How Did I Get Here?
As I get older, I frequently find myself in situations where I wonder,” how did I get here?” This is not the same “how did I get here?” as when I am driving and realize that I was on autopilot and ended up on the wrong freeway. This is the question I ask when it is a joyous occasion, a sad one or a stressful one, or just an odd one. I think about all of the causes and conditions that had to line up to put me precisely at that moment of time doing whatever it is that is causing me to be amazed.
I recently enjoyed such a situation for a weekend when I attended the World Federation of Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha Buddhist Women’s Associations Representatives’ Meeting in Calgary, Canada.
Back in 2011 sometime, Sumi Tanabe, who was then president of the BCA Federation of Buddhist Women’s Associations (FBWA), asked me if I would like to be FBWA Secretary General. I had no idea what a secretary general was or what the position entailed. Sumi gave me a brief explanation that the position served to represent the FBWA at world meetings. She arranged for me to meet with Jeanette Arakawa from Palo Alto Temple, who was the other secretary general to talk about the position. It sounded interesting, so I agreed. Then Sumi asked for my resume because she had to distribute it before the election. What election? I didn’t know I had to run. I didn’t want to “run.” I thought I volunteered and that was it. Next thing I knew Sumi had distributed my resume, and there was an election at the next FBWA Delegates meeting. Luckily, no one ran against me.
What I subsequently figured out is that I am one of two women who represent the BCA FBWA in a body comprised of two representatives from each of the five districts within the World Federation, which include South America Hongwanji Buddhist Women’s Federation, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha Buddhist Women’s Federation of Japan, Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii Federation of Buddhist Women’s Associations, the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada Women’s Federation and the BCA FBWA. This group meets every two years and the hosting country rotates. We meet two years before the World Convention and again at the World Convention. This year we met in Calgary, Canada where the World Convention will be in 2015. The objectives of this group are to promote close relations among all members of the Buddhist Women’s Associations throughout the world; to foster the awareness of women as Buddhist women; to advance a worldwide Buddhist women’s movement; to propagate the Buddha-Dharma throughout the world; to work for welfare and peace among all humankind.
Our delegation, which included Mrs. Janet Umezu, Reverend Ronald Kobata, Jeanette Arakawa and I, arrived in Calgary on Friday afternoon and the group from the Calgary temple went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
The next morning I found myself seated at a meeting table with the other world representatives. This meeting table seated about 35 people, give or take a few. Before the meeting began all of the representatives arrived hauling large boxes and bags containing omiyage. By the time we all sit down to conduct business, there was a mountain of all sorts of goodies piled at each place setting. There was a huge bouquet of chocolates from the event planner; there was Kona Coffee from the Hawaiian delegation; there was soap and calendars from the South American delegation; there was maple syrup, umbrellas, Canadian knickknacks, note cards, pens and tote bags from the Canadian delegation; and there was candy, make up mirrors and something that look like hackey sacks (I haven’t figured out what they are) from the Japanese delegation. To add to everyone’s pile, Jeanette and I carried pistachios, raisins and Ghirardelli chocolate bars and assembled gift bags in her room the night before. Somewhere underneath this mountain of omiyage were the notebooks full of the business to be conducted, so everyone loaded their omiyage into their tote bags for later enjoyment.
We had a brief service and then went around the table with introductions. Along with the secretaries general and representatives were the Bishops of Canada, Hawaii and South America and a representative of the Hongwanji-ha. (Unfortunately, Bishop Umezu could not attend this meeting because the BCA National Board meeting was scheduled for the same day, so he assigned Reverend Kobata from San Francisco to represent him.) It is during the introductions that I start to ponder, “how did I get here?” (“What am I doing here?” is also a question that crossed my mind.) During the discussions, I realized what an honor it was to represent the BCA FBWA.
After the meeting, we had lunch together and got to know the other women. It was a nice feeling knowing that what brought us all together was the Nembutsu. Since lunch ended a little early Janet, Jeanette and I went for a quick shopping trip with the ladies from Hawaii. The Hawaiian ladies made a beeline for the North Face store, which they do not have in Hawaii.
One of the unique qualities of Calgary is that there are walkways that they refer to as “plus fifteens”, which are enclosed elevated walkways connecting all the major buildings in downtown Calgary so that you can make your way around downtown without ever walking on the streets. So from our hotel we made our way through a maze of plus fifteens to get to the Telus Convention Center, where they took us on a tour of the convention site for 2015. It is a very nice modern facility with enormous conference rooms, enough for the estimated 2000 people they are planning for.
We walked back through these plus fifteens to take a tour of the Glenbow Museum, which houses an Asian art exhibit, featuring Buddhism. The exhibit included statues of the Buddha from all over the world, including Afghanistan, India, Thailand and Japan. They also had as a focal point of their exhibit an Onaijin that was donated to the Museum by the Raymond Buddhist Temple of Southern Alberta, when it disbanded in 2006. Susan Huntley, who is the president of the Canada Women’s Federation, wistfully shared that this was the Onaijin that she grew up with in Raymond.
After the Museum tour, the members of the Calgary Buddhist Temple picked us all up and took us to their temple for a steak dinner. Their temple is housed in an old Christian church and still has a steeple and stained glass crosses in the windows, but when we started chanting Juseige, led by Reverend James Martin, it didn’t make any difference. They are starting renovations and hope to have it all completed by the time we return in 2015. We enjoyed the great steaks, the hospitality and the company. They served local Canadian wines, which were very good. Mrs. Tamayo Matsumoto, Bishop Matsumoto’s wife, shared a couple of bottles they had received as gifts and could not take back to Hawaii. She requested a wine tour when the BCA FBWA hosts the meeting in 2017 in the Bay Area, so we promised to set one up.
The next day, they had a tour of Banff and Lake Louise set up for the entire group. Since I wanted to be back for the Betsuin Golf Tournament (I don’t know why, I am a terrible golfer), I took a flight back the next day looking forward to when I would return 2015.
As time gets closer, you will hear more details about the 2015 Calgary Convention. I encourage every member of our BWA to attend the World Conference in Calgary. I am confident you will have a wonderful time. If you are interested in attending but are not presently a BWA member, then join, you will not regret it.
The experience left me grateful for the opportunities and amazed that I was allowed to participate.. I am very fortunate that I stumble into opportunities where I can learn new things and meet wonderful people. And I am very grateful that I have a mentor like Sumi who nudges me into taking on new challenges.