The most important room in the house

by Rev. Marvin Harada.

We all enjoy the comfort of our own home. We get a good night’s sleep in our comfortable bed and bedroom, we watch tv in our living room or family room, maybe in our reclining lounge chair, or we enjoy working on the computer in our home office or at our desk. Every room in a house has its place and value. We all know the value of the bathroom, especially when we really have to go and it is occupied. Recently, I have come to realize that perhaps the most important room in our house is our kitchen and dining room. In our kitchen we prepare delicious meals for the family. We have dinner together in the dining room, and we talk about our day or about current events, or sports. Now that my kids have grown up and have their own respective work and school schedules, we don’t have dinner together that often. Even my wife and I aren’t always able to have dinner together, as she stays late at school, and often I have to go back to the temple for a class, service, or meeting. I kind of miss having dinner with the family, even though it has been years since we had dinner together regularly, going back to when the kids were in elementary or junior high school. I think from high school on it was increasingly harder to have dinner together as a family.

Part of my time I serve as the co-director of the Center for Buddhist Education, at our wonderful facility in Berkeley, the Jodo Shinshu Center. The Jodo Shinshu is a wonderful three floor facility that has a kodo or a hondo, classrooms, offices, a library, the BCA bookstore, and also hotel style and dorm style rooms for people to stay in. It is truly a wonderful facility that is being utilized constantly by CBE programs, IBS classes, Ryukoku University programs, just to name a few. The JSC also has a nice kitchen and dining room. Last month when I was there for the BCA Board meeting, we were making a tonkatsu dinner in the kitchen for many of the people who had arrived the day before. Some people were prepping the tonkatsu, others began to fry them, while still others prepared salads and other side dishes. There was lots of chatter and laughter as people worked in the kitchen together.

It dawned on me that among the many wonderful rooms of the Jodo Shinshu Center, that the kitchen and the dining room were the most important, because those two rooms have truly brought people together. At such an event, we had leaders from various parts of the country there for the meeting. At the meeting, we discuss things, debate and even argue over issues that face the BCA. But in the kitchen, everyone works together and pitches in. After preparing the meal, we all enjoy it together in the dining room, talking and laughing till the point where the noise can be quite deafening. It is a wonderful sound to hear.

As I write this article, I am making the chow mein gravy, prior to our Obon. The kitchen is empty and I am the only one here. I intentionally chose today to make the gravy since the kitchen is so congested on the weekend that it is hard to make the gravy on Saturday. My intention was to cook the gravy when the stoves and range were not occupied, making it easier to cook. It is definitely easier, but it is so quiet and I cannot hear the noise and chatter of people talking and laughing.

While we might feel that both Hanamatsuri and Obon are big jobs and we might even dread all the work, still, every year my heart is always warmed by the sound of laughter and people working together. Just like a family that shares dinner together in the kitchen or dining room, so too is the kitchen an important place at OCBC. New members, old members, men and women, children and adults, all work together, eat together, and share in our life together. Isn’t that the real value of what these facilities have for us? Through working together at the festivals, we become a closer Sangha, and we get to know others that we could never get that close to by just attending Sunday services. The same applies to working in the booths. Whether it is grilling the beef for the beef teriyaki, or slicing tomatoes for the teri burgers, or making wontons all day long in the social hall, by working together we make new friends and spend time with old ones.

The festivals have the function as our fundraisers, but one of the most important outcomes of the festivals is the fellowship that we share while working on them. Young children bus tables in the gym, or work one of the game booths. Sangha teens work hard in the soda booth, one of the busiest booths during the hot festival. The Jr. YBA boil the corn and also wash the dishes in the kitchen of the mpb. There too, I enjoy seeing and hearing them laughing and working together, even while doing an arduous task like washing dishes.

The wonderful sound of the festival is not just the music over the loudspeakers. It is the sound of joyous laughter and conversation amongst our Sangha and those who help us at our festivals. I hope to hear lots of this wonderful sound this weekend at our Obon festival. I hope that each and every one of you hear it too, and are part of that sound that brings warmth and joy to my heart at every festival.

Namuamidabutsu,

Rev. Marvin Harada