In honor of our children, members from the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association opened their hearts and the doors of the main dining room inside the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas Friday to welcome more than 800 children and teachers from schools throughout Mendocino County. Young children attended the first half of the day, and older students came to a repeat performance later in the afternoon. The 9th Annual Cherishing Our Youth Day was one of celebration: with dance, music, song and food. It was also a day illuminating "world peace and cultural understanding" - the theme of this year's event.
Cherishing Our Youth Day came about when the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua decided he wanted to bring the community together in a celebration of young people, explained the city's spokesperson, Terri Nicholson. "His idea was that we should have one day each year to honor the elders in our community, and one day each year to honor the children," she said. "Honoring Our Elders" and "Cherishing Our Youth" are the names of the two annual celebrations which "promote the spirit of respecting elders every day and cherishing the youth in every household, so that the goal of happy families, a wholesome society, and a peaceful and prosperous country can be realized," the founder once said.
But with all due respect, those being cherished chose different words to describe the event. "Fun," "great" and "cool" were the main adjectives heard from those in attendance Friday morning.
The second half of the morning started with a Chinese folk dance featuring 14 girls from Developing Virtue Girls School.
Dressed in red and adorned with red and yellow head feathers, they danced and clapped in front of the giant Buddha statue. Behind the statue hung a huge wall-hanging of "Gwan Yin Bodhisattva," the woman with 1,000 hands and 1,000 eyes, who represents compassion.
Angel Yang, a senior at the Developing Virtue School, played with the audience between performances. "How are you?" she asked the attentive crowd. Then, she taught them how to ask that question in Chinese. "Ni Hao Ma," she said, having the children repeat after her. Interestingly, Nicholson said Yang did not know any English when she came over from Taiwan as a young girl in the sixth grade.
The handbell choir from Willits High School took the stage shortly after the folk dance ended. White-gloved hands of eight students and one music teacher rang their bells in harmony, playing four gentle, peaceful songs. Even the children remained quiet, appearing to be taking in the beauty of the sound of the bells. But it was the tumbling exhibition presented by members of Carol's Dance Studio that seemed to appeal to the children most of all. Eight little tumblers - some as young as 5 years old - dressed in blue, black, red and purple velvet, took turns flipping and flopping across a mat. Carol's assistant, Stacy Larkin, 16, led the girls in handstands, walkovers, cartwheels and more.
Instilling Goodness Boys School orchestra finished off the celebration with some Chinese music. The group played the Erhu and Pipa and other instruments likely unfamiliar to some cultures, and the delicious fragrance that had filled the air throughout the morning was now being consumed along with the food that created it. Comments from the crowd afterward confirmed the occasion was a successful one. "I thought it was great," said chaperone Lilia Ceja. Her son, Sebastian, 8, echoed her sentiments and her daughter, Rachel, 4, simply said "fine." Fabian Moreno, 7, said "it was cool." Others seemed to agree. "It was very interesting. I liked the way they stressed looking up to their elders," noted Lori Neese. She, too, was a chaperone who was attending the event with Oak Manor School.
Chelsey Neese, 7, Adriana Macias, 7, and Andrea Chavez, 8, were all in her group. "I thought it was fun. I liked the gymnastics," Neese said. Macias agreed. "It was great," she said. Her favorite part was "the dancers."
"It was nice. It was cool when they did the cartwheels and stuff," said 8-year-old Tyler Rockel. Chris Inman, also 8, and sitting near Rockel, joined in saying he liked it "when they did the backflips and cartwheels. And I liked the food," he added. "I liked it when the girls were doing tricks," said second-grader, Sabra Underwood, of Frank Zeek School.
While gymnastics was one of the key words spoken among the children, the food was not forgotten either. "I loved it," said Christine Fitzpatrick, also in second grade at Frank Zeek. As for the show, she said, "I liked all of it."
Venerable Master's Dharma Words
♦One should dwell in a small and humble home, keep nominal monetary wealth, have a good disposition, and put an end to one's karma.