From communicating with my coworkers, they have been working since our company is considered essential business. It took me about a few weeks to straighten out books from taking one week off. My work condition is not bad since I am the only one in the office. Once in a while my boss shows up. My other coworker works in Sacramento.
On the weekends I stay home, working on cleaning my house, making kimekomi dolls, and go for walks. Since I cannot go to the gym, I tag along with Dick and our two dogs for a walk. It amazes me how Miso knows their route. The walk makes me feel good and gives a chance to see who lives in our neighborhood. Miso's favorite walk is to go see the squirrels by the creek. I have accomplished finishing my doll that I have been working on since last year. Maybe I will complete more of my dolls by the next class which will be sometime next year.
I used to be almost updated, communicating with others with emails, excel spreadsheet, and Microsoft word. Now with zoom, I found out that I am not up to date. I do not have an iphone, tablet, or notebook. So I am limited to the zoom meetings. At first I can see and hear the meeting. Dick bought a microphone for me. Now I can talk. This is the first time I am not able to participate in communicating with others because of my computer. Well, I decided I am not going to change just to use zoom.
Almost every Sunday I participate with church service. It is nice to see Takumu and Rinako participate in chanting. Sensei's dharma message is comforting to hear during this pandemic. This gives me a great opportunity to practice chanting with sensei. The video conference makes it easy to listen at my convenience.
Driving to and from work is less stress with less traffic. It used to take me 40 to 50 minutes to come home from work. Now it is 25 minutes. I will enjoy this moment while it lasts.
Dick and I cook our own meals. Purchasing from restaurants is not in our lifestyle. Sorry restaurant owners. Dick goes to the grocery stores during senior hours. He says it is great with fewer customers.
My doctor, dentist, optometrist, hair stylist, vet, and DMV will all have to wait until next year.
I am hoping to continue some of my new lifestyle changes when the shelter in place is over.
- Written by: Carlo Barlaan
These are exceptional times. America faces its most challenging public health crisis since 1918, its most serious economic crisis since 1929, and its most violent civil unrest since 1968. In times of political, economic, and social uncertainty, it is easy for society’s members to make sense of their situation in a black-and-white, dualistic, moralizing lens. The most common lens: that we are involved in a struggle between good and evil. How many leaders and experts have utilized the language of struggle to lead or even mislead their constituents? How many ads, press briefings, news reports, and even office memos refer to beating, fighting, war, enemies, and justice? The most expedient way for society’s leaders to mobilize public opinion and allocate resources on a grand scale is to harden people’s sense of righteous self and wrongful other. In Buddhist terms, this means to radically enhance their attachment to form.
With all the uncertainty around us, we see the consequences of attachment; we see each of the five aggregates of attachment at work. In the case of the pandemic, we have forms such as the virus itself, media images from abroad of the sick and dying, and shortages of sanitizing supplies. The other four aggregates – sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness – come into play immediately. Citizens feel threatened, assume the worst, point fingers, perceive each other as enemies, hoard supplies, price-gouge, and engage in displays of national fervor and even outright ethnic discrimination.
In the case of civil unrest, we have forms such as police, victims, and video imagery of brutality. Again, feelings of anger and the perception of threat to the individual and collective self are heightened. Demonstrators turn out on the streets and freeways. Confrontations erupt between them, the police, and passing motorists. Property is vandalized. Businesses are looted. Buildings are set on fire. People die. Retribution is rationalized. It’s good vs. evil, systemic victims vs. systemic oppressors, justice vs. injustice, absolute right vs. absolute wrong. State actors, social agents, and other participants live in the illusion of their own justification and reality, and the suffering goes on and on… How do we extricate ourselves from this seemingly unceasing cycle of suffering, from this realm of human misery?
We free ourselves by exercising wisdom and compassion – the wisdom to recognize the emptiness of the forms that surround us, and the compassion to treat all sentient beings with as they live in a state of interconnectedness. Wisdom and compassion cut through all notions of independent reality. All minds, now freed of form and illusion, settle in a land of purity.
When I see representations of Shakyamuni Buddha, Amida Buddha, and the Boddhisattvas Manjushri and Avalokiteshvara, when I hear or read the words of our teachers, I am reminded that by freeing our minds and practicing wisdom and compassion, the pure land can be here and now in our minds and hearts, in spite of all the uncertainty and passions that have arisen around us.